ClassicalMusicNews.tv blogger John Grillo has started a new series titled The Art of the Deficit examining how various orchestras function in the modern world and the sort of missteps or miscalculations that frequently get these organizations into financial hot water. Thinking about the recent financial crisis and organizational meltdown in the Jacksonville Symphony (covered quite admirably by fellow Inside the Arts bloggers Drew McManus, Ron Spigelman, and Joe Patti) gives these sort of philosophical considerations even more weight.
In his debut post for this series, John writes:
During my final year as a member with the New World Symphony, I observed the Florida Philharmonic heading towards financial ruin. I auditioned for the group twice and had many colleagues of mine from New World won auditions there and joined the orchestra. One day while reading the local newspaper I saw a headline that left an indelible imprint on me. It read something like this “The Florida Phil needs $500,000 in 48 hours” They needed this to make payroll. I sat there and wondered what an experienced business person would think when they read this. I was shocked by the financial desperation that this group was going through. What if I won that audition and that was my job. What would I do if my employer vanished like a puff of smoke? It is not like musicians can just go get another job. Seeing this with my own eyes was a very powerful experience.
Read the complete post here.
I remember carpooling with one of the members of the Florida Philharmonic during that ensemble’s meltdown. He was despondently describing how the orchestra was selling off all of its assets–stands, music, and various other orchestral possessions were in the process of being liquidated. He had been a principal player in that orchestra for over a decade, and he now found himself unemployed, with all the typical expenses of any other working adult looming and few prospects.
Unlike so many other professionals, orchestral musicians must claw their way to the top through hundreds of other well-qualified competitors for even the chance at a job that pays the salary of a beginning teacher. When these jobs evaporate, the odds are stacked against them. Young musicians continue to pour out of music schools in ever increasing numbers, and the freshly unemployed musicians from bankrupt orchestras join these young, hungry colleagues (who have been spending the past few year doing nothing but practicing) back on the bleak and frustrating audition trail.
Slight missteps on the part of management can so easily cause arts organizations to begin to spiral out of control. Unlike other fields, however, the jobs which evaporate from such meltdowns are rarely replaced by fresh jobs elsewhere, and the prospect of newly unemployed musicians from these ensembles easily moving to new jobs is dim.