Interlochen Public Radio did a piece yesterday on the DSO strike; in particular the service conversion proposals that management has put on the table. The whole thing is worth reading. But I was particularly struck by comments made by Joseph Horowitz:
…there are those in the industry who argue this discussion is way overdue. Joe Horowitz wrote the book, Classical Music in America: A History. He says the debate over “Service Conversion” speaks to what he calls a, “fundamental dysfunction” among the nation’s orchestras. Horowitz argues that the modern orchestra plays too many concerts.
There are exceptions,” he says. “But as a rule, they give far more concerts than they should. More concerts than are needed. More concerts than people want. And it’s a fundamental dysfunction.”
Horowitz says concert over-kill is one of the reasons why many orchestras are struggling financially. He says musicians should think of themselves as more of an educational resource than solely as concert performers. Moreover, he says, players should no longer expect to work full time.
“I write books,” he says. “I’m on my ninth book. I don’t expect to support myself and my family through that one activity. I have to do other things because, in deciding to be a writer, I chose a field that’s not like a being a doctor…it’s not as lucrative.
“It has other rewards. And musicians all made that choice and they refuse to live with it.”
The horror! Musicians made a choice to go to work for a full-time orchestra and they refuse to live with it! Or maybe it’s managements that made a choice to run a full-time orchestra and are now “refusing to live with it.” Of course, it’s not managements that are going to be working part-time for 30% less money.
It’s an unfortunate fact that some of the discussion about orchestras and musicians seems to be motivated by nothing more elevated than envy. “I can’t make a living writing books, therefore musicians shouldn’t be able to make a living by performing” fails both as humane sentiment and as intellectual analysis.
The question of what orchestras should do with their employees’s time is a lot more complex than simply saying that orchestras “give more concerts than people want,” even if one assumes the question is not being driven by a desire to take musicians down a few pegs. Horowitz likely never took any econ classes; if he had, he would realize that “want” is a complicated concept. “Want” under what conditions? What price? What venue? What repertoire? What kind of presentation?
It’s like saying that libraries have too many books because most of them aren’t taken out very often. It really misses the point of having orchestras – or libraries – at all.