It seems like every orchestra season, at least one ensemble across the country goes on strike. These strikes often involve some of the country's smaller orchestras, but earlier this year one of the BIGGEST orchestras decided that they weren't going to accept current conditions.
Before I go any further, I'd like to acknowledge that I believe in dignity and fair pay for EVERYONE - musicians and non-musicians alike. My issue with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike wasn't that people weren't getting paid fairly, but that people getting paid MORE than fairly felt like they deserved backing from marginalized musicians. Let's take a quick look at a couple facts I pulled from this article:
• In 2014, there were 1,224 U.S. orchestras, distributed widely across all 50 states (NCAR and OSR).
• In the same year, the orchestra field contributed $1.8 billion to the U.S. economy in direct payments for goods and services (NCAR and OSR).
• Two out of every three orchestras operated with annual expenses budgets of under $300,000, in 2014 (NCAR and OSR).
It's very important to pay attention to that last statistic. With most orchestras operating under $300k a year, this means most orchestra musicians make between $4,000-$6,000/year (my quick math - please correct me if you find something that says otherwise). Keep those numbers in mind as you look at the numbers represented in this article, that outlined the terms and reasons behind the strike:
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) has offered its musicians a 5-percent pay raise spread out over a three-year contract that would raise the minimum pay to $167,000. The players are asking for a 12.5-percent increase for a starting salary of $178,000. According to the CSOA, more than a third of the veteran musicians already earn $187,000 and many take on added work at Symphony Center that elevates their income beyond $200,000.
If you take a look at the actual article, you'll see that the ACTUAL point of contention is a pension plan. That's fine, but let's face it - most folks will never have access to anything close to the plan those musicians had.
Conversations surrounding the difficulty and cost of being a musician always come up when people complain about the CSO's rate of pay, but I have to remind you that those challenges and costs are the same for people in MOST orchestras - you know, the ones making less than a third of what the CSO musicians went on strike over. The argument I'm always faced with when I bring these issues up is, "Treating the best orchestras well will set a precedent for the rest of us - trickle down".
The strike ended yesterday, and you can read more about that here. A few of my followers asked my opinions about this, so there you have it. Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, made a great point in his involvement:
“These are great artists and musicians who make a tremendous contribution….You have all the waiters and waitresses around the restaurants that are dependent on a successful symphony. You have the stagehands who aren’t artists, but also make the show work. These peoples’ livelihoods are also affected”
So why weren't they the focus? Why are my heart strings supposed to be pulled by musicians on the sidewalk, instruments in hand, with more money in their accounts than I'll make this year?
I wonder what the Chicago Symphony Orchestra does for its surrounding neighborhoods, and how much energy they put into the smaller organizations that are supposed to support them. Where are the picket signs for the musicians going on strike for much, much less? Are there black people in the CSO?
That's all I got.
Remember when going to therapy was something everyone kept secret? I don't know why - therapy has helped me jump over MANY hurdles over my almost year here in Minnesota, and it also led me to what I think is my career's most significant project to date!
Let's rewind to about September. I'd settled into my new apartment, and my new job, but something didn't feel quite right. Besides seeing Dell for 20 minutes at a time during my work week, I didn't have much human interaction, and I would find myself deeply depressed a lot, and sometimes, not even feeling alive. This sort of dead feeling resulted in my finding thrills to remind myself of what it feels like to actually be alive - Russian roulette, dangerous early morning city walks, and many other activities I won't share quite yet. Because I wasn't ready to actually die, I took a little advice from an author I respect and found a local therapist to talk to.
Our conversations were (and still are) very informative, but not what I expected. There are no tears in my sessions - no anger, no yelling, and almost no emotion. My therapist has a really interesting way of dealing with me in a pragmatic way - an exploration of not issues, but rather, ANSWERS! When I can't answer the question behind one of my life's issues, she helps me see what's in the way.
When I came to her with my job/life stresses, she gave me a very simple answer: start your own radio station! Obviously I'm not there yet, financially, but she attributed my lack of interest in doing that as being risk averse. Sure, I could take a big jump and try something like that on my own, risking my comfort on every financial hill I've climbed, but because I'm still relatively new in radio, and to Minnesota, I decided to explore the idea of a podcast instead.
If you've kept up with me, you know that the podcast idea has manifested into an actual thing - Scott Blankenship (who has his own video series) and I are 7 episodes in, and the first of them drops on May 17th!!! I'll have more information on how you can listen to Trilloquy as we get closer.
My therapist's belief that I'm risk averse is something I think about everyday, and something I thought about A LOT while developing Trilloquy. In the "Overture" of Trilloquy, you'll hear me address this as it relates to the podcast itself. Yes, I could have done this on my own, with a drop date that was on MY terms, uninhibited content that I choose, and interviews that go exactly the way I want. Instead, I decided to take a risk. The joint ownership of this project does indeed offer lots of challenges, but I think the results will be bigger than I could have managed on my own. Shout out to my therapist, and my manager, Julie (who has her own podcast). They have both been INTEGRAL parts of my mental health, and the development of my baby, that I've named Trilloquy.
What's the riskiest thing that you feel comfortable doing today? Go do that.
It's the late-night hashtag that rang around the world. While we all knew that the Queen Mother would bless us with a documentary about her Coachella performance, we DIDN'T know (or at least, I didn't know), that there would be an album dropping too! I've seen the documentary at this point, which YOU should watch on Beyflix too, but it's the music that I hopped on first.
Like I said in my last blog post, I wasn't pushed toward going to an HBCU because I wasn't surrounded by college graduates. I fully believe that the systems that made me a first generation college graduate are the same ones that try and quell the existence and validity of HBCUs, all while keeping the young, gifted, and black at PWIs. While I'm grateful for where my collegiate and professional paths have led me, I can't help but to wonder what my life would have looked like if I DID go to an HBCU. With Beyonce's help, people like me don't have to wonder so much anymore.
At the tail end of my air shift I downloaded HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM, and began to take a listen. To my surprise, the principal sound of the album is the HBCU-styled band! I'd already watched the Coachella performance, but for some reason I wasn't expecting it to show up on this album. Wow - what a listening experience that was for me. Coming up through music school, the sound of blackness in the form of a marching band is commonly seen as less than - the movie Drumline explores exactly what I went through in my college marching band. This very specific art form doesn't need validation from anyone in my opinion, but having Beyonce's stamp of approval on it will open up people's minds to loud, blaring tubas, beautifully synced drummers, and of course, the dancers me and all other black gays have imitated at some point. My mom was a high school majorette now that I think about it - shout out to her and all of the other band dancers out there.
I didn't have that much to say today, other than I'm a forever Beyonce stan (and hoping that Blue Ivy will hire me for whatever she wants one day). Mrs. Carter's music makes me feel proud to be a musician, proud to come from where I come from, and most importantly, proud to be black. Long live Queen Bey.
Beyonce, the TSU Ocean of Soul, and the group, Crucial Conflict, get my shout-outs this week. Check those out, here.
In classical music we talk a lot about pipelines - initiatives, programs, and curriculums built to lead students to orchestral jobs, or other jobs in the world of classical music. I was lucky enough to be a part of a very strong pipeline, which led me to an orchestral job, and beyond! That pipeline is one I'm thankful for, but at the same time, one I have a really mixed relationship with...
Let's rewind to about 2 weeks ago. Before Minnesota's final snow storm of the season (at least, I hope it was the last one), Dell and I decided to take a walk with our friend, "Mary". If you know "Mary", you know that she helps the mental wheels get moving in a way they may not without her. With her help, we got into the discussion of Mozart's pipeline, and how he was virtually born to become who he became. Talent aside, his father, Leopold, made sure that his abilities were being cultivated and showcased from a VERY young age...just like another one of "destiny's children".
I actually used that phrase in our conversation - Mozart as a child of destiny. Obviously, that led us to Beyonce, as another one of "destiny's children" (the very singular group name of 'Destiny's Child' makes a lot of sense now, doesn't it? LOL). Like Mozart, she was groomed from a very early age, and is now the queen of the world, as far as I'm concerned. This week, all of us in the BeyHive will be glued to Netflix to check out her new documentary titled, Homecoming. Talking with Dell about this movie (and again, with "Mary's" help) made me think about how Mozart's and Beyonce's pipelines compare to mine.
Being a first generation college graduate means that my parents simply didn't have the experience they needed to guide me toward an HBCU. I'm not blaming them, as much as I'm blaming the structures that keep young, gifted, and black college hopefuls away from the campuses of Morehouse, Rust, Howard, and other historically black institutions. Those structures are the same ones that kept my parents OUT of college, and the conversation on whether or not those schools offer world-class music programs is irrelevant to me - I prefer to think about how different my life would have looked if I spent my first four collegiate years in a pipeline that helped cultivate MY connection with blackness, and the music therein. With that being said, the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music didn't fail me when it comes to learning about race and classical music - most of my friends (like most Memphis residents) were black, as was my first teacher, and current mentor, Lecolion Washington.
Me, "Mary", and Netflix have a date with Beyonce in just a few hours. I hope this documentary helps me unpack a little more about my un-relationship with HBCUs. If I'm really lucky, I'm hoping this movie will help me see a way to establish a relationship with one of these institutions in the future. Prof. McQueen has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Especially if I get to wear hoodies like these!
Go watch Homecoming on Netflix!! After you do that, see what else you can learn about America's Historically Black Colleges and Universities! There's even a lot of media inspired by HBCUs to discover.
While I wasn't guided to an HBCU as a teenager, it was a very important HBCU-inspired SHOW that gave me a hint into one of my defining characteristics when I was about 5 years old. Imagine a young Garrett, watching a character named Ron Johnson everyday on TV - WHEW chillay...
One of my favorite movies turned 20 years old a couple weeks ago, and as far as I'm concerned it's STILL a classic. I can still remember being a kid at the drive-in theater in Memphis, barely understanding what Morpheus, Neo, and company were up to, but today, scenes like this still guide much of my life's philosophies:
Did you see the sign above the Oracle's kitchen door? That phrase, "Temet Nosce", was one of my very first tattoos. It's on my chest, so that every time I look in the mirror I can see it. It serves as a reminder of purpose - the most important and valuable thing a person can have in my opinion.
Reflecting on my recent trip to NYC, and other things, has put me in this area of my mind today. It's always exciting for me to share my life's passion with others, but sometimes it can seem like more of a challenge than a joy to figure out ways to hit new audiences with the joys of classical music (and by new audiences, I'm usually talking about audiences that look like me). On my final night on-air last week, I shaped each of my breaks, and much of the music, as if I were talking directly to the people who share my non-classical interests - specifically hip-hop heads, and hip-hop Podcast listeners. As much as I'm able to shape programming toward non-typical audiences, it's easy to reach a mental brick wall sometimes. I ran up against one really hard, and started doubting whether or not this is what I'm going to be doing for the next several years. When I finally got home, I sifted through the night's mail and found this note:
I get tons of mail every night - lots good, some not-so-good, but this one stood out. It reminded me of what my purpose is. No, I'm not (yet) a leading hip-hop commentator, or a famous Podcaster. Instead, I'm someone who brings joy to people through this weird thing called classical music. As I continue to think about and shape my own purpose, I hope you'll do the same. The minute you feel lost, remember that there are people who count on you, and care for you - even if they're behind a digital screen.
The late Nipsey Hussle's purpose was so much more than rap. He provided jobs, an outlet, and HOPE for so many in his community. I'll be completely honest and admit that I didn't listen to his music everyday, but I DID follow and admire his work in the Crenshaw community - it's a neighborhood I called home while I was at USC. The world officially says goodbye to him tomorrow (April 11th) - may he rest in power.
I took a couple days off work this week to do a little promo for Trilloquy, and to be a guest on a couple other podcasts (This QPOC Life and the Need To Know Podcast)! The events took place in The Big Apple, and as always, I had a phenomenal time in the city.
Day one was a running start. Shortly after landing at Laguardia I checked into my hotel, and met Johnathan in downtown Brooklyn for a little lunch at Junior's, and to record an episode of his podcast. We've known each other for many years now, and it was great to sit and "kee-kee" with him about all sorts of issues surrounding queer culture. After we taped his show, I interviewed him for Trilloquy. Johnathan brought some perspectives to the idea of Gay Mens' Choruses, as an institution, that I had never thought of before. I'm looking forward to sharing his thoughts with you, via podcast, in early June. Here are a few photos of our comings and goings:
Day two was a bit of a run-around, but all in all it was very productive. I traveled to a part of Brooklyn I'd never been to, 12 hours early! My interview with the crew from The Need To Know Podcast was set to start at 10 PM, but of course, I read 10 AM instead. It was all good though - it was nice for me to explore a new part of the city, and to get someone to take a pretty cool looking photo of me:
Before I would go back to my hotel in Manhattan to do some work (before getting back on the L train to Brooklyn later that night), I had some lunch in Grand Central, and recorded another interview for Trilloquy with my long time friend, Peter Colin! We talked about his early music education, his transition from the world of teaching to law, and everything in between. His interview is also coming down the pipeline, around late June.
After my interview and dinner with Pete (at this really fun restaurant), I returned to Brooklyn/Queens (as the neighborhood was described to me) to record an episode of The Need to Know Podcast. It was, in a word, BLACK! The first hour was spent with the crew talking about the late great, Nipsey Hussle, followed by an hour of hot topics, followed by MY conversation with the group. I was so honored to share my passion with Savon, Steph, and Alex - that episode will be available later today (4/4/19). My Shout-Outs for this week go out to them, so you should check it out!
On my way back to my hotel, I decided that I needed to pee a little more than I needed to prove to myself that I could traverse the MTA at 2 AM, so I hailed a cab. That's still pretty New York, right?
Huge thanks to everyone who made this trip possible, and a success! Again, Trilloquy is coming down the pipeline, and will be available in the coming weeks. Until then, I'll see you on the airwaves beginning midnight (CST) Friday, April 5th!