Sunday, October 10, 2010

In the Name of Progress

I was rummaging through my hat box the other day and found this photo. I'm at the age (midlife) of trying to connect dots; dots that will remain forever a mystery. I wondered, as I gazed at old photographs and other bits and pieces of memorabilia in my closet, how many changes are made in the name of progress, when really, the outcome might give one pause.

Taking a quick glance at arts organizations throughout the nation, how many behemoth venues have been erected in the name of progress? How many of these can be filled on a regular basis by hard-working, middle class folks, like me? Overly long subscription seasons; is that progress? For whom?

In the case of symphony orchestras, how many executive directors does it take to satisfy one boss? Who is the boss, anyway? How many motivated board members might be required? How many concertmasters? A few, like in European orchestras? How many auditions for that post? Twenty or more?

How many threats does it take before a first chair player might quit on his/her own—in the name of progress? Pink slips? Retaliations? How many services need to be cut, as in rehearsals, to make up for budgetary deficits? Collective bargaining meetings? Doctor's notices for missed rehearsals; how many? Litigation? How much documented evidence? What about my favorite: meetings with Human Resource personnel as the person-behind-the-desk stares blankly and says in a flat voice: You seem emotional.

How many blandishments from the press to recruit deep-pocketed donors? Complimentary tickets to paper the house? Premieres? Performances featuring obscure American compositions? How many school concerts to seemingly increase audience numbers? Programming changes to reduce extra player costs? Personnel managers? Lies as to when you're officially hired, and when you're (oops) not? How much over-time when the program sounds scrappy and ill-rehearsed? How many visits to Prague in order to feel the spirit of Dvořák? How many principal cellists? How many complimentary glasses of wine to lure an audience to a gala opener? How much cleavage? Hair? Am I forgetting anything?

Today I have only questions, no answers. Pop quiz: How many players are using vibrato in this photo?

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