On Age

On Age
February 27, 2020 cborelli

We all get older. For musicians, aging brings a host of physical challenges and a set of decisions to make. Among them is figuring out what to do about retirement. When should I stop what I am doing, or is it better to keep going? Some conductors would just as soon collapse on the podium, while others determine that they no longer have the stamina to continue.

This chapter is about understanding the choices available as we move along in the profession. I look at the options for European orchestra members versus their American counterparts, taking into consideration the pension and health plan differences between the two continents. Most importantly, I offer an intriguing solution, one that is sure to generate controversy.

Please weigh in with questions about the general subject of aging and how it impacts the individual musician as well as the organizations they work for.

Questions and suggestions (4)

  1. anonymous 1 month ago

    How common is it for orchestra musicians to continue to perform after their technical proficiency has started to decline due to age?

  2. Janet Horvath 1 month ago

    Hello Leonard, from a voice from our past! I enjoy your posts and it’s nice to connect if only on FB. I hope you and your family are well. I write for the classical music online magazine http://www.interlude.hk over 260 articles to date, about music and musicians. One of my articles “Challenges for the Aging Musician” is pertinent to your chapter On Age. If you’d like to use any or all of it I’m certain I can get the publisher’s ok! Here’s the link.
    https://interlude.hk/challenges-for-the-aging-musician/

    All best, stay safe and well,
    Janet Horvath

  3. anonymous 1 month ago

    It is frustrating when colleagues and/or conductors begin to apply pressure on musicians who reach a certain age, regardless of their level of playing. This is more of a comment rather than a question, but I’d like to see materials written in support of maintaining mature musicians in an orchestra. Mature players offer wisdom and a high level of developed musical instincts that complement the technical prowess of youthful players. Increasingly I notice in my orchestra there is little interaction between generations. In some cases there is hostility towards long-standing orchestra members, which I find sad. One older friend said he was depressed because no one under 50 would talk to him in the lounge. It is difficult to know where to begin. If you have ideas to increase appreciation for what older players offer, I’d love to hear them.

  4. anonymous 1 month ago

    Musicians around the world were heartened by Maestro Fabio Luisi’s reaction to an unpleasant age discrimination situation in a major US orch. not long ago. A 62 year old wind player filed an age discrimination suit there after his dismissal. Maestro Luisi, in response, graciously and elegantly pointed out the value of older musicians in orchestras. His opinion appeared in a Slipped Disc post: https://slippedisc.com/2017/03/fabio-luisi-orchestras-need-older-musicians/ Musicians everywhere cheered for Maestro Luisi, old and young, alike!

    Here’s my observation: when young or short-sighted music directors try to “clean house” and phase out older musicians, it often comes back to haunt them. One famous Maestro, when named MD of a top 5 US orch., felt that he lacked the support of the musicians. Perhaps in an effort to remedy that, he “pink slipped” about 15 of the orch’s most respected older players. Yes, he succeeded, but he lost the support of the remaining musicians & his tenure as MD was the shortest in the history of that orchestra.

    About 10 years ago, the young Music Director of a southwest US orchestra decided to “clean house” and fired a group of older players. They filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the orchestra. There was tremendous negative publicity generated for both the orch. and the Music Director. He is no longer there.

    Music directors often seem to be drawn towards young, shiny new players & are often reluctant to recognize the wisdom and experience of veteran musicians. My observation is that it’s the finest, most secure & experienced conductors (like Luisi) who value older players. The young, weak and insecure conductors do not. They need to bolster their own weak self image with shiny young players.

    It’s a cheap trick, IMHO, for a MD to take over an orchestra & dismiss those who’ve been there longest. Yes, a MD has that perogative, but is it wise or ethical? Any incoming MD has been given temporary charge of an orchestra. I believe that they should work with the orch. they have been given, not try to create a different orchestra.

    Kudos to conductors who recognize the value of older musicians in an orchestra. We all age. We’ll all be there someday. We can only hope that conductors like Maestro Fabio Luisi will be there to support us.

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