• Tanya Tomkins
  • December 31, 2013

Musicians and Healthcare

Right now my partner, Eric Zivian and I are rehearsing Schumann and Brahms with Joseph Maile and Pei-Ling Lin for a concert in Occidental on January 18 and for my own house concert series on January 26th and 27th. It is a sweet time of discussing ideas, trying things out, and taking our time to get beneath the surface of the music and delve into its meaning. I have been reflecting on how lucky we are to have the luxury of this exploration.

f08313bc-c752-4fac-b6a1-4198cac3d7ebThe fourteen years I lived in Holland were a very creative and formative time for me. While I was there, (1984-1998) the Dutch government had a music agency especially for chamber music, the Nederlands Impresariaat (which sadly no longer exists). If I had a chamber ensemble, we would audition to be on the Impresariaat’s roster. Once we were accepted, they organized and funded the concerts, and then they called us up and asked if we were free to perform at one or another of the many chamber music series throughout the country. Our schedules filled up with concerts with hardly any need for promotion or marketing on our parts.

Looking back now, this seems almost fantastical. Healthcare in Holland was always extremely affordable and wasn’t even an issue. Between that and the government support of chamber music at that time, I got some of my best work done there. A freelance musician’s job today (even in Holland), however, is twofold: to play beautifully and to think like an entrepreneur. Musicians are fast becoming salespeople by necessity, which takes up a huge amount of time and energy. Already, a freelance chamber musician’s time for creative, thorough rehearsing and practicing can be threatened by energy, time and money spent on promotion. The combination of that with unaffordable insurance premiums is often enough reason for a musician to choose auditioning for a symphony orchestra job (where there are health benefits and a regular salary) rather than going it alone, organizing, practicing and rehearsing, and having the pressure of healthcare that is basically unaffordable for freelancers. Subsidized healthcare for freelance musicians, however, could be a game changer. Many musicians are more attracted or better suited to having a career in chamber music than in a symphony orchestra. The Affordable Care Act could free up musicians to make different choices than they might have otherwise.

Recently, I heard the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the radio defending philanthropic support of the arts. She pointed out that during the days following 9/11 the museum had record numbers of visitors, seeking solace and meaning in the great artworks there. As a musician, I sometimes question the validity of my vocation in a world riddled by such monumental problems as global warming and world hunger. Discussing the finer shades and nuances of a phrase in a piece of chamber music can seem arbitrary or trivial in this context. However, having lived in a place where music was (at that time) considered a regular, necessary part of life, I can say from experience that the society as a whole benefited from the support we were given. In an indirect sort of way, by subsidizing health care insurance for freelancers, we may be experiencing a similar kind of support here in this country.

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