Dissent in the Music World

newmusic box November 9, 2007


Itís true that success in any field depends on being hardworking and proactive.  But shouldnít there also be a place in classical music for dissent?  Should we just ignore those stylistic mavericks who never quite find a place regardless of how hard they work?  And what about the thousands of hardworking musicians in the heartlands who will never receive due recognition because they arenít connected to the proper channels and media centers in the Northeast Ė a regional  imbalance created by our countryís radical and isolated system of funding the arts?  Shall we just say they arenít trying hard enough?


I spent five months in NYC a couple years ago and went to every new music event I could, along with the usual regular classical events.  I think I saw about 8 or 10 black people at those concerts during the whole time, even though NYC has about 2 million African-American citizens.  That is, of course, cause for dissent, but what about the musicians who find the de facto whites-only atmosphere so deeply repugnant that they have trouble participating in classical music with a full heart?  And what about those who feel our funding system by the wealthy only makes these disparities even more disgusting?   I think there are quite a few such people who see classical music this way.  Shall we just write them off?  Or are those mavericks exactly the people we should be listening to?


As is now pretty well-known, the Vienna Philharmonic has traditionally forbidden membership to women and non-Caucasians.  The orchestra feels that people with darker colored skin would destroy the ensembleís image of Austrian authenticity.  And yet the orchestra is not only presented, but celebrated and feted in NYC with a series of concerts every year in Carnegie Hall.  Why do so few people raise their voice in protest?  Why do so few question this social paradigm, much less find it so sickening that they can only take a distanced approach to certain aspects of musical career building?  Itís not like Carnegie Hall is some sort of marginalized institution we can just overlook.


Yes, we have our classical music stars, but donít they usually surround themselves with a notable silence about many of the important social issues surrounding classical music like these?   Music schools should definitely teach students how to make a business of music.  Perhaps there should be at least a couple courses on how to swallow the white, bourgeoisie character of classical music and not let it stand in your way.  Perhaps we should be trained in how to patronize CEOs and Blue Haired Ladies, and the ethos that turns our arts institutions into something like elite, whites-only cultural country clubs.  And most importantly, perhaps there should be at least one course on how to cover this all up with a few token gestures Ė classical music window dressing 101.  Will the better students in these courses get the most commissions and tenured professorships?


I recently read how the Manhattan School of Music paid some millions for a lavishly appointed apartment for its President.  The rationale was that he needed it to entertain wealthy New York donors.  Isnít that ironic when one considers the almost certain poverty the vast majority of the schoolís graduates will face?



Why is Deborah Borda, the manager of the LA Phil, paid 1.5 million a year, while so many thousands of highly trained and qualified musicians live in poverty?  Why are those musicians unemployed even though there are vast regions of our country with very little access to classical music where their work is deeply needed?


One of the most important plans made for the renovation of Lincoln Center was to tear down Avery Fischer Hall.  It is such an acoustical disaster it is irreparable and deeply hurts the work of the NY Philharmonic.  The plans were stopped by the Fischer Family, because they didnít want the ďmemorialĒ destroyed.  And no rich person would give money if a new hall didnít carry their name.  So the NY Phil must continue performing in the horrible environment.  These are the problems we often face.  Shall there not be a place for dissent, and for those who by conscience must stand apart?


No, just shut up and write.  Forget it and churn out music like those musical stars who fit in so well.


(I donít have time to even proof this.  I hope it is readable.  Anyway, I think you got the answer you were actually looking for.)



William Osborne