Sunday, November 15, 2009

Treating Artists with Respect...

Sunday musings...

I love telling stories through song, through experience...

So today is a true story for those of you know would like to know how certain "business" is done in recent days. Names have been withheld to make anonymous the guilty (!!!) and protect the artist in a public blog...

Once upon a time, a new orchestral work was commissioned. The work was based on an established work, but the arrangers/composers were asked to infuse it with more contemporary genres and styles. This work was then written and arranged for a certain singer, who was renowned for his/her ability to deliver authenticity in many styles, and thus, over the years, has been the only singer who truly could bring full authenticity. The score, in many cases, is open - and the singer must compose in both harmonic and melodic time step in the moment.

This work was well-received both critically and publicly and allowed for many performances. The singer for whom it was written is both an artist and an enigma - brilliant and unique and truly one of a kind!! As an enigma, this singer should be held in the highest regard, and courted for his/her work as it is defined by this piece.

This artist, who puts artistry first, has never raised his/her performance fee is almost 15 years. His/her commitment to the piece and to the other artists and performers he/she collaborates with stands firmly at the top of the integrity list. A fair fee has always been acceptable, and never has he/she asked for an outrageous fee, even though, as an enigma and being the only one who truly sings it authentically and completely, could demand a much higher fee.

So after many years of performance, total consistency, creativity, sold out houses, a world-selling CD live recording an interesting thing happens...

A major symphony orchestra decides they know better. The ADMINISTRATION of a major symphony orchestra decides they know better. They cry wolf and say there is no money, as they tend to do with an administration staff that is full of fat and ignorance, and tells the artist that they will be going with "local talent" this season for this work. "Local talent" means they don't want to pay for the talent. They are willing and eagerly able to dismiss the importance of the work, and the necessity to have the only artist who can truly bring musical and artistic justice and integrity to the piece, to save a few bucks.

The dismissal is disappointing, frustrating and yet, not surprising. The continual lack of respect for artists by many administrations is becoming the norm, not the exception.

Well, the artist continues on his/her journey, and lives his/her life. And lo and behold, a panicked email arrives...from the administration of said symphony orchestra, 6 weeks prior to the gig saying they cannot find a singer. Really????? REALLY???? There was no "local talent" who could sing a piece that is so unique only one singer in the world has actually claimed it??? Really??? Wow, how shocking...

But of course, in true administration style, they cry poverty...large crocodile tears, trying to avoid talking to the artist's agent and making pleas to the artist's family for help.

And of course, instead of asking "are you available, and what would make you comfortable?" They begin the diatribe of "we have no money and our orchestra has taken a 15% pay cut this season..." to which the artist compassionately replies that he/she would be willing to take a 15% pay cut on his/her 15 YEAR held fee.

To which the tired administration replies, "no, we'd like you to take a 50% pay reduction". Yes dear readers, that is NOT a typo. 50%. 5 - 0 .

So, let's recap shall we? Just so nothing is lost...

Once upon a time a commissioned work sung only by ONE singer who has kept his/her fee at the SAME rate for 15 years. 6 weeks before a gig with a MAJOR symphony orchestra, after being dismissed for "local" talent is now being asked to save the piece for 50% of his/her already low fee.

Where is the integrity in that? Where is the business sense in that? So of course, in all good consciousness, the artist must and did, decline. Others may try to devalue his/her work, but the artist does not, and will not participate in that devaluation. As usual, the suits think they know the cost of things, and in reality, know the value of nothing. And in the process, have disrespected the artist with such an amoral and karmic intensity, there are no words to describe it.

Ah, but readers, it gets better. 4 weeks before the gig, someone is hired. And that someone has never even tried to do the piece before. And that someone isn't a singer, but rather, an actor. Yes, my gentle snowflakes (!!! thanks Lewis Black), an actor who tries to sing has been hired to sing a piece written for an unique and enigmatic SINGER.

And again, the artist is disrespected and dismissed. Or so the administration thought....

Because, you see, no artist can be dismissed unless that artist allows it. Administrations can live in the self-delusion that they run things, but in fact, all they do it put a monetary value on things they cannot and will never understand.

An artist is not valued by who hires or fails to hire him/her. An artist is valued by his/her work, his/her integrity, his/her craft, his/her ability to stand for something larger than a dollar figure and deliver the uniqueness of their artistry night after night.

An artist is valued on how he/she lives his/her life and what he/she creates with that life.

Civilizations are not remembered and revered by their administrations. Civilizations stand for their artists. It is the art, the music, the architecture, the writing, the LIFE FORCE of artists that shape our times and shape the times before us.

Administrations are delusion and there but briefly. The song keeps singing...the artist keeps creating...

The value of the artist is him/herself. The suits may never get that. Their lack of respect shows where their value system resides. And in this little story, shows clearly how within a symphony orchestra, the administration devalues everything it is there to promote!!! It has devalued its orchestra, conductor and its program and season, but MAKING A CHOICE to dismiss an artist, in this story, THE ONLY ARTIST worthy of creating the reality of this work.

It is a choice only administrations can make in their narrow minded world.

And so, the artist will continue to create and live, and prosper and be strong because nothing an administration can do, can devalue or eliminate the true soul and creative life force of an artist, no matter how dismissive them seem.

And the administration will continue to delude themselves and continue to run their orchestra or run it into the ground, and blame it on everybody else, because self-delusion is part of the game.

And so my readers, beware!!! Know your worth, and know what that worth costs - in sweat, work, creative birth, integrity...and do not allow outside delusion to draw you from your path...

"That's business" is a delusion. "That's art" is a reality. Know the difference. Breathe the difference. Recognize the truth. Call bullshit on the untruth. Do it with grace and a smile on your face, because you KNOW the truth.

And, my dear readers, this portion of the story ends...with a tainted disrespect of the artist from a self-delusioned self-imposed ignorance called "administration", who sadly may never get it...Poor poor administration...

The end. Or maybe, to be continued...


  1. So...the administration whines that the orchestra took a 15% pay cut. What about the administration? Did they also take a pay cut...or were their wages raised with some excuse like "we've taken on more work and, thus, should be compensated."

  2. Great to find another Lewis Black fan. I love how "local talent" ends up being "cheap" or "free" talent. Grrr.

  3. Not quite sure I'm a gentle snowflake by ANY stretch of the imagination (!), and I thoroughly agree that the administration of this particular orchestra were acting like complete ARSES, but I'd just like to put a gentle, snowflakey word in for "administration" as a whole - I for one am very glad they're there, doing what they do, because it *complements* my art, when everything works well (which, granted, it seldom does). As an artist in several disciplines, I *NEED* someone to sell my work. Just can't do it. Ditto I'm jolly glad that the administration of my opera house is in charge of all the logistical bits that I am happy to ignore in favour of learning my music properly and enjoying my false eyelashes...

    "Administration" may occasionally be evil, but it's a necessary evil, IMHO, and sometimes not even properly evil at all (you may note this comment is rather rambling; this is due to just having returned from post-performance cocktails with other singers and, yes, members of the administration!).

    Devil's advocate signing off here (always thought that would be a particularly well-paid job...)

  4. Tracy - INDEED.
    Ian - love Lew!
    My dearest Englishwoman - point well taken, remember this is an American bedtime story...and I agree - Devil's Advocate should be HUGELY paid...!