In my travels as a guest tutor I come across post-grad and young professional musicians from lots of different countries. For some time now I’ve made it a habit to ask them how they’re getting on with making their way in the classical music profession – easy or difficult? Without exception they reply that they are finding it difficult. As one of them told me ruefully last week, ‘It’s not hard to get concerts, but it’s hard to get adequately paid for concerts.’ Everyone agrees with this.
Recently, as a refinement of the question, I’ve shifted to asking them whether they feel they enjoy a high status in the society in which they live. The answers have been varied. Of course my survey was entirely random; I just asked whoever came in to play to me. It could be that those who spoke up were the ones most worried, or simply the ones who found it easiest to put their situation into words.
So the results may not be ‘typical’, but from my own experience I suspect they are fairly valid. Musicians from Germany and Austria feel they enjoy respect and high status in their own societies (hardly surprising when much of the classical music we love the best emanates from those countries). Musicians from Eastern Europe seemed to feel that they enjoyed high status, but not an easy path to making a living. Chinese and Japanese musicians felt that they were definitely respected, and they seemed optimistic about their chances. I haven’t had a chance to ask any American musicians.
Musicians from the UK and France, on the other hand, said that they felt they had low or ‘marginal’ status. Many of them elaborated on people’s reactions (indifferent, uncomprehending) when they say they are classical musicians. They said their neighbours regarded their practising as a nuisance, or ignored their music-making entirely and never asked about their concerts. Pianists and chamber groups lamented how difficult it is to practise at home without arousing hostility. Whereas a Swiss string quartet told me that lots of their neighbours make a point of coming to their concerts. And a young Austrian player told me that her neighbours often say how it cheers them up to hear violin music floating from her window.
I wonder if these random snapshots fit with other people’s experiences?