Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Riff on Playing Music for a Living

Here in the U.S., one has to wonder about the future of music schools and conservatories with tuition rates of $20,000 a year, when available jobs are dwindling. Many orchestras are in severe crisis now, with large deficits and no apparent way to make them up. And orchestras are traditionally the largest source of employment in the private sector for classical musicians. The decline of the orchestra in the U.S. has to eventually impact opportunities for musicians in the education system. Yet, people in positions of authority seem pretty much oblivious.

This is not just restricted to classical music. One could throw in jazz, as well, where opportunities are even more scarce. It's sad to see people who regularly played with Coltrane and Miles Davis living in rent-by-the month hotels as they struggle with the difficulties of age. Yet I know such people, who made much more thirty years ago than now. We are throwing away our history and cultural legacy.

Music schools have the standard jazz studies department, but who goes into fields such as these, when the opportunities to make money are limited and dwindling ? More and more it's exclusively children of the rich, who know they will be taken care of if things don't work out. But you're not going to get much vitality in an art that way.

Musicians don't go into the field to get rich, but one has to survive. The field is demanding, and requires one's full attention to improve and succeed. You simply can not be a top flight musician and have a 'day job'. This can apply to any segment of music, not just the above mentioned categories of classical and jazz. As economies decline, so to do the arts. People feel the pinch and have to survive, even if it means limiting their artistic pursuits. The Renaissance was an economic as well as an artistic flowering. They go hand in hand.

Those who celebrate their ability to get free music are pretty much celebrating the destruction of another economic base, though of course no one is 'pure' in this regard. As with any situation, there are success stories, but the general drift in the music field over the last decades has been towards less : less live music opportunities and less money through recordings (with or without evil record companies). Comparing our world of copyrights with Mozart's world is ridiculous. There were no recordings in Mozart's time, so live music was needed. Restaurants couldn't re-run a CD all day as they can now.

Everything cannot be about promotion - giving something away for free for a future reward. There eventually has to be a pay off. Bills have to be paid, teeth have to be fixed, shelter provided for. If musicians can not get their basic needs met by playing music, many will move to other fields, and a whole lot of interesting ideas will never be heard.

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