Why is it that in today’s culture, we don’t really hear about people going to orchestral concerts or raving over which Mahler symphony they last heard? Most people, especially in our youth culture, are talking about which DJ they last heard or which music festival they last went to. Many of my friends are willing to spend roughly $500 for a weekend of listening to popular artists from pop, indie, hip hop, and other musical genres that are not classical. My friends have no problem spending this money, but when it comes to watching the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform Mahler’s fifth symphony for $150, everyone has to suddenly save money. There has been an increase in demand for music festivals, the opposite of what Terry Teachout observes for orchestral concerts. He claims that the low demand in orchestral music and concerts plays a large part in the past and recent orchestra strikes. Terry doesn’t believe that these musicians should be on strike and asking for an increase in pay because their demand is low. The supply and demand for orchestral music is low, and musicians should respect the economy in that sense. He also acknowledges that musicians have had an increase in base salary by roughly $50,000 since the mid-twentieth century, so “that’s why orchestra members would do well to remember how far they’ve come.”
“Remember how far they’ve come”? Terry makes a point that fifty years ago, “full time” musicians had to have other jobs in order to make ends meet, and that today’s base salary for orchestral musicians ($165,000 base salary for SF Symphony musicians) is sufficient and above the median household in America. I think it’s great that musicians are being paid for their hard work and artistry. I did not play professionally, but having played in youth and college orchestras, I understand how much work that each musician puts in. It’s unfortunate that some people do not recognize this and won’t go out of their way to pay for a concert they don’t have high demand for. But for Terry to say that musicians should “remember how far they’ve come” is not appropriate.
Let’s take this logic and apply it to women’s rights. Women didn’t have the same rights as they do now back in the 1900’s. Women have come such a long way and earn the respect that they always should have. What if women were stripped the right to vote, and it was justified by people saying, “They should remember how far they’e come.” People would be outraged. Terry says that the reason this happens to orchestras is because “that’s the kind of thing that can end up happening in a world that doesn’t value your services as highly as you do.” Yes, it’s unfortunate that today’s pop culture doesn’t include Beethoven or Ravel directly. Even though the demand might be low, it doesn’t mean that we can let the importance and recognition of orchestral musicians and music digress. It doesn’t mean that the musicians deserve the pay cut because the rest of society has an under-appreciation of the product of their hard work and talent. Musicians shouldn’t just take it; they should continue to protect and fight for the recognition of their artistic services.