Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book of Happiness

As I follow this news about disgruntled musicians, I'm struck by a sense of gratitude for what this past year has brought into my life. As my former colleagues engage in a battle of entitlement, believing themselves to be invincible and trying to demonstrate, as if clinging for dear life, that relations have warmed with their baton wielder, I reopen the gift I received from my seventeen-year-old daughter during the holidays. It is "Mom's Book of Happiness" by Sarah Lilian Talvi. I can assure you that if our house were burning down, and if I could only choose one item to rescue from the flames, it would be this book, for it is filled with photos of those I cherish, beloved memories, and messages of love, learning and wisdom. It is a book of joy, and as I turn the pages filled with images of those I have loved and lost, I hear my daughter's whisper: Live your life genuinely, Sarah writes, and all will unfold as planned.

Though some would have believed that the cruel ostracism inflicted upon my family from the disgruntled ones and their cronies would have broken our family apart by now, the opposite is true. I glance back at 2009 and recognize that all our struggles have been valuable, like investments bringing dividends of personal satisfaction and accomplishment. We have built our own community and changed the course of our lives.

This morning, as I listened to a brilliant student from Garfield High School work through Edgar Meyer's Violin Concerto, I marveled how convincingly this young woman played. She has been my pupil for a number of years. When she began with me, she played like a tiny, but cute, mouse. When did my cautious student evolve into a self-assured artist? And where will her path in music lead her? She will enrich others wherever she goes, that's for certain.

Yesterday another student, who is all of twelve years old, handed me the first movement to his own composition, Sonata for Violin and Piano. We played through the work together. I was filled with wonder at his power of originality. True, he has been guided by an inspiring composition mentor, Janice Giteck, but no teacher, no matter how dedicated, can supply a student with talent.

Another gifted violin student has discovered the joy of participating in Young Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra as a violist, learning viola as I did, on the spot. Now he plays Bach solo works with equal beauty and technical mastery on both instruments. He will, as I have done during my previous incarnation, experience the thrill and intimacy of a chamber ensemble where each individual voice counts.

"Don't brag," warns my daughter Anna, even though I cannot believe she is only twenty-two, has attained a Masters Degree in Education, is married to a wonderful young man who shares her values, and leads a promising career. "But," I argue, "as a mother and teacher, I'm entitled."

Have I mentioned that my student Andrew Sumitani received a glowing review from the Seattle Weekly for his performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra?
Solo instruments project gloriously, though, and in the Bruch soloist Andrew Sumitani's serenely elegant, showboating-free performance was beautifully balanced against the orchestra's pillowy richness.

And as I reflect on 2009, I feel a rush of anticipation for 2010, and for all the pages in my book of happiness.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Excuse Me, Lowering What Bar?

As 2009 draws to a close, I feel gratitude for family, students and friends. The recession has hit many hard with hiring freezes, lay offs, and salary cutbacks. Although my eldest daughter Anna and her husband Andrew have been fortunate by gaining full-time, salaried employment, complete with good benefits immediately following their graduations, I worry for many of their peers and colleagues who cannot begin their paths to financial independence and are mired in college debts. Young artists are finding employment opportunities particularly daunting; I advise all my students to pursue skills outside the field of music in order to survive.

It wasn't many years ago, less than five to be exact, when our daughters Anna and Sarah were faced with the uncertainty of their parents' job losses. To this day, I have the uncomfortable recollection of playing in Seattle Symphony's opening gala concert at the start of 2004/05 season as a ringer, and silently observing while the personnel manager stepped up on the podium during the first rehearsal to announce that checks would be waiting for the musicians in the lounge. Knowing my husband had just been illegally terminated and therefore my family's well-being had been compromised, the personnel manager averted my eyes, signaling to me a guilty, but not guilty enough, conscience. This was the orchestra that had proclaimed itself World Class, though most of the players were at that time, how shall we put this delicately, past their prime. Incidentally, most of those players remain to this day. 

This morning I read a web post by Tim Hale, Chair of SSOPO. It appears the local band is in a state of turmoil over recent negotiations. Will decreasing SSO's salaries really "lower the bar" and hamper the ensemble's competitiveness? If "talent sourcing" is suffering, it's because the organization, like several others in this vicinity, has effectively banished many of the community's most gifted and experienced players, and put off potential newcomers by scare tactics and bullying.

Wake up to reality, dear colleagues, before you flatter yourselves by thinking you're indispensable in the event of a work stoppage. There are plenty of unemployed, under-utilized, young musicians everywhere, streaming out of conservatories, eager for any and all opportunities. What makes you believe that your organization, unlike all others across the nation, should be immune from cost cutting measures and reductions to survive the general malaise towards classical music? And classical musicians are becoming a desperate bunch, scrounging round for gigs like sharks circling their prey. What will happen to players from other world class wonders facing extinction? What prevents them from relocating to Seattle, a city as much Paradise as Hell.

With the over-supply and lack of demand facing orchestras today, I imagine there are many truly talented, first-rate conductors eager to experience their own magic moment without the motive of greed. Who knows? A local band might even find an original for a music director, one who has no need to resort to trickery or Morse Code to get messages across.
Great white shark