It took me a while to find the last word for that ‘headline’. The word ‘disaster’ seems histrionic, but only in a larger context of tragic world events. In terms of American orchestras, and the larger culture of orchestral music, it is, indeed, a disaster.
There is no shortage of editorial fallout from the events over the last year, especially since Maestro Osmo Vanska announced his resignation from Minnesota Orchestra early Tuesday morning.
One such article surfaced overnight Wednesday, from Ivan Hewett, a writer for The Telegraph. The title alone, “US orchestras are greedy and overpaid“, is incendiary.
Now let me tell you why, even if Ivan Hewett is right, he is wrong.
A quote from Hewett: “none of the commentary in the US points to a single overwhelming fact that to an outsider appears blinding obvious: the top tier of American orchestras overpays its players.”
It does not matter if it’s true. It just doesn’t. We’ve created a culture in America where musicians have the potential to be rewarded well for their tens of thousands of hours in a practice room. And at that, it’s a small, hand-picked number of musicians who are rewarded as such, in a small number of orchestras in the country.
These players are the best of the best. And all most of us want is to be paid, or compensated, for our skills and talents. Yet we never miss a chance to freak out whenever someone gets paid a lot of money.
There are plenty of job fields where people are rewarded more for less. Executives and managers all around the world are grossly overpaid, probably in your own place of work. And what, exactly, does the public receive from their over-compensation? Not much. Yet, when I hear the Minnesota Orchestra, I’m treated to aural magic.
I used to be, anyway.
Similarly, there are just as many occupations in which people are paid far too little for doing so much, like nursing, teaching or social work. Even veterinarians earn far less than human doctors. And vets save a whole lotta lives, too.
It defeats the purpose to point fingers and say, “You make too much,” which roughly translates to “You do not deserve this.”
Can we stop quibbling about how much these folks make, or used to make, or might potentially make? The fact remains that this is the orchestral culture of America. Just because it’s different in the UK doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just is.