The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Beauty is big business and a hard job. PBS’ economics reporter Paul Solman insightfully explores how hard it is to find good jobs for even the most talented musicians and other performing artists. Plus, Madison Opera’s 12th annual Opera in the Park is tonight at 8. | July 13, 2013

ALERT : Just a reminder that the Madison Opera‘s 12th annual FREE Opera in the Park (below) will be held tonight at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side. The outdoor concert will feature guests soloists, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Youth Choirs, all under the baton of conductor John DeMain. It is a great program that looks forward to next season and includes Broadway theater, and the weather looks to be pleasantly coolish if not exactly perfect. For more information, here is a link: http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/park/

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

By Jacob Stockinger

Probably my favorite economics reporter these days is Paul Solman (below) of PBS TVI like the clarity and simplicity of his reporting, and the comparisons he makes as well as the original angles he takes on his subject. He comes up with great story ideas and then turns them into great stories. If that isn’t the definition of an outstanding journalist, I don’t know what is.

I love watching and hearing Solman’s reports on the “PBS Newshour.” I also admire him because he continues to work — and love his work — at age 68, despite a brush with serious illness. The Boston-based Solman doesn’t just report for PBS, but he also holds down a second job teaching as a Distinguished Fellow at Yale University. Plus, I like his sense of humor and irony about himself that comes through his stories, and how he interviews himself in a YouTube video at the bottom of this post. 

Paul Solman hat

Of course there are other economics reporters I like and hold in high regard from my political perspective.

At the Wall Street Journal, I like David Wessel, who also makes regular appearances on PBS shows like “Washington Week.”

At The New York Times, I like Joe Nocera, who also does guest spots on PBS; Andrew Ross Sorkin, the articulate author of “Too Big to Fail,” who so clearly documented how The Great Recession came about; the Nobel Prize-winning researcher, columnist and Princeton University professor Paul Krugman (below), who debunks right-wing lies, baloney and mythology with hard facts; and Gretchen Morgenson who appears on a variety of other media outlets.

And I like Zanny Minton Beddows and Greg Ip of The Economist. Both explain complex matters clearly and succinctly as well as fairly.

Paul Krugman

I am sure there are more, but those will do to illustrate the point.

Yet perhaps the reason I like Paul Solman’s reports the most is because he goes at economics from angles that others economists and economics reporters ignore or don’t think are important.

I feel close to that same approach because I also took it back n the days when I was an arts reporter at the daily evening newspaper The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin.

A lot of money changes hands through the arts. And a lot of economic development takes place through the arts, especially since Richard Florida (below) has popularized the idea of the key role that the Creative Class plays in generating new prosperity.

richard florida

Curiously, though I have found that arts organizations – and even many arts patrons and customers – resist that quantitative economic approach because linking money and the arts somehow seems to dirty the hands of the artists – a really stupid reaction. That kind of knee-jerk elitism, as well as the kind of misplaced and desperate secrecy that arts groups often wrap their financial operations in, does a deep disservice to the big business of beauty.

Of course, non-monetary values are vital, central in the performing arts and visual arts. (Did you know for example that the biggest tourist attraction in New York City is the Metropolitan Museum of Art?) But as many arts organizations have found out, without the appropriate financial backing, that non-monetary message won’t go anywhere.

Anyway, recently Paul Solman explored the problem of young performing artists finding and keeping good jobs. As examples, he even went to some of the most talented performing artists and musicians whom he found as students (below) at the prestigious, exclusive and expensive Juilliard School in Manhattan, where classes are held in dance and acting as well as music.

Juilliard School BIG

Juilliard students

Here is a link to his report. I urge all fans of the arts — participants, audiences or patrons – to look at and listen to the video and not just read the transcript.

Solman’s report is nothing short of eye-opening and helps to explain why so many of the most talented musicians I meet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music are choosing to relegate music to a secondary role as an lifelong avocation or serious hobby while they pursue degrees and careers in the sciences or technology or some other more lucrative and secure profession. (Below, a UW students performs in Mills Hall.)

Beethoven sonatas 26 Margaret Runaas

It also helps explain why regional symphony orchestras are rising in quality and why recently there were almost 40 applicants from across the U.S. who actually made the final auditions for the open chair of Principal Tuba with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Here is the link. Enjoy and think, and let The Ear know your reactions:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june13/artists_06-27.html

 


4 Comments »

  1. I think they’re right. If you truly love music and you go into it, you won’t regret. Only if you love it to that extent. And so, when there are thousands out there – and many in Madison, notably – who live the music, taking on more than one job, they’re not doing it for the money. They’re doing it for the love of what they do. And that’s what makes us musicians.
    I might also add that many of the famous composers were never rich. Mozart, who was constantly in debts, Wagner, who was thrown into jail for his debts, and so on. Many composers also had personal struggles and were never exactly “happy”. But they didn’t cede their love for music; they encompassed their pain and suffering and love for what they did into their music. So though it may not be for the better, we as musicians are still living that personal spirit and struggle. -Isabella Wu

    Comment by Isabella Wu — July 14, 2013 @ 9:12 pm

  2. Jacob,

    I just watched/listened to the video piece on the economics of pro musicians/dancers trying to make a decent living in the U.S. It’s so sad that up to half of the pro dancers have to become ex-pats in order to make a living doing what they love. And the female conductor of the PA symphony is dead right that most of those musicians who study all their life to get into a paying symphony, would do it whether it paid or not because they love it. It’s part of their very souls. I see you noted the number of applicants for the Madison Symphony Orchestra tuba job was . . . over 40, I think. I auditioned a couple years ago for a substitute 2d trombone job with the MSO. There were guys half my age from as far away as Cleveland trying out. Yet NBA players make millions. It’s clear what American society thinks is important. My son is an almost world-class violinist who I’m positive could have gotten into the Curtis Institute, which has the training school symphony for the Philadelphia Orchestra, but I’m almost glad he didn’t apply. He still plays on occasion but he’s a CPA working in LA & making a lot of money.

    Larry Retzack

    Comment by buppanasu — July 14, 2013 @ 12:00 am


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