Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reflections for the New Year

Well, here it is 2011. I'd like to make a toast for a post. I'd like to thank my wonderful husband Ilkka for encouraging me to publish Frantic in weekly installments. When he offered the suggestion to post my memoir in blog format, I couldn't imagine doing anything of the sort. But then, Ilkka had a vision that was beyond my grasp. (Take note, dear readers: The soft-spoken, humble souls that whisper suggestions might actually be visionaries.) I had no idea that recollecting and sharing stories related to my life in music would bring so much joy, laughter and memories, not only to me, but to others from here and afar. I'm most grateful to the readers who have taken the time to send heartfelt messages of support and encouragement this way. They have also shared their own experiences, many of them similar to my own. My husband is already nudging me to begin a sequel with adventures through adulthood. For this purpose he surprised me with an i-Mac over the holidays. I'm also especially proud to be a contributing writer for  Chamber Musician Today, a publication which I admire for its inclusivity and fun diversity.

Strange as it may seem, when I was growing up, I felt that my youth was mundane. I almost never had time for parties or social gatherings outside the musical commitments. But I can see that dedication spent in one art form feeds into another; the time and effort I spent devoted to music was not wasted, and I can apply the skills that I developed into other pursuits, such as writing and teaching. I have found that the characters I met along the way, on the journey so to speak, have become absorbed into the fibre of my being.  Listening to music and shaping phrases has been a helpful guide for listening to words and trying to shape stories. At this point, I feel ever so fortunate to have lived the contemplative life of a growing artist. Bumps and bruises that I survived as a young person trying to attain the unattainable, in terms of performance standard, and interacting with artists from diverse backgrounds, paved the way for me to not only endure trials through later in life, but thrive.

Many readers from near and afar have shared intimate reflections about the beauty of music, their love for it, but have admitted to the unfortunate dark-side; the back-biting, jealousy and opportunism that gets in the way of joyful art and is so prevalent onstage and behind the scenes.  One reader referred to that dark-side as the underbelly of the profession. By now, my blog readers understand the hardships and travails that my husband and I faced here, and they've responded by offering glimpses into their own narratives. The path of an artist is not an easy one, and takes courage and belief in one's mission.

Add to all this the additional angst as many arts groups are trying to survive budgetary cuts along with the decreasing demand for what we, as artists, wish to do. It's a time of redefining ourselves collectively. Here in Seattle, although organizations present an optimistic front, all is not well economically. Seattle Opera switched the repertoire for next summer's scheduled production of "Tannhäuser" and substituted it with "Porgy and Bess", due to poor ticket sales from last summer's "Ring Cycle" and low ticket sales for the current season. In other words, audiences will be treated to Opera Light. Artistic Director, Speight Jenkins, is currently taking a 20% pay reduction and opera staff will have a one day furlough per month this season.

According to local Wikileaks, the Seattle Symphony is undergoing a severe cash flow problem. Perhaps with the new Music Director, a new donor pool will emerge. The Pacific Northwest Ballet is due for contract negotiations with their musicians at the end of this season. Most dance companies are cutting costs by reducing orchestra size or substituting live music for canned. Naturally, it would be far more cost effective to employ a small complement of players as a core orchestra, and add free-lancers as needed, or just hire a pick-up crew, as that would relieve the burden of health insurance and other costly benefits for the organization.

And there are, of course, the struggling regional orchestras that boast of their "professionally-paid" musicians which makes them, well, professionals. I received a desperate letter not too long ago, from one of these orchestras, touting themselves and the maestro as World Class. "Please," the letter stated. "Magic comes at a price. As the economy slowed, we had to dip mightily into our reserves. Won't you help us?"

I, for one, would only consider helping an organization that would prove to honor basic core values, characterized by dignity, honesty, integrity, and serving the needs of the musicians through respectful communication.  I wasn't fortunate enough to have experienced those values at my former workplaces. Perhaps while ushering in the new year, it is an opportune time to reflect on how we treat our fellow colleagues and artists. For, whenever a gifted member of the arts community is discarded and ill-treated, it is not only the artist, but the community itself which suffers the loss.

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