It’s come to my attention through several reader email messages that I have failed to point out an important point in previous articles about Blair Tindall’s new book that what she discusses regarding the free wheeling lifestyle of classical gig musicians in New York City during the 80’s is just that; the free wheel lifestyle of classical gig musicians in New York City during the 80’s.
Those depictions certainly aren’t representative of the behavior for the vast majority of orchestral musicians throughout the entire country or even the full time orchestral musicians in NYC. Blair makes this distinction herself in the book and on at least one of the live radio shows she’s been featured on to promote her book, WNYC’s Soundcheck with John Schaefer (a perennial favorite of mine).
Although most folks become titillated by headlines of sex and death (the same folks usually watch the evening news each and every day of the week) it’s important to keep a sense of perspective toward the situation.
Case in point, the recent article by Anne Midgette in the 06/26/05 edition of the New York Times. Overall, it is a well written, thoughtful article which examines some of the trends for large orchestra in major metropolitan areas across the U.S. Unfortunately, it also makes it very easy for readers to draw universal associations between what’s happening at some the largest budget orchestras in the country (Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston) and every other orchestra in the business as though what’s happening in those groups is what’s happening everywhere.
Granted, this is the NYT and it makes perfect sense to focus their articles on what’s happening in New York, but I wish thier editors wouldn’t approve articles which draw universal connections between what may be happening in New York and the rest of the country (at least with orchestras anyway). Everyone would be better served if they took more of a local approach or made the distinction between any connection between trends for the New York Philharmonic and say, the Nashville Symphony.
For example, the article examines classical music from a “supply and demand” viewpoint almost always an unadvisable idea in my opinion),
“All over the Western world, the alarm is sounding that classical music is in trouble. Orchestra subscription sales are dropping widely, in some cases by as much as two percentage points a year. Ensembles are not balancing their budgets. Audiences are getting older; young people are turned off by classical music.
Is it true that people don’t want classical music anymore? Or is it just a question of how to give it to them? And is it even possible – heresy of heresies – that they are being given too much of it?
By their very nature, orchestras cannot follow the laws of supply and demand. Major orchestras give their musicians contracts for 52 weeks a year, then have to figure out how to occupy them. This is one reason orchestras have summer festivals in the first place: to give the musicians something to do.”
Unfortunately, this is an over simplistic view of how the orchestral side of classical music functions. Furthermore, it completely disregards what’s happening in other orchestras which demonstrate trends which are opposite of some of those which are detailed in the article.
It also assumes the current “demand” for what a few of the big budget orchestras deliver is representative of the rest of the country. Fortunately, there are some real examples of organizations where they are more concerned with expanding the demand for classical music rather than sit back and bemoan 60% capacity rates with the scrutiny applied in the NYT article.
Here’s a series of examples using three orchestras of varying budget size:
One positive aspect Anne’s article is that it does some real good by pointing out that in order for any orchestra to break out of a bogus “supply and demand” mindset, they will need to change how they approach marketing themselves to their respective potential audiences.
In the end, universal statements need to be handled carefully. There are certainly times where they are appropriate, but not as often as we all probably use them.