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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Whilst Alice is away on vacation,
KELLY FERJUTZ fields replies to her correspondence
as Classical Music Agony Aunt

Hi Kelly!

I heard on the CM grapevine that you were taking over from Alice for a few weeks to give her a break, so I thought I would drop you a line:

A few days ago in Howard Smith's article A Changing Landscape (a fascinating conversation with Evgeny Bushkov) I read about the apalling situation in Russian music schools -- basically they closed their doors at the end of the communist era and many of the teachers emigrated to the West.

This is just one piece of the jigsaw ... in the UK, for example, the conservatories are open and thriving, but with very little help from the authorities or the government. Mostly their funds come from the thousands of students from other countries who pay very high fees for what they see as highly sought-after music courses.

So we all complete our performance degree courses, but then what? Nothing -- no performing jobs -- that's what. For at least 90% of us.

So what's to be done? Maybe you could ponder this in one of your columns?

Andres, Spain

Hi Andres,

This is indeed a problem, not just in the UK or the US, but probably everywhere that is touched by western music. Last year at the NEA Institute in New York which I was most privileged to attend, we were told that, in fact, music conservatories graduate 3000+ students with performance degrees, and there exist just 150 positions for these students. In a good year!

I think it's obvious that there is not only a glaring discrepancy, but also a problem looking for a solution. We were also told there is a growing need for arts administrators on every level, and an insufficiency of educated, interested, and capable persons to fill those positions. I thought -- who better to be in a position of authority for an arts organization than a trained artist?

From my own experience, I know of gifted musicians who discover midway through their college program that performing is not quite what they had supposed it to be. Sometimes it is that suddenly discovering themselves to be small fishes in a large pond (rather than the reverse in their home community) is the requisite eye-opener. However, if this revelation hits only in the junior or senior year, it may well be the path of least resistance to continue until graduation, which will at least provide them with the highly-coveted diploma. Many times these students become frustrated and unhappy at having no marketable skills or training to allow them to earn any kind of living in the real world, while waiting for the elusive musical position to become available. They may give up the world of music entirely in their bitterness.

For other students, it is the discovery that being a solo artist is a very lonely occupation, but playing in an orchestra provides a more social environment. Then, too, there is the scarcity of orchestra jobs available, especially if one's instrument is a more popular one. All too often, one hears the plaintive and frustrated, 'but I don't know how to do (or be) anything else!'

Not everyone has the necessary skills or personality to be a successful manager, but every manager needs a staff of some capacity, and with the current growth of arts organizations, the need for artistic staff has never been greater.

Most music schools are geographically close to several organizations that could easily combine to alleviate this problem: arts organizations of various kinds and sizes, and a university or business school. This could lead to a very satisying solution, I think.

What if, beginning with the second year of college-level musical studies, a second -- and coincidental -- degree program could be introduced -- that of arts administration? Every music student, whether aiming for a solo or orchestral or teaching career could benefit from such a program. Business classes are not routinely provided as part of the curriculum at music schools, but they should be. An artist needs to understand the business of 'business' so as not to be taken advantage of by an agent or other representative, as does happen, unfortunately.

Every artistic graduate needs to understand the practice of marketing the arts, and the need for musicians to 'lower' themselves to actually participate in this effort. In this ever-changing world of constant media attention, not to mention the ever-growing cross-over phenomenon, it is no longer practical -- or sensible -- for musicians to be unaware of the world around them.

The days of the musician being reactive while tended to by the all-knowing agent are in the past, and artists these days need to be pro-active in a major way. Fund-raising, subscription and single ticket sales are as important (albeit in different ways) as the need to make their product appealing and accessible to the greater world. I believe all of these are necessary ingredients to keep our musical world alive and thriving.

A student pursuing a performing career with no concept of the real world awaiting him or her is at a serious disadvantage. How much better for that student to have a dual degree -- one in performance, and one in arts administration. The student could serve internships with those arts organizations in close proximity to the school, thus learning the other aspects of the performing world. This would provide necessary help to the organization, which might well not need a full-time employee in that capacity, or have the funds available to pay the full-time salary. Part-time employees are not always available who believe in the necessity of the arts in our every day world, or who care about the continuation of the arts.

Of course, it is also true that even with the dual degree program, a music student might find the musical world a harsh place to inhabit. But -- having had some exposure to the world of business would be a terrific asset to such a student, and could easily lead to a career in a closely-related field.

Consider the various types of positions available in a large arts organization such as a symphony orchestra. The current trend is to separate divisions: artistic and executive. The executive director, will, however, be responsible for finding the persons who will labor in both wings. Depending on the internal structure of the organization, the artistic wing will need writers and graphic artists who produce posters, brochures, program books and an amazing amount of supportive collateral materials.

The artistic manager will need help in finding the ingredients of the chosen programs to be presented: artists, music, and on occasion, additional orchestra musicians. There will be contracts to be worded properly (for both sides) and signed.

Many organizations have belatedly realized the importance of archives, requiring an employee or two to maintain such a treasure. Some concert halls have gallery space, thus requiring yet another person with special skills to organize and mount such exhibits.

Education and outreach departments are especially in need of persons who love the arts to preach this gospel to those with little or insufficient exposure to have developed an appreciation for music, opera, theatre, dance, visual and literary arts.

Even if the music school graduate turns his or her back on music and lives a life that goes in another direction, the business background cannot help but be of use for that future as well.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,
Why do musicians wear tuxes?
Audrey, Tennessee, USA

Hi Audrey, hope you don't mind me replying for Alice ...

Time was that live entertainment was a luxury and people dressed up to attend such performances. It was a more formal time when the rules of polite society equated dress with manners and respect. Not a bad concept actually.

This was a time when leaving the warmth and comfort of one's sofa to attend such a live performance was a demanding and expensive process. Expendable income then was a lesser percentage of one's total income, in most cases, generating more of a sense of occasion. Also, live entertainment was really all there was, until approximately one-third of the way through the 20th century. Radio, then film, and finally television (even in its infancy) brought the fine arts to the masses, and in most cases, it was greatly appreciated.

Of course, art is never static, it always wants to 'push the envelope'. Some performers began to wear casual attire. The audience responded, and what was once unthinkable was suddenly more acceptable. This behavior extended in every direction, and what was once an occasion, became the commonplace. But then, performers discovered a lack of attention or respect on the part of the audience, and this affected the atmosphere in the concert hall.

When one is at home watching television or a DVD, one may behave in anyway at all, even be totally undressed; we may cough, sneeze, laugh loudly, talk on the telephone at the same time, and no one is offended. Such behavior transported to the concert hall, however, disturbs everyone who is there, performer and audience.

How much of this, I wonder, is due to the lack of the traditionally-perceived 'performance clothes' on the part of the performer? Is there a reason for most symphonic organizations still appearing in 'white tie and tails' (penguin suits, to be sure) for the men, and long skirts with dressy tops for the women? Soloists, especially, appearing at the front of the stage are very noticeable in this respect. If appearance isn't important, why are soloists at the front of the stage, rather than in the back, or in the midst of the orchestra?

Some years ago, I attended the final recital of an Art Song Festival that featured ten performing couples -- singer and pianist. This recital was held at a very prestigeous music school, in the evening, and there was an admission charge. There were slightly more men than women in the final count. They ranged in age from twenty or so to early thirties, and in size from pencil-thin to abundant. These were all experienced performers if not yet household names, and their sense of performance dress was totally appalling! Even from the men.

While no one wore jeans on stage, only one pair was dressed in a way that indicated a sense of place and professionalism. Was it significant, I wonder, that this was the most appreciated pair? (They were not competitively ranked as one to ten, but just as finalists.) The idea of performing dress was as diverse as the ages and background of the performers.

I wonder how much dress affects attitude? Do audiences in other countries behave in a more respectful way? Do they dress in a way comparable to the artists? Are standards still a good idea in the concert hall? Respect is a three-way street. It starts with the venue (and management of that venue), extends to the artist, and thus to the audience.

Of course, I'm referring primarily to full-length evening performances. Obviously, daytime, children's or family concerts and other more casual events would not always be held to these standards. Frankly, I hope that this tradition of concert dress (penguin suits) lasts longer than I do!


Copyright © 28 July 2006 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA

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