The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Making music is hard work, but commissioning new art is affordable even in a recession

September 5, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

This Monday, Sept. 6, we celebrate Labor Day.

It is a good occasion — especially at a time when the Obama administration and Democrats are accused of being anti-business by Republican demagogues because they favor strengthening workers’ rights — to recall the important and historic contributions of labor unions, from the eight-hour day, 40-hour week and weekends to vacations and the abolishment of child labor.

It is also a good time to recognize that making music requires hard work — not just talent. (One of my favorite comments from a fine musician and teacher who quips, “You have to work hardly just to play badly.” If you make music, you know exactly what he means.)

On course, organizations like symphony orchestras are having a difficult time in this current deep recession. So professional performers are often finding it hard to get work. (Problems at the Detroit Symphony are but one example, as is the fact that the Honolulu Symphony recently declared bankruptcy.)

So though they may seem unrelated, Labor Day is fine occasion to think about classical music and the people who provide it.

Last year, I posed the question: Can we consider making music as physical or manual labor? (Check out the post on this blog for Sept. 7, 2009 at

But what about composers. How do they get work?

Well, many of them teach at universities and colleges and music schools as well as privately.

And some are professional performers.

But they also depend on commissions.

And those may shrink in an economic climate like the current one.

But a recent show (which aired on the Thursday, Aug. 26 edition of “Market Place”) that I heard on National Public Radio had some good news about commissioning works of art.

The point is that commissioning new art is a lot more affordable than you might think.

You don’t have to be a de Medici or a Rockefeller or a Guggenheim to do so.

Here is a link to the radio story, which you can stream:

Are you convinced by the story?

What thoughts do you have about classical  music and work on Labor Day?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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