Friday, March 29, 2013

Value by the Numbers or is Enough is Enough?

With the exception of the call from our son, every phone call that we got yesterday was from an earnest person sitting in a calling center who was trying to raise money for something having to do with the problems we have with our government. I find it difficult to understand why those of us who benefit least from the "free market economy" (like musicians and teachers) are called upon to finance attempts at achieving some kind of social justice in this country. Perhaps my memory is a bit clouded, but until recently nobody asked for money to support issues that the people we pay through our taxes are supposed to work for. These were not pleas to contact people in congress. They were pleas for cash.

What is this world coming to when everything seems to have some kind of "bottom line?" How is throwing money at a problem going to actually solve the problem, particularly when the root of problem clearly involves the basic greed of an entity over which, even in a supposedly democratic society, the voice of the people doesn't seem to matter? Do corrupting people have a "price?"

I have slowly watched our world move from one in which quantity is really replacing quality. A television show's ratings do not come from critical commentary. They come from how many millions of people watched it. The value of a pop music recording comes from how many millions of people have either downloaded it or have bought it. Then there are twitter followers and facebook likes. Those quantity ratings are more a product of marketing than of actual worthwhile matter.

A relatively small number of people care about the general stuff that "classical" musicians care about. It was once part of popular culture, but that was back in the days when popular culture consisted of a far smaller number of people competing for attention. Symphony orchestras didn't have to make themselves look slick and robust in order to compete with the "Ice Capades" (which once also employed musicians), or whatever shows happened to be in town (like, say, the circus). Now, in cities where there is fierce competition for the leisure dollar, they do. And once they do, they are still mainly judged by the number of people who buy tickets and not by the quality of the performances. Critical professional reviewers are getting rarer and rarer. Bloggers, in some cases, have taken their places, but the word of a non-paid blogger is not valued nearly as highly as a reviewer who draws a small salary from a well-known publishing entity.

Then there's the matter of money. The other night there was coverage on the PBS New Hour about the San Francisco Symphony strike. It tried to be unbiased, but the numbers they used made the musicians look like they were asking for too much (the numbers they used averaged the principal salaries in with the non-principal ones). A person who didn't care much about music, or didn't appreciate the quality of the San Francisco Symphony might wonder what the fuss was about. The "media" celebrates the large amount of money that people in the entertainment and business fields make, but when it comes to musicians, who matter to a small segment of the population, the numbers look disproportionately big.

In reality, factory workers (when there were factory jobs) make more money than most orchestral musicians. If you interviewed a bunch of people on the street and asked them if they would like to hear a concert played by a bunch of musicians they never heard of who made less money for their work than factory workers, do you think those people would spend money ($20-50) to hear them play?

[I should add that for each of those + or - $30,000 per year orchestral jobs (in the rare case of a vacancy), there would be hundreds upon hundreds of highly skilled applicants with advanced degrees from major music schools competing for a single seat.]

1 comment:

csp123 said...

Yes! This is all so sadly true. The same is the case with college and university departments and their professors, especially in the arts and humanities.