Orchestras (Part V)

I had originally contemplated writing just the four previous posts on orchestra models. But given the currency of this topic both here and abroad, I felt it obligatory to summarize and reiterate some of my points. I also wanted to respond to the many reader comments I have received—which has been a surprising and touching outcome of this blog. Many of you have taken great time, expended much thought, drawn on your life experience, and researched facts to support your often passionately expressed points of view. And I am very grateful for this.

To me, it seems that there is finally a real discussion going on about the American orchestral crisis, not only here on this blog, but on other blogs, in the news media, at industry conferences (the League of American Orchestras recently added a new plenary to its upcoming conference schedule,) and on teleconferences and debates like the recent ones at WQXR  and the Cambridge Union.
This outpouring of commentary suggests that solutions to the crisis may be possible, particularly when so many people are putting their heads together and considering the options. Later on in this post, I will respond to some of the more striking, interesting, and pertinent ideas that people have expressed.
However, it is because I think a multiplicity of viewpoints is essential to really probe this subject that I’m declining the invitation by my fellow blogger Drew McManus to engage in a video debate with him. This is a topic for more than two voices.  It’s about all those who care deeply about the present and future well being of the orchestra and the music it presents.
To further this discussion, I am organizing a virtual symposium of many representative voices.  My plan is to invite guest writers to submit an entry to this blog that offers possible solutions to the current orchestral problem—that is, the role of musicians and how to create sustainable symphonic organizations for the future. I hope that Drew would be among the first of these guests.  But, in addition, I am extending invitations to representatives from the League of American Orchestras, the Musicians’ Union, orchestra managers, players, board members, donors, composers, consultants, and some of the commentators who appear elsewhere on the Web.  This, of course, would be supplemented by the comments of readers.  In this way, I think we could aggregate a whole constellation of ideas in one place.
I also wanted to respond to some of the comments I have received.  Several of you have advocated for government subsidies for orchestras and other arts organizations in the U.S.  William Osborne offered a very interesting defense of government subsidy and how much better a job it does.  Among other things, he states that such funding “is very consistent because it is an established part of government budgets.”  I worked in the subsidized system in the U.K. for 25 years and it has many advantages but also some major disadvantages. Just look at the recent Arts Council of England draconian cuts of 30% in overall funding to organizations throughout the country.
Mr. Osborne also maintains that “governments see an inherent connection between culture and education and organize their orchestras along those lines.” While that might be true in Europe, it doesn’t seem like an obvious connection here in the US. I suspect American legislators would have a difficult time defending significantly increased arts support especially at a time of great public uneasiness over government deficits and a lack of appetite for tax increases even for more universally acceptable programs.
So, when readers like NYMike writes that comparing European and American orchestras is like comparing “apples to automobiles,” I have to disagree. Although the former receive government subsidies and the latter require private support, the two models are directly comparable.  In the States, the government provides indirect subsidy for the work of charitable organizations through tax breaks, which means that 40% of any private donations are tax deductible.  It is still a subsidy, but the donor gets to decide which cause will benefit from it. The system in Europe is also based on subsidy, and the funds are also derived from taxation but dispersed centrally through a government agency to organizations that the government selects.  The main difference is that European organizations do not have endowments as part of this financial mix.  And they seem to survive perfectly well without.

However, here is the main point: Whatever the source of orchestras’ funding, the most important question is how they use those resources, how they are able to sustain their operations and make a beneficial contribution to their communities.
R.W.F. asked: “Is there not perhaps a chance that there has also been a very poor crop of orchestra managers taking the helm at these orchestras? You seem to suggest that management has performed perfectly during all of this and that management is always right through out of this.”  In fact, throughout my writing, I have been an equal opportunity critic, commenting on managers and boards as well as musicians. I wrote this:

Many people criticize the unions for causing the escalation of costs and, ultimately, the current dismal state of affairs. This is unfair because, at the end of every negotiation, two parties sign the agreement – management and the union, and it is management and of course the boards, that must take full responsibility.

…And this:

Since Boards bear fiduciary responsibility for their organizations, the question has to be asked:  what has been their contribution to this situation? Where have they been during all of this? Well, lulled by ever-increasing private support for many years, they have been complicit in sanctioning excessive pay demands, agreeing to excess draws on endowment, and signing off on defined benefit plans which, down the road, became financial monsters of unfunded liability.

Then, too, some of you have taken me to task for not supporting the notion of musicians being paid well.  Bill Anderson, for example, wrote: “They are talented, complex, intelligent, driven, thick-skinned (by need) artists who deserve to be well paid in accordance with the level of orchestra they are in.”  Jason responded as I do: “…that the level of compensation received by top-tier orchestra musicians is, in the current orchestral system, unsustainable.”  I have no argument with musicians—or indeed managers—being well compensated.  However, their level of compensation cannot come at the expense of an orchestra’s existence. And, at the end of the day, what’s important is the benefit they provide to their communities.
Finally, I’ve been asked (by MNJohn for example) what New England Conservatory is doing to “insure that musicians will not only have a job when they graduate, but one that will pay a living wage not only when they are in their 20’s and single but in their 40’s with families?”

Tessa Lark current NEC student with Hugh Wolff and the NEC Philharmonia

We are preparing our students for a difficult environment out in the “real world.”  Just being an excellent performer is not going to be enough and we’re telling them that.  We are also equipping them with more skills to cope with that reality.  We have an outstanding Liberal Arts program that helps students develop their intellectual, professional and creative potential from creative writing to acting classes. We have a Contemporary Improvisation curriculum that is unlike anything at any other music school and encourages collaborations across the school.

Contemporary Improvisation Honors Ensemble - The Sail Away Ladies

It brings together a wide range of students who are eager to explore many genres of music and their own creative facility. This will make them enormously versatile and flexible as professionals.

Community Performers and Partnerships Program

We also have an extraordinary Community Performances and Partnerships Program in which several hundred of our students engage annually with approximately 20,000 people in the Boston area. They learn how to speak to, perform and teach for public school pupils, seniors, the handicapped and the homeless.
Then, there’s our Abreu Fellows Program at New England Conservatory in which we are training 10 post-graduate musicians a year to become leaders in community music schools modeled after the El Sistema program in Venezuela. The first class of Abreu Fellows alumni are currently out in the field doing stellar work at nucleos in Juneau, Alaska; Queens, NY; Durham, NC; Atlanta; Philadelphia; Los Angeles and right here in Boston.

Abreu Fellow Lorrie Heagy

Indeed, one of them, Lorrie Heagy, was chosen Alaska Teacher of the Year.  You can read more about it here.

Finally—and I am particularly proud of this—we have our new Entrepreneurial Musicianship program, which addresses the need young musicians will have to take charge of their careers and develop skills needed to create a gratifying life in music. Entrepreneurial Grant recipient project ‘Acoustica/Electronica”

The program includes classes, experiential work, grants, and projects that cultivate creative and critical thinking, communication proficiency, financial management, programming, marketing, and self reliance. [Check out these links for more information:
Trust The Power of the Young and Entrepreneurship.]
To summarize, there is a major crisis facing the orchestras in this country.  The whole subject has never been discussed openly and candidly.  This means all stakeholders – management, Trustees, community leaders, and… most definitely the musicians, discussing the issue and engaging in problem solving. The field has been in denial and we are now faced with a situation where orchestras are lining up declaring their financial insolvency. Detroit and Philly are just the most prominent and there will be others.  The analysis is irrefutable.  Audiences are dwindling (down 29% over 10 Years), the financial model is not sustainable. Endowments are depleted. Earned income is a fraction of what is was.  There is  greater and greater reliance placed on increasing the generosity of exhausted donors. Labour relations are antiquated.  And orchestras lack legitimacy in their own communities.  It is a confluence, a perfect storm of contributing factors that declare the conventional orchestra model is  broken and needs changing. We can either spend the next few years blaming one another and watch the whole field slip quietly away or we can do something about it together.  And, surely, that is our charge.  We need the courage, the energy, and the vision to reinvent and rejuvenate.  Just as the London Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic have done.  They are leaner, more flexible, more productive, more responsive to their communities and…sustainable.  We have so much to learn from them.

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71 Responses to Orchestras (Part V)

  1. Thank you, Tony, for the kindness of mentioning my thoughts about public funding. It is true that the conservatives in the UK recently cut public arts funding, but we should note that the Labour Party doubled public arts funding while it was in power. Even with the conservative’s recent cuts, the net increase over the last 15 years has been around 20%. That is still one of the highest rates of public arts funding expansion in the world.

    We should also note that the cuts for almost all of London’s major musical institutions came to 11%. This is not draconian considering the problems the housing bubble caused.

    This generous funding is still apparent in the figures for the 2011/12 season. Here are the numbers in US dollars:

    Royal Opera House – $42,586,920
    English National Opera – $27,609,723
    English National Ballet – $10,326,879
    London Philharmonic – $3,281,824
    London Symphony – $3,282,638
    Royal Philharmonic – $1,521,292
    London Sinfonietta – $839,276

    These institutions in London also receive massive amounts of funding:
    Southbank Centre – $33,375,226
    Royal National Theater – $29,561,565

    There is also the BBC London Orchestra which is state funded, and countless smaller organizations in London that are also generously funded. The City of London alone recieves far more public funding than the entire NEA.

    It is notable that the UK government spends over 70 million dollars on opera in London alone. And in spite of all of this, most other European governments spend far more on the arts than the UK. Public funding is why Europeans have richer cultural lives than Americans, why their cultural institutions are more stable, and access to cultural institutions more democratic.

    The above figures are available in Pounds at:

  2. Peter Sachon says:

    While I am glad that much of the industry is finally beginning to deal with the economic problems facing American symphonies, I find myself wishing that the discussion were wide enough to include this fundamental problem; the symphony’s artistic stagnation. Reasonable people may disagree about how to address this issue. However, during this time of self-reflection and reform we would be foolish to waste the chance to collectively address this elephant-in-the-room.

    For what it’s worth, a blog post I wrote about this a year ago:

  3. Katarina Markovic says:

    NEC’s faculty of Music History and Musicology is grateful to President Woodcock for sparking such lively discussions about the future of music. To your most recent blog post, we’d like to add that NEC has quite an extensive curriculum in Music History which also contributes to the development of thoughtful musicians.

    Musicology today is a very different field from the Music History curriculum of past generations: it is so much wider, inclusive and relevant for the minds and souls of young musicians, thus offering all the key components that complement the superb musical training for the comprehensive, all-around profile that NEC seeks for our students. Our department has a unique opportunity and privilege to offer our students the competitive edge, as well as intellectual and life tools that they will profit from during their future lives and careers.
    In music history and musicology courses, students have the opportunity to look beyond their own instrument—and beyond their comfort zone—to gain perspective on the bigger picture.
    In this context, we often discuss the following questions with our students:
    Where did your instrument come from? How has your instrument or repertoire been understood in the past? How does that inform the way you play now? How have musical genres and styles changed over time, and how does that affect our execution of music today? How does music reflect ideas and the intellectual climate of its time? How does it intersect with cultural and political attitudes? How does it relate to other arts? How did musicians support themselves in the past? How has patronage of arts changed through times and what lessons can we learn about the intersection of music and economic realities? What impact does recording technology have on the way you play, and on the meanings of music? Why do musicians play the same music again and again? Has it always been that way? What have the institutions of the concert hall and opera theater and recording studio done to the creation and re-creation of an artwork? How can you find new pieces of music to play? How can you find new old pieces of music to play?

    Courses in the Department of Music History and Musicology involve more than just “story-telling”: this composer did such-and-such, or that composer liked so-and-so. Our mission is to help our students gain access to skills and interpretive tools that will start them on a lifetime of independent thought about music.

    In our courses students
    • Participate in the ongoing conversation about music.
    • Articulate their own thoughts about music.
    • Acquaint themselves to unfamiliar repertoires, and question received ideas about familiar ones. (No one should be limited to playing exclusively the same pieces everyone else plays!)
    • Navigate the library to find things like reliable performing editions, a composer’s words about his own music, reviews of performances from centuries past.
    • Learn to draw clear connections between different kinds of music, including both Western and non-Western traditions.
    • Draw connections between music and other disciplines (arts, literature and criticism, philosophy, religion)
    • Improve their writing and speaking skills.

    We see it as a privilege to educate such exceedingly talented young musicians in these essential tools of musicianship and professionalism.

    Department of Music History and Musicology @ NEC (Rebecca Cypess, Helen Greenwald, Anne Hallmark, Bob Labaree, Greg Smith and Katarina Markovic, Chair)

  4. You make an important point, Peter. Symphony orchestras are an anachronism and essentially a dead art form. They were developed in the 19th century to perform newly emerged, large-scale romantic works. Among the first were the Vienna Philharmonic and the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, which both appeared in the 1840s. The symphony orchestra was designed from the outset to express a romantic ethos and spirit. These ensembles held their relevance for a little less than 100 years and ended with Ravel, Stravinsky, and Bartok.

    The only realistic future for the symphony orchestra is to accept that it needs to be curated as a historical legacy – one of the greatest achievements the human mind ever reached. New works should be programmed, but we should be past the point of thinking that the genre will be given a new life. It is simply too large, too romantic, too nationalistic, too patriarchal, too industrial in nature, too authoritarian, and too expensive.

    The death of the symphony orchestra is only natural and a sign of cultural progress. Fortunately, there are no new business or funding models that freeze us in time and turn the clock back. Our creativity will continue to grow and we will develop ensembles suited to our own time and culture. Sadly, these developments will be hindered by the American funding system. Most of the progress will probably be made in Europe. Generally speaking, money makes a difference.

    • Digoweli says:

      I believe that the performance of old art is a dance with the ancestors. I believe that it is a human need that transcends performance and any local musical formulas. That being said I believe the orchestra is the crown jewel of Western abstract music.

      Obviously I don’t believe that virtuoso orchestras are an anachronism. I believe the problem is economic and to be found in the religious superstition of capitalist market structures. “Invisible Hands” etc., etc., etc….

      I believe we have forgotten the potency of what we do and are lost in minutiae because it is cheap to do. In the book “Keeping Together in Time” William H. McNeill traces the advances of civilization and even the military from the addition of music and dance to the disciplines. He makes the point that no one suggests doing away with large military ensembles as anachronistic because they aren’t. Once they were added to the fray by Maurice of Orange they spread across Europe because armies that bonded through music and marched were better disciplined and better fighters. The same was true for the great Wind Ensembles in the mines of England where playing the instruments created teamwork and bonding necessary for survival in the hell of the underground coalmines. It was the mine owners who bought the instruments and paid for the uniforms because it made better workers and family members. In the Dance of Life by Edward T. Hall this anthropologist of rhythm (Proximics) studied the macro and micro movements of peoples of all ages and their use of time. He found that music came from the intricate rhythms of relationship that he called the “Dance of Life” and that as he was able to film and analyze those interactions that the rhythms of music would flow from those relationships of crowds of all ages. It seems that composers don’t just make things up but that they listen and notate what is in the world from what the Cherokee people call “The Way of Right Relationship.” That music, bonding, dance and complexity are essential to human growth and existence. Much more essential than for simple fun and entertainment.

      Where does that leave the orchestra? Waiting for a great composer to write the music of this time on the great instrumental system of the Western world. The orchestra is the gift to the rest of the world for all of the crap western economics and social theories have done to the rest of the world.

      Why do you think the Asians aren’t calling the orchestra an anachronism? Neither did the great American Indian composer Louis Ballard a neighbor from my home.

      I like you William and I liked your website. I’m also an old trombone player but Orchestras are the most virtuosic ensemble team that we have come up with to date. It’s not worn out anymore than a great vocal tone is worn out. People are lazy. They don’t want to learn to use what was passed down so they jack up the electricity and sing without resonance and power because its too hard to do. The same is true of that orchestral instrument. It’s not an anachronism, America just can’t afford to practice and conquer its complexity. Complexity is between the ears. If you can’t figure out what to do with it in the modern world, I respectfully submit that its not the problem of the instrument but the player.

      Figuring out the use and payment for the orchestra in today’s world is a problem of complexity. However, nothing is complex if you know how to do it. Like the orchestra, problematic situations can only be solved by groups. The individual is and has always been inadequate to the job. That’s beyond the realm of the orchestra and is the universe of the opera which includes all of the Arts and human competencies. In Art, the only freedom is competency but you know that already. That’s why your statement about orchestral anachronism makes no sense to me whatsoever. Digoweli

      • When ensembles, instruments, or musical forms cease to have an evolving, core literature, they become dead genres. I agree that orchestras should be maintained as historical legacies. Perhaps some future group of composers will find a way of writing new symphonic literature that genuinely enters the repertoire, though this would be a historical precedent. There has never been a period in history where an instrument or ensemble had a 50 year gap after the creation of its main repertoire and then experienced a rebirth through the creation of yet another main body of literature. Since this is unlikely to happen we can say that the symphony orchestra is a dead genre.

        The symphony orchestra’s authoritarian and steeply hierarchical power structures are also anachronistic, as is its romantic, industrial, nationalistic, and patriarchal ethos. These issues would also need to be resolved by composers who might create a future, core literature for the S.O. This probably won’t happen. Musical epochs have always created their own unique instruments and ensembles, and ours will too.

        We should enjoy and maintain the S.O. for what it is, even if it is represents an instrument and literature of another time.

  5. Larry Fried says:

    I agree with so much of what Tony has been saying. But let’s not forget that “the problem” isn’t exclusively about symphonies. The fact is that attendance for most every live form of entertainment has been declining for decades. This also includes jazz and rock concerts and sporting events. We’ve become a society which expects entertainment “on demand,” and we want to decide precisely when, where and how we want it. If you’re under 35, you wouldn’t know any other way. According the latest Nielsen survey (January 2011), the average American now watches television 34 hours per week. If you’re working 40 hours per week, taking care of personal chores and family business, that doesn’t leave much time, to say nothing of energy, to go to a symphony concert.

  6. Peter Sachon says:

    I’m very glad that we have arrived immediately at the crux of this issue. Self-imposed artistic stagnation is the unspoken fundamental issue facing American symphony orchestras. It is a subject that should be debated publicly by the musicians, and the industry. The result will define the future of these organizations.

    I agree Mr.Fried that there are many changes in the field of entertainment, but this has never been a zero-sum game. While our society changes, and those changes effect all live events, I am unconvinced that this goes hand-in-hand with the much more precipitous decline of the symphony. After all, there are people who still go to concerts and there are possibly even more people who might like to go; if the concert experience were worth it to them. At the moment, it is not. The symphony must learn is that it is the responsibility of the artists to ensure that the audience feels like the concert was worth their time.

    There are those who see the symphony as a museum of a dead art form, and they like it that way. Mr. Osborne, you suggested it should be treated as a “curated historical legacy”. That is a valid, but to my mind conservative, way of seeing things. In fact, in light of the never-changing American symphony, I would call this approach status-quo. If the larger industry agrees with this point of view, then the artistic and economic options available to American symphonies are self-evident. They will continue as museums, and social clubs, for as long as they are able, until they cannot.

    However, I disagree with the idea that the symphony should be a museum of this so-called dead art form. Rather than a museum, a symphony should be a progressive institution that entertains and challenges a larger section of the audience. The symphonic art form is actually alive and it contributes to our collective culture, but in new and modern ways. It exists currently in film scores, Broadway music, New (Art) Music, and increasingly in video-game music. This art comes from outside the traditional avenues used by the symphony. Naturally, for some, this new art is threatening. This art is mostly ignored by symphonic institutions for reasons ranging from ignorance, to tradition, to elitism. Combining this music with traditional symphonic music (and updating the outrageously old-fashioned presentation) is the way forward.

    There are of course many good ideas for how to address these problems, but doing nothing will only result in the further marginalization of the art form. Currently, we continue to attempt the symphony-as-museum paradigm, and it is not working artistically or fiscally. There can be an exciting and important future for symphonies in America, but only if they choose to fundamentally change their artistic world-view. As museums, they have little appeal.

  7. fireandair says:

    Peter, I like what you’ve said about film scores, etc. I think strongly that John Williams, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Howard Shore are the new classical music composers of our day, much more than just about anything coming out of academia. The majority of the old dead dues who wrote the stuff we think of as classical were doing it to entertain — even Beethoven, for all he’s held up as the apotheosis of the Artist Serving His Own Muse.

    But I’d still like to see how the old canon fits into this — and I want to see it played with. The following paradox has never failed to be boggling to me:

    1) People love to play modern pop and rock, making cool riffs from it, doing strange covers like reggae Beatles and rat-pack-style Queen, although this music is legally completely off-limits to them and the RIAA would probably love to cut their arms off for doing it or charge them their entire life savings.

    2) People insist on playing public domain music only and exactly as it is written, with absolutely no fooling around, although it’s free, owned by the entirety of Western culture, and not a single lawyer will sue you for reggae-ing up “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

    This is NUTS. Why can’t we PLAY with this stuff? Why is it that the legally most unconfined music, gobs and gobs of it, centuries worth of the stuff, is considered untouchable, as if some velvet rope exists that can’t be crossed?

    The TSO rocks up Mozart. I’ve heard their old violinist on YouTube absolutely blowing the Bach Double out of the water on an electric violin. Time for Three does it on stage. What’s to stop an orchestra from playing around with stuff in a similar way — and getting the following messages across to an audience:

    1) YOU can PLAY AROUND with this stuff! So you play a secondhand Fender instead of a violin? Who cares? Rock out a bassline to the Badinerie!

    2) Come to a concert, and you’ll hear fabulous stuff that’s never been heard before.

    I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to hear a Phila concert where they played something like the Brahms #4 straight, and then had some weekend jam-session groups from within the orchestra come forward and do little riffs off it with a 20s jazz feel, a salsa feel, a country feel, a rock feel … why not?

    Get this damn music out from behind the velvet rope. It’s berserk that the one form of music that lawyers will NOT bite your face off for playing with is the one form that we’re not allowed by cultural norms to play with. There’s that great doco film about the Phila called “Music from the Inside Out” where their principal trombone says he could play a solo from a Mahler symph in the style of Gershwin, but he’d get fired for doing it. Well, I wanna hear him do it!

  8. fireandair says:

    And BTW, I’m not saying that the music director for the orchestra would say, “We will be playing Brahms #4 this weekend. You, you, and you have been assigned to work up a samba based on these themes. You, you, and you have been assigned to work up a boogie number based on them. Get to work, and I must hear what you’ve done before you do it.”

    I’m thinking more, “We’re doing the Brahms #4. Any jam groups out there want to have a whack at it, let me know by this Friday.”

    A double bass player brings it up with one of the trumpets and the pianist over lunch, and they all agree to see what they can cook up. The rest of the orchestra — including the music director — may well not hear the piece until it’s performed, which I think would be cool.

  9. The only people who can reinvent the orchestra are composers. Administrators, performers, and fans might have ideas they passionately believe in, but ultimately it comes down to creating scores that enter the standard repertoire and revitalize the genre. For 50 years we have been waiting in vain for this to happen. We can now say its not going to.

    Many composers have tried using current popular music but none of the efforts have come even close to revitalizing symphonic literature. We can conclusively say that hasn’t worked and that it will produce little more than small fixes and curiosities. Neither have any of the other ideas like video, new venues, new dress codes, changes to concert decorum, social media, free concerts, and live streaming. We might as well use these techniques to revitalize the lute, hurdy-gurdy, cornetto, and viola da gamba. Orchestras are not yet thought of as early music ensembles, but for the most part, that is what they are.

    Orchestras are a lot like prairie schooners. They are both muscle powered; they make a lot of noise; they evoke 19th century cultural nationalism; they were instruments of hegemony; they represent manly heroism; they have iconic historical legacies; and they played important roles in building nations. But we will no sooner revitalize the symphony orchestra than we will return to traveling around the country in large oxen pulled wagons. The continuing efforts now border on silliness.

    • James Orleans says:

      This notion that some outside force determines what enters the repertoire is specious. The way new pieces enter the repertoire is by, and has only been by, ardent advocates choosing to replay and reprogram important works. Koussevitsky is the model for this. He presented a new piece and if he thought highly of it he programmed it over and over again (some getting repeats for many seasons in a row), making sure he, his, orchestra, and his audience understood that it was more important than the next new piece. Many “repertoire” works got this treatment under his championship. We cannot expect the best new works to jump out at audiences that have no ears for new compositional languages. It just won’t hapen that way. Posterity has always relied on the vision of musical leaders, be they soloists or conductors, and rarely on audience clamor for this piece or that. Composers have been continuously creating scores of the highest mastery, up to this very day. It is our present musical leadership that has not been able to recognize them and steer us through the 90% of the forgettable music written in any given era to highlight the best; and there are many dozens of fantastic works written in genre-enriching styles. Extraordinary, beautiful, exciting, and masterfully written music that has every right to be brought into the repertoire has been penned by (in alphabetical order) , Adams, Ades, Aho, Bax, Bennett (Richard Rodney), Bliss, Birtwistle, Britten, Carter, Constant, Copland, Dutilleux, Gerhard, Ginastera, Gould, Gubaidulina, Harbison, Henze, Hindemith, Honegger, Imbrie, Ives, Jolivet, Koechlin, Kurtag, Ligeti, Lindberg, Lutoslawski, Martin, Martinu, MacMillan, Matthews, Maxwell-Davies, Maw, Mennin, Miyoshi, Nigg, Norgaard, Part, Penderecki, Persichetti, Piston, Rautavaara, Ruders, Schnittke, Sessions, Shchedrin, Schuman, Sallinen, Schuller, Takemitsu, Tippett, Varese, Vaughn-Williams, Wuorinen…selected works of whose deserve hearing again and again, which is the only way a piece comes to be familiar, a “repertoire” addition. The symphonic art form is vibrantly alive. It is not the fault of the music that listeners are so closed to the very innovations that many here are expecting to revitalizing the genre. Open your ears. It is happening now, the great music of our time is here. We simply are not giving it enough of a hearing to see its value to our continued musical raison d’etre.

      It is, and has been, the duty of Music Directors throughout the world to be the visionaries of the best of the new. They have failed us by not following the blueprint laid out by our predecessors.

  10. Michael says:

    While it is important to support the community, the value that a world-class Orchestra gives is in great performances. This cannot happen as easily if demands for their time keep them shuttling between schools and hospitals instead of rehearsing and refining their understanding of the pieces they are going to perform for us.

    Sometimes, giving the public what they howl for isn’t the best way to serve the public.

  11. Pingback: Orchestras (Part V) (via Tony’s Blog) « Cello Practice Smackdown

  12. Peter Sachon says:

    Composers have never stopped revitalizing the symphonic genre. It is the classical industry, and the symphony orchestra in particular, that has simply ignored them. The symphonic art these composers have created has elevated generations of people, most of whom don’t go to the symphony. They have written, and (importantly) they continue to write great American symphonic music, year after year.

    A very small list of examples, just off the top of my head: John Williams, Max Steiner, Eric Korngold, Alfred Newman, Ennio Morriconi, Danny Elfman, Nino Rota, Franz Waxman, Bernard Herman, Howard Shore, Dimitri Tiomkin…and these are just a few of the film composers. Broadway: Rogers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Guettel, Gordon, La Chiusa, Schwartz, Lerner and Lowe….Video games: Giacchino, Zimmer, Uematsu, Harry Williams, Kenji Kondo…

    I enjoyed the analogy of the schooner, but I think it is more aptly applied to the collective mind-set of symphonic classical musicians. They are stuck in a false paradigm that doesn’t allow them to consider these huge genres (film music, Broadway, video game music) as symphonic art. They remain afraid of change; they would rather cease to exist. We must constantly challenge them to view music through the lens of art, rather than archeology.

    However, there is no reason to be pessimistic. Symphony orchestras may have a long history, but they are still just a large band. They can change, and offer new and different (and old) art. It’s just a matter of getting a critical mass of established industry leaders to agree to move forward. Pushing forward is not silly, it is the artists’ reason to be.

    • Interesting perspectives, Peter. I really like the work of composers like Danny Elfman, James Horner, John Williams, Nino Rota, and others. Nevertheless, I think the most controversial aspect of your last post would be your evaluation of film, video game, and Broadway music. Some typical objections would be:

      1. A living art from must continue to develop conceptually. If composers do not innovate a genre loses touch with its Zeitgeist and becomes irrelevant. Most cinematic and video game music derives from early 20th century composers like Mahler, Strauss, Prokofiev, Ravel, Lehar, Respighi, and Orff. We might as well listen to the work of their predecessors, which was usually better anyway. And to be fair, the efforts of so-called “art music” composers since WWII have been equally unsuccessful. Their innovations have generally been contrived, wooden, insiderish, and ineffective with publics.
      2. Musicals have not advanced past 19th century concepts of theater and music. Most are Americanized versions of techniques used by European operetta composers about a hundred years ago. From a symphonic perspective, they are even less innovative than film composers. (A possible exception would be Bernstein, whose use of jazz was truly innovative and appealing to a wide public. And on the operatic side, I also deeply admire the work of Benjamin Britten. His War Requiem is one of the few works since WWII to enter the repertoire.)
      3. Sustained musical structures are the essence of the symphonic form. Very few film and video composers wrote substantial works for the concert stage. And the few that did were no more successful than the art-music composers in revitalizing the symphonic repertoire.
      4. Great art should give us insights about our humanity and existential condition that are profound and intangible. Most film, video, and musical compositions are relatively one-dimensional. And here too, I wouldn’t say contemporary art-music composers have been any more successful.

      If the types of composers you mention had really offered something substantial they would have long since revitalized the symphony orchestra’s repertoire. Artists must push forward as you say, but we also have to recognize the dead ends when we see them. All the same, I admire your conviction and hope that your theories for revitalizing symphony orchestras might turn out to be workable. Perhaps there are weaknesses in the aesthetic theories we use to evaluate the kinds of composers you mention.

    • fireandair says:

      Total agreement — I remember exiting the theater after one of the LOTR movies and seeing a substantial fraction of those around me go right from the theater to the music store across the way in the mall to buy the soundtrack. People who say that symphonic music doesn’t connect with today’s average schmoe don’t know what they’re talking about, or they are deliberately defining “symphonic music” such that that connection is severed.

  13. Peter Sachon says:

    Thanks for the list, Mr. Osborne. I am grateful we are discussing these controversies. All too often, these sort of conversations never occur in this industry. We would all be richer if the industry’s leadership would engage in actual artistic discussions.

    All these composers have offered, and continue to offer, very substantial art to our collective culture. This music hasn’t revitalized the symphony because the symphony won’t play it; it exists and influences our culture without the consent of the symphony. Just because classical musicians don’t take this music seriously, that does not mean it is not serious music. The industry wishes to impose upon the world its strict ideas of how art should develop, but art has never listened to such nonsense. John Williams means more to the last few generations of Americans than Respighi or Prokofiev ever will. His music (for example) is wrongly looked down upon, in much the same way that great music of the past has been looked down upon by the establishment. After all, it was not so long ago that Mahler’s music had to be championed in New York.

    Also, Broadway music has actually moved well beyond it’s opera/operetta origins. It is not only a uniquely American art form, it continues to grow and change even now. Some of it is great art. These composers do not see the difference between what they write for a musical, and what they write for other venues. Stephen Schwartz, of “Wicked”, just had an opera premiered at City Opera. Ricky Ian Gordon’s opera “Grapes of Wrath” is touring the world. Adam Guettel constantly amazes. Lenny Bernstein is, without qualification, one of America’s greatest composers. The idea that this music is a cheap knock-off of operetta is insulting, and simply not true.

    The point being that all these different kinds of music continue to grow, and to be a source of artistic nourishment for many many people. That it hasn’t entered the repertoire is due to the bad judgement of the symphony, not the art.

    There are countless parallels in dance, art, photography, cuisine, movies (as art), musicals, animation, etc. Always the artists challenge expectations, the establishment resists, and afterwards we all look back and wonder how it wasn’t obvious that the artists were right. However, unlike every other genre, classical music and the symphony fight against change with a voracity that threatens to suffocate the form.

    The more the classical industry tries to force everyone to acquiesce to their way of seeing art, the less relevant the industry becomes. There will always be critics who find fault in the structure, the references, the harmony, the source material, the length, the lack of length, etc. One can, and some do, have a career simply bashing the new. We are awash in riches of symphonic art, but the hubris of many classical musicians won’t allow them to see and enjoy it.

    • Peter, most of the music you mention is regularly played on pops concerts, so why has this not played a significant role in revitalizing the symphony orchestra?

      • Peter Sachon says:

        Film, Broadway, and video game music has not revitalized the classical symphony orchestras because those orchestras do not play this music!

        Pops concerts (which I find to be an unfortunate and condescending term) that include this music do very well. One might even say that these concerts often pay for the classical concerts to continue. For example, the LA Philharmonic Association had a huge ticket buying audience with John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. They would regularly sell more than sixteen-thousand (16,000!) seats per-night to concerts playing this very music. The Boston Symphony never wants for an audience when they rename themselves the Boston Pops and play film and Broadway music. A few years ago, a game developer from Japan rented the LA Philharmonic to play a concert of Nobuo Uetmatsu’s music from the game “Final Fantasy”; it sold out in less than three days in what Deborah Borda described as “a virtual riot at the box office”. Even now, there is a pick-up orchestra from Switzerland running around the world playing music from “The Lord of the Rings”. When they were in NYC, they sold out Radio City Music Hall, which seats six-thousand. As a comparison, Avery Fisher Hall (the home of the NY Phil) seats twenty-six hundred.

        There is a vast, and enthusiastic, audience for this music. If classical symphony orchestras programmed a wider variety of art regularly, taking all of it seriously (for example: http://springformusic.com/2011/01/eternal-stories/ ), and updated the presentation, they would find revitalization waiting for them.

      • fireandair says:

        It has in LA. I live here. As Peter says, the HB summer series is brimming with that sort of stuff, and the place routinely sells out or at least is quite packed. LA just has an orchestra that doesn’t whine when expected to play Beatles, Bernstein, and Howard Shore.

  14. “Perhaps there are weaknesses in the aesthetic theories we use to evaluate the kinds of composers you mention.”

    I’ll say! Outside of Peters examples there are plenty of other art music traditions that involve large forces–sometimes mimicking Western Orchestras sometimes just growing out of their own indigenous art traditions. Not only are symphony orchestras not filling the needs for a modern audience, the music within its Eurocentric confines isn’t as likley to connect with non-European Americans much–which is probably why it shouldn’t be surprising that there is a growing number of non-Western Orchestras in the US to correspond with the growing non-Euro-American population.

    So in a way, Western Orchestras, even if they do play the film scores, the broadway musicals, the video-game music, in the end, they will still only be curators of a predominantinly Euro-American art form.

  15. Peter, regarding the link you give above, I would agree that John Williams’ score for Superman is remarkable, and one of his very best works. His skills are mind-boggling. The suite has been recorded by the LSO. For those not familiar with the work, twelve clips from the CD can be heard here:


    On the other hand, some people might wonder how edifying fantasy music about super heroes might be. If people said this music celebrates simplistic bombast and superficial notions of heroism, how would you respond? What do the titles of the suite’s movements like “Super Rescues,” “Superfeats,” “March of the Villains,” and “Chasing Rockets” tell us, if anything? What is the right balance in art music between immediate gratification and something that invokes thought about the complexities of life that are not quite so black and white as Clark Kent’s world?

    • Peter Sachon says:

      Mr. Osborne, it’s great music isn’t it!? I would invite anyone who wonders about this music, or any music, to listen. If they find that the music is simplistic and superficial, or beautiful and wonderful; all anyone can do is decide for themselves.

      One of the reasons I support the symphony playing film music is that this music does, already, offer complex and gratifying art. However, one of the real challenges of performing film music (or really, any music other than classical) is that it does not arrive at the symphony’s office ready to play. One must take the original material, and choose what to play, and how it all goes together. This is what I did in the link above. In the case of the score to Superman, there are ready-to-play suites of music that have the main themes, with a tag. This is the music often heard at Pops concerts, but suites like this unfortunately give some people the impression that that is all there is to a given score. Imagine hearing only the Ode to Joy, and thinking that that is the whole work! And, there are many people who take advantage of the music’s popularity to sell things, often using the most obvious sections of music, again and again. Even on the Amazon link above, that is an abridged album showing 14 popular tracks; the original has 35. The absence of “The Death of Jonathan Kent” is particularly felt. Also, speaking of titles, the titles you mentioned are the titles chosen for sections of music during the scoring process; they are meant to be utilitarian, not artistic statements about the music.

  16. R.W.F. says:

    I will follow up your comments regarding my post on your blog with this additional comment. Please consider this…when the US government took over General Motors, the government did not fire the line worker, not the designer, not the engineer. No, wisdom suggests that the government fired exactly the people who were responsible for the demise of GM. They fired CEO Rick Wagoner, most of the top executive team and they also replaced most of the board. They understood that these were the people who were responsible for the problems at GM. Could it not be that the same level of people are also responsible for the major problems at most of the orchestras in the US. I submit that management, and the boards who hired them, messed up. No one else. The problem with orchestras, as was at GM, is that the workers, in this case musicians and support staff, get the dirty end of the stick for doing their jobs…in most cases doing them very well.

    In the mean time, the boards of these orchestras think that they are going a good job because they often donate money, sometimes very big money, to their orchestra. The money they give is very much and sincerely appreciated by those of us who could never make such contributions, are not musicians, yet value the benefits of having a world-class orchestra in our city to hear and enjoy. But one has to think that these board members feel that their large donations also absolve them from any responsibility or complicity in the poor management of their respective organizations. It does not. They are responsible. There are challenges, especially when these leaders often do not attend orchestra concerts. Some have never attended orchestra concerts. Sadly, it is painfully evident that they do not even understand how the organizations that they financially support even functions. It truly seems that they either do not understand, or perhaps they have forgotten, that they are custodians of a valued entity. Any time an organization flounders it is the management who must be held accountable. It is the board who has that responsibility.

    • Peter Sachon says:

      How would you suggest that orchestras solve the problem of poor board management?

      • R.W.F. says:

        Dear Mr. Sachon;

        Thanks you for your request. Here are a few things that could help every orchestra in the country virtually right out of the gate.

        1) Have a requirement that all board members attend a minimum number of concerts including subscription, kiddy, educational, run-outs, and pops concerts so that board members can actually see what the orchestra does. The board must actually understand what product their organization is delivering to the community.

        2) Contrary to what most non-profit organization administrators say, their boards should interact with members of the organization…in this case members of the orchestra and staff. Granted, some orchestra members can be prickly. But, there should be a willing list of orchestra musicians who will polity and positively speak with the board. It makes no sense that members of the board often cannot provide the name of one orchestra member.

        3) There should be some type of orientation for orchestra board members. The major orchestra in my local city has some board members who have never once been to the hall were the orchestra performs.

        4) Musicians, board and management should search out and actively recruit legitimate candidates for board membership. A challenge, I know, but this will require real collaboration between all three groups.

        5) There should be a specific list of tasks and responsibilities outlined and assigned to all board members. This should include financial obligations, committee memberships and event participation. Such job descriptions should be made public for all to see.

        6) Eliminate perpetual and eternal executive board positions for any one individual. Rotate people thought these posts.

        7) Board members should be required to purchase a few tickets from the ticket window, on-line, or other ticket providing venues so that they can discover first-hand what their patrons must go through to obtain tickets to concerts. I suspect that if they did this they would be quite disappointed in the process and the obstacles patrons have to go through to secure seats to concerts.

        8) Board members must be required to sit in with orchestra patron focus groups…best if they do it anonymously, as if they are members of the focus group and patrons themselves.

        9) Every board member should shadow a musician for a day to see what musicians actually have to go through. I guarantee this would be quite an eye-opener for virtually every board member. Several members of the board of the orchestra in my city where recently overheard stating that they were shocked to learn that the musicians in the orchestra even had to practice their instruments…they thought that they musicians at this level never had to practice anymore. I suspect the thought that some board members have that their orchestra’s musicians are these greedy, money-hungry ingrates would fall away rather quickly. Some of these board members are completely out of touch.

        10) Read something about orchestras other than the standard literature of the League of American Orchestras.

        There are probably another 50 other things that can be done. But if board members actually did these and others, they would become much more informed about what is actually going on within their organization. From that they would become educated and would be able to provide real leadership.

      • R.W.F. says:

        Dear Mr. Sachon;

        Here are a few other things that boards can do.

        – Actually read through the contract that they have with their musicians. The board members in our city’s orchestra where quite surprised when they read what the management was requesting from the musicians.

        – Understand how the union actually interacts with musicians. Many board members do not know that the local and the musicians in the orchestra elect their negotiating committee and get to choose their own legal representatives. They still think that the musicians union is run by old-time AFL-CIO or UAW rules. The musician’s union is very different.

        – Listen to what the orchestra’s management says, but verify all of it, and have a sceptical attitude to what they say. Watch what they do. Do not swallow it all hook. line and sinker.

    • Peter Sachon says:

      Thanks R.W.F.

      Sorry, I can’t seem reply directly to your posts below.

      Certainly, it is likely true that if a board better understood the entire organization, and the entire industry, they would provide more informed leadership. It could quite possibly be better leadership. Your ideas would certainly help move things in that direction.

      However, these ideas ignore how the board of a symphony actually functions. Most symphonic boards are made up of donors who give in various large, and annual, amounts. They are usually business leaders who have diverse interests, and who give to many organizations. Most of these businesspeople are on several boards. Many are also active in their alumni associations, not to mention their personal jobs. The point being, the symphony is not necessarily the focus of most people who can give in the amounts necessary to be on a board. If a symphony were to impose rules of membership (past annual giving amounts) on the board it would result in many of them withdrawing support.

      Of course there ought to be accountability for the management, but I’m not sure asking more of the board is the answer. I might suggest the idea that at the end of each season the financial records of that season be made accessible to the board, and members of the symphony. The transparency of finances (however it is implemented) would would go a long way to empowering the musicians, and donors, to help advocate for where they think capital should be spent.

      • Peter Sachon says:

        Oh, it put the response in the correct place, awesome!

      • R.W.F. says:

        Dear Mr. Sachon;

        Thanks for your comments…they are thoughtful and greatly appreciated. I think you might be surprised to read that I actually agree with much of what you say here regarding how typical symphony boards currently function. I have served on a symphony board and am well aware of how they work. But without knowing it you have actually made my point in the few posts that I had made to Mr. Tony Woodcock’s blog.

        My point here, and in a previous post, is that many people are proclaiming that there has to be a new model for the symphony orchestra musician. The 21 century model needs to be implemented by today’s musician. All seem to be for it, if it is not them, but they are for it…if it is required for the musician. It is the musician that needs to change, they claim. Musicians need to adapt to service conversions, they need to do community outreach, and they need to be involved in education. Mr. Woodcock proclaims even here how proud he is of the entrepreneurial training the New England Conservatory is providing to young newly educated musicians. Always the musician, the musician, the musician. But no one, including Mr. Woodcock, or the League of American Orchestras, ever says anything about a new model for management or a new model for the board of symphony orchestras in the United States. Everyone keeps saying that the musicians need to change. But no one says that management or boards need to change. Why? This is not reasonable. It cannot, and should not exclusively fall on the musician alone.

        You have made my point, rather clearly, actually. You are right. My change of action for the board does ignore how the board of a typical symphony currently functions. My point is intentional. I agree that most symphonic boards are made up of donors who give in various large, and annual, amounts. I agree that they are usually business leaders who have diverse interests, and who give to many organizations. I agree that most of these businesspeople are on several boards. Many are also active in their alumni associations, not to mention their personal jobs.

        But that is exactly why we have the problems with symphony orchestras right now. It is not because of musicians or the union. We have had way too many do-nothing-boards. They throw money into the pit and then walk away believing, erroneously, that they have done their civic duty. They have been good with the cash but abysmal with their involvement and actions. They have let management proceed with terrible agreements, allowed bad business decisions, and have permitted executive board committees to hired incompetent managerial leadership. My experience is that management is quite happy to have it this way. They take the money and then tell the board to go away after paining a rose picture for them regarding the future at their annual meeting. The fact is that the boards of most orchestras typically just have not done their job, nor have they followed though with their administrative obligations.

        What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If the musicians need to adopt a new 21st century model, then it should start at the top of the orchestra organization…this means the management and the board. It is true, there might be fewer board members and less money flowing in, but I guarantee, there will be a better run organization. Let there be a 21st century model first for the management and board of the symphony orchestra. Let it start at the top. Do not place this requirement only on the musicians.

      • Peter Sachon says:

        Hi R.W.F.

        There is no question that there have been some bad management decisions, and fiscally unsound agreements. Management as well the musicians have been a part of this process. However, the call for substantial change in how a symphony is managed (change from the top), means that there are de-facto ramifications for the roles and responsibilities of the musicians. The change cannot simply be at the managerial level, because any managerial change that excludes the musicians will result in another, and similar, top-down system. Also, I’m sure you are aware that often symphonic musicians view management as an enemy. While one can understand their view, this dynamic must change if anything meaningful is to be accomplished.

        The musicians (and the union) must be open to substantially changing their existing roles and their contracts if they want to change how an orchestra is managed. One way to do this would be for the musicians must become stakeholders in the overall organization; tying their salaries to the decisions they help to make. Of course, there are many many ideas for reform. Do you have any ideas as to how you would like to see a symphony structured?

    • Digoweli says:


      A couple of things from my dealing with boards and patrons.
      1. Boards (Patrons) personally consider themselves “owners” with the management as their “employees” although they only use that language at parties and in private, and sometimes on exclusive internet lists.

      2. “Reporting to a board” about what is happening in an organization is usually met with a look that says if it can’t be explained in three pages you are incompetent. So a complicated “developmental plan” gets less study from a board than the instructions on what to do with the key to the bathroom in corporate headquarters. What we get instead is the group pathology known as “groupthink.”

      3. As “owners” they consider that what they need in “artistic products” is commensurate with how much they can “consume.” Audiences are only there to make the patron’s necessary contributions less, in order to get the amount of art they need to sustain what they call “their culture.” (Strategic Giving) Have you ever had the wealthy walk out of an event because there was too many ordinary music lovers with no money and they didn’t care to know them?

      4. Are you familiar with the strategies known as “strategic giving?” Where the patron works, as a part of game theory, to give the least amount possible and still get what they need for their own consumption?

      5. Do you insist that “productivity lag” is the fault of management when they have to sustain the families of their ensemble members and the members still have time to do unpaid practice time in order to keep up unlike other corporate workers? Are you familiar with the works of William Baumol and the inability to sustain work forces in large ensembles due to the “Baumol disease, i.e. “Productivity Lag” the Hanta Virus of Arts groups?

      6. I realize the boards may be called “custodians” but do you believe that the wealthy advocating the flat tax, that will destroy all Arts deductions, consider themselves custodians or owners? And, do you believe they care about American contemporary identity expressed by the Arts? Have you ever had to fund a contemporary music festival by a major American composer?

      7. Do you believe that the current “patrons” are the same as the “patrons” of history who were royalty and thus members of the government?

      What I’m asking is when Mozart was supported by the Roman Catholic Church or by a member of Royalty, was that truly “private patronage” or was it “government subsidy” for the purpose of domestic tranquility and happiness amongst the commoners?

      8. Finally, do you believe any system that suffers from “Productivity Lag” and depends upon begging from the taste and whims of the private sector, to make up the difference, has a possibility of sustaining the life of great virtuosos at anything? Digoweli

  17. Digoweli says:

    A couple of comments.
    1. I applaud President Woodcock for making this blog and for using his first name.
    2. However, his comment about orchestras and unions, left out the whole history of the orchestras that eliminated individual entrepreneurship, which began with the founding of the Higginson BSO in the 1880s. (See Levine Harvard Massey Lectures. “Highbrow/Lowbrow, etc.”)
    From that time forward there were no longer performer entrepreneurs but paid hired hands, either by individuals like Higginson or groups of wealthy folks as the committee running the NY Philharmonic. With the exception of groups like the Hank Lane Orchestral corporations in New York for public entertainment and rituals the time of the musical entrepreneur ended, when Higginson demanded that “his” musicians stop (entrepreneurship) as a condition of being hired by his BSO. It didn’t take long for the other major orchestras to follow suit. Orchestras with the help of the government deduction became the property of the wealthy 2% and as a result there was from 1900 to the 1950s a 98% reduction in live classical performance jobs in America. In 1900 there were 1,300 opera houses in the state of Iowa alone. Today we have 210 and we see what is happening in Philadelphia and the NYCity Opera. William Baumol has said that we do not suffer from less money, due to productivity advances, but we do suffer from a need and a desire for the upper 2% to fund the Arts for the lower 98%.
    I don’t blame that on unions and I think the union argument is incorrect.
    The NYTimes announced today, that the New York City Opera will leave Lincoln Center because of the “productivity lag,” first elucidated by William Baumol in his 1968 study on the Arts in America. “Productivity” says that you should be able to downsize the orchestra to achieve a cut in costs: Cut the flute or tuba player because they aren’t playing much. It seems silly? We’ve been looking at the wrong problem in my opinion. Originally the classics were cut because radio and recordings would make them available at far higher levels of competence than local arts groups could muster. Can you imagine such an excuse for eliminating the farm teams for major league baseball? The problem IMHO is a lack of drive, insight and belief in the psycho-physical value of the Arts in the development of every individual American and in the importance of developing a cultural identity in the life of corporate America that is loyal to our Nation.
    Today, we have as many classical radio stations New York as there were in Tulsa in the 1960s but we still put on the smiley face. It’s appalling. Maybe, we should look more seriously into the problem of entrepreneurship and the building of purpose and a fan base, but first we have to re-establish the importance of Art in our lives and our belief in the importance of Art for the life of every American citizen and we have to sell it daily in everything that we are. The “isn’t sustainable” argument of the wealthy is nonsense. If they paid a decent tax, the government could sustain just fine and the public taste would be more contemporary, democratic and a higher quality based on the development of American complex culture. Its time grew up and recognized old art for what it is. Old and predictable.
    3. Contemporary classical music is complex art and requires a high generic level of personal mastery. Entertainment is leisure and requires performing virtuosity even though the music is derivative, predictable and relaxing. What happened to the old rule that Art was supposed to develop you?
    Entertainment can be “hard to do,” (i.e. require mastery) but it is still considered by the economists to be “leisure;” which is the opposite of “work,” according to “classical” economic systems.
    When Johnny Carson created a massive TV following, garnering a huge audience, NBC attracted big advertising dollars. Carson performed a “service” for NBC to advertise their products. “Leisure” commercial work is always in the service of something, other than itself.
    The “service” is “work” but the product is derivative. Such products are known and demeaned in the ad business as “trinkets” and “trash.” That was the term used several years ago by a Towers Perrin executive in describing the TV shows that advertised marketed goods, i.e. products.
    But what about classical musicians? Do we provide a “service?” We do provide a “service” but the service is in the development of the human psycho-physical instrument and the evolution of human culture. “Classical” economics has no category for this, other than “public goods” – a term that indicates a lack of profitability. Public Goods have the Baumol disease termed in economics as a terminal productivity lag. It’s called that because Dr. Baumol was the first to explain why the classical arts could not be profitable because of costs and ticket limitations under the current rules of the marketplace.
    Another problem is that classical economists define unpaid musical practice as “leisure” or “education.” So that the concert pianist who practices ten hours a day for nothing, isn’t “working;” according to Classical Economics.
    The problem is systemic and definitive. I believe the current economic and cultural dogma has improperly branded classical art as “useless” and of no “utility.” And that it is the primary reason that the complex, classical arts are dying in America: Economics says there are only two categories in the marketplace – “goods” and “services.”
    Where do the classical arts – opera, classical vocal music, orchestras, ballet, chamber music, etc. fit in?
    According to classical economics – they don’t fit in. As a result there are less and less jobs and the jobs that are out there are dying. Senator Tom Coburn the father of an Opera singer at the Metropolitan Opera and the half brother of an International opera director and voice teacher believes, as an acolyte of the economic faith, that the Arts are valueless except as leisure. There is something very wrong with the economic system as taught by our schools and universities and the acceptance of such by a whole generation of classical musicians. This is very different from saying that there is “something wrong with us” or that “we are not doing something right” artistically.
    We are doing something wrong but it is political and economic; not artistic.
    It was Gunther Schuller who told me in 1970 at Central City, Colorado that you can “only know if it is any good if you are willing to enter into the full universe of it and learn its rules and ways. Its logic.” He said: “Only then do you have the right to an opinion about it.”
    Are we game for entering into the “full universe” and “rules” of how our economic system works against the classical arts in order to stop the hemorrhaging ?
    What do you think?

    • Peter Sachon says:

      I want to understand your view. Are you are arguing that the entire socio-economic system in the U.S. is pushing classical art out of existence? The artists’, and institutional, choices have nothing at all to do with this?

      • Digoweli says:

        “Productivity lag” means that live performance, i.e. acoustical non electrically-enhanced performances with ensembles the size of an orchestra or an opera company, have too high labor costs to make their budgets via ticket and other sales.

        No opera company or orchestra in America makes their costs by sales. That’s why the New York City Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra are in trouble. They’ve had to eat into the investments of their endowments to pay salaries and other basic costs. You can blame the artists with the “unsustainable” brand but what orchestral artist will do the top level work for less than a mid-line hedge fund manager in a city where housing alone can make a family impossible. That’s not a job or even work. It’s an ego satisfaction and ego is a very poor developer of artistry. The only way you can sustain such commitment and dedication is if you have less work, more people competing and most of them never making a living after paying from the age of six for very expensive training.

        The problem is systemic and yes it is a problem with the capitalist system as it is practiced by America today.

        (I’m not preaching socialism or communism or a King, but I am saying that the system has to be changed through a careful analysis and strategy by today’s artistic community. Especially the musical community. )

        The top earners in all large ensembles in America make about 60% of their income on sales. They have to make up the 40% deficit with individual, corporate and government grants.

        That’s called “Productivity Lag” by economists. Smaller ensembles and shows like on Broadway, do not have that problem for two reasons. A string quartet can play at Lincoln Center and potentially make money because of only four salaries to maintain as long as the audiences are big. But halls are a limited venue and are often outrageous in the major cities making even sold out houses for a string quartet iffy. But it can and does work.

        Broadway shows are the “same show” with a diminishing cost as the show sells out and continues repeating night after night 8 shows a week. Depending on the show, they can begin to make their costs and even make a profit if their run goes anywhere from 120 performances to several years.

        The key is the economy of “costs vs. the ability to lower costs” through savings on things that only have to be paid once or with a small royalty. Labor costs are the killer here but Artists have to eat and quality costs money.

        On that level film is the best. They can make a film for a set amount. Make that money in theaters, then spend a dollar to reproduce a DVD of the film and send it world wide for anywhere from $15 to $35 or $40. The dollar is the cost, everything else is profit. Films were the greatest export of America for many years and may still be. When people tell you that Art is not business then films show that to be nonsense.

        On the other hand, live performance has zero possibility of any kind of “productivity” without some very creative thinking that reduces the costs of “one of a kind” , non repertory performances.

        Imagine what the standardization of the piano keyboard made possible for music during Mozart’s day. One musician, one standard instrument in a hall. After you buy the piano and pay for it, the only cost is tuning. Any piano, even the best, is generic. Today our theaters and theatrical technology is often one of a kind and costs millions. If pianos had not been generic but one of a kind, there would have been no generic piano players and no one would have been able to afford the cost of what goes in to making a virtuoso on a one of a kind instrument. Think Harry Partch. It doesn’t matter how great one is if no one performs you. Yes the problem is the system but even more the problem lies between the ears of every Artist who thinks that all they need to do is produce a world class product and they will fine. They won’t.

  18. fireandair says:

    “And orchestras lack legitimacy in their own communities.”

    Simply put, orchestras lack respect for their communities. They whine when they have to play music that typical people like — which is sometimes gorgeous symphonic music like the stuff Peter’s been talking about, every bit as complex as anything written 100 years ago. And they have heart attacks when people suggest playing Bach or Tchaikovsky on a non-symphonic instrument.

    Why not?

    Because average people like this stuff.

    Eew, them?

    Yes. Those people whose money you need on ticket sales to stave off Chapter 11? Them.

    The disdain for the typical surrounding community is palpable. I just don’t see what the attitude that the typical classical world has for “lay” people is going to accomplish. The classical music industry needs the community’s money through ticket sales, but it hates playing what they like (often beautiful and complex) and wants them to keep their icky cooties off of it.

    But it also wants to be relevant to them at the same time? Or relevant enough to get them to open their wallets?

    Seriously, they are acting like the creepy guy in the bar who hates and resents women but who doesn’t realize that no amount of cologne will hide that attitude, so women won’t go near him. His reaction? To resent them even more.

    That’s why pop and rock make more money. Because they don’t disdain their audiences. In fact, they often write music from the point of view of the typical listener. (Billy Joel and Jonathan Cain are geniuses at that — and there’s more.) They write and perform things that ennoble the audience as they are. Here’s a song (ex. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” or “Still They Ride”) that speaks of what rhetorical-you, the listener, are feeling and living and have experienced. It is noble. YOU are noble. That is why people love that music. It’s not the fireworks on stage, it’s not the visuals, it’s not the blinking lights and the flashy logos. It’s that.

    The only reason I continue to love classical music and opera is because I was also raised with that, in a blue-collar environment. And I continue to love the music in the presence of a steady headwind of people who think I have no business being there and who pinch their faces up like they just stepped in something when I mention Queen and Mahler in the same sentence. (Try mentioning Frankie Valli to a seatmate during a David Daniels recital if you want to see someone’s face pucker.) I often feel like an impostor in the audience at many classical performances — a stealth rock fan in disguise as an upper-class person.

    The classical music industry assumes that the audience is a bunch of insects that need ennobling by becoming something they aren’t. It assumes they need to be “improved.”

    And of course, coincidentally, “improving” means “becoming more like us.” Funny how that’s often the case.

    Let me tell you right now, people aren’t going to pay for that. “You suck the way you are” works to sell plastic surgery and tooth whiteners. Not music.

    Forget being “relevant” to the community and “engaging” with it. The classical music industry needs to respect the community first. Otherwise, any attempt to “engage” will rightly be sniffed out as insincere and hypocritical.

    • Digoweli says:

      I don’t think you understand that a rock and roll band or almost any other small ensemble can make money off of ticket sales but an orchestra cannot. Even a chamber orchestra is incapable of recovering its costs for elite trained and expensive labor through ticket sales. That is what I was speaking of when I used the term “Productivity Lag.” It is a problem of all large ensembles that they are incapable of making more than 60% of their income from sales. Everything else is begging and who wants to have the life of a beggar when you work so hard and long practicing at no pay?

      • fireandair says:

        If an orchestra can’t, then what difference does it make if they are “relevant” to any culture but the one of their donors? Why all the sturm und drang about relevance and putting up screens and letting people tweet and all that stuff?

        If the bulk of an orchestra’s money is being made off donors, then they should get used to the way things were in the middle ages when they had patrons and played private concerts for the aristocracy. They didn’t make comfortable salaries back of those days; most of them had a rough time getting paid at all.

        The issue I think is that plainly, the current model of “they make money off of donors and not the public” is failing, and they’re looking for new ways to do things. They are of course looking to other forms of music and entertainment to see what they are doing.

        And they’re taking the wrong lessons from it.

      • fireandair says:

        BTW, I don’t think you understand how touring rock bands make their money. It’s not ticket sales by a long shot — moneymaking in the world of popular music is about the most complex thing you’ve ever seen, coming down to album sales, ticket sales, merch, TV and radio appearances, and other stuff that is well beyond the world of classical music. Add to this the fact that about 50,000 lawyers need to get paid well before the band themselves even sees a dime.

        Another reason why the classical world had really better be very, very careful when they try to model themselves off of popular music when they try to take away lessons on how to make money.

      • I don’t think you understand that a rock and roll band or almost any other small ensemble can make money off of ticket sales but an orchestra cannot.

        I think that’s so much a part of the reality of the situation that most folks in the really simplistic “Pop vs Classical” don’t understand. The other thing that sometimes gets irksome is using the big names in the pop music field and their careers as a starting point for the discussion.

        There are far more pop musicians barely making a living (if that) doing what they do, than the superstars that we constantly see in the media would suggest.

        We had a pretty healthy discussion about many of those issues at Greg Sandow’s blog here.

        In the end, when you’re talking about the majority of pop musicians, the ones who are more likely to make a comfortable living are those in cover bands, much to the chagrin of the “original bands” who are “only in it for their art” (warning–the previous statement is also an oversimplification).

        Ticket sales as a measure of sustainability obviously doesn’t work well (if at all) for big ponderous organizations like Orchestras, Opera and Ballet Companies–but neither does it work alone for the non-superstar level pop musicians unless they are doing, as many critics of the Orchestras-who-only-do-the-warhorses say, the same old thing that everyone else does (i.e. covering someone else’s tunes).

  19. fireandair says:

    Sorry to talk so much:

    BTW, this is an upper-echelon problem, this “saving orchestras” business. The musicians — especially the youngest ones just going out into the world — can’t do this. Not the lion’s share of it, at least. They are newcomers, they are vulnerable to the whims of their superiors who do have antediluvian attitudes and must ingratiate themselves to them. They have the least power, the least money, and the least clout. To put the entire burden on them is not fair and won’t succeed.

    And the lack of respect isn’t theirs, either. They love other forms of music. While one dare not bring up Jimmy Somerville’s name when David Daniels is onstage to another audience member, Daniels himself has no problem at all telling interviewers that Justin Timberlake sings the same way he does. Andreas Scholl loves Somerville. There’s tons of musicians around who love all types of music. They just don’t have any messaging power in that world, especially not the orchestra worker-bees.

    The back offices are what need to change here. I’m not sure if you in your position are even the right guy to be talking about this. You’re in charge of an institution that trains youngsters to be musicians. What’s needed is for people in charge of training the next generation of non-profit and fundraising executives to get this through their skulls.

  20. Digoweli says:

    Peter Drucker the great management guru said that Orchestras were the model for the corporation of the future. Why do we as musicians have so little faith in our product that we act like teenagers waiting to be called for a date? If you are an artist, you make art. You make product and you find ways to convince people of the value of your product. Per-form-ance, means literally that you “make the form” clear to your audience and give them the context to comprehend what you are doing.

    All of the Arts are a psycho-physical pursuit of the values of the human sensorium. They develop the human instrument in everyone’s brain. They also develop the body as an extension of the brain.

    Music is a biological evolutionary tool that has been used since humanity began. Nature gave music the same pleasure as sexuality. You can see it on MRIs in the brain even if you don’t believe it. Music, like sexuality, requires competence. You are not born with it. You have to be taught.

    A real Artist is not a simple “Gift of God” no matter how much some lawyer argued it in a divorce case with a famous soprano and her voice teacher husband. If music was a simple output of talent then music would be more alike as all people are more alike than they are different.

    But music is not a simple product of talent. Music is filled with multitudes of systems across multitudes of cultures around the globe. All music is learned systems of thinking in aural patterns that have been practiced for thousands of hours until they became generic habit raised to the level of natural intuition.

    Music is about many things but the musical instrument is “between every musician’s ears” and it is always “about” something. To communicate that “about,” virtuosity must proceed outward through practice into a generic tool like walking or talking.

    Now, how do you get that product valued enough for someone to pay you for it if you are an artist and not simply an entertainer? Pop music is Commerce; Classical music is Art; Church music is Religion. All three have different purposes although they use the same materials. They are “about” different things and have different intents. Comparing their products is a waste of time. They just use the same materials but the worlds are very different even when doing the same intention.

    The average commercial musician is not as well trained as the generic classical musician but great commercial musicians are just as virtuosic and the ensembles are as singular as great classical ensembles. Generic church organists are often far better trained than singers or other instrumentalists. The difference in all three is always with the creative artist. The purpose of the composer of commercial music is beyond music and buried in the economics of business. The purpose of the composer of religious music is beyond music and buried in meditation and supplication in the world of spirituality. The purpose of the composer of Classical (Art) Music is the pursuit of the values of music itself and its human instrument and therein lies the difference. Classical Music is to Music as Theoretical Physics is to Physics.

    Religious music is free to the worshiper. Commercial music often comes with the ticket plus the cost of a couple of drinks. Classical Music requires you to become one with something beyond yourself. It constitutes an aural expert’s (composer’s) look into the identity of your soul, era, relationship with the world, and your moral and logical being. He hears and translates the rhythm of our identities in the here and now. It is the rhythm of your being, the melody of your speech, the dynamic of your relationships and the basis of your core beliefs about the meaning of vibration.

    Aesthetics is the knowledge of likes and differences in patterns in all of the human sensorium. The process of Music and all of the Arts is expertise in communicating the meaning of that knowledge to others through some sort of performance. Art develops the body and the soul for the highest purposes of human communication. Simple “like” is rarely Art although it may be commerce or religion.

    Contemporary music is always local to the time, culture and place from which springs. The same is true of all of the art forms built on what is unique to the human species. That’s why Drucker realized that the singular mind of 80 experts doing different things in the same system perfectly and like one being, was a great ideal for the future of human business management. I spoke to him before he died. He was not optimistic.

  21. NYMike says:

    Since Tony Woodcock mentions me specifically, I feel compelled to reply.
    First off – equating European governmental arts support with that of American philanthropic arts support is disingenuous. The first comes from a society that values arts while the second comes from a society that values money and the latest fad. It’s a fact that the entire NEA budget wouldn’t pay for one Met Opera season. In a comment posted above, William Osborne gives the UK funding amounts, showing a huge chasm between their governmental funding and ours.

    The Vienna Philharmonic’s roster lists 141 musicians (some not yet fully elected to membership), the Berlin Philharmonic 128 and the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw 116 (this after some government retrenchment awhile ago). Walking across the street from the NEC to Boston’s Symphony Hall, Woodcock will find a Boston Symphony roster of 97 including 3 librarians – this from the most heavily endowed and financially stable orchestra in the US. While it’s true that some of the other US “big seven” orchestras have as many a 107 members, none come close to the number of musicians in the above European orchestras, affording double sets of principal players and as many as 4 concertmasters. “Leaner?”

    I must comment, as well, on the League of American Orchestra’s recycling of questionable CEOs from one orchestra to the next – something that doesn’t happen in European orchestras that run their own affairs and hire their CEOs.

    Considering societal differences as well as financial support disparity, I say again that comparing European and American orchestras IS like comparing apples to automobiles.

    • Mike, I think *some* of Tony’s specific comparisons might not be valid, but overall, we should remember that comparing funding systems can be very informative and we can learn a great deal from them. Among other things, they help us see that the American system is in general inferior. I listed 8 of the reasons in the first comment to Tony’s blog “American Orchestras: Yes It’s A Crisis.”

      You can review them here:

      There are times when we must compare “apples to automobiles,” as you put it, especially when we’re trying to drive an apple to town – which is just about how absurd the American funding system is.

      • NYMike says:

        I read your comment on the “Crisis” posting and agree with your points. I also wholeheartedly agree with your terms for comparing “apples to automobiles” in finding that US arts funding – actually lack of funding – is absurd.

    • Digoweli says:

      It’s also a fact that the Department of Cultural Affairs budget of New York City compares favorably to the entire NEA budget and that the budget of the Metropolitan Opera was (a few years ago and maybe still) greater than all of the combined budgets of the rest of the opera companies in America. Sort of like the US military budget and the rest of the world. (smile) Digoweli

      • The Met is a good example of how funding systems can be compared. It’s 300 million dollar per year budget is about twice that of comparable houses in Europe, and even though its seven month season is four to five months shorter than its European counter parts. The lavish and conservative productions cater to the tastes of wealthy donors. And they strive to hire only the most expensive singers. We see how the wealthy service themselves luxuriously while the rest of the country has virtually no opera at all.

        In terms of opera performances per year Chicago is in only the 62nd position, San Francisco 63rd, Houston 101st, Washington 121st, and Santa Fe 172nd. The few other companies that exist in America have even shorter seasons. They usually do not have houses and perform in poorly-suited rental facilities with pickup orchestras and singers. This applies even to cities with metropolitan populations in the millions like Atlanta in the 272nd position, Kansas City at 275th, Baltimore at 322nd, and Phoenix at 338th. They are far outranked by even cities like Pforzheim, Germany which only has 119,000 citizens but occupies the 87th position and thus outranks even our nation’s capital, Washington D.C, by 34 positions. (These and many more valuable statistics are available at Operabase.)

  22. NYMike says:

    (the League of American Orchestras recently added a new plenary to its upcoming conference schedule,)

    How nice – but neither representatives from the AFM nor ICSOM were invited.

  23. Digoweli says:

    Does anybody care that the Arts in America are dying from a systemic economic virus that no one will speak of? That the only solution is to smile, keep a stiff upper lip and continue to beg people who would rather not be bothered while playing the same old music over and over again? How can we look our students in the face if we hide the truth for our own self-interest? Purveyors of dreams. What kind of a society is a society with no serious song of its own? That the only answer is entertainment or the church?

  24. Digoweli says:

    Thanks to William for his reply on the opera houses. Compare the 210 opera houses of America where most have seasons shorter than ten performances a year.

    Compare that to the 1,300 houses in Iowa in 1900 where they had outstanding technology (still extant in some cases) and many more performances a year than the current batch. Then consider the opera houses of Colorado in Central City, Leadville etc. that were so serious that at one point a company that had cut a performance short was threatened with guns by the audience for cheating. At other times chairs were thrown at the stage if a performance was shabby.

    It was Central City where I first experienced the possibilities of opera with great singers in a space where the music could heard, properly rehearsed and with impeccable ensemble. Tulsa Opera had driven me away with its stars and no rehearsals in a kind of disdain for the implications of the music. Central City and the Army Chorus taught me that music was more than mere frills and entertainment. But that you had to commit yourself and practice until it was the highest level of generic quality before the art could appear as a divine shadow. The extraordinary had to become ordinary.

    So what is the answer in this diverse cultural desert that feeds on the latest talent from other cultures rather than developing their own? How can you achieve that kind of virtuosity and support a repertory ensemble with decent salaries and a sustainable budget? Think Big Apple Circus; Cirque du Soleil or maybe “mega-church?” What is missing here? Where are the economies that we can make without destroying our artists and maybe discover an American serious identity?

  25. Digoweli says:

    Peter Sachon, What would you call a graduation of 10,000 singers in America, per year, for about 300 full time performing arts jobs? (Opera News) A success?

    Not pick up jobs. Not free lance, not practice ensembles that have a different team at every rehearsal. If you killed off all of the previous graduates, you would still have 10,000 per year (classical singer magazine) for 300 full time jobs. I mean a full time job, like a doctor or lawyer or conservatory teacher. Full time performing. Full time development of a great artistic mastery and a realized American repertory. Full time working with an ensemble to develop a first rate team of players that are capable of the highest expressions of musical complexity in the world. Like the Philadelphia Orchestra. A full time ensemble that is savvy enough to develop an audience that knows they are something special and that they represent the best in America. A full time mastery that is capable of competing with the products of the old Soviet System and the other immigrants from all over the world who flock to the great oasis at the Metropolitan and consign America’s great composer’s like Ned Rorem to debuting his masterpieces in schools. (Our Town)

    What has happened to us from 1900 when there were 66,000 opera companies across America with 1,300 Opera houses in the farm state of Iowa alone and Opera companies even in the Indian Territory before it was Oklahoma? Opera for Indians, you won’t see that in the movies. You won’t see that the color barrier was broken at the Metropolitan Opera in 1925 by an Osage Indian soprano either. I have a picture on my wall of the opera house in Miami, Indian Territory in 1900. The same place that birthed the great American Indian ballerina Moscelyn Larkin.

    I didn’t find these facts in music school. I found them at home in Oklahoma and from non-music historians like Lawrence Levine (“Highbrow/Lowbrow, The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America” Harvard). I found the Iowa figure from an economist for the NYTimes and the WSJournal Robert Cook, in his (“The Winner-Take All Society” Frank and Cook, Free Press) Neither Frank or Levine are musicians but they are not blind to what has happened here. They also knew virgin territory when they saw it.

    Music historians Crawford and Dizikes made a start but couldn’t get out of the double bind artistic folks are in. Mentioning a cultural economic virus in the Arts is like mentioning a sexually transmitted disease in polite company. Art is supposed to create health and harmony. It’s supposed to validate systems not prove that they are flawed. So we erase the flaws. There is no real history of America’s arts in performance. The companies, the great performers, the battles, the victories. There is no real history of the legacy of the great pedagogical traditions of Europe and their teachers in American Institutions either. It’s as if everyone was hatched from nothing with no tradition and no awareness of how they got here and no awareness of what has been lost. Except I would exempt violinists who know about Wolfgang’s lessons with Leopold because they still play the exercises and pianists who have a strong historic thread in their teaching in their teaching as well. Who on this list knows who William Thorner was or even Samuel Margolis? People who shaped what we hear in the present and then disappeared. But where did they come from? People without a history are people with ancestors and culture. As a result we don’t know what we’ve lost nor the health of what we have.

    But if music historians will not tell the story, others will because the story must be told. From the thousands of Opera Houses in 1900 to the present with 210 professional companies most with no ensemble, pick up orchestras and no repertory, is a measured 98% decline. If that isn’t dying what is? The poor muse is sick and yet everyone is in denial.

    Complex Classical Art is dying to most of America except for the upper 2% who consider themselves to have enough for their own needs. It’s time we looked this in the face. You are a young man, I am not. I have no illusions. I don’t have time for illusions and I’ve made my living in the 2% for fifty years and still do. There are answers but there must be discussions beyond blogs and everywhere and most of all there must be an evangelical message about the value of complex Art and what it means if you lose it. Why we are comfortable with an America that is brutish in the world, ignorant of culture and feral? It was David Kay, the U.S. Arms Inspector, who blamed it on American cultural ignorance that we went to war in Iraq. What has the Arts failed at teaching to America’s citizens? First you have to know what you are for and what is your purpose as an Artist in the scheme of things.

    • I’m interested in some of the things you say, Digoweli, though I must say I’m just a little bit skeptical about the numbers you reference. On the other hand, I have no doubt about some of the other issues you bring up regarding the [general] failure of orthodox music training systems and the number of music graduates in this country (though I think far too much is being made of the latter issue).

      As far as “Complex Classical Art dying” in America, well, I think it’s a bit like Peter said–some of the institutions are going to fade away, but as a whole it won’t die. And contrary to the heralds of some popular music methods of re-invigoration (and let’s face it, as I’ve said above, the pop music industry as a whole isn’t doing so great either) there’s still plenty of growth in “Complex Classical Art” in the US. Just happens to be the case that more folks are getting interested in, well, non-dead-white-European-male music which just happens to (coincidentally or not) correspond to a changing US Demographic.

      I think that’s where some of NEC’s initiatives are really progressive. Things like the Boston Latin-American Orchestra; their Entrepreneur program; and, if it is the case their Music History and Musicology department offers what Katarina Markovic says above, then at least some music students will be a little bit more prepared for entering a changing musical climate.

      While I have reservations about institutionalizing some of the things that NEC is, if nothing else it’s an explicit sign of what’s already changing in the US. Some folks just aren’t as interested in the Western legacy (or Western pop music for that matter) anymore and now feel a bit more enfranchised so are focusing on the kinds of art ensembles and “pop” music that matters more to them. And I think that’s just the other side of the coin of what we might cll a Eurocentric-bias in Art music that you also seem to be highlighting with our inability to recognize the history in the US of art music institutions.

    • My other comment is apparently awaiting moderation so I’m re-posting without the embedded links to facilitate furthering my part of the conversation. Response below:

      I’m interested in some of the things you say, Digoweli, though I must say I’m just a little bit skeptical about the numbers you reference. On the other hand, I have no doubt about some of the other issues you bring up regarding the [general] failure of orthodox music training systems and the number of music graduates in this country (though I think far too much is being made of the latter issue).

      As far as “Complex Classical Art dying” in America, well, I think it’s a bit like Peter said–some of the institutions are going to fade away, but as a whole it won’t die. And contrary to the heralds of some popular music methods of re-invigoration (and let’s face it, as I’ve said above, the pop music industry as a whole isn’t doing so great either) there’s still plenty of growth in “Complex Classical Art” in the US. Just happens to be the case that more folks are getting interested in, well, non-dead-white-European-male music which just happens to (coincidentally or not) correspond to a changing US Demographic.

      I think that’s where some of NEC’s initiatives are really progressive. Things like the Boston Latin-American Orchestra; their Entrepreneur program; and, if it is the case their Music History and Musicology department offers what Katarina Markovic says above, then at least some music students will be a little bit more prepared for entering a changing musical climate.

      While I have reservations about institutionalizing some of the things that NEC is, if nothing else it’s an explicit sign of what’s already changing in the US. Some folks just aren’t as interested in the Western legacy (or Western pop music for that matter) anymore and now feel a bit more enfranchised so are focusing on the kinds of art ensembles and “pop” music that matters more to them. And I think that’s just the other side of the coin of what we might cll a Eurocentric-bias in Art music that you also seem to be highlighting with our inability to recognize the history in the US of art music institutions.

      • Digoweli says:

        Thank you Jon for going to the trouble to reformat,

        Which numbers do you have questions about? I’m happy to give you footnotes and bibliography.

        As for the pop vs. religious vs. classical? Pop music is in trouble for different reasons than classical. Pop music’s problems are more like the problems of health care and the private sector insurance companies. Too much money being drained off by shareholders and middlemen who never should have been in the business in the first place. They demand safety where there is no safety for their funds. Its as if they complained about the water not being rock.

        Truth and beauty.

        If we can’t tell the truth about this, we will never get to the beauty.

        As for the NEC, it all looks great on paper. I would ask whether Tony has looked into the works of John Warfield, the father of two symphony musicians and the father of American Systems Science.

        We’ve used Warfields Integrated Structural Modeling and Interactive Management programs and they’ve been very useful in separating the myths from the reality. They are Art friendly but not user friendly. (require teaching) Warfield died last year but his programs are still used by nations (China, Saudi Arabia), the Dept of Defense, Congress, the United Nations and the Ford Motor company, and they are taught at George Mason University.

        More of the same old myths about music and commerce being compatible won’t do anything in my opinion. It requires a serious scientific modeling of the American system and the creation of an arts sector where it is not a part of the war mentality of the marketplace.

        In my experience Artists who are externally motivated never become much except by accident or psychopathology.

        Finally, I’m not against change. Things have a lifetime but instruments do not. Orchestras have a lifetime but the “orchestra” does not unless the knowledge is lost through genocide or neglect.

        I’ve worked in American contemporary music all my life as well as working in the reconstructing of over a hundred recordings of early and baroque music. The sackbut wasn’t replaced because its time was past. It was replaced because the trombone has better intonation. It was the concert halls that caused the harpsichord to be replaced by the pianos. Domenico Scarlatti had both and preferred the harpsichord for his aesthetic. As such we rewrote harpsichord sonatas for the piano adapting them to the affect and textures of the harpsichord for modern performances in big halls.

        The point is to be as true to what you have researched as the original intent as is possible. Doing that in the opera and in multiple languages is what makes me think the current Supreme Court Justices with their “original intent” are theoretically flawed.. They haven’t had to deal with the implications of their belief as the early music sector has. Got to go rehearse. Sorry Digoweli

    • You’re welcome, Digoweli–yes, I would love to see footnotes and a bibliography when you have some time!

      Re: the pop/rock issue, I said a bit in an earlier response, but will go ahead and repost as I don’t want to post too many links in this reply to have it get held up in moderation:

      I don’t think you understand that a rock and roll band or almost any other small ensemble can make money off of ticket sales but an orchestra cannot.

      I think that’s so much a part of the reality of the situation that most folks in the really simplistic “Pop vs Classical” don’t understand. The other thing that sometimes gets irksome is using the big names in the pop music field and their careers as a starting point for the discussion.

      There are far more pop musicians barely making a living (if that) doing what they do, than the superstars that we constantly see in the media would suggest.

      We had a pretty healthy discussion about many of those issues at Greg Sandow’s blog here.

      In the end, when you’re talking about the majority of pop musicians, the ones who are more likely to make a comfortable living are those in cover bands, much to the chagrin of the “original bands” who are “only in it for their art” (warning–the previous statement is also an oversimplification).

      Ticket sales as a measure of sustainability obviously doesn’t work well (if at all) for big ponderous organizations like Orchestras, Opera and Ballet Companies–but neither does it work alone for the non-superstar level pop musicians unless they are doing, as many critics of the Orchestras-who-only-do-the-warhorses say, the same old thing that everyone else does (i.e. covering someone else’s tunes).

      I don’t think popular music is in much of a better position when you look at the field as a whole and using the small sample of success stories as a paragon of “how it should work” and how the whole field works is just as disingenuous as, say, using Yo-Yo Ma or Rene Fleming as examples of how well the Classical Music field is working. While I was touring around the country with Ray Price for a few years opening for acts like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and George Jones (as well as having acts like Roy Clark and Crystal Gayle open for us) the talk by most of the musicians as well as the venue owners was simply that the audiences are smaller and there’s less work to be had. There’s a reason that multiple band festivals have gotten much more popular over the past decade–because very few single acts can sell enough tickets on their own.

      As for the NEC initiatives, sure-as I said I have reservations about institutionalizing all those things, but as I said, I think it’s more a reflection of what many trained musicians are already doing. For the past decade I’ve made a relatively comfortable living performing music and very little of that has been doing either classical music or pop music (with the exception of the two year stint touring I mentioned above). See, I’m curious about what Markovic says above re: the History/Musicology department. Things like:

      In music history and musicology courses, students have the opportunity to look beyond their own instrument—and beyond their comfort zone—to gain perspective on the bigger picture.

      Acquaint themselves to unfamiliar repertoires, and question received ideas about familiar ones. (No one should be limited to playing exclusively the same pieces everyone else plays!)

      Learn to draw clear connections between different kinds of music, including both Western and non-Western traditions.

      Because so many of us are already doing that. I don’t have to start playing rock music on the cello or make a youtube video of a Michael Jackson tune to get a recording deal because there’s already more than enough work for me in the middle of the Midwest of all places (all this while Greg Sandow talks about the diminishing work for Freelancers) that I can average a 150 (paid) shows a year. On the coasts there are trained musicians doing the same, so it’s probably not surprising they don’t often get into these discussions about the decline of a field–they’re probably too busy working.

      All of this is possible, as I mentioned, because of the changing US demographic. Right now, there are few enough musicians able (or willing) to play Classical Arabic Music, or Greek Rembetika, or Ottoman Art Music, or Bollywood, but a growing demand for it. One of he things we tend to forget about the history of classical music in this country is how much it grew with European immigration, which shaped the demographic of the states up till and just after WWII. Things are different now and a completely different set of immigrants are making their way into this part of the world, and they have their own pop and art music, the latter of which in some cases has been around for a bit longer than European Art music has. Why should they care if the field dies (or changes)?

      So in a sense, yeah, you’re right, the economic climate isn’t particularly favorable for European Art music (and Euro-American pop music isn’t too far behind) but why is that a surprise with the changing demographic as well as changing media which allows any of us to experience all the beauty outside of the Western World?

      • Digoweli says:

        Here’s what I left at Jon’s website.

        The 1,300 opera companies for Iowa figure is from the economist Robert Frank at Cornell. He commented on it in an interview in the Washingtonian Magazine on his book “The Winner Take All Society.” I then called him to check the source and it was good. Also there is a lot of information about early opera houses in San Francisco, New York City and New Orleans in the Massey Lectures from Harvard by Lawrence W. Levine titled Highbrow, Lowbrow, The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America” Harvard press. John Dizikes implies the massive number in “Opera in America, a Cultural History” although he doesn’t seem to understand how it could be. The opera houses in Iowa were Dutch while the ones in Missouri were Czech. The Indian Opera Houses in Indian Territory were Italian since Indian families began sending there children abroad for school as a result of mineral wealth. Many of these small houses are still in existence as other things including becoming Vaudeville and then movie houses. But first they were Opera houses and they had real opera at least a few times a year which is what most of our 210 professional opera houses (Opera America) produce today. The 66,000 number is an estimate that I put together for a White Paper for the Florentine Symposium in Washington, D.C. in May 2004. I drew all of the numbers I had which were a considerable amount and then estimated what the parts of the country I didn’t have figures for would have been. The figure has stood up well. Jobs for 66,000 tenors at least twice to three times a year. I believe it’s Crawford’s “America’s Musical Life” that lists the figures for San Francisco and “Strong on Music” for the New York scene in the 19th century by Brodsky. Music schools should pay more attention to the history of performance and the business than they do. That’s my opinion. Digoweli

        I would add that the college graduate figures I have were last updated by Mark Stoddard the business guru at Classical Singer Magazine. When my company did the initial research in the 1990s we called every music school in America and asked for graduate numbers. Since we are an opera company and produce festivals I was interested in graduate singers in performance. The number at that time was 6,535 graduates per year. When Classical Singer came to New York after 2000 I was on a panel with Stoddard and he upgraded my figure to 10,000. By the way, Operabase is OK but they listed our company incorrectly and gave the wrong address and phone numbers. Opera America on the other hand has published very good records of what has been happening as they were the ones who absorbed the old Central Opera Service databank. I believe the biggest problem for people in the arts in a capitalist marketplace is ignorance about what exactly that means. Most people relate as if they were still in an Aristocracy Government from 200 years ago. They should study the life of Beethoven and Mozart for their economics. William Baumol has written an excellent analysis of Mozart’s music business. For the problem of Productivity Lag I would recommend Baumol’s considerable writing or just go to the internet and check “The Baumol disease”. What has happened is that the virus devouring the arts has not expanded to practically the whole public sector. Check this out.

    • Oh, it looks like my post is now out of moderation–I had some relevant links to some of the things I mentioned–also, thanks for the info you posted at my blog. Looking forward to looking more into it!

  26. Peter Sachon says:

    Hi Digoweli

    Classical Art is changing in America, it is not dying. You may label it neglect, or blame it on socio-economic realities, but the fact is that like all Art, this Art is changing. As always, change is difficult; and it is especially so for what you call “complex classical art”. After all, classical music has defied change for generations, even while nearly all other art forms have embraced new ideas. That it now must change is natural, and not the result of neglect. Yes, sometimes change causes beautiful things to be lost. Sometimes (like when Mendelssohn championed Bach’s music) they return. However, it is not true to suggests that “complex” art is disappearing simply because the classical industry is changing. Also,there is no reason to think that somehow in the 98% of music that is not what you might call “complex classical art”, one cannot find worthy, complex, music. It is simply different music, from different traditions. One may like it, or not, but our opinions do not affect the quality and impact of new music any more than they affect “complex classical art”.

    • Digoweli says:

      I don’t disagree with you about change. All of life is change and every composer has to meet their own time and place with their whole talent if they are to be significant.

      What I’m saying is that there was a 98% decline in the profession of music. Jobs. There was a corresponding 98% decline in live audiences as the music and theater business was automated. I’ve also come to believe that it was intentional in the late 19th century for money, power and control, but that is not what we are talking about here.

      The key is always money. Just as in the lead and zinc mines of my home town where they replaced the jobs for 3000 people with six supervisors when the mines were automated.

      One Arts writer I know has advocated cutting back on the number of music schools to be commensurate with the jobs that are actually available as a profession.

      I don’t agree with that. I believe we need to re-convert the nation to the biological evolutionary necessity of Art in the development of human competencies. Place the “sound systems” in the proper context of “canned (inadequate) sound” and bring back amateur performers who will demand better acoustical performances than recordings. Better theater than reality shows that are cheap to produce.

      I believe you young performers have to become at least as good as the local mega-church minister who starts from nothing and has 10,000 members in 15 years. But first: All Art begins with a true evaluation of what’s really going on. Then you do the “beauty” part. Digoweli

      • fireandair says:

        “I don’t agree with that. I believe we need to re-convert the nation to the biological evolutionary necessity of Art in the development of human competencies.”

        To a young kid graduating from a music school with a mountain of student loan debt and no job awaiting him or her, that sounds a lot like “throw enough bodies at the front and the enemy will eventually run out of bullets.”

        Also … just because people are not listening to what YOU call high art doesn’t mean they have no artistic sensibility. Read what I said above about how this music will never connect with people until it stops disdaining them.

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  30. Digoweli says:

    William Osborne said: When ensembles, instruments, or musical forms cease to have an evolving, core literature, they become dead genres.
    Digoweli comment:
    It’s a pity that this blog format doesn’t allow replies to the reply.

    This is a reply to William Osborne’s articulate answer to my statement that Orchestras are not an anachronism.

    I would point out that Steven Pinker believes that Art itself is anachronistic to human evolution. Senator Tom Coburn with large parts of the Right Wing establishment (Post conservative concert pianist and critic Samuel Lipman) and the fundamentalist religious groups believe the same about Art although they would never have a church service without music. Pinker calls music “Evolutionary Cheesecake.” Coburn calls it “frills” in spite of the fact that his daughter and half brother make a good living at it.

    No matter what you call it. The metaphor is a romantic era Liebestod. A quest to strike the final blow in an era, a family, a relationship or whatever. Isn’t there some way that we can remove this “death” metaphor from all of this? Capitalism is built on scarcity and killing the competition in the war of the market. Without losers there are no winners. Without poverty there are no rich folks. Isn’t that a terrible metaphor for Art which is built on inner motivation and generic virtuosity? A doctrine not of scarcity but of communication and a field of plenty from which to evolve great mastery.

    If I’m reading you correctly, you put the orchestra on a kind of life support for the enjoyment of the past but when it becomes too expensive (now) it will go the way of bows and arrows, unless you are a practitioner of Zen and the Art of Archery. I remember in college when it was said that the Fugue in the Hammerklavier Sonata dealt the killing blow to the fugue form. Beethoven did everything so he had won the game of musical composition. All that did was to convince students that studying the fugue form was an exercise in archeology rather than building a psycho-physical competency. It also destroyed the teaching of counterpoint, orchestration, solfeggio, form and analysis and even pedagogy in most of the nation’s music schools for forty years.

    There is so much science on the side of the Arts (as a core foundation in the development of the human brain) that Pinker is bound to be embarrassed about his glib comment in print in what is otherwise a very good book.

    That being said: I would argue that there is composing for the orchestra wherever the funds are available to hire and practice the ensemble. Film scores with composers like Korngold and Elliot Goldenthal and Philip Glass should have pointed out that: as long as the money is there, the instrument will be used and flourish. Big bands and orchestras were not eliminated for musical reasons. Canned sound is not superior to acoustical sound but it is certainly more productive economically. Technology is automation and is cheap.

    I’m not a believer in “Masterworks” because I believe the butter rises to the top but the butter requires the milk to exist at all. Classical musicians, beginning with Stokowski’s wife Olga Samarroff, tried to eliminate amateurs (the milk) but only succeeded in making their audiences dumber and less capable of understanding complex forms. That was a strategic and economic mistake.

    Better to have learned from old New Orleans where they would print simplified music scores from new operas and give them away to the audience to be enjoyed at the piano at home and reminded to come back for another round. Better to dance the dances to the music of the opera in great balls where all of the classes danced together. The opera itself had all classes represented in the audience as the slaves and the poor had a place in the “pit” under the dripping great chandelier where they ate and threw food at bad performers. Producers knew how to stimulate the understanding of complicated scores by growing their audiences, even the house slaves who supplied the culture to the children of the wealthy.

    We destroyed the great acting schools in the movie studios for money and now we will destroy the great virtuosity of the Philadelphia Orchestra for money. The movies aren’t better, nor are they cheaper to the consumer but they make more money now for the middlemen who are largely ignorant. The money from the studio schools goes to shareholders.

    William, your “fact” that there has not been abstract music written for symphony orchestras in the last fifty years isn’t true. Not every composer is the equivalent of e.e. cummings or Emily Dickinson in the poetry world. Small electronically amplified and primitive vocal development with flutes and percussion and an occasional string is not the wave of the future no matter how nice David Lang’s amplified oratorios sound in church. A good sunstorm will send us all back to bel canto and the acoustical power of the human voice. A full string section will continue to balance the brasses and singers will always have to be able to fill their place in the acoustical tapestry or disappear.

    I would argue, William, that you are mixing up the instrument with a stylistic era. But there is nothing in modern musical styles that is not found earlier and the struggle for a brand is an economic not an artistic quest. For example: Ned Rorem told me that he doesn’t hear atonality. Everything relates to the consonance of the acoustical overtone series. As a conductor and voice teacher, I agree with Ned. Atonality is not an acoustical phenomenon but a stylistic one. A choice to hear in a certain way or system. There are many systems. An Orchestra is a magnificent acoustical instrument that involves the subtle issues of time, intonation and texture that no other instrument has on such a scale. There are plenty of composers who would write for it if they could have it rehearsed properly and performed enough to be understood by the audiences.

    The problem is that it is not “economic” and the virtuosity required will never be paid for by this economic system. That is not an artistic problem but a fiscal one and if C.S. Peirce and the modern Neurologists tests are to be believed it is also a foundational problem in the building of both human competencies and the ability to think logically.

    America, refusing to develop this foundational competency, is going up against nations in Europe and Asia who are putting billions of dollars into developing it in their societies. Even little South Korea put a billion dollars into the Arts. Who do you think will survive? Ignorance or competence? Art is not evolutionary cheesecake, it is a foundational process in the building of every human competency. Orchestras are a major league team to show the potential of human learning organizations that transcend the limitations of the solo. That’s not an anachronism, that’s the future. Digoweli

  31. Digoweli says:

    FireandAir says:
    To a young kid graduating from a music school with a mountain of student loan debt and no job awaiting him or her, that sounds a lot like “throw enough bodies at the front and the enemy will eventually run out of bullets.” Also … just because people are not listening to what YOU call high art doesn’t mean they have no artistic sensibility. Read what I said above about how this music will never connect with people until it stops disdaining them.

    Digoweli comment:
    I agree FireandAir. We have, what the economists call a “Labor Glut” in the classical arts. A more adequate description would be an “Equilibrium Depression” that has been in place for the Arts since 1929 when the decline really took hold. Think of how much there was before and how little there has been since 1929. Charles Ives called that prior time, a “Musical Paradise.” Why it continues is complicated. War for one. For an example of that I would recommend Francis Stoner Saunders book “The Cultural Cold War” which documents our setting the European Arts on their feet while we starved our own and used Europe as a workplace for our college musicians until Europe stopped the migration except for a few. I used to have the figures on that but I don’t know where they are. All I remember is that they were astounding.

    I’m for all Art whether Complex Classical, Commercial or Religious, or whatever. I also advocate a healthy amateur sector for artistic sophistication of the whole sensorium. I love and teach performing art to all manner of folks.

    The only point I make about contemporary classical art is that it requires cutting edge virtuosity both as performer and active listener, is based in the most layered complicated identity of modern Americans and which will constitute our legacy to the future. I agree with the academics on that count.

    I don’t believe that Art that has other purposes such as commercial profit or meditation is the most likely to represent the peak aspirations of our thinking to the future although I enjoy a country western ensemble as well as a high plains American Indian chant.

    But I make my living in Western Complex music and my belief in it as the legacy of this era is based in my reading of history and other folk’s legacies. Digoweli

  32. Digoweli says:

    It’s been a pleasure talking to you folks. I want to thank the President for starting this conversation and having the blog.

    I’m afraid the problem you are discussing with orchestras and other large ensembles is not going to get better but is spreading into other areas of society from education to healthcare to infrastructure.

    For the Arts? I believe the answer is for Artists to continue developing sophistication about the economic system as well as the definitions and values that they want to develop in the audience. As Artists we have been great at virtuosity and musical styles and even new music (with very little money paid to composers).

    We must see ourselves for our potential, successes and flaws. Think about our Art. We often speak as if we were poor when we are the third largest nation on earth both in people and land size. Then think “the world’s largest economy” and then make our comparisons to London with 10 world class symphony orchestras not counting the house orchestras. How many in New York with full time personal and seasons? How many in Boston? Then the unified Germany, the size of two Wisconsins with 81 opera houses (funded by the American OSS and CIA during the Cold War) with year around seasons greater than our lavish Metropolitan Opera. Look at what is happening in China, Japan and South Korea. Did you notice that Tan Dun not only got his opera in the Met (when Ned Rorem got his in schools) but Dun did the Olympics as well? How much did Rorem get paid? How much did Dun get paid? How much did the most well paid composer in the world get paid for Sunset Boulevard that flopped? Webber is the most profitable composer in the history of the world.

    Now for our artistic education: Japan doesn’t just have general music schools, they have music schools dedicated to Italian repertoire and German or French repertoire. They specialize. Germany has whole cities dedicated to the production of one American Musical Theater work through the massive Dutch Stella Entertainment Corporation. 1300 seat specialty houses dedicated for performance of a single work to draw in the tourist dollars. Not only that but they have a school to train people to perform that work in shifts. They think of art as work and a professional life.

    Ask Senator Tom Coburn what he thinks Art is for? As an accountant, is he trapped in “Art as Leisure,” and therefore is incapable of thinking of it as serious business and even work. For that matter ask the board members of NYCity Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra whether they think of artistry as valuable “work” or like Coburn do they consider it leisure service less valuable than the production of Coca Cola?

    We have a big problem in America with defining values. “Values” have to be “wealth creating” in order to be “valuable.” But wait! Every dollar the government invests in the Fine Arts comes back eleven to one. Eleven dollars of stimulus for one dollar invested? (NEA) What is that about? It seems there must be something else involved here in what one considers “real” even “useful.”

    It was nailed on the head by NYTimes Theater critic Walter Kerr in the 1960s at the same time that William Baumol was articulating the economic virus that defunded the Arts. Walter Kerr’s book that has not been matched is “The Decline of Pleasure” and traces the whole sordid history of the battle between Utilitarian Economics and the Arts from J.S. Mill to the present. For Baumol you can read “Performing Arts: the Economic Dilemma” co-written with W.G. Bowen. (1966) This seminal work stirred a whole library of books on the Arts and the economy. But none are better than the original.

    This is the problematic situation every young and old artist is faced with:

    You have no way of creating wealth with any large scale ensemble.

    There is a singular exception to this:

    Develop a repertoire of a single show repeated for at least 120 performances; then you may make a profit and continue. No large professional ensemble in America doing less that 120 repeat performances in a single city makes more than 60% of their costs on ticket sales. (I’m not discussing touring where there are different costs but just as huge.)

    Remember Sunset Boulevard? Never made a profit. Will Spiderman make a profit? It should. The large costs are for technology, not people and there are no stars. It will have to run a very long time to make up the capital investment before they make a profit. But the potential is there with games, movies and other “techie” things. None of these are answers to those of us who need a salary to live and create.

    Once technology is set and working, it’s cheap to run. On the other hand, Julie Taymor’s “Juan Darian” was too expensive to move to Broadway because she required human stage hands rather than machinery for most of her effects. At Lincoln Center the unions also agreed to a regional theater “First Nation’s” contract far below New York standards and even a chorus contract on Broadway.

    Consider the Broadway orchestra? Is it downsizing because it’s going out of style or because it’s too expensive and difficult to coordinate with computer technology for the stage machinery? Do you really believe that Broadway shows have small bands because the composer just wants small bands? How about Joe Gallant and his critically successful “Illuminati Band” of 22 pieces doing the Grateful Dead’s scores? The Grateful Dead was a chamber ensemble (salary wise), Joe was a big band (salary wise). He couldn’t afford to keep doing it in small venues, in spite of the good reviews and buzz and couldn’t quite kick it up to the large venues that would guarantee a profit. The original made a lot of money but they were a chamber ensemble masquerading as a Rock Band.

    So what is the purpose of big ensembles and indeed of Classical Contemporary Music at all?

    I would argue that Classical Music is the Research and Development for what will be the norm in Commercial and Religious music in the next generation. For example: we have scores for movies that are dodechaphonic playing in movies houses from Tulsa to Akron. But, will you hear Wozzeck at Tulsa Opera? How about sexy “Lulu?” When was the last time you heard a Webern score in Tulsa although they have a Bela Rozsa music festival honoring the late composer that studied with Bartok, Boulanger and was the student that Schoenberg said, in writing was, “the most talented composer he ever taught.” Yes, the movies with twelve tone scores have played in Tulsa. The only difference is that technology and automation is cheap. Live performers cost money and movie house owners don’t care if you have a theater with six people in it. At the movies they just repeat it and make up the few leveraged against the many. Electricity is cheap. Labor is expensive.

    I believe the first reason we do Classical Music is because we reach beyond “commerce” for the depths and heights and identity of a whole human age in Art music. The second reason, is that old music theory adage about music “being about likes and differences.” All Art is about “likes and differences.” Bela Rozsa, (my old piano teacher) said, “Music is the psycho-physical pursuit of values in sound.”

    I’ve since added Friedrich Schiller and C.S. Peirce to those who thought that way. Both Schiller and Peirce said that aesthetics, (the study of likes and differences in patterns) and Art, (the study of virtuosity in all of the aesthetic disciplines) are the foundations of both morality and human logic. It’s not such a stretch, really. If you are feral (damaged sensually) or incapable of taking in data and analyzing it, then you are not likely to be a very good judge of what is going on the world. What will damage you for Art is also what damages you for life. In fact the Art is the cure for the damage and the educational foundation for the health. Could I recommend four wonderful books on this?
    1. The Singing Neanderthals, The origins of Music, Language, mind, and Body, by Steven Mithen, Harvard Press
    2. Rhythm, Music And the Brain, Scientific Foundations and Clinical Applications, by
    Michael H. Thaut; Routledge
    3. The Origins of Music, ed. Wallin, Merker and Brown, MIT
    4. The Dance of Life, The Other Dimension of Time by Edward T. Hall, Anchor, Doubleday

    I argue that Aesthetics and the Arts are the foundation of observation, and the practice of performance, that underlies every human activity. My proof? The DANA Foundation (for brain research) did a study with the theory that the Arts were correlative to intelligence: Co-Relative – “Smart people were artistic” not “Art makes people smart.” What they found was astounding. It was even more astounding since there was an assumed political agenda from the President of the DANA foundation (ex-NYTimes conservative columnist William Safire). To his credit, Safire stayed with the science: They found that the Arts were not Correlative to Intelligence but were Foundational to Intelligence. In retrospect, it all just seems totally obvious that seeing differences in patterns would be the basis for making you smart about visual stimuli. The same for music and all of the rest of the human sensorium.

    As for Orchestras and large Ensembles? At a time when society speaks of trying to develop the ideal of Management Organizations that Learn as a single organism, it seems strange that the society would kill the prime example of such things in human society. Thinking and learning teams are the way of the future. You can learn it banging heads on a professional football team and die young or you can be Rudolf Serkin playing the Emperor Concerto with the New York Philharmonic in his eighties.

    Which place would you learn about mature teamwork? From kids who die young or old men and women who have dedicated their entire lives to understanding and developing it? That’s what we call Mastery.

    I would recommend that everyone read Peter Senge’s management book on such organizations and mastery in business called “The Fifth Discipline” and then I would recommend both of Donald Schon’s books on the “Reflective Practitioner” that he developed with the help of cellist Bernard Greenhouse. It has a good history of how America lost its way in education and management and how the orchestra became so demeaned. Other than that I can’t recommend Larry Levine’s “Highbrow, Lowbrow, the Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America” enough. Larry did other excellent histories that I would also recommend but for a different purpose. I lectured at Columbia U. for a couple of years to grad students about the Sho(e)n (umlaut) books. They are taken from music. It would be good for music to take them back.

    Thank you again for the pleasure of the chat. Good luck in your education and work in American Art.

  33. Pingback: The death of the cinematic industry… « Mae Mai

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