Bye Bye Birdie closed last Sunday in Lexington, VA.. I not only conducted the show, but also played clarinet/saxophone in the pit. The performances took place in a 250 seat “black box” making the shows very intimate. We had six sellout crowds for each show. The leads, especially Albert, Mr Macafee, and Rose, stole the show. Because of budget constraints, the pit band contained 12 very talented musicians instead of a full orchestra that the score calls for. I enjoyed the challenge of conducting and playing at the same time; my first time! Though the show itself is somewhat dated, this did not bother the most appreciative audience watching our very enthusiastic and professional cast.
With the political season coming to a close and with much relief, we (the American Public) still have to endure the 24 hour news cycle of “He said, He said” for just awhile longer. But as the “political season” ends, the Symphony season begins—at least for some.
Philadelphia is still in the midst of restructuring as part of their Chapter 11 and Detroit miraculously is coming out of a tough six month strike, and if you read Slatkin’s new book, Conducting Business, and his commentary, he had a lot to do with getting Detroit back on its feet. By the way, Maestro Slatkin, in spite of a catastrophic Met debut, heart problems, and other challenges, he has survived it all and keeps on going. Congratulations to him! He is an American Original. The New York Philharmonic will, however, open their rehearsals before their televised glitzy opening night. So things look good, but not for all.
My issue is this: How can we stand by and apathetically watch six or so orchestras teeter on the precipice of disaster? St. Paul is struggling for their life and now we can add Jacksonville to the list of the war between management and musician. Wonder who will win? We have heard a lot about 99%, 47%, 1%; how about 20%. That seems even more popular than the other three. That’s what management wants to cut from the pay and health benefits of the musicians. Jackson only has a 8 to 9 month season which pays around $35,000 give or take; and management wants to cut, let’s say it together now, 20%.! These are not millionaire baseball players, these are hardworking musicians trying to support their families with their symphony gig, give private lessons, and practice so they can keep the jobs they already have. Being a musician can often be a solitary life with plenty of stress piled on; hours of practicing, running around the country (at your own expense) playing auditions. Being the best and proving to all that you really are is just another day at the office.
The importance of keeping our cultural heritage alive is so important for many reasons. Politicians talk about jobs; well our orchestras provide jobs for musicians including composers, technicians, and stage hands. Orchestras can revive a dying downtown area and can encourage the opening of restaurants and other stores. Orchestras bring people together of all likes and dislikes, with no prejudice to your political affiliation. And what is most important, concerts offer a chance to escape, to feel good, or just to feel. Programs foster opinions, discussions, sometimes even unruly behavior….at least some sort of reaction rather than the lazy texting couch potatoes we have become to be. (By the way, to that conductor at Weber State, what were you thinking stopping a concert to tell a handicapped person to get the h$#$ out because of some extraneous noise…that should keep ‘em coming back! Sometimes musicians shoot themselves in the foot!).
Why is the selling of our Orchestras such a tough sell? Everyone certainly has their own opinion on that one. I still think the snob effect is still there though I do hear about orchestras giving concerts in all sort of venues. Slatkin’s presence in Detroit, giving lectures, talking to the audience, having a strong commitment to the community has been a terrific help. Young kids just don’t like classical music…if I had a buck for every time I heard that excuse. Example: I came home one day and I heard some beautiful Mozart being played on somebody’s cell phone (it’s after all the 21st Century). A little unusual considering this is a house with a two teenagers and a 10-year-old boy who believes he is Spider-Man or Zeus, (depends what book he’s reading). My 14-year-old was listening to this music while she was doing her homework. Told me that classical music helps with homework. WOW…ice cream for all! Who says the Mozart Effect is an urban legend? If this type of music can speak to a 14-year-old, it can speak to all of us.
When I travel to other countries to guest conduct, my concerts are quite often sponsored by several large companies as well as the Ministry of Culture. Like universal health care (I know I’m treading on thin ice here), why are we the only country that has running water but no representation on the same level of the, say, the Secretary of Education. Our water, our roads, our forests, even our air all are represented in Washington, all except the Arts. The annual NEA hearings are excruciating watching the Director beg to keep the endowment alive and being forced to answer silly questions about why this art exhibit was funded, why that theatre company was funded and on and on.
I would like to see a Secretary of Culture in the President’s Cabinet. At the very least, this would elevate the arts to national attention and finally convince our doubters that the Arts is as important as breathing clean air, educating our children, and protecting our country. These are ALL important to our American way of life. Could we not get a million signatures on a petition to hand to the President? Wouldn’t that make all those thousands of hours huddled in a smelly practice room worth every minute? Don’t get me wrong, the NEA is great and I applaud those Directors who had to stand before the subcommittee and make a case for Arts; Make a case for the Arts!…what a very sad state of affairs if that’s what we have to do to keep our cultural institutions alive. Do we have to make a case for safe food and roads?
To both political parties and their rich donors, you don’t know what a terrible week is until they lock you out of the place you work! That’s a terrible week!