April 5, 2011

rant, part 2, plus more info about the SSO

I've momentarily recovered from my rage-induced blackout and have remembered something I really want to say: part of what makes me so angry is that there are so many people who think the symphony is comprised of a bunch of rich stuffed shirts who snootily believe that classical music is better than anything and that the general public at large should be responsible for paying their exorbitant salaries. except nothing could be further from the truth. the SSO musicians make less than $30K a year. I'm sure most members of the SSO staff make the same, or maybe just a fraction more. they are not buying mansions or big-screen TVs for every room. they are likely working a second job or teaching on the side. they are probably tired a lot.

I resent the mistaken notion that musicians are somehow rich because, once again, I am one of them. and let me tell you something. I might like to garden, but I grow my own food because I have to. I might have incidentally enjoyed mucking stalls for the last three years, but I shoveled that poop because I had to in order to keep my horse. I don't have cable TV, I don't have home internet, I spend ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS A MONTH on groceries. I squeak by. I keep coming to my job at the opera because I love what I do. and because I am surrounded by people who, on most days, love what they do. they are a joy to work with; I have nightmares sometimes that I am leaving them. like the SSO musicians, and like me, my coworkers and colleagues both here and across the country have made a financial sacrifice to do what they love.

I have two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree. there are a lot of other things I could have done with myself. likewise with these musicians, who chose their profession not because they had no other talents but because they so loved to be a part of the orchestra. with the exception of just a handful of orchestras in this country -- cleveland, cincinnati, new york, probably L.A. -- being a symphony musician is a financial sacrifice. but the passion that produces great musicians is not, as so many would like us to believe, a crime.

what has happened in our culture? why are libraries fighting to stay open? why do teachers -- teachers?!?!? -- have to so adamantly fight for every penny they so rightly earn? why do we think that learning isn't important? since when is an institution only worth something culturally if it's for-profit? why are people so mad at the perception that taxpayer money has been wasted on the SSO, and yet aren't mad that huge corporations, who rake in billions -- BILLIONS! with a B! -- of dollars in profits don't have to pay taxes on those profits?

I don't want to get into politics on this blog, although of course all of this is about politics. it's just ... I just don't understand, I really don't. how can we justify the vilification of teachers? how can we pooh-pooh the existence of libraries? how are we possibly supposed to progress as a nation when education is being cut across the board? how can we be proud to have a major league soccer team in portland but not feel the same about the ballet? how can syracuse spend over a decade trying AND FAILING over and over again to create the next fucking mall of america, which is supposedly going to be the crown jewel of the city, and not care about its orchestra? when did our priorities go so far astray?

because you know, there is one other important thing I forgot. as part of the SSO, the SSYO -- the syracuse symphony youth orchestra -- is no more. the kids played their last rehearsal on sunday afternoon. many of them played through tears. my old orchestra director, graduate advisor, boss and friend conducted them. they were rehearsing for a concert in may. the SSYO, like many other youth symphonies, is a top-notch orchestra that kids work very, very hard to get into. there are rigorous auditions and they are expected to know their music just as the adults in the SSO are. for many of these kids, playing in the SSYO is the highlight of their grade school lives. but who cares, right? after all, it's just band camp.

I wish that every person who wrote a jackass derogatory comment on the post-standard's article could just once, just once sit in the middle of a 60+ person orchestra as they are playing the saint-saens organ symphony, as I did as a young twenty-something in college. I wish they could, as I did, watch the violins sawing away and feel the floorboards shaking with the force of sound from the low brass, and grin in sheer, utter, complete and total delight as the organ pipes open and rock the shit out of a concert hall. I wish they could know the elation, as I have, of spending 6 hours a day in a practice room, wood-shedding a section of music, only to finally play it flawlessly in rehearsal. I wish they could feel the overwhelming pride of watching a beloved friend and colleague play her last recital. I wish they could understand how I felt, one day in early 2000, when I sat at a concert in the darkened setnor auditorium and thought, 'if I didn't have this, who would I possibly be?'

More information:
SSO board votes to suspend operations; season canceled, no refunds planned
Final concert for Syracuse Symphony Orchestra?
A swan song for a shortened season: The Syracuse Symphony plays once more, with the future uncertain
Making Music: The work of a Syracuse Symphony Orchestra musician isn't as effortless as it sometimes seems
Diminished: Syracuse without a symphony is hard to contemplate
Symphony shutdown: Young family really wanted to stay in Syracuse
Symphony's collateral damage

it was this darkened concert hall, for the record:


  1. Oh Jess, I couldn't have said it better myself. How horrible, I read both the articles you linked to and I really am just as disgusted.

  2. Well you know they are not real jobs...I always wonder were people think money spent on the arts goes. Answer 36% payroll, (so we can buy the stuff the rest of the world sales). 40% Purchased items like supples, raw materials and consumables. and the balance is rent and taxes. I wonder if the businesses we do business with think the arts are a waste? The thing I do not understand is the disconnect that people have between "The Arts" and life. Alas people really are not very smart.

  3. So wonderfully said. Wish more people had your perspective and passion. Unfortunately a great portion of those who do, are poor like us.

    Fed Klemperer- SSO violinist of 42 years

  4. Thanks for the comments, everybody. Fred, I feel for all of you so much. I just heard about the bankruptcy. I really can't believe it's over.