So there’s a very useful Facebook group called ‘Need orchestral / session players? Ask here!’. It’s got me quite a few of my orchestral dep jobs and generally probably more work than any of the other dep / muso needed groups I’m in or websites I’ve joined. All of which said, of course, there is a high level of stuff that’s irrelevant or uninteresting to me (like everyone looking for a French horn player, or based north of about Birmingham, for instance).
The other day I logged in and there were two new adverts there. One was for string players for Tchaikovsky’s first piano concert and the Bernstein Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Apparently being promoted solely by the (student?) conductor, as there was the disclaimer ‘I can’t afford to pay anyone a fee, but drinks will be on me in the RAM bar afterwards’. Now this, with minor variations, happens fairly often, and he did say he was looking for ‘probably music students, but solid amateurs also welcome’ – in other words, there was no pretence this was a professional gig. But I’ve read through the Bernstein, admittedly several years ago, and they would be very solid amateurs to perform it on presumably one rehearsal on the day. It’s just plain hard to play, for lots of reasons. It seems a tall order, and almost a piece of vanity, to decide to do something so difficult (and I don’t imagine the Tchaikovsky is a piece of cake either) when you know you can’t pay anything out for musicians. I suspect the choice has more to do with a conducting career and CV than anything else – and as a jobbing musician rather than a career-launching student, I find it sad when performances are driven by ‘I want to have conducted/played/sung that in public’ rather than ‘audiences would like to / should have the opportunity to hear that live’.
The second advert was for a new marketing / management agency, with the usual spiel about being musician-run and focused on getting the best possible talent and performances first and foremost and so on and so forth. The interesting bit was that having been initially started and road-tested in I think two or three of the London music schools, they were now expanding to another nine conservatoires across England. Yes, you guessed the implication correctly – they recruit solely from among current conservatoire students, and by the look of it by application not (or at least well before) by audition.
Now someone with an Oxford First would be definitely letting himself in for accusations of hypocrisy if he acquired a habit of inverted snobbery about people having impressive qualifications versus having marketplace ability. But it sticks in my throat to have idealistic music-for-music’s-sake pure-performance-priority values proclaimed and then the cold policy: You want to be with us, you need to be heading for getting a conservatoire degree. I’m not saying they should start talent-hunting rappers and acoustic guitarists off the Tube busking pitches; but is it really answerable to their supposed goals to exclude any good classical performers who may be able to present a convincing CV and do a good audition but don’t have the ‘right’ background?
What it does achieve, of course, is keeping costs of recruitment (or at least selection) down, in a context where the agency probably anticipate having an oversupply of useable talent applications as it is and an undersupply of either inhouse resource to process them or opportunities with which to place them. Flicking through the MU handbook the other day, I came across a reference to many young UK classical musicians going abroad for initial orchestral experience and then returning with much better employment prospects. This suggests that in the orchestral world at least (and perhaps others?) the UK flooded market for musicians is a geographical exception (how else would it be easier to get work overseas?), something I had not at all expected.
I don’t think I’m quite ready to sacrifice a reliable if dull and draining part-time day job to a European symphony orchestra post yet (even if I was able to bag one of the latter). But every call for unpaid musicians or for conservatoire students and graduates only pushes me a little closer to it.