Confession time

I always wanted to be a rockstar

I was so damn jealous of my brothers' band. I'd go to the shows, and even if there were only a handful of people, there was so much energy in those rooms.

The last band they had was "hardcore." That nice line between metal and punk. their demo CD kicked ass.

man, i was jealous. This was when i was in undergrad.

Previously my brothers had separate projects. and i was jealous of those. I was learning classical music, a big band geek, went into music ed. Thought conducting a HS band would be the closest to being a rockstar i'd ever get.

I was always so jealous. They both have much better ears than me. all the training i've had and my ears just don't get better. I can't play in that style. can't write in it either. lol.

but i've decided to. once i finish this overly serious Pierrot piece, and the trombone and wind ensemble concerto, i'm writing a hardcore piece

for voice, bass clarinet, guitar, percussion, and electronics.

and it will be badass.

There's still time to be a rockstar, even if it's with a trombone in hand...


What are we worth?

Ok, this is an incredibly hot topic, and i'm positive i'll take flack one way or the other on this...

First here, here's a link to a story about Sarah Chang and her "Detroit Dilemma"

The union asks Sarah Chang to not perform in Detroit until the labor strike is over.

I've gone through the DSO's site, read through all the articles. It seems the management really boned things over quite well. superbly in the past, reading through some of the things. It's obvious that the people on the management side are definitely not out for the best interest of the musicians. there are many things in the proposal that are just...well...wrong, such as provisions that actually make the playing environment unhealthy for instruments, and some unhealthy for the players (major cuts in health coverage, no pension, etc).

However, when i look at some of things the musicians were discussing, it really made me wonder...

What are we worth? as musicians, as artists, as people.

The current average "veteran" rate for the DSO is $104,650.

The median income in Detroit is around $28,000 (with sharp declines the last few years.)

the current average "veteran" rate for the NY Phil is $134,940

The median income in NYC is around $39,000

This, of course, doesn't tell the whole story, at all. There are tons of other things to consider, for sure...but when i saw those numbers, i got to thinking...

The average pay for an experienced surgeon in the US is between $150-260K a year

It really makes me wonder a great deal about America and how it works. Now, I'm not an expert on such things, but i've just been thinking...what am I worth? what are musicians worth?

In Detroit, the DSO musicians offered to take a 22% pay cut with annual raises for "cost of living." That puts the salary down to the $80K range or so. That, to me, seems like a fair salary. Management wanted to take it down about a third, to the $70K range. I still think that is a fair salary for an orchestral musician IN DETROIT.

why? the living is cheaper. The median cost of a house is around $108K in Detroit (all basic facts and figures taken from Census data...so, they've prolly fallen since 2006's mini census...)

In NYC, of course they're going to have to make more. Why? Have you ever looked for an apartment in NYC? well, here's a taste. Yeah, that's right, spending $2500 is CHEAP in manhattan. That one is on the upper west side, around 96th street. if you go into Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, LI, or NJ it's cheaper, of course, but still not cheap. You're still looking at a 1 BR costing you in the $1K range a month...

makes my $428 studio (which is bigger than most NYC 1 BRs by the way) look like a GREAT deal.

I understand, as a symphony, needing to be competitive to get the best players. But there is only so much a city can sustain. I think the 22% cut is gracious of the musicians and shows a certain practicality. Losing anything as far as health insurance and pension is borderline inhumane to me (but i think health insurance shouldn't cost even half what it does...and that health care is a RIGHT and therefore we should be able to get it without fear of bankruptcy, but, that's another rant...). It really makes me wonder...

I saw a fabulous piece of art for sale in a gallery. It was, basically, a Nerf Sword shoved into a bar stool, the kind with the handle hole in the middle. I thought it was great, i loved seeing the concept of line and space interpreted through these common items. i love the nod to "the sword in the stone." Thought it was fantastic.

The artist wanted $600 for the piece...I took a step back and looked. Yeah, it's awesome, but $600 awesome? how long did it take him to figure that out, conceptually? not long, i'd wager. And the cost of raw materials is low, prolly in the $40 range (cheaper than a really nice canvas!). Take out taxes, (a solid 25% usually) and the gallery fee (some galleries take up to 50%! WTF?!?!?), and maybe a bit more overhead for a "studio." So, he comes out around, say, $175. not bad for 15 minutes of work...

so why the cost? the years of practice? yeah, i get that...but then, a general practicing doctor, for a 15 minute visit, will charge about $150, 200, if he's getting insurance money (i knew some that charge $50 to people without insurance, or sometimes even less...). Let's say he takes $200 for his 15 minutes. after overhead (paying the nurse for her 15, plus the other staff, plus taxes) he prolly takes home about 40% or so, maybe...something like, $80-90 for his 15 minutes.

We can talk about "commodity." We can talk about rarity. but what is your time worth? what are you worth as a musician? as an artist...

When i freelance in KC doing audio, i charge around $25 an hour. I get SCOFFED at for charging that much. well...i do have plenty of experience, 3 years with a major company, 3 more doing recording work, and another 3-4 doing theater work before that. Pretty solid on the experience. Have a MM with an emphasis in that area...and i'm doing a DMA with an emphasis in the area. $25, even in KC, seems about right. if i'm working for a company, and i know they don't have the money, i'll go less. I've worked here for as little as $10 an hour, or even "an equal share" of what a band makes...

What if i were to go play trombone, solo, in an art gallery. what's that worth? what are those 4 hours worth. Well, honestly, i'd say $50/hr if i'm being a jerk. What about lessons? Well, $25 per half hour seems about right for a beginner, MS, even HS, but that may be high. i remember paying $10 per half hour for piano in Indiana...

I'm still trying to find my worth...In the grand scheme of the world, i do not believe I am worth as much as a doctor. Is the worth easy to figure out, in a straight linear fashion? no. But i don't think i'm "worth" more than many professions. I believe what i do is important, but i also realize that it is not as important as other things in my life.

I don't have an answer about Detroit. Now that i've read some more of the arguments, i'm not pro-management anymore (a lot of articles make the Symphony out to be bad guys, not wanting to take wage cuts...even others just make them seem like big jerks whining- and those are the ones written by PRO MUSICIAN BLOGS! lol). I'm not pro anyone. I think the musicians understand the disparity and what's happening in Detroit, so maybe they've got the inside track...

I don't have an answer as to my own worth. I'm not that big into money. I live simply...If i could make around $45K a year, i'd be so freaking happy. unless I'm in NYC, then i'm starving. LOL.

Still...what is a single piece of art worth? what is your time worth? let me know your thoughts. maybe they'll help me sort my own out


the BC Years

Subtitle- How to make the most out of your MM

Let me preface by saying this straight off- i loved Brooklyn College. The faculty there are top notch. i never in a million years would have become the musician i am today without those professors.

And now for the most important piece of advice ever for someone looking at MM programs in the academic areas (i won't speak on performance, as it's not my bag...)

You get what you put into the program.

Brooklyn College is a great school. There is one area that i did not like, and still do not like in some of my classes- combining undergrad and graduate students. I've had 2 classes at UMKC like this and almost all my classes at BC were like this. They get double listed as 400 level undergrad classes. In some cases, this isn't so bad- some specific topic type classes where the grad students may not have a leg up as far as understanding of the material. other classes, such as orchestration, must be insanely intimidating for those undergrads being surrounded by doctoral students waxing poetic and making comparisons to pieces they may never have heard of.

For teachers, this poses 2 problems. first off, you have to set-up 2 different sets of criteria and hold people in the same class to 2 separate grading levels. having taught (and am now teaching) i would find that horrendous. Also, you have the problem of "how do i get these undergrad students to participate?" Honestly, i think they get a ton out of listening to the grad students go on and on.

For a student, it poses another problem. As the teacher attempts to find that happy zone where he is challenging grad students but not losing undergrads, it often tapers a bit toward catering to the undergrads. And i don't mean this as an insult at all- they haven't had the time and experience often to have the same breadth of knowledge as a grad student. And they deserve to have that knowledge presented to them.

So, when you're presented with that situation, take it as 2 things- 1) a teaching moment. seriously. I do it quite often in class, but then i'm geared toward that. and 2) a chance for major personal growth.

in an MM, you're expected to write. a lot. you're held to a higher level (well, i wasn't held to a higher level than DPU but DPU is kinda crazy, i think...). Take the opportunity to really pick your professor's brain. Pick interesting topics. Take classes that interest you and you will want to do research. Send drafts to your prof, ask questions, go to office hours. You may not get to hit a lot of the subject matter in class, because they're going to be splitting the difference between two (or three) different levels of experience

Again, I loved BC. I wrote some awesome papers, did some awesome projects. almost all my classes were joint grad/undergrad, and i took it as chances to just sit in class and work on my projects. Yeah, i was that guy with my head in his laptop, clicking away, then saying a couple choice nuggets, then clicking away again. lol.

Anyway, i spent the time really working on projects. I wrote some major pieces, spent a large amount of time writing a 21 minute chamber opera. It was a solidly good time. There were some awesome papers that i was able to get amazing feedback regarding.

My MM was magical, not because it was NYC (i dislike NYC.) or because Brooklyn College is some ridiculous crazy bubble type school where everything happens in a vacuum. that may be what i loved the most- we all worked, we all lived. we did things in the city as much as or more than campus.

So, i'll sum it up in this way, when hitting the ground running for your MM

1) hopefully you did your research and picked a school where you have teachers in the areas that most interest you. Hook up with those teachers and get the most out of them as possible.

2) don't get caught up in the insanity. It's going to be a ton of work, especially at first. but you'll get accustomed. remember to eat, remember to sleep, and, for goodness sake, when you get sick (which you will) go to the campus health center!

3) If you haven't figured out general areas of research you like, now's the time to try out some hot topics and advanced theory. You don't have to decide upon your MM thesis right off the bat, but you should take a couple semesters to figure out what paths interest you, then hit them

4) plan for your doctorate, but don't let it get in the way. Seriously. I was planning on applying for my DMA right outta my masters. then, life happened. There was this thesis thing, and school, and work. Taking a little time off between MM and DMA/PhD isn't a bad thing at all. in fact most DMA students i know took a little time off.

Now, i would tell you about my amazing DMA quest, but, it goes like this...

I was living in Jersey. The job market was terrible. I lost what work i had and couldn't get any job. i ran out of money

I moved home. i got kicked out of the house because my dad was quite ill and definitely was not himself. So, i lived with friends, worked at a music store for minimum wage, and begged for a reprise from paying my loans (since i could barely afford to eat...). I was applying for DMAs, had the schools generally picked thanks to research and professors. The list wasn't overly large:

SUNY Buffalo, UMKC, Bowling Green State University, Princeton, Cornell. I ended up at UMKC because

1) i was in a bad situation and was desperate.
2) they had an opening in the spring.
3) i got in

Seriously. I took the first offer to get the hell outta dodge

However, i got DAMN lucky. UMKC was my top choice. talk about freakin lucky. beyond lucky...

Yeah, that wasn't as much of a fun story. and now, for lunch and KcEMA concert set-up!


It Gets Better


Ok, this is my "professional composition blog" but i have to post something about this cause it's really making me crazy...

I'm an ally, and have been for just about as long as I can remember. when i see the stories in the news and hear about all the bullying, violence, and suicides of young LGBT people, i get really upset.

I don't know what to say other than it's wrong. just plain freaking wrong.

I...I really don't know what to say. there are few subjects that really get me, but intolerance like this, especially right now against differing religions and LGBT really just "grind my gears." Throw in that i'm exhausted, and i'm now thinking back to all my LGBT friends through the years, and dealing with things like, oh, suggesting we go to a bar for karaoke and have him say "do you think i can go into a bar called the BUCKHORN dressed like this? I AM WEARING BELLBOTTOMS!" we all had a laugh, but it pissed me off then, and it pisses me off thinking about it.

What's worst for me is that, yes, it gets better. High school is easily the worst time. It gets better.

but there are places where even as adults, it's not safe

It's not safe to go if you're LGBT. Or you're a different race. or a different religion.

It's wrong. just...wrong. I wish i had more eloquence on this subject but i don't. i can't seem to channel it because, deep down, i just don't understand. i don't understand how anyone can hate without knowing a person. how anyone can just automatically dislike someone without knowing anything about them.

At least i'm in one of the more open majors, one of the more open society functions. Music is more open than many other callings in life. There are still places where work is needed, of course, but i'm proud to have so many friends from every walk of life.

who all love each other.

yeah, ok, maybe i'm getting sappy. strange for someone who is definitely characterized often as a jerk, but we all have our soft spots. I'm a jerk to everyone equally, after all. lol

I offer this: if anyone is reading this blog and needs to vent, needs to go off, needs to release their feelings, let me know. It Gets Better, especially if we're all going to help each other.

Ally for life