Tuesday, April 5, 2011

That Uncomfortable Feeling (Watching the Detroit Symphony Strike from Afar)

I've heard it said here, and I can well imagine it being said elsewhere, that finely trained musicians want to concentrate on the music-making they trained for; that they find too much community service detrimental to the fundamental goal of sustaining artistic growth. But the movement toward embracing the world beyond the safe routine of the concert hall is surely going to gather momentum. It makes sense, short-term and long-term.
Both sides had their chances to present new visions for the orchestra, and both blew it. The musicians fell back on the tired old tropes about needing to maintain the orchestra's status as a top orchestra (for the sake of civic pride), about their value as fine artists who are enriching the city by exhibiting jewels of high culture on the concert stage.

Management stuck to its line of needing to acknowledge hard economic realities; there was no talk of how the short-term pain of huge budget cuts could not just ensure the fiscal health of the orchestra, but also make it a viable entity within Detroit again.

During the strike, a news story broke that the state government was cutting education funding so deeply that Detroit would need to close schools. There are opportunities for non-profits to step in and play a vital educational role, not through "outreach" concerts but as sustained partners in classrooms and community centers.

At the very least, one of the sides could have scored some points by taking the high ground; at best, some sort of blueprint for an orchestra integrated into the city could have emerged.