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Social and Economic Issues in 2011 and Their Impact on Music and the Arts

0 Bill Cahn
img_0799web Editor's Abstract

[This essay was originally written in 2004. It’s observations are essentially unchanged in 2011.] In the 20th century world of specialization, artists found their position in society as the purveyors of new possibilities through open and free thought - from Picasso and Stravinsky to Jackson Pollock and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Having broken away from the intellectual

Ramon Ricker

[This essay was originally written in 2004. It’s observations are essentially unchanged in 2011.]

In the 20th century world of specialization, artists found their position in society as the purveyors of new possibilities through open and free thought - from Picasso and Stravinsky to Jackson Pollock and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Having broken away from the intellectual boundaries of the Victorian era, their artistic direction, known as the “modernist” movement, led toward ever greater abstraction and ultimately to a disconnect of their “high art” from all but a small inner group of cognoscenti.

At the end of the 20th century, however, a new artistic revolution emerged, sometimes called the “postmodern” movement, which may be generally characterized as the rejection of abstraction, and the merging of “high” and “low” art forms - high art being the classical forms, including Jazz, and low art being the popular forms. This revolution is still underway.

Influential new ideas today are mainly coming not from artists, but from technology and global communications - via jet travel, the internet and other electronic media - giving everyone immediate access to the world’s wellspring of ideas. Whereas the artists’ challenge formerly was to open minds and lead society into new ways of thinking, now the challenge is for artists 1) to seek like-minded niche markets that are large enough to sustain their work or 2) to connect their ideas with the general public (the mass market) by having some relevance to their lives.

On Sep. 12, 2004 in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, asking rhetorically whether classical music will “regain the standing it had in society in the first half of the 20th century,” Tom Strini answers, “No. Classical music and new music rising from that tradition will remain marginal.” He adds, “We can take comfort in the fact that almost every cultural commodity is marginal these days. . . . Most of us are intensely interested in certain things and oblivious to many more things of intense interest to millions of our fellow citizens. We have sliced and diced ourselves-and been sliced and diced by media manipulators-into hermetically sealed demographic bits.” In this environment, Strini concludes, “Classical music must embrace its marginality and make a modest nest in a splintered marketplace.”

There are presently two models (or paradigms) of the arts in existence in America concurrently. The first I call “the old model” or “the European model.” It is characterized by 1) artistic freedom, 2) an imaginative artistic vision that seeks to open minds, and 3) patronage - private individuals or public institutions supporting the artists’ vision. In this model the market follows the artist. This old model, while still present to varying degrees depending on each particular circumstance, is gradually losing favor in America.

The second model of the arts I call “the new model” or “the American model,’ and it is characterized by a focus on social relevance and on technical concerns, like market size, statistics, bottom-line financial management and performance standards. In this model markets are not as concerned with the artist’s vision as with the artist’s technical proficiency in achieving social outcomes through adherence to social norms in performance. If the artist’s vision steps too far over the line drawn by audiences,

critics, and even other artists, it will be rejected. Here the artist follows the market. This model is also present everywhere to varying degrees, but it is increasingly in favor, especially in America.

I want to be very clear that I do not judge either of these two models to be good or bad. My intent is simply to describe what I see.

Current Social Conditions (in North America)

Communications -

1) PARADOX - There is now a worldwide access to all music (ideas), but the ability to choose only agreeable ideas and to filter out disagreeable ideas is leading to a narrowing of tastes.

2) Now, with music on recordings, film, radio, television, computers, elevators, shopping malls, city street crossings, cellphone ringtones, etc., etc., music is part of our environment - it is less precious than in the past.

Leisure Time -

3) PARADOX - Leisure options have exploded, but available recreation time for most people has become more limited; live music is competing with more alternatives for less available time.

4) The main art form in North America is movies. This is what most people talk about. In film and TV, music plays only a supporting role.

Values -

5) The intellectual impact of music on society has lessened - the main impact now comes from technology

6) Music (& arts) are devalued in Education - considered “extra.” The value of the arts as a “humanizing” counterbalance to impersonal technology is diminishing.The focus of education is on technical concerns – the 3Rs, computer literacy, technical skills.This focus has reduced the amount of attention given to imagination, intuition and creativity, all of which the arts seek to strengthen.

7) It cannot be assumed that primary and secondary music teachers are schooled in classical music & arts.

8 ) The educational emphasis in the arts is on active playing (doing), not on active listening (perceiving, thinking and critiquing).

Current Economic Conditions (in North America)

Values -

1) Music (art) is becoming a commodity; artistic vision (old model - in major cities) is being replaced by marketing (new model - in middle America);

In the New York Times for Monday September 7, 2019 , there is a profile of National Endowment for the Arts chairman Dana Gioia, “who to a large degree has won the Congressional approbation that eluded his predecessors. And he has done so without alienating artists, who tend to resist all restraints on their independence.”

“(Gioia’s) view — that supporting audiences is a more urgent priority than supporting artists — has allowed many conservatives who were opponents of the agency to get behind it … Mr. Gioia hasn’t bothered to defend the independence of artists or the value of subversive art, stances that hampered previous chairmen,” but he has “steered the endowment toward the creation of big, visible programs,” a direction that has “dismayed some arts administrators, who say the endowment’s creation of its own programs – and its solicitation of corporate funds to foot the bill — puts the endowment in direct competition with the organizations it is supposed to support.” Says Gioia: “The debate about public funding of the arts over the last 20 years has been determined by the critics … I felt if one were to rebuild the agency, what we needed to do was to take an unapologetic role in creating the public conversation about arts support.”

2) Star power, as has been true with pop music for decades, is increasingly important in marketing classical (and Jazz?).Audiences now want hits and recognizable names; they want predictability; they do not seek new artistic visions - they prefer visions that have already been generally recognized.

3) Governments at all levels are squeezed by pressure to lower taxes. On 9/10/04 at 2:50:47 PM, am_sym_orch_league@symphony.pmail.biz writes:

“Thursday’s Boston Globe includes a report by Catherine Foster noting that’Art Close Up,’ a series of monthly WGBH specials that focused on the creative endeavor, is the latest casualty of the current poor funding climate for the arts. The series, which began in January, got the ax shortly before the close of the public television station’s fiscal year, Aug. 31.” Foster notes that “among the artists shown doing their work were now deceased Russian puppeteer Igor Fokin, choreographer Twyla Tharp, photographers Robert and Shana Perek Harrison, and sculptor Pat Keck. Lucy Sholley, director of media relations for WGBH, said the decision was difficult, and made strictly for budgetary reasons. ‘Securing funding for arts programming has been on ongoing challenge, particularly as state and local arts resources have become increasingly scarce,’ she said.”

Leisure Time -

4) There is an ‘equal options’ - “TV remote” - public mentality (ie. “all channels and all programming are equal, provided they can hold attention)

Communications -

5) Niche markets are overwhelmed by mass markets, but kept alive by internet marketing opportunities.

6) The web-based distribution of music generally ignores classical music.

Work -

7) North American orchestras have reached market saturation.Musician’s jobs are devalued; there is an oversupply of competent musicians.Cost growth in musical institutions is rising faster than income growth.

On 9/10/04 2:50:47 PM, am_sym_orch_league@symphony.pmail.biz writes:

“In Friday’s (9/10/04) edition of The Independent (London) Louise Jury reports on a “new survey carried out for the Musicians’ Union. The salaries of Britain’s violinists, flautists and timpanists are so pitifully low, they are putting the future of classical music at risk, it was claimed yesterday. While star soloists regularly make several thousand pounds in one evening, rank-and-file string players earn an average of pounds 22,500 [annually], less than the national average wage of pounds 23,000.” Jury writes, “The union polled every orchestral player with some type of contract in Britain and of the 20 per cent who responded, 86 per cent said they supplemented their orchestral salary with other work. Half said the amount of non-orchestral work they did to survive had increased in the past three years with one in five musicians taking nonmusical work, such as plastering or plumbing, to supplement their income.” Jury quotes Horace Trubridge, the union’s assistant general secretary: “the problem is getting worse at a time when the Arts Council stabilization programme was set up to give a secure future to orchestras. We decided that to try to improve things, we have to try to get people talking about it.”

8 ) Private giving is increasingly aligned with education (social) “pay-back” In Wednesday’s (9/15) Philadelphia Inquirer, Peter Dobrin writes on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s ongoing contract negotiations.On a level “more enduring than money,” Dobrin writes, “these talks and other forces at play seek a change in orchestra culture that would alter how musicians view themselves as employees. For the music-listening public, and the extent to which the orchestra is perceived as a responsible cultural citizen, the results could be profound.” Management, Dobrin writes, seeks “work-rule changes” in player’s contracts in its attempts to transform the orchestra “to more of an educational institution with a social mission.”He adds, “A recognition that the orchestra has a wider role to fill, and perhaps an emerging social conscience, coincides with declining audiences and a funding climate that often makes it easier to find sponsorship for educational activities than general-operating support … For the players, even those who have long argued for a greater educational role, such changes represent risk.”

9) Corporate giving is increasingly aligned with marketing (self-interest) “pay-back” and less aligned with social/community altruism.

On 9/9/04 5:59:46 PM, am_sym_orch_league@symphony.pmail.biz writes:

“In Thursday’s Salt Lake Tribune, Catherine Reese Newton reports on the new agreement between the Utah Symphony & Opera and UBS Bank USA, in which the bank will provide “major sponsorship in exchange for prominent display of the corporation’s logo.”Newton writes, “UBS will be designated as a ‘season sponsor’ the next three seasons, with the donation going toward the symphony’s operating costs.” The logo will appear in “US & O advertising and concert programs, and the firm will receive specific recognition” at four season concerts. Of the agreement, US & O CEO Anne Ewers tells Newton, “It’s a new way [of funding the arts], and boy, do we need new ways.” Newton adds, “UBS has similar sponsorships with major orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Symphony.”

UBS Bank USA President and new US & O board member Ray Dardano cites the Utah Symphony’s “longtime focus on education” as attractive to the bank.

10) Musicians are becoming music educators (without training). 9/10/04 The Des Moines Symphony Academy celebrated its first anniversary on September 8. The Academy, which started with an enrollment of 130 students, begins its second year with 210 students. It offers private instruction on bass, cello, flute, guitar, percussion, piano, saxophone, viola, and violin, along with group classes for children and adults.

What can be done

General public
-advocacy at all levels - the case for (value of) music & arts must be simply and clearly stated and repeated over and over.
-keep music & arts in the mix of ideas - when teaching, speaking, volunteering, voting
-organize coalitions - music and arts institutions must act cooperatively in advocating, lobbying, and seeking efficiencies of scale to deals with ever- increasing costs.
-teach listening/thinking skills
Career-track Musicians
-be informed about careers in music. Understand what skills are needed and how music careers must be funded. Ask tough questions (and then find answers.)
-balance technical skill acquisition with self observation (questioning, thinking)
-acquire advocacy skills
-realize that every artist is always a teacher, and that all art is educational – teaching us about ourselves and our relationship to others.

I have been a musician all my life and have never worked outside of music. Nevertheless, my time today is mainly spent on the computer - business emails, generating work, accounting, writing to others about what I do (publicity), composing music, and advocating for music.

As a professional musician, I have always loved performing and listening to music, but even though a career in music has been very satisfying for me, I don’t recommend it to students, unless they are fully aware (and most are) of the cultural environment (described above).The decision to devote one’s life to music is most fulfilling when driven as much by a love of listening to music as by a love of playing an instrument. In order for most professional musicians to have a satisfying career in music, the love of music must be strong enough to compensate for relatively modest pay and a marketplace that is increasingly uneducated in music.

The distinguished American composer and educator, Howard Hanson, said that wherever he went he was approached by students asking if they should go into music, and he always told them ‘no,’ regardless of who was asking. He said that the ones who eventually became musicians didn’t listen to his answer.

Bill Cahn has been a member of the NEXUS percussion group since 1971, and was Principal Percussionist in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra from 1968 to 1995. He is now Associate Professor of Percussion at the Eastman School of Music and a visiting artist in residence at the Showa Academy of Music in Kawasaki, Japan.

Bill has performed with many orchestras, composers, ensembles, and artists representing diverse musical styles, including the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, Chet Atkins,John Cage,Aaron Copland, Chuck Mangione, Mitch Miller, Steve Reich, Doc Severensen, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, Edgar Varese and Paul Winter. He has conducted programs with symphony orchestras, and his compositions for solo percussion, percussion ensemble and percussion with orchestra/band are widely performed.His fourth book, “Creative Music Making,” on freeform improvisation was published by Routledge Books in 2005. In 2006 Bill received a Grammy Award as part of the Paul Winter Consort on the DVD titled, “2004 Solstice Concert”.

From 1995 to 2004 Bill served on the Board of Directors forthe Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and he was Chairman of the orchestra’s Education and Outreach Committee.He currently serves on the RPO Honorary Board.

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