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.