Saturday, May 22, 2010

For Peanuts, You Get Monkeys

I'll admit, when I read this article about Pasadena Symphony's financial woes, and Jorge Mester's refusal to take a pay cut for his salary of about $235,000 for roughly five concerts a year, I was taken aback by former board member, Jerry Kohl's comment: "They can find someone cheaper, but not somebody world-class like Mester. For peanuts, you get monkeys."

What a pitiful statement exposing a false mindset, especially in this country of ours. Today, when it comes to conductors and musicians, there's an embarrassment of riches, and short supply of opportunities. As I've said before, there are crops of talented artists going to waste here with employment opportunities diminishing. But this conviction, that only by offering an exorbitant salary to a conductor will an orchestra be transformed, as if by a Messiah, really grates on my nerves. I've worked with a number of talented musicians who are less well-known but stellar. One such young conductor who comes to mind is Darko Butorac, music director of Missoula Symphony Orchestra. His recent performances as guest conductor with Rainier Symphony and the Northwest Mahler Festival brought musicians practically to their knees, pleading for more opportunities to work with him. The level of intensity and inspiration Butorac drew from players was proof that skill level must not necessarily be equated with the all mighty pay check; fresh talent must be given a chance.

Which brings me back to this peanuts and monkeys philosophy. By this time, my small circle of readers know how much I love story-telling. Well, here's one. It appears to be teacher shopping time for many youngsters in Seattle. I've had a number of calls and e-mails from prospective violin students. Being a parent myself, and knowing that many families are struggling with finances, I keep my tuition to a rate that offers peace of mind, and let it be stated here, that I do not accept commissions for the sales of violins, as so many others in this town make a habit of doing. In other words, I can rest at night without feeling that I'm gouging students and their parents, as many colleges do when they raise their rates to appear more prestigious, while basically admitting anyone who can cough up the cash.

Perception of teaching ability is often mistakenly equated with tuition fee.  A non-musician father, while accompanying his daughter for an introductory lesson recently, asked me after the lesson for the amount owed. I stated my hourly rate. He looked at me dubiously. "That's all you charge? But, I thought you quoted a higher fee. Oh, I guess that was someone else—" I knew right then and there that his young daughter would be studying elsewhere, at a pricier studio, with one who is not lacking for greed, but perhaps for dedication and expertise.

After receiving a letter of rejection a few days after the lesson, I scratched behind the ears, climbed to the kitchen, and luckily, found a bag of peanuts.

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