Friday, September 16, 2011

Debate Disturbed by Union President

Last week I watched a debate hosted by WQXR in New York about the future of orchestral musicians and orchestras in America, which you can find here. I found it through the blog of the Savvy Musician, which is an excellent. Although I only got about three quarters in when my connection died, I learned quite a lot from the debate.
I thought the debate was very good, however, there was one portion which I found somewhat disturbing: Mr. Hair's talking points, or rather lack thereof. I'm very displeased with the idea that the president of the largest musicians' union in North America arriving to a debate about the future of the industry completely unprepared to take part in real discussion.

Although I'm sure negotiations were taking place on various parts of the continent during the debate, I don't think Mr. Hair should have felt, or acted, as if his hands were tied. This was an excellent opportunity to humanize orchestral musicians and instead, we were given the often-heard union jargon of "we don't make enough" (which i agree is true for the union as a whole, but, let's face it,  the tenured orchestral-musician subgroup live a far more comfortable life than the rest of the members of the union) and "the management is evil".

As you can tell, I feel that Mr. Hair was on bad form in this debate. Not only were his talking points uncomfortable to listen to, but in the eye of the public, they could only help to instill further discontent with unions.
There's a big storm ahead of us, and Philadelphia Orchestra's troubles was just a taste of what's to come if everything keeps to business as usual. Declining attendance rates, deep cuts to public funding, little musical education in schools are all ahead of us. I understand if many long-time orchestra members are disgruntled that they may have to do new kinds of work, whatever that may be, but full-on resistance from the union, in my opinion, is too much. 

If the industry was all lolly pops and rainbows there would be no reason for books like The Savvy Musician, Beyond Talent, The Music Teaching Artist's Bible, etc. to exist (these books, all cracking, focus on entrepreneurial skills for self-employed musicians and music education initiatives, techniques...). Sadly, my generation and those following us will, for the most part, never have the opportunity to work as the tenure-track orchestral musician that exists today.

I'd like to add that being a musician doesn't limit my capabilities as an employee. Just think that most of us have had a side-job at one time or another, and I'm sure many freelancing musicians have sources of income that aren't directly related to a musical performance. We do have other talents.

Not putting these extra skills to use not only hinders the orchestra, but removes us the opportunity to take ownership in it. Although performing will always be a top priority for me, I accept that the more non-performance work I do, either directly or indirectly related to performance, will lead to more performances, larger audiences, etc. Should we not agree to chip in a bit to help with the load?

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