Monday, March 25, 2013

A response to a "business solution" for striking musicians

With the current San Francisco Symphony musicians' strike, a couple of less-than-qualified individuals from the world of finance have offered their less-than-qualified thoughts on the strike.  One of these people, Anthony Alfidi, founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based Alfidi Capital, offers a unique and compelling solution: just fire the striking musicians (that's even the title of his article).  Here is the link to the blog post that he wrote.  

Dear Mr. Alfidi:
I would like to take this opportunity to offer some of my thoughts in response to your blog post about the current San Francisco Symphony musicians' strike.

First, although I can't claim to know the details of everything going on with the orchestra, other than the fact that there is a strike until their demands for a salary increase are met, I will be among the first to share your perplexity at the desire for a pay increase, considering that most of the world lives well below 85K a year, if they're lucky.  Why that is not enough for the orchestra I'll never know, but life is full of mysteries.    

However, I do take issue with your remarks, which paint musicians who try to make their living through music as a bunch of "takers" who don't deserve to be paid fairly, a charge that I, as a professional musician, find demeaning.  Mathematics aside, let's remember that being a musician (whether it be a performer, composer, or conductor) is a specialized skill that requires, but is not limited to, the following:

1. Years of lessons and master classes that cost hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars
2. Countless hours devoted to isolated practice and study
3. Traveling far distances for gigs that don't come close to paying the month's rent and bills
4. The very real possibility that we may just have to work a low-paying job until we have the privilege of devoting ourselves full-time to our craft.

Finally, given that many performers aspire to a hold a seat in the world's leading orchestras, the reality is that 99.9% of aspiring performers will never see a place like Davies Hall.  This is not due to lack of talent or ambition, but the field is so competitive and like anything else, highly political.

So, if you really do support and value an orchestra like San Francisco's, it might behoove you to take a moment to think about all that goes into making a career out of music, and not just in terms of dollars and cents.

I found two of your comments particularly insulting:
"I am even willing to solo "O Mio Babbino Caro" on a kazoo if Renee Fleming can't elbow her way through the union's picket line."  

Where should I even start?  I notice that you also chose one of opera's most famous arias, which leads me to believe that your knowledge of music does not go beyond the shallow Top 40 hit list known to the general public.  I'll bet you couldn't even tell me, without consulting Wikipedia, what opera it's from and who wrote it.  This alone makes me question your credibility on musical matters.
"Making over $85K per year to do something a talented high school musician can do for free is pretty generous."

Really?  Could this obnoxious statement stem from the possible fact that you were one of those punks in high school who hurled words like "sissy", "wuss", and other words propriety forbids, at anyone who played the violin instead of playing football?    

And as long as we're on the subject, have you ever considered those professional athletes who pitch a fit when their annual salary of $100 million is reduced to $98 million?  We all know they're overpaid to throw a ball around and sustain critical head injuries.  And it's greedy for world-class orchestra musicians to demand payment equal to that of their colleagues in other orchestras across the nation?  Plus, it also gives me a pretty good idea of just what a "smart" and "savvy" businessman you are when your solution to such a disagreement over wages is to fire them.  You're entitled to your belief that somebody may not be worth a certain amount of money, but one is also entitled to speak up if they feel they are not being paid fairly, particularly if they work in such a competitive field as music.

If you really think playing the triangle or tambourine looks easy, here is my challenge to you: try living one month making a living as a musician.  Not a day or a week, but a month, just to get a feel for the true terror of not knowing whether you can pay the rent for your run-down apartment.  And not somebody lucky enough to play in a world-class orchestra.  Try dedicating each day to something you passionately believe in, regardless of its far-from-lucrative prospects, practicing and studying to improve your craft, but all the while being painfully aware of the loneliness and frustration it sometimes brings. Try never knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, provided you are lucky enough to find a low-wage job in this economy waiting tables.  Try sacrificing your Friday and Saturday nights to play gigs in the middle of nowhere just to be able to eat for the week.  Furthermore, try doing this WITHOUT professional musical training and see how far it gets you.  

Finally, if you equate net worth with self worth, I would advise you to seriously reevaluate your life, and to realize making a living as an artist is challenging enough without some dumb fuck like you looking down your nose at us because you think we have it easy.  

Andrew Desiderio

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