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

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