Food for Thought

Redskin potatoes bathed in olive oil and dusted with fresh rosemary are roasting in the oven.  Salmon is marinating in the fridge.  Salad fixin’s await tossing with garlic vinaigrette.  A gentle rain is falling outside, although it’s  too little too late for the flowers and grass which have wilted in last month’s arid heat.

We have plans to go out tonight, and I’m kind of wishing we didn’t.  It’s getting more and more difficult for me to work up any enthusiasm for social functions, especially when the climate simply screams “Stay home!  Make popcorn!  Get the blankets out, cuddle up with puppy dogs, watch a movie!”

But our outing tonight is for a good cause, one I do want to support monetarily and with my presence.  It’s a benefit concert for our city’s symphony orchestra which is facing huge deficits. The musicians are being asked to take a 29% pay cut.   The orchestra management is playing particularly odious hard ball, and the musicians will most likely strike before the start of their regular season next month.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is one of the top 10 orchestras in the United States, considered World Class among the nation’s symphonies.  That’s kind of a big deal, when you think about all the other urban orchestras, and when you consider that Detroit is not exactly a mecca for artistic folks.   We’ve attracted high caliber musicians here because of our ranking and very competitive wages.   With the cuts currently on the table, that incentive will disappear, and with it the orchestra’s first class ranking.  It won’t take long for the really high caliber musicians to go in search of greener pastures.  I rather doubt if our illustrious new conductor, Leonard Slatkin, will renew his contract.  I would predict that within five years our symphony will be only a shadow of its former, world-class self, a shabby remnant reflective of the scores of burned out buildings and vacant lots which surround the historic Orchestra Hall where they perform.

That thought saddens me, largely because it’s so symbolic of the entire city.  Detroit itself is just a shadow of the city it once was, a gritty but vibrant urban center where cars were king but culture was given it’s just desserts.  As one of our local newspaper columnists put it, soon the only music Detroit children will hear is the sound of slot machines in the casino’s dotting the city skyline.

There are people here in Detroit who say that’s alright.  That Detroit should no longer care whether it supports a world class symphony orchestra, that there are more important priorities in this city than whether we have the top echelon of musicians on stage.

I certainly can’t argue that the public schools and public safety departments deserve all the support the city can muster.  But naturally I think the arts are worth supporting.  I’m a musician.  Although I’m not an athlete, I think professional sports are worth supporting.  I wish there weren’t such a disparity in the way we treat our local professional athletes and our local  professional artists.   Their performing venues are less than five miles apart, but the difference in their economic and popular standing is like the difference between here and the Milky Way.

The point is that a successful society should encompass a healthy variety of cultural, recreational, occupational, religious, and social opportunities.   We should strive for the best in every one of those endeavors, and not be willing to settle for second class because it’s economically expedient.

Now I’m off to eat dinner, and then put on some nicer clothes, dig out my raincoat and umbrella, and take a drive in the rain to hear some wonderful music performed by a world class symphony orchestra which belongs to my home town.

I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to do that ~ even on a rainy Saturday night, when it would be so easy to stay home.


7 thoughts on “Food for Thought

  1. You are lucky. I think it is very important that Detroit–out of all cities–should be home to a world-class symphony orchestra. There is hope in that, even more so than in sports. It says, all things are valued here,an important message to be so subtly conveyed. Hope the concert was glorious!

  2. I had no idea Leonard Slatkin was there. I’m not precisely up on my conductors, so the fact that I know him is an indication of his ranking and the esteem in which he’s held.

    I feel so badly for Michigan, just as I do for the Gulf Coast states. I know I’m more conservative in some ways than many of the folks I visit, but being conservative isn’t necessarily a sign of opposition to education and the arts. Quite the contrary. What I long for are the days when excellence was valued, and every child was expected to emerge from our educational system not only knowing how to read and write, but having a sense of history and human culture as a whole.

    Raise up a generation that values music, arts and literature, and they’ll be willing to fund them. Give them a job market and skills, and they’ll be able to fund them.

    In the meantime, we need to lean on people instrumental in setting priorities, and make sure the symphonies and galleries still are around when the next generation is ready to take the helm.

    Oops… sorry… end of rant 😉

    • No need to be sorry, and no rant at all.

      I particularly love this statement…”raise up a generation that values music, arts and literature, and they’ll be willing to fund them. Give them a job market and skills, and they’ll be able to fund them.”

      That’s the key to the whole thing, right there.

      ‘Nuff said.

  3. Becca, Seems we have a few things in common. One is the illustrious Leonard Slatkin who spent 17 years here in St Louis as Music Director. So when I read your entry, it truly resonated not only because of Slatkin but also because in 2002-003, our STL symphony was in the same place, with the muscians taking a huge cut and we thought we were going to lose the whole thing anyway, not just the musicians, but the ogranization overall. I happened to be on the volunteer committee at the time and watching the events unfold was a true eye opener. It’s amazing all the stories and things that occur within an organization and people in a city are not even aware of what’s happening!
    I hope your Symphony does well; with supporters and fellow musicians and music lovers) such as yourself, the Symphoney has hope and will.
    Detroit needs music. It’s one of its “without which, nothings.”

    And another thing we share, well, rather, that we inherited from you is Sean Thomas. He works on the board of Old North St Louis, a huge neighborhood that is struggling to make a comeback. One of the things that Thomas has inspired is a grocery co-op in Old North. He got the idea and model for it having lived and worked in Detroit before returning to STL. He credits Detroit with viable neighborhood models of such grocery co-ops. The co-op opened a month ago. I haven’t checked back with him yet on how it’s going, but honestly, with his vision and belief, and the energy he and several others are pumping into Old North, we can look forward to its steady revival.
    I hope the same for your Symphony.

  4. Oh, yes indeed — I know exactly what you mean about not wanting to go out but something that is this compelling and urgent merits support. Our station carries the DSO symphonies and Rick and I have talked about going down to one this season (especially if it’s on a Sunday afternoon) — really, it’s not that far away.

    What you wrote here: That thought saddens me, largely because it’s so symbolic of the entire city. Detroit itself is just a shadow of the city it once was, a gritty but vibrant urban center where cars were king but culture was given it’s just desserts. — well, that’s the best description I have heard of Old Detroit. And one I miss. When I was a kid, I remember taking the train from Lansing to Detroit to meet my favorite children’s author, Carolyn Haywood, at Hudson’s. Then I would sit and read my book on whatever place I could find while mom shopped. It was a good memory; the last time I went to Detroit, Hudson’s was gone. Well, gone everywhere.

    This is so very well said. I’m glad you went out on Saturday — lots of times to stay at home, right?

  5. Sadly, we seldom realize what we’ve lost until it’s gone. Shoreacres reminds us how much your state and her region have lost. Here’s hoping for better times – times when choices like these are not foisted upon us. This post mirrors what’s happening around the country.

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