Sunday, January 3, 2010

Disappearing Act

This morning it occurred to me that perhaps I should establish a support group for disappeared and disillusioned musicians. The way I see it, there will be plenty of classical artists in need of such therapy. As a teacher, I can't help but feel concern for the many youngsters hoping to establish their careers in music. Yet many "mentors" avoid discussing the inevitable, and allow their students to chase unrealistic dreams, perhaps for selfish motives. The truth is that supply has surpassed demand in our industry, and classical musicians, as a species, are endangered. 

Some comments from a recent Seattle Times article regarding the threat of an orchestra strike might prove illuminating:

Music Lover, if I have to choose between a toilet that flushes and an evening at the symphony, I'm definitely going to be on the phone with the plumber. And rest assured, a non-functioning toilet will definitely "heighten your senses" if not attended to in a timely manner.

 I've observed when I go to the symphony that its rare to see anyone under the age of 50.

You want to be paid what you are "worth" but you don't want to earn it. You just want people to donate to you.

I'd love to see more unemployed musicians. There's such a shortage.

Yeah, go ahead and strike. It's not like the citizens of Seattle can't do without a few violinists and cellists for the next several months. These are not exactly critical services they're providing. We're in a recession folks, with an unemployment figure of 10%. Get a clue.

They are lucky they have jobs. Quit your bitching and play your damn cello.

About a year after the Northwest Chamber Orchestra filed under Chapter 7, a violinist friend of mine had the idea of hosting a coming out party for the creation and announcement of our new selves. She proposed that since few audience and Board members had appreciated or comprehended what we, the artists, had sacrificed for our chamber orchestra which lasted for over thirty years, it was time for all of us to put the past behind us, and to forge ahead with new aspirations and goals. We'd celebrate together.

The party was fantastic. Some colleagues chose to dress in disguise, to help get in touch with their untapped, inner selves. One cellist showed up as Cleopatra. Anyway, the hostess of this celebration composed an extensive guest list which included many of the souls who had helped mold the NWCO: Louis Richmond, Alun Francis, Heiichiro Ohyama, Sidney Harth, Adam Stern, Joseph Silverstein and Ralf Gothoni, to name a few, but none were available for the occasion. (The destroyers were not invited to our wake, I mean, party).

At the end of the evening, we sat in a circle by candlelight. The purpose was to define and state aloud our future goals and mutually recognize each person's potential. "I'll be a teacher," said one individual, who had decided to return to school for the necessary credentials. "But my expectations will have to be lower when it comes to music. Kids don't get it nowadays." Another player reluctantly gave herself permission to become a full-time housewife with nothing more to deal with than cleaning and cooking. "It's okay, don't you think?" She looked askance. "I never really had time for that stuff. Besides, now I won't have to worry about being protective of my hands."
The husband of a violinist talked about how much more difficult and exacting playing the violin seemed than baseball. Yet, one couldn't make nearly as much money playing the fiddle as a professional pitcher or hitter, or whatever it's called.
Then it was my turn to speak up within the circle.
"A writer," I said, glancing around the room at my colleagues turned characters. At that magic moment, as I witnessed our decline, it dawned on me that I'd have more than enough material.

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