On Giving Up
22 Apr 2011
Inside the Classics

I haven’t been posting much over the past few weeks, and a lot of what I have posted has either been flippant or purely informational. Which might seem odd, since the orchestra business has been chock full of big news lately. The orchestra I grew up listening to and studying with has filed Chapter 11 and may be on the verge of actually trying to create the mythical “new business model” that a certain sector of the industry is always insisting we need and another sector is deathly afraid of. An orchestra that already went down the bankruptcy path is beginning to rise from the ashes when everyone said it couldn’t. Important debates about pension models, recording and broadcast agreements, and the very existence of symphony orchestras are ramping up again in all kinds of serious and not-so-serious ways.

But honestly, I’m tired. I’m tired of the shoddy theories, the endless recriminations, the rehashing of old battles that have long since ceased to be relevant. I’m tired of the almost total lack of critical thinking, and I’m tired of everyone pretending that defending your little corner of turf to the death counts as fighting for the future of our industry.

I’m tired of waking up every morning to read yet another broadside from the cottage industry of pundits who’ve been saying for decades that orchestras are doomed and who use every new recession as an excuse to start shrieking from the mountaintop that “it’s different this time.” I’m tired of making the case that, when such pundits are demonstrably wrong about this, year after year, recession after recession, it might be time to stop affording them a place at the grown-ups’ table.

I’m tired of wondering why the term “new business model” so often seems to actually mean “the exact same business model, only with everyone making a lot less money.” I’m tired of musicians who think that the people who give generously of their time and money to create and sustain jobs for us are somehow an enemy to be feared, rather than precious friends to be cultivated and cared for.

I’m tired of arts managers who believe they can cut their way to solvency, and who willfully ignore the mountain of evidence that cutting usually just leads to more cutting. I’m tired of trying to explain to colleagues who should know better that a model under which I can go to YouTube, type in “Minnesota Orchestra,” and see a couple of musician interviews, a few bootleg clips taken illicitly from the audience during “Video Games Live,” and a testimonial about an internet provider but no complete performance of any piece recorded in the last decade is a bad model.

I’m tired of hearing that no one cares about classical music when I can still look out at Orchestra Hall three to four nights a week and see more people in the seats than have ever, ever packed a show at First Avenue. I’m tired of seeing orchestras referred to as dinosaurs, sometimes by the very musicians whose own freelance careers are made possible by the musical life that springs up in cities with major orchestras, and withers without them.

I’m tired of feeling under attack because I actually make a living playing the viola, a living that, by the way, I spent 18 years training for before I ever made a dime. I’m tired of explaining to incredulous but well-meaning concertgoers that yes, as a matter of fact, this is my job. I’m tired of it being assumed that because I love my work, it doesn’t qualify as real work.

So that’s why I haven’t been writing much. Sorry. But I think Mary Chapin Carpenter said it best, on an album I wore out back in college: There’s only so long you can take it all on, and then the wrong’s gotta be on its own.

I’ve been fighting these battles my whole career, and I know I’ll probably be fighting them again before long. But right now, I’m out. I’m done. No one’s really listening to each other at the moment, anyway.

<February 2020>

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