They Pay You For Something That’s Fun?

In her recent article at The
Partial Observer, Holly Mulcahy examines why she feels it is time to stop
feeling guilty for being a musician. The piece reminded me of the wonderful Take A Friend To Orchestra contribution
from Jim Palermo which starts off with the line “A few years ago it dawned on
me that I was becoming apologetic about working in the arts.” Jim went on to say
that he has vowed to stop apologizing for loving and understanding classical
music and Holly’s piece
adopts a similar tone but from the perspective of a performer…

Some of my favorite parts in the article are when Holly
draws from personal experience and relates specific instances of interacting
with listeners to define what she describes as a misunderstanding about the
amount of time involved to prepare music for performance and maintain critical
musical skills. Furthermore, it is interesting to read about how often
professional orchestral musicians encounter a sense of indignation from some
listeners over being paid to do something they enjoy.

All in all, it is a great read and
provides a wonderful frame of reference to some of the current events in the orchestra
business unfolding across the country.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “They Pay You For Something That’s Fun?”

  1. Thank you, Holly Mulcahy for addressing a subject all too familiar to most musicians. I was surprised when a member of my orchestra’s volunteer chorus came up to me at a Holiday Pops rehearsal and said, “I used to play a little violin back in high school. How do I get in the Symphony?” Her eyes began to glaze over as I went into a brief description of the audition process, the intense competition, the excerpts that needed to be learned and the number of years I studied. Finally she said, “You can’t make a living doing this, can you?!”

    What was most disturbing was not only that she did not realize that we get paid, but that after listening to the sound of a professional orchestra she thought it was made up of people who played their instruments “a little”.

    I think many audience members project their often recreational experiences playing in student ensembles onto us. They think because we have “talent” we can just pick up the instruments and play. Because they did it for fun, why shouldn’t we?

    Holly Mulcahy does a great job suggesting that what the audience sees on stage is indeed the “tip of the iceberg.”

    -Tim Judd

  2. I’ve run into the same attitude as a visual artist. Someone sitting next to me at a luncheon in the ’70’s asked me what I did, and I replied, “I am an artist.” There was a pause, and the question was asked, again, with the same reply. She then asked, “But, what do you do for a living?” At that point, Michael Straight, the head of the NEA who was the luncheon speaker for the Arts Council Awards from the State where I live, announced that I was the first winner of a Grant for Sculpture. I turned to the lady, and said, “That’s what I do for a living!”

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