Thursday, November 13, 2008

So Long, Nuts

After reading the news of Oregon Ballet cutting live music at Nutcracker, I'm grateful to not depend on any of the local arts organizations for income. In a strange twist of Fate, Ilkka and I reinvented our careers with Talvi Studio, after having suffered our own personal economic crisis. It's fascinating to observe colleagues cope with financial panic. As my Yiddish teacher, Ruth Peizer whispered before the election: It wouldn't hurt to have a little prosperity return to the economy.

What I didn't have the heart to tell my beloved teacher, is that when you're a blacklisted artist, prosperity makes negligable impact. What difference should it make to my family if local arts organizations, out of desperation, freeze hiring, lower wages, or reduce employment altogether? Ilkka and I were hit years ago by our sub-prime conductor crisis; we reorganized our priorities, and emerged stronger in the end, all without government aid.

Musicians scare easily. Make them grovel for employment, and they will. Case in point is the local recording scene in Seattle, where musicians waive royalties, over-scale, over-time, annual increases, and other objectives that were hard-won by unions and the American Federation of Musicians. Players might seem tough in collective bargaining gatherings, but when push comes to shove, they're a bunch of sheep.

In the restaurant business, waiters are guaranteed a low minimum salary plus small, basic benefits. The bulk of their income depends on gratuities. Allow me to play Devil's advocate for a magic moment: How about paying musicians and dancers a low, guaranteed salary, let's say $15K, and leave the rest to depend on the amount of actual work performed? In an orchestra, a string player's income would be the highest, with those instrumentalists only showing up for a couple of compositions, the lowest. Doesn't the New York Philharmonic already count minutes worked and offer relief to otherwise over-worked string musicians? Might it be more fair to pay according to the number of notes played, as was demanded in Germany not long ago?

Musicians closely involved with the Bellevue Psychiatric Orchestra maintain that their management assures their board that other orchestras, namely the Los Angeles Philharmonic, reaudition their players each year. Nonsense. However, this has me thinking. It might indeed be wise to annually reaudition all the players of all the orchestras, and especially their music directors. The executive directors and personnel managers should be assessed by means of psychological exams and please, don't forget to have them undergo lie detector tests at regular intervals.

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