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?
September 21, 2010 @ 1:11 pm
As a professional traveler, I would think you would agree, Mr. Hartshorne, that life is not only about necessities. Sometimes it is those wonderful moments of great music that uplift and awaken one to the possibilities, especially in a city like Detroit.
The Detroit Symphony is still “good enough” to record. In fact, several recordings were released last year, to good reviews. If we allow the last jewels of Detroit to perish, what will be worth saving?
September 21, 2010 @ 3:05 pm
Have you been to Detroit lately? What did you see? Why did you go?
Metro Detroiters, in general, travel 30 minutes to Detroit for (1) out of necessity (work), (2) sports, (3) a restaurant, or (4) to see the arts. A couple who want a night out Downtown usually grab dinner, see the DSO, then go out for drinks afterward. The DSO and the quality of its musicians are why people attend. If they shorten the season, or cut pay to a point that the most talented folks leave, then the attendance drops, more cuts are made, more losses for surrounding businesses, etc. Reduce the quality of the musicians in the DSO, and it is the start of the end of the symphony. Few companies and jobs are in Detroit today, although Detroit is finally rebounding ever so slowly. The corruption and mismanagement that has plagued the city for so long is finally being resolved. If Detroit loses their cultural backbone and take away reasons for Metro Detroiters to visit Downtown Detroit and spend their money, then Detroit is hurt that much worse. It’s the final death blow. If the education the DSO musicians provide to numerous schools and communities is cut off, then our children lose out… and Detroit schools are already cutting arts programs closing schools as it is.
Vibrant urban areas are vibrant because they have something to offer. Take away the arts, and Detroit has only sports to offer for entertainment. That’s pretty sad for a city with such a remarkable history.
The contract dispute is not only about money, but the working conditions being proposed. Read the facts about why there is a deficit in the first place, you will better understand the situation.
Time magazine bought a house to write about how Detroit is making a comeback, not to show the decades of neglect and corruption. Time will indeed see a downward spiral if there are less reasons to visit Detroit. If Detroit needs anything at all, it needs to maintain a strong cultural heritage… it is one of the few facets of the city that keep it alive.
September 21, 2010 @ 3:44 pm
The old saying, “Don’t believe any of what you hear, and only half of what you see”, can also be applied to what you read. That is so true of this article. Mr. Hartshorne should spend a little more time getting his facts correct starting with the name of the orchestra. He also refers to Mr. Teachout’s article in the Wall Street Journal, which failed to consider the influence and support the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has in the suburbs. Yes, there are severe financial problems to overcome. But, the Detroit Symphony brings about a 1/2 million people into the city every year. This is an economic force that’s worth fighting for.
September 21, 2010 @ 4:21 pm
I wonder when was the last time Mr. Hartshorne was in the audience at any DSO classical concert in Orchestra Hall? Comments such as his are written by folks who, despite what may be many other excellent and redeeming personal qualities, do not understand great music. His statement that the DSO was once good enough to record gives him away. The DSO of recent years is a superb ensemble that can hold it’s own with the nation’s best, though the present situation is definitely threatening to change that to past tense. The musicians, after offering a 22% pay cut, are willing to strike to keep a quality orchestra in Detroit. As hard as it may be for distant observors such as the articulate Mr. Hartshorne to accept, it’s more about quality than money.
September 21, 2010 @ 4:23 pm
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Below is a story we published about Detroit…as a travel destination. I appreciate that yes, it’s a much more complicated story than the money.
Here is our feature called Metro Detroit: No Bulletproof Vest Needed.
September 22, 2010 @ 6:38 am
For a traveler, one can only wonder, exactly, what do you see, seek, and do when traveling to various countries? Your perspective is ludicrous and crass, as it exposes
a complete lack of interest and knowledge of history, Music, Art, and of evolved
civilizations. It’s a shame your blog was cited in the first place. The arts, if one thinks for two seconds, are far from fragile.Great music, literature, and the Fine Arts continue to appeal over millenia and centuries. To explain ‘why’ to you is pointless. Why they will endure is also a waste of time in this blog.Why don’t you write about something you actually know, or, at least, have bothered to research? It is obvious you haven’t a clue about Detroit, nor care about the children, or the Future.