When I blogged some time ago about music literacy, I mentioned the tired trope “I like to everything except Rap and Country,” which seems to be a response given when someone wants to show a cosmopolitan or open musical taste. Plenty of pixels have been typed about the class and race issues associated with the phrase and I won’t rehash them here as I think that only tells a part of the story that the phrase frames.
Six years ago, I wrote a post called the perils of having too many bands… and at the time I thought I was coming to an upper limit, but little did I understand our capacity to reorganize time when pressed. The image above is a collage of many of the groups I’ve had the pleasure of performing with last year, and doesn’t come close to including a number of pick-up or sideman gigs I took. In the well over 200 events I performed at in 2016, I played with nearly 40 different configuration of musicians and performers in dozens of genres.
Here’s a link to my list of Symphony Orchestras and Chamber Orchestras in the US formed since 2000. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and should be viewed as a “work in progress” (much as my similar list of US Opera organizations formed since 2000).
The other day, I was thinking about the Aesop’s Fable, “The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass“, while I was reflecting on the direction my musical career has taken. This was after a nine-day stint of 23 performances across a variety of musical genres.*
You are surely familiar with the story–a miller and his son take their ass to the market to sell it and along the way they meet several individuals or groups of people who comment or criticize them on their trip. The miller and his son adjust their journey according the comments or criticisms: when told they should be riding the ass, the miller puts his son on the ass; when criticized for not respecting the aged, the miller replaces himself on the ass; when criticized for being lazy, the miller then lets his son ride behind him; and when told they could more easily carry the ass rather than have it carry them, they proceed to tie the legs of the beast and haul it around with a pole. As they cross a bridge near the town, the townsfolk laugh at the sight before them and the commotion frightens the ass which breaks free of the restraints and tumbles into the river.
The obvious moral of the story is that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.
One of frequent questions I’m asked when I point out the immense growth of opera companies, orchestras, and classical music ensembles over the past few decades is what their financial model is and whether that translates to making a livable wage or even whether that translates into the organization being sustainable and able to stay out of the red more than the mainstream, incumbent organizations.
Since my narrative, contra the Classical Music Crisis, involves demonstrating the field is simply constantly changing and evolving and redistributing total [performance and contributed] revenue to other newer organizations, I’ve been much more concerned with the trajectory of Classical Music group life-cycles.* The Crisis narrative focuses primarily on the mainstream and incumbent organizations and their health as a litmus test of the health of the field overall. Much of that narrative relies on a relatively static ensemble (and in some cases, a static and hegemonic audience culture) that’s unwilling to change.**