If Detroit’s Symphony Never Played Again Would Detroiters Really Care?

Should the average citizen of Detroit care that its symphony may be on its last legs? Terry Teachout writes in the Weekend WSJ about the struggling Detroit Philharmonic Orchestra, which now faces such a steep deficit that management is considering cutting the musican’s pay by 30% just to stay in business.

The reaction of the musicians? They’re planning a strike. And that’s just about the dumbest thing they could do. Because as Teachout explains, they are simply not in a position of power to get their way.  Not enough people in this hard pressed city care about the symphony to pony up the big money it takes to buy seats at their performances.

Many people talk about the symphony as a civic attribute….and Detroit’s was once good enough to record classical records. But how many people who live there, many of them retired former auto workers, really care, or are worrying that the symphony’s days are numbered?  Not many.

There are too many other problems in Detroit, which has earned such a reputation as a symbol of economic malaise and sea change that Time Magazine bought a house to put their reporters in for a year, while they cover the downward spiral or upward revolution happening in Detroit.

But I wonder, don’t the musicians agree that $75,000 versus $103,000 a year is still pretty good pay? And don’t they see that it’s an uphill battle being waged all around the world? The arts are fragile, classical music, like jazz, has limited appeal, and despite how good it sounds to be able to talk about your city symphony, it’s really not that…necessary?