posted by James Reel
Norman Lebrecht has devoted his career to being indignant and wrong about many things in classical music, but I think he's right to make periodic attempts to swat Mozart down from the pedestal upon which he has been placed, as some sort of god whose music can create baby geniuses in the womb, elevate the character of the darkest fiend, and raise the dead from their graves (well, maybe that last claim hasn't been made--yet). Surely Lebrecht is a bit extreme in his support of "the Pierre Boulez slogan that Mozart was a regressive force who added nothing to the development of music. The inventors and energisers in music history were Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler and Schoenberg; all else was entertainment." Still, it's good to be admonished from time to time that we should not be genuflecting before Mozart, as has become especially common among people who tend not to be deeply familiar with much other classical music that's out there. Read Lebrecht's latest screed, and if you're incensed, I think Lebrecth will consider it a good day's work.
posted by James Reel
The Minnesota Orchestra musicians are in lockout as contract negotiations have stalled; the issue that's getting the most press is that the musicians want a raise, but management says it can't afford it, considering the current deficit--a deficit that has only recently been admitted after the board spent the past few years doing some questionable accounting to hide earlier budget shortfalls. A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune attempts to see if management could really afford to increase salaries, given the size of the orchestra's endowments and the success of its ongoing capital campaign, but what it doesn't make completely clear is that such moneys have almost nothing to do with paying the day-to-day bills--in Minnesota, in Tucson, or anywhere.
Let's start with capital campaigns. Just because an organization has undertaken a special project to bring in a huge amount of money in a short time doesn't mean that all that money can actually be spent. First, What counts as "raised" funds includes pledges--promises to pay a certain total over a certain number of years. A $1 million pledge can be merely theoretical money in the bank until every installment check has been cashed, and those can be spread out over two, three, 10 years. And What is the campaign raising money for? If it's general operating funds, fine--spend, spend, spend! But such campaigns are rare, because major donors aren't really interested in giving money that will evaporate within a year, unless they're underwriting a specific program or position.
If it's a campaign to raise money specifically for a new building or wing, that can't be poured into the pot from which salaries are poured. The budget for constructing and maintaining a building is completely separate from the budget for everything else, and besides, the donors have been told they'd be giving money toward a building (possibly with their names being appended to parts of it); diverting their donations to another use is dishonest, and could lead them to try to rescind their donations.
What about endowment campaigns, and the endowments themselves? Millions of dollars can be sitting there on the balance sheets, untouched, seemingly begging to be spent. But usually, they can't be--or at least shouldn't be. There's a big difference between a cash reserve and an endowment. A cash reserve is like your checking account: Spend it as you need it, and replenish it regularly by earning money one way or another. An endowment is a pot of money invested with the strategy of producing a certain return each year; in effect, you can spend the return on the investment, but you don't touch the investment itself. It's like putting $100 into a savings account and allowing yourself to spend whatever paltry interest you earn on that $100, but never withdrawing any part of that base sum of $100.
Frankly, endowments have been an uncertain source of income for some time. It's been several years since an organization could confidently expect to be able to move a five-percent return on its endowment into its operating funds. (Endowments can even lose money just sitting there as stocks and bonds, which is why it's necessary to make regular reviews of the investment strategy.)
Many endowments are set up so that it's quite simply illegal to transfer the endowment's capital investment to the general operating funds; others are not, but it's usually a sign of trouble when an organization starts slicing away at the meat of the endowment in order to make up its budget deficits.
So if orchestra musicians or museum acquisition officers eye the endowment as an immediate source of money to increase salaries or programs, they need to blink a few times and refocus on the return on that investment. And as the past few years have shown, that can be too volatile a number on which to base a long-term financial plan.
If all this is fairly new to you but you'd like to get wonky on the subject, here's a good introduction to all the issues relating to endowment management for nonprofit organizations.
posted by James Reel
Americans routinely decry the multi-million-dollar contracts awarded professional athletes, yet remain fixated on pro sports. I wonder if Americans would be more interested in classical music if we threw more money at the leading conductors; at least we'd have something more to complain about.
Not that the nation's top-tier music directors are making nearly as much as America's top athletes, but neither are they in any danger of applying for food stamps. The Los Angeles Times has posted an interesting article about how the L.A. Philharmonic's bottom line has risen--coincidentally or not--along with the salary of music director Gustavo Dudamel, who pulled in a bit more than $985,000 in salary and benefits in 2010 (the latest year for which nonprofit tax records are easily available for public inspection). As they say, you've got to spend money to make money, and it seems to be working on Los Angeles.
Dudamel is by no means the highest-paid music director in America. The newspaper offers as a sidebar a summary of the compensation for some other high-profile conductors (note the presence of Charles Dutoit at the Philadelphia Orchestra; he makes big bucks, even though he is not filling the position of music director). Of the conductors listed (the table omits several leading figures), the man who's raking in the most dough from a single job is the San Francisco Symphony's Michael Tilson Thomas, who earned $2.41 million, according to the most recent available tax returns.
Compare that to the more common world of regional orchestras. According to the Tucson Symphony's 2009 report, George Hanson earned $117,434 in salary and $4068 in other compensation. (Susan Franano, who was then the orchestra's executive director, drew a salary of $87,841 and other compensation of $19,553.)
Oddly, the salaries for the music director, executive director, and chief financial officer are not listed in Part VII of the TSO's 2010 Form 990, although they ought to be. Surely they're not working for free? Maybe it is time for them to apply for food stamps.
posted by James Reel
It's scratchy and muffled and sounds like some goofy character from a children's TV show, but it's actually the oldest playable recording of an American voice and the first-ever capturing of a musical performance, restored about as well as it can be; you can (barely) listen to it here. As described in this Associated Press article, the recording was made on a sheet of tinfoil in St. Louis in 1878, begins with a little cornet solo that sounds more like somebody humming through a comb kazoo. After this, a man presumed to be Thomas Mason, a St. Louis newspaper political writer who also went by the pen name I.X. Peck, recites fragments of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Old Mother Hubbard," with some phony-sounding stage chuckling in between, and in the end gets the "Mother Hubbard" words wrong and laughs at his own mistake. It's probably that blooper that saved the recording; Mason, I'd guess, didn't care to play it for his friends (the Edison recording device was more suited to parlor tricks than documenting anything serious), and so it didn't self-destruct after a couple of playbacks, as did almost every other tinfoil recording (it was played with a needle, and you know what that can do to flimsy material like this).
Although Carl Haber and a team at his Berkeley lab went to heroic lengths to use optical scanning technology to make the recording playable, it's still barely listenable. And even if it were crystal-clear, I wonder what it would tell us about how people like Mason and his fellow St. Louis residents really sounded in 1878. Obviously, the fellow is speaking slowly and broadly for the benefit of a primitive recording device, almost as if he's reading the nursery rhymes to an infant (which, essentially, he was). He probably didn't speak quite like this among his friends. Yet we know from better-preserved recordings from the next few decades that the diction, pronunciation and cadence of public orators in the late 19th/early 20th centuries was quite different from what it is now. When you have time, go snooping around the Internet for audio snippets of Teddy Roosevelt, from the era of addressing crowds from platforms in a public square, then compare that to the fireside chats of TR's fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from the era of newsreels, microphones and electrical recording. Even FDR sounds mannered compared to any of our modern presidents. And perhaps you've noticed that Barack Obama will alter his diction and vocabulary choice depending on his audience and surroundings; public address is not a static thing, even for a single individual.
And in case you're wondering, no, none of us here at Arizona Public Media converse in quite the same voices we use on air. But nobody around here sounds like tinfoil man Thomas Mason.
posted by James Reel
Our station manager forwards this item from the Radio and Internet Newsletter, which I post here without much comment other than that it seems that when you strongly dislike a particular sort of music (harpsichord, vocal, organ, bagpipes), any amount of it can seem excessive:
KING FM (Seattle 98.1) listener Evan Muehlhausen doesn't care for harpsicords. But "over the past few years, I've noticed that when I tune to the station, I always seem to hear the plinky sound of a harpsicord," he writes. He was going to complain to the station, but before he did, he "wanted to investigate whether my ears were deceiving me."
Muehlhausen collected and analyzed 30 days of playlist data (around 3,000 "playlist items") posted online by KING FM, assigning composer era information to the songs played. The result? "The data shows that KING FM is innocent of the charge of favoring Baroque music [harpiscord's "heyday"] over other eras. Indeed, they play less Baroque than anything else... Looks like my own bias against harpsicord has affected my statistical judgment. Good thing I actually checked before blaming the station."
So the next time a listener calls to complain, why not point them to Muehlhausen's blog post here? He helpfully explains in detail how he collected and analyzed the playlist data. Surely, any radio listener who cares enough to call or write would go through the same trouble Muehlhausen did.
posted by James Reel
Not long ago, Jacqueline Kain, Arizona Public Media's chief content officer, was chatting with me about possible improvements to and expansion of the arts coverage on Arizona Illustrated, starting early next year. All well and good for us insiders to concoct schemes, but perhaps you have some ideas of your own. What would you like to see in Arizona Illustrated's arts coverage? Comment below, but I ask two things of you. First, we're talking only about arts coverage; please direct your comments or questions or complaints about other aspects of the show elsewhere. Second, please just suggest things you'd actually watch; idealism is great, but what's good in theory isn't very useful if it leads to something you don't really care about. OK, go.