Friday, August 29, 2008

The Arts and the State

My friends at the Illinois Arts Council reminded me that we should all make sure to look at the way each of the candidates consider the arts. I really dislike it when anyone refers to music as one of "the arts," but it is something that I have learned to live with. I have come to understand and accept that these days (the days after the Kennedys, who invited musicians like Pablo Casals to the White House because they admired the man and his performances of music, music that the people in the administration actually ended up liking) playing background music for a reception or a dinner is probably the most state-like activity that a "classical" musician would be able to do--aside, perhaps, from going to North Korea and playing a televised concert for the sole (and that ain't Seoul) purpose of what I guess is "diplomacy." I still don't understand what that was all about.

I dream of a State where what I do and what I teach my students to do and to love is a viable way for a person to make a living, even if that person doesn't live in a major city. I dream of a State where music is considered a vital part of a child's education, and every school district is given ample funds to hire and retain excellent music teachers, buy and maintain instruments, and develop good instrumental and choral libraries. I dream of a State where tickets to concerts could be affordable to everyone, and musicians could also be paid well. I dream of a State that asks (that is a short way of spelling commissions) composers to write music for public functions (to be played by musicians who are hired for the occasion) in places other than major cities, and shows the citizens that new "classical" music is something that people still write and people still play all over the country. I dream of a State that values its local talent, musical and otherwise.

I want to believe the Democrats when they tell me that in America you can be anything that you want to be, but I find myself discouraging people, even people with talent and ambition, not to go into music in order to make a living. The opportunities (as I have written in previous posts) are too few, and the people who have success have to rely on a lot of financial support in order to study with good teachers and live the kind of life where they have ample time to practice. They also have to have a great business sense, and know how to market themselves. Good looks also help, and nerves of steel and a competitive drive are essential, because competition is the heart and soul of American success.

I don't think that any administration will change the reality of competition, but it could do its part to teach people that there is more to music than competition. There should be a place for all serious musicians, and "serious" music in what I hope will once again be a great society.


Mike said...

As an organist/accompanist/teacher/museum tour guide (the latter because one must, y'know, eat) I share your dreams; I also share that feeling of hopelessness, knowing that we're not likely to see it happen.
Intelligent music simply isn't a matter of public interest any more; part of that is because of how one's musical tastes are used to define one's place - i.e. that the music industry (awful term to hear) isn't selling music, they're selling image, mainly because it sells better. Recording technology has come to the point, too, that it hurts us - why listen to some second-rate composer when you can listen to Bach or Beethoven on demand?

I do think, though, that competition is the very element that's helping kill music, as pop musicians now seem to be far more interested in generating the next #1 hit single than in generating good music.

Good luck with your crusade; I'm pulling for you.

Elaine Fine said...

. . . and why listen to a concert of Bach or Beethoven when you can hear a CD of a performance (that has only the best takes, and sometimes has the mistakes edited out) played by any one of a virtual stable of great musicians who are no longer alive!

Thank you Mike! said...

Well, "you can be" what you want to be... but that doesn't mean you will be. That's what I'm trying to teach my students. And, to be honest, I rarely hear one that I think has what it takes both in talent and in passion. The passion really has to be there, don't you think? If they can live without it, they probably will.

I think our heyday was in the 80s ... when the local symphony I was in was doing very well and I was working steadily just with them. But growth was too fast and too much and that symphony died. As did many others. There were so many reasons for this, and of course I could ramble on and on ....

I'm curious, Elaine, why you don't like music include din the arts ...? Is it because we aren't creators, but creatives if we are in performance? (Which would then include other "arts" as well.) Or is it something else? (Sorry ... I'm just plain stupid. It's the oboe brain thing.)

Hmmm. I'm not really saying anything of import here. Maybe I just wanted to "hear" my voice. Dunno. Ramble ramble ....

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you Patty. I guess I wasn't being very clear.

It's not that I object to music being included in "the arts," my objection has to do with the fact that music, particularly "serious" music, becomes marginalized and becomes the lesser component, in the eyes of government arts organizations, of "a music" that includes all forms of popular music.

When government arts entities give money for music, they tend to favor music that is more "multi-cultural" than the music that orchestral musicians, pianists, and "opera singers" make. They somehow seem to think that what we do is "mainstream," giving the bulk of their grant money to musical organizations (and my pet peeve is that they are organizations in cities, because they are more populated than rural areas, I guess) that they believe will expand the culture.

The name "the arts" equates all arts with all other arts, and suggests that a supporter of "the arts" should be a supporter of all "arts," and all subsets of "arts" equally.

Consider the damage that the right-wing objection to "obscenity" did for all visual artists, and by extension government funding for all the "arts."

Lee said...

Have you read the profile of Simon Rattle in today's Observer? It has some relevant things to say: