18 February 2023

"official communication" from fickle ears staff, re: "the jobs that they were counting on"

We recently received the following "official communication" from the local of which we are a member and under whose auspices our present employment is conducted:

...The Eagles are on tour right now and are scheduled to perform a few times in the Southern California area. Although they are not performing in our jurisdiction, they are contracting the string students from California State University Fullerton to replace the professional musicians that would normally be contracted for these performances. This is not the first time CSUF has done this. ...

The institution is displacing professional musicians’ jobs with their students; jobs that their students are presumably training for in the first place. ... Under these circumstances, by the time their students graduate, the jobs that they were counting on for will be no longer be filled by professional musicians. ...

We of course find this part of such stories to be at best the fifth or sixth most important part.

Also, we do greatly value the privilege of being represented by a union, but we wish this union would be more coherent in its stated positions.

First: people who willingly attend Eagles-with-orchestra concerts can't tell the difference between student and professional musicians. Those who maintain this not to be the case have a formidable task in explaining away the above-described events.

Second: whatever the failings of such an audience, these are not moral failings. It must be said that they betoken success too: namely the smashing success of the education-industrial complex in taking up the cause of the performing arts. We are unfamiliar with the CSUF strings but generally we find it unsurprising that a college group could be adequate for much "professional" work. We've heard and played in several that were. We've also done extensive "professional" work and found the bar to be quite a bit lower than we, and ostensibly the union (but only sometimes), would prefer. In two different locals in two different states we have been left mystified and incredulous at the union roster on our instrument, which extends to anyone who knows someone they can borrow a tuba from. At that point, to get bothered at students taking over "professional" work is absurd. How much of the local "tuba" roster could carry the jock strap of a state-school tuba player?

Third: ditto above with regard to quantity as well as quality. It is not breaking news that more students train in the performing arts than can work in the performing arts. The industry and the union both get what they want when more musicians split a fixed amount of work. Predictably both pay lip service to "music education." Less often but equally predictably, they also pay lip service to audience outreach. But musicianship has proven more amenable to progressive reform than has reception. You can build a better mousetrap, but you can't train anyone else to notice or force them to care.

Fourth: the notion that pre-professionals "were counting on" pickup orchestra gigs with The Eagles is one which strains credulity. The union declares that they should, the industry that they shouldn't. In any case, we suspect they are not. They and their teachers are aiming much, much higher. This is as it should be, and this is what countless union and industry photo ops have goaded us towards: high motivation can come only from high aspirations. Those among the professorate who have had significant careers outside of academia know that students who are good enough to get admitted to 4-year college as music majors already play well enough to do pickup orchestra with The Eagles, no matter if the gig is union or dark. Anyone who maintains this not to be the case has a formidable task in explaining away the above-described events. They have an equally formidable task in explaining why the skills required to play pickup orchestra with The Eagles are post-secondary and graduate-level skills rather than elementary ones; why this is what music students should be doing while their peers are reading Plato and Kant, plotting regression equations, and extracting abcessed teeth; why and how this "aspiration" can be anything other than crippling and cynical in comparison to everything else the performing arts have to offer a young person. The indications are all around us that Eagles-with-orchestra skills are elementary skills, but many of us would rather hold out hope-against-hope of filling a couple more dates on the calendar than think too hard (or at all) about what is actually to happen on those dates. The cynical proposal that aspiring freelancers attend business school rather than music school speaks a certain truth, but it is not the truth that its cynical utterers think they are speaking. They think they are extolling the wisdom of markets; in fact they are pointing up an area of exceptional failure of markets and of the conceit to meritocracy, a failure so drastic that it is not the least bit representative of general market dynamics. For this and many other reasons, we ourselves prefer the idealstic outlook which challenges performing arts students to maximize their potential and to seek a distinctive artistic voice rather than bending themselves and their work toward an existing career path. But this does nothing to raise audience receptivity to those new voices. Nor does either industry or the union have any use for self-directed artists with day jobs. Prospectively we cannot really say what (if any) value self-directed artists might have. No one has any use for them, until they do.