Faster, higher, stronger. New trends in programme planning and the results

Musicians agree that large-scale projects are becoming increasingly common: they appeal to audiences and marketing departments alike, yet musicians are more sceptical. A complete programme of Beethoven symphonies within a few days, for example, is hard work, and physicians call for a recognition that working conditions must protect musicians from damage. While the trend to “eventization” is acknowledged, there is less unanimity among musicians whether these require some kind of special mental or physical preparation. Older musicians often feel they need to pace themselves, while benefiting from greater familiarity with difficult pieces. Younger musicians tend to have a brisker approach.

Making music is hard work!

Making music is hard work!

Specialists for Music Physiology and Musicians’ Medicine often critically point out the social and economic factors behind this trend. Especially in smaller orchestras, with fewer covers and tighter shifts, conditions can become physically and mentally stressful. Some conductors, are well aware of these problems, others less so. From the medical perspective overuse disorders are a sign of individual maladjustment, an imbalance of requirements and resources, that can be addressed through various therapies. But they are also, importantly, caused by environmental factors: carefully managed rosters and staff planning could do much to prevent overuse on a systemic level. But where regular employees enjoy a substantial measure of legal protection with regard to working conditions and sickness benefits, it is freelance musicians who are often faced with situations of economic necessities, forcing them to accept long hours, long-distance commuting, low pay and general insecurity. Physical and mental stress are often a result.

In the professional music business there is a permanent demand to be “faster, higher, stronger”: an event culture calling for small offerings (and the flexible availability of musicians), changing job descriptions (outreach, expertise in historically informed performance) as well as the mega projects already mentioned. What is needed, are off times.

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