Monday, February 22, 2010

Wrong Conditions?

These Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver haven’t been kind to my countrymen, the Finns. It feels like they in general have been in a wrong place and at a wrong time. The current winter has been the coldest in many decades back home, with a lot of fresh snow falling almost daily. It is a far cry from sub-zero (dropping to even less than 40 below this month)  temperatures to Whistler’s icy early spring conditions where the surface freezes at night and melts during the day. Add to that the high altitude (most of Finland is flat) and it is easy to see why the conditions are far from ideal. Of course others have to cope with the weather as well, so these excuses are just that, excuses. Then there are the inferiority complexes that complicate matters: the Finnish hockey team always has a tough time with Sweden, although their general level of playing is comparable. Now that the best ski jumper was injured (he still managed to come in fourth), I’m just going to give up following the games, at least from a Finnish perspective.

Dreaming of a medal of any color (well, there has been one silver) is almost like expecting everything in America to be all right, in general and in cultural life. Daydreaming can be fun but it seldom produces results. Just about every state has projected hard times ahead, regarding social programs and education. Medicaid is being cut as are other benefits designed for the less fortunate. Yet it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that people are going to get sick just as before and by not having money to buy food isn’t going to solve our problem of obesity. I was reading in the last issue of Scientific American about an ideological war in schools, regarding the way math should be taught. Of course this arguing has been going on for decades during which time our scores have plummeted when compared to other industrialized nations. Yes, most likely we would use a calculator or computer for the actual numerical processing, but would it hurt to know how it is done? Elsewhere schoolchildren have this skill and it hasn’t lowered their overall achievements. With larger class sizes and fewer teachers we can only expect matters to worsen. With the power unions we have, the old burnt-out teachers with seniority remain, the younger and more eager ones get pink-slipped.

One doesn’t need to be a genius to realize that the supply exceeds demand in the music field: there are far too many college graduates with degrees in music for the current scene. Someone calculated that jobs/graduates ratio any given year is about 1 in 10. Given the obvious fact that the 90% don’t give up trying, the odds for the following year are smaller. With this logic the ratio falls to 1/100 in ten years. Of course, many can start teaching privately or begin to work in a different field. On the other hand, one doesn’t need a degree to get an orchestra job or to play as a soloist or chamber musician. Does Joe the Plumber have a degree in fixing faucets, perhaps a D.D., doctorate in drainology? Scientific America’s website has an interesting link to a “rough draft” where the author makes the reader evaluate her theory that the U.S. might be producing too many scientists for the existing demand. An interesting situation: on one hand, we cry about Americans being underachievers, and on the other, too well educated. Can both be correct?

The same paradox exists in the orchestra world. Many groups gripe about salary cuts, yet their compensation in many cases exceeds all business models that would make sense. The same web sites that air these grievances then praise the rebirth of a local orchestra that has no secured funding and not even a place to perform. Clearly the musicians cannot expect to be paid at all or will be compensated at a minimum wage level, as is the case with another “professional” orchestra locally. Heck, how can financial problems exist if everyone agrees to play for pleasure! Perhaps that is the way music was meant to be performed. Even I have heard many times: “What, you play the fiddle and get paid for that?!” Common sense prevails, right?
illustration from