“Why do I continue to devote myself to music?” was a starting point for violist, ethnomusicologist, author and educator Tanya Kalmanovitch to launch her newsletter The Rest. Hear her talk with Douglas Detrick about how capitalism and music interact, how she talks about money with her conservatory students, and how we can stop setting ourselves up for failure in our personal musical practice.
Tanya Kalmanovitch is a Canadian violist, ethnomusicologist, and author known for her breadth of inquiry and restless sense of adventure. Her uncommonly diverse interests converge in the fields of improvisation, social entrepreneurship, and social action with projects that explore the provocative cultural geography of locations around the world. Based in Brooklyn, Kalmanovitch’s layered artistic research practice has rewarded her with extended residencies in India, Ireland, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Siberia.
Named “Best New Talent” by All About Jazz when she emerged from New York’s vibrant downtown scene, Kalmanovitch has continually stretched the boundaries between classical, jazz and improvised music. The Irish Times called her “an exceptional musician,” writing that her music possesses “austere beauty and remarkable unity between the written and the improvised.” She completed her conservatory training at the prestigious Juilliard School only to debut as a jazz violist with the Turtle Island String Quartet soon after. Her stylistically fluid recordings have garnered critical acclaim. Hut Five (2003) was hailed by the Montreal Gazette as “an exceptional recording.” Heart Mountain (2007) with venerated pianist Myra Melford won France’s “Choc” award and topped many critics’ year-end “Best of” lists. Pianist Ethan Iverson (Do The Math) praised her most recent release Magic Mountain (2016) with fellow violist Mat Maneri as “an exceptionally surreal and beautiful performance.”\
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About Tanya Kalmanovitch
Tanya Kalmanovitch is a Canadian violist, ethnomusicologist, and author known for her breadth of inquiry and restless sense of adventure. Her uncommonly diverse interests converge in the fields of improvisation, social entrepreneurship, and social action with projects that explore the provocative cultural geography of locations around the world. Based in Brooklyn, Kalmanovitch’s layered artistic research practice has rewarded her with extended residencies in India, Ireland, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Siberia. Learn more about Tanya Kalmanovitch at her website.
Welcome to More Devotedly a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume V, episode 2.
I remember a time when I was a kid visiting the Oregon coast that I saw an ant with wings land on a driftwood log. As it started walking on the log, one of its wings got caught in a groove in the wood, and the wing just fell off. The ant kept walking, seemingly unworried. Pretty soon, the second wing fell off in the same way.
I’m not sure if at that time I knew that this was a new queen ant, and that had left the colony she was born in to start a new colony somewhere else. That’s what I was seeing, I know now. But I do remember just being amazed that she could be flying along one second, and suddenly she was wingless, entering a completely new state of existence, whether she was ready to shed her wings or not, whether she had chosen it or not.
I wanted to share that story because it reminds me of the situation so many of us have been in over the last year and half. We’ve all had wings that allowed us to do certain things, to maintain certain jobs or other priorities, and when it became impossible to continue life as we had known it before, some of us found that we didn’t need the wings, or those old priorities, after all. Some of us found we had been born without wings, and didn’t get to make a choice at all.
A time of transition like this is an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities, to drop the ones that aren’t important any more, and keep the ones that are. The period of forced inactivity we’ve all had to some degree gives a chance to do that. But the shock of being forced to make those calculations, that’s where we’re like the ant on the log.
My guest on this episode lost her metaphorical wings too, and rather than struggle on against that reality, she decided to take a rest.
Dr. Tanya Kalmanovitch is a Canadian violist, ethnomusicologist, and author known for her breadth of inquiry and restless sense of adventure. Her uncommonly diverse interests converge in the fields of improvisation, social entrepreneurship, and social action with projects that explore the provocative cultural geography of locations around the world. Based in Brooklyn, Kalmanovitch’s layered artistic research practice has rewarded her with extended residencies in India, Ireland, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Siberia.
When the reality of the pandemic set in, Tanya watched as the system that had supported musicians in the US, flawed as it was, broke down completely. Yet, many musicians were still feeling the same pressures to work themselves to the bone. Long hours of practice, for many musicians, are a huge part of their self-image. In these conditions, Tany wondered, how can a musician keep a healthy attitude about all that hard work?
Rather than ignoring that tension either by practicing on or by quitting entirely, Tanya started writing about it. She started a newsletter called The Rest. You can find it at therest.substack.com. In occasional posts, Tanya writes with refreshing clarity about how the pandemic upended the conventional narrative of how you “make it” in music—practice hard, go to a conservatory, win an orchestra job, and live happily ever after.
And for her personally, this was a time to reevaluate her relationship with music, trying to answer the question, “why do I continue to devote my life to music?” Reading through these posts as she’s published them, I’ve found her perspective on music to be incredibly illuminating and helpful.
You’ll hear her also talk about a personal crisis that she didn’t plan on, a brain surgery and recovery process that deepened the necessity of this period of rest. If your cerebrospinal fluid isn’t leaking out of your nose right now, after listening to this interview you can officially count yourself as lucky.
Here’s the episode.
Part 1 – What’s The Rest, and why are you doing it?
Douglas Detrick: Tanya you started your newsletter. And you pose this question, why do I continue to dedicate my life to music? Let’s begin by just telling the audience, what is this newsletter and why did you start doing it?
Tanya Kalmanovitch: The rest is a weekly or quasi weekly newsletter, which readers can access at therest.Substack.com. And my initial intent in this was to open up a space in myself for engaging probably with that very question that, that you led with: why do I continue to dedicate my life to music?
And there’s a lot of like little pins and threads that come out of that, that we’ll touch on throughout our conversation today. But I was certainly feeling the need at the end of the semester, I mean, I teach him to music conservatories in Boston, in New York and thinking around the, at the end of a very stressful semester in the midst of, you know, really extraordinarily stressful time, in global public health and in precarious, American political turmoil, thinking through that going like, what is the relevance of the work that I do to the values that I hold and the things that I care about most.
That’s not an easy question to answer. So my thought was like, well, ok fine. I’m going to carve out a practice of considering this question through writing these weekly reflective pieces, these sort of long form personal essays.
And I thought I would also have subscriber only content that was more personal and process oriented. So thinking about, for example, a practice log. What does it mean to practice way that doesn’t repattern the traumas… like I’m in the middle of a chronically long period of not practicing much. And it became clear to me over the last few years that a lot of that had to do with, you know, various traumatic stressors that I’d experienced from my musical training. And my desire to not practice was a desire to not want you to repeat, you know, bad mental health effects for myself.
So I was thinking about creating like a practice log and I started a set of etudes that were oriented around how to practice for myself more ethically and responsibly. And so my idea was that the larger public conversation would be complimented by this more intimate subscriber only content.
In the end of, because of the brain surgery that I unexpectedly had in January, February, I switched more towards The public longer form stuff and I’m renegotiating my relationship to the subscriber only content now.
Douglas Detrick: Sure. well, let’s talk about that since you, since you mentioned brain surgery. That was just an amazing thing to read about. I read a couple, you know, issues of the newsletter.
And then, and then it was like, Oh, brain surgery is like coming up unexpectedly in the middle of this. Give us that context then what happened there?
Tanya Kalmanovitch: All right. So there I was this wrestling with all these issues around what does it mean to be a musician in the time of COVID 19 where social distancing and proper public health protocols kind of revoked the public contract with music. So the things that we normally do as musicians, the way we seek to articulate and understand our value is by you know, sounding our selves, alone and in concert with others.
And that our sound is then received by, by listeners and they negotiate the meaning with us in these kinds of complex relationships. And when you take place and presence of performance out of it and try to make everything just be like, I don’t know, Facebook lives something really vital is lost.
So I’m negotiating all of that. And then I’m negotiating in the middle of this thinking through, "Where do I sit with respect to various mid-career anxieties and issues?" Like what does virtuosity mean to me and in my middle age. We had the election, and then there was January 6th, right?
When armed domestic terrorists stormed the capital and I’m in the middle of teaching.on inaguration The national winners of the young arts competition in classical music. We’re hosting a week long of workshops and auditions and events and rehearsals and stuff. And that’s happening while I’m trying to teach young musicians.
So all of this stuff, that’s kind of like wrapping around in my brain. And then in the middle of all of that It was on inaguration day after crying inauguration tears. And in a good way, I noticed that I was sort of leaking tears out of my nose. So this put like a pause on everything. First of all, I had to figure out what it was, you know, there was a cerebral spinal fluid leak.
It turns out that for some time there’s been a hole in my skull base. And a part of my temporal lobe was extruding into this sphenoid sinus. And I don’t know why it started that way. It could have been the result of a trauma suffered in car accident I had in 2009 or some other traumatic event, but in any case, literally my spinal fluid was leaking out of my nose.
And I had to lay back for about a month at a 45 degree angle so that it wouldn’t drip everywhere until I was able to have it surgically repaired. I mean, it wasn’t so much that I experienced it like this sudden crisis of mortality. More than it was a profound pause in the middle of a time that was already a profound pause.
Douglas Detrick: Exactly.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: And if COVID-19 it already sort of challenged my notions of how do I describe my values as a musician, if I’m not out playing more gigs you know, if I’m not being seen by more and more people or in better and better venues. Now this challenges, the very idea of who am I as a musician?
Am I a musician? If I’m not practicing? Am I a musician if I don’t play? So how it changed? The project of, of the newsletter was definitely I think away from that sort of anxious sort of provocation around practicing and thinking that I would chronicle my journey back into practicing and more into a, sort of a deeper set of investigations about like literally, what does it mean to be a musician?
So one example would be I’m writing about the experience of being inside the MRI machine during a very long compound spinal and skull MRI, which they told me it was going to be 30 minutes, but which was really like more than 90 minutes. And I do have a little of anxiety and claustrophobia, but I was like really chill, it’s going to be good.
They asked me what music I wanted to listen to. I asked for the 1981 Glenn Gould Goldberg variations, but then they clearly gave you the 1955. Cause the tempos were a lot faster. And then so I’m like, okay, now we can do this. When I was kind of admitting like the MRI machine bangs and the clicks and the words into the soundscape of the Bach.
Like I could like fold that in. Like this was some new like dialogue and I’m, I’m down with that and I’m listening to the piece ends and then like they put on some other Bach and it’s an algorithm is now determining what to hear next. So I assume, because what came next was the Bach violin concerto, which I played when I was 11.
So now I have a somatic memory of that because I played it. And now I also have a musician sense of time. So, because I know where I am in place. I know how long things have been going on for, so. We get to the, a minor concerto. They put on the D minor. I’m like, wait a minute. Like, is there no break on this gig?
Like, I really felt like one of those musicians just like when I’m doing like an event or something, and I know that I was supposed to have a break, like somewhere around 90 minutes in and it’s not happening. So I started to think more about all of these other ways of being musical, which… it has the effect of making me think even more deeply about how concepts of like ableism, for example, influence our notions of musical value and musical order.
Douglas Detrick: What I found as I was reading that I really liked was that you were kind of not shying away from a lot of the negative sides of both what this time specifically means as we go through this pandemic and your personal circumstances, bringing those together in a way that’s like, well, yes, there’s all these things that are really negative, but we can do it, we can find a way to navigate through that in a way that is more healthy and more positive, but not without being honest about the problems. Right. How are you managing to do that? To be honest about the problems, but to still find a way that’s healthy as an individual musician, and also be thinking about healthy ways to kind of navigate the larger forces that we as individuals can’t necessarily control.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: A lot of the work that you’re commenting on the thing about like the not shying away from negative aspects things, or like cutting through magical thinking about music or being more clear headed about the fuller range of consequences of, of COVID. Some of that is dispositional in me. I’ve always identified very strongly with the child in the emperor’s new clothes, you know?
And part of that is that particularly in the last eight years or so, that I’ve been in a teaching position in a larger university, or I’m continually called upon to, you know, sit in committee meetings and think through really you know, like thorny and seemingly immoveable issues around various policies and stuff and learning how to temper my emperor’s new clothes child against being productive and sort of expeditious citizen. So how to be an ethical politician in a sense. That’s been part of the challenge for me of the last say 10 years or so of my life.
So it’s not something that’s always come naturally to me, right. To mediate between my desire to just like, scream the truth out, right? The elephant in the room. And just like, talk about it. I guess the question of how to talk about it, or why is it that people won’t talk about it and what circumstances do we need to change for others taking kind of an empathy based approach in order to make it possible for them to talk about the thing that they won’t talk about?
And then a lot of my training for that has really come out of another project that I’ve worked on for the last six years, which goes under the heading of the Tar Sands Song Book, which is a long-term sort of ethnographic research, oral history, personal memory project that’s completely like tackling, being very fundamental choices that I made of becoming a musician.
So in a short, I mean, I’ll tell you what the piece looks like now. It’s a 75 minutes spoken word performance with live music that also weaves in audio recordings of people that I’ve interviewed through my research. My research takes place in Northern Alberta. In Fort McMurray and Fort Chippewan. Small little outpost of experimental engineering in the late sixties into the world’s largest and most of the destructive industrial project through oil mining or surface and in situ mining of the world’s third largest proven oil reserves.
So it’s kind of a funny thing too. You know, I, I thought all my life that I would become a musician because it would have nothing to do with oil and nothing to do with destruction of the natural world. And it wasn’t until about 2015 that I was on stage the panel discussion at the new school where I work in New York and I heard my childhood decision that music had nothing to do with oil. And as it turns out, of course, spoiler alert oil had everything to do with music. My colleagues in this panel discussion, we were talking about the and climate change started talking about what was in the news, which was the Keystone XL pipeline. And I’d heard about Keystone XL all the time on the news, and it just never clued into me that Keystone was carrying oil from Fort McMurray. It’s a place that’s so far off the map that I had even written my own origin out of my own understanding of my life.
Douglas Detrick: Right.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: So what I’m saying in a roundabout way, is it an order to deal with like the things that are really difficult we have to have a sense of empathy and curiosity to understand why it is that we won’t talk or think about these things.
So that work involved, my going back and interrogating the very conditions of how there could be a Suzuki program in Edmonton. How there could be a university, how I came to be born there.
Like why was it that the, this employment convened, the people who gave me my life. Right. All of that stuff is very, very, very oily. It’s totally oil-related. Right. So this has been a longer-term project now of using this performance in this research as a continually iterative evolving story that I’ll do over 10 years to try to track the choices that we make.
What I. No, it’s not just me, like all the scientists think so too. And the United nations as being the most pivotal decade in human history. So that’s another, if that helps, like, that’s, that’s also kind of informing some of the work that I do. Which then calls me all the time to say, like, if I believe that music is true, and more true than many other things, then how can I act out of that truth, amplify that truth and teach others to think truly about music without resorting to you know, these kinds of like empty platitudes and empty positivities, right. And at worst people just profiting off of it, exploiting our insecurity. Right.
So case in point music life coaches email that came through the NEC listserv. I’m assuming that this coach bought access to the email list within two days after our classes were canceled in March, 2020 offering resilience training so that we could learn how to not just survive, but thrive during the pandemic. This is like two days in right. So economists talk about they called a K shaped recovery, right? Which means to say that it’s like uneven. So the recovery or experienced to the, of the impact of something we’re not equally felt by all sectors. Right? So it’s not like the economy is getting better. The economy never stopped being good for some people. In fact, the economy got tons better for some people, for example Spotify. Do you know what happened to their stocks in 2020?
Douglas Detrick: I’m sure they went way up.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: They doubled.
Douglas Detrick: Hmm.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: Right. So two you think about like, what is music’s value during the pandemic? Like, if you want to look at it in economic terms, like clearly there was a demand for it. Right. Is it terribly important that musicians themselves be paid for that? Or is it more important that that, you know, as we see as the case more generally, and in capitalist society, that the value is placed on profit and profit alone, and this small number of people should control access to those resources.
So the other thing that the editors I have is the site idea that like the sort of "now more than ever" thinking, which is essentially used as a kind of a justificatory mechanism to continue the status quo rather than to disrupt it.
Douglas Detrick: We’ll get a little bit more to these, these bigger forces and especially if we’re going to talk about money here just a minute, but I wanted to to kind of wrap up a little bit more of this idea of creating a more ethical relationship with music personally. And I wanted to kind of have you zoom in just even a little bit more personally on just your relationship with your instrument, the viola.
And I remember you, what, in one post you talk about, "I want this relationship to be joyful." What’s this new relationship that you are building or have built or would you tell us about that?
Tanya Kalmanovitch: Well, the viola and I are circling around each other a little bit. It’s looking at me from the other room going. Huh? What, what are you going to say? That’s part of my relationship is that I’ve personify everything. Okay. as a child, music it was a very useful and practical conduit, right?
In the arts and education world they actually call this like a pipeline, right. This idea of like how you get talent into conservatories or into orchestras, right? There’s a series of like very clear, like obstacles and things you need to get through. And there’s gatekeepers, there’s exams to take, there’s auditions, to pass this competitions to take.
And in general, if you have access to a good teacher, and you do what your teachers tell you to do it’s possible to do quite well. It’s not so much about having access to some luminous, extraordinary talent so much as it is having access to the right conditions and terms. But for me, I think there’s a way in which the spiritual promise of music, the way that it taps and tugs on so many of our internal systems. The way that the experience of the aesthetic just opens and awakens all of these very private parts of ourselves.
There’s a way that I got that also confused with my desire to escape a troubled family. My desire to escape a time and a place where there weren’t many options for a girl like me from my kind of social class background or ethnicity. And this sort of dazzling accomplishment of being able to get into Juilliard.
I think my mother only completed her university degree a few years before that. Right. So I didn’t come from a musical family and I didn’t come from a family where people went to university, let alone to music school. I came from a family that was nine children, and preserving your food was the difference between starving and staying alive. So the idea that my mother could, in a short order, learn to ride an escalator for the first time in her life, could get a university degree and I could get violin lessons are all very much of a piece.
So in that sense, the relationship to my Viola, and I do have the same one that I’ve had since I was 14, that I bought with money that my grandmother left to me, that instrument was supposed to buy me a better life. So when I look at it, like that was your job, you were supposed to do one thing and it’s looking at me going, like that’s a lot to put on me.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah, for sure.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: At the same time, when you put yourself inside these training systems, conservatory training models that are deeply shaped by structures of, especially in Western Canada, in the eighties, seventies and eighties, colonialism and colonial hierarchy. Like you are in the provinces, you’re in the sticks. You’re an ethnic Ukrainian girl. You are nothing. I am English.
I am your teacher. I know everything. Right. So the kind of like aggressions that were visited upon me by my teachers and that were visited upon many other women that I know who went to the same sort of pre college program that I did are astonishing. I mean, I had one friend of mine who was South Asian was meant to be principal of the youth orchestra and was told by our English conductor that no Indian woman will be concert master of my orchestra.
Douglas Detrick: Hm.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: So there’s those kinds of things. And then of course I made a pivot from playing the viola in classical classical music and I quit playing for a number of years and came back in as a jazz musician. It’s an improvising musician only just to go from kind of like frying pan to the fire in terms of sexism.
Right. So let’s list them up. We got like social class, we have geographic privilege. We have colonialism, we have you know, patriarchy and then capitalism. How all of those have impacted my sense of self and how I use the Viola in this kind of bull-headed blind and, you know, very effective way that worked up to a certain point.
But the system of values that allowed the viola to get me that far is not the same system of values it’s going to allow me to keep going. So I’d been chafing against some of this stuff for quite some time, like careerism, the idea that some musical careers are worth more than others. And on top of that, my main gig teaching for the last couple of, you know, say five or six years, increasingly my focus and specialization has been on doing professional development training for musicians. So you asked me to go on a more personal level.
I don’t know if I have, or not, except to say that like The more that I hold open that door to say that like expecting that your musical practice should be about anything other than the practice itself, is as someone I spoke with recently, Nathan Langfitt who’s both a licensed mental health, professional, and director of career services at the university of Texas in Austin, He said that going into a practice room with an expectation that your practice is about anything other than just the mastery of this technical exercise or this phrase, that musical task itself, is sort of a recipe for poor mental health.
So that’s the corner that I’ve turned lately is to just sort of even try to suspend the idea that I’m going to somehow master being a reflective practitioner of practice on the viola through this newsletter. And instead, just say, all right, can I get myself into the room and just play Kreutzer two, metronome mark, you know, quarter note 60 beats per minute. Right. And do what I used to do when I was eight years old. And just try to do it that well, without letting go of the, I just threw in that extra eight year old thing, just to make myself feel worse.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah,
Tanya Kalmanovitch: Right, the thing that I wanted to just leave with is the idea is that is, and must be enough.
Part 2 – Music and Money
Douglas Detrick: It was a couple a week or two ago a post you wrote called music and money. You talk about talking with your students about money which is something that in my music degrees I don’t recall ever doing that, I wish we had more. And you approach it, not so much of saying like, this is what a contract is. This is what an IRA is. These things like that, like personal finance stuff that they can get that on their own, and they don’t need you to teach that to them.
But I think that this idea of approaching money from more of a philosophical standpoint, I suppose. like here’s how you can think about money in a way relates to what you’re doing in an important way, but you know, maybe isn’t all the nuts and bolts. so there are a couple of things that I wanted to read to the audience.
You begin by saying, okay, students, "what words, phrases, memories, and emotions do you associate with money?" I’d love to hear how this happened, but you give some they’re like categories, like fear of going without, the social approval, growing up, fear of the future.
You know, it’s like a couple of examples from growing up was being grown up. Just this idea of, you know, how do we measure that in terms of money, which is, Oh my God, that’s something that is very real. And then you go on with the students next to say, what words or phrases or memories and emotions do you associate with music and money.
And so again, kind of some similar categories there, the idea of making it. as a way of like, how do people approve of what you’re doing? So I would love for you to kind of talk a little bit about how that went with your students. But I’ll just say that, I had a pretty visceral, reaction to reading this.
I was like, Oh yeah, I feel all of that so hard. But tell me more about how that one with their students and, and how did you feel about it?
(The audio got a bit garbled here, so I’m cutting to say that the book Tanya is talking is titled “How to Worry Less About Money, by John Armstrong. There’s a link to the book on moredevotedly.com)
Tanya Kalmanovitch: But a book called how to worry less about money and he distinguishes between money worries and money troubles, money troubles are resolved one or two ways. You either earn more or spend less, right. Money worries, however, are deeply rooted in cultures and family systems, individual psychology, because of other things.
So in order to address money worries, you have to be able to understand how you think about money. So how that went down inside of the classroom, which was a zoom classroom was I can’t remember whether I did it as a shared Google doc, like sort of like a, a digital Blackboard thing where people could just like a graffiti wall, they could write whatever they wanted to, or whether I did it in zoom chat.
But in any case, the prompt was that question at the top. And then I did the grouping of the categories to make it a little bit more clear for the newsletter. I think I tried to explain this to you around practicing on the instrument that it was requiring me to untangle all of these other forces that I was sort of projecting into that space, like capitalism, colonialism, resolving like stubborn senses of shame and trauma and all of that.
All that stuff is present when we think about money as well. And in order to have a healthy relationship to money or a healthy relationship to music, you have to be able to tease apart those things and then rebuild based on a sense of trust of information. And trust is like just, I think, repeated positive interactions over time.
Right? So a lot of the magical thinking that people have about money is paralleled by magical thinking that people have about musical careers. Like if I just get good enough, if I move to New York and like play with the right people, if et cetera, et cetera. lot of times people would think about things like if I just practice really hard and I went to an audition and I get into the Met, I’ll be okay.
Except then the entire orchestra gets furloughed and you see the people who did okay were the people who had access to family wealth, or they were people who had access to the information that allowed them to create the circumstances of stability with the possibility of having continued regular income.
What concerns me about these narratives around like music coming back stronger than ever, et cetera, et cetera. Is that there’s so many voices whose, whose experiences are lost to us because there’s so much stigma attached to talk to you about not being okay. I was thinking about this also in the context of COVID, it’s not really just a chance for you to get together and like just really practice and then appreciate music more than ever.
I mean, 600,000 people died in this country in the last year. And if you would say that, like, you know, the sociologists, talk about the idea that when someone commits suicide, the chances for the 40 people and their social network around them of their committing suicide doubles. So imagine that for every one of those people, there’s 40 people around them whose lives are transformed by their death. So you’re not talking about this abstract, like 600,000 number. Now we’re talking about something much bigger.
So anyway, going back to the thing around the money I think that there’s so little transparency around issues of social class. I think it’s shifting now, at least in the U S but there’s almost nobody that I meet and that I work with anymore, who comes from a similar class background to mine. Policy decisions that are made that, that bring this about. So for example, the fact that Spotify or similar streaming companies have completely disrupted intellectual property revenues is not a natural fact of the technology it’s because of policy decisions that were made by powerful organizations with highly paid lobbyists, right? The same way that it wasn’t that, you know, the Amazon vote in, it was in Alabama, the unionization drive.
Douglas Detrick: Yep. I believe so.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: That’s similarly was not actually the fact that most workers preferred not to unionize. It was because Amazon made their workers sit in mandatory meetings and made it very clear that whoever was engaged in unionizing activity, that names would be taken down. That things would be noticed. It’s an environment where people have to pee into cups. The main point that I want to make here is that. We tend to receive these things as sort of like natural forces that shape us when really they’re about choices that are made by people. So as far as the money stuff goes, I think it’s probably one of the more important things that I could teach anyone is how to, how to think well, and truly, and clearly about the material conditions necessary for your survival and to construct the kind of concept of your survival multidimensionally.
So it’s not just about like, I’m going to have to buy this kind of car, right? But to understand that what is it properly that you need a car for? What you need the car to be able to do, right?
In any case, I find that most people who are advising young musicians on issues like this have relatively little experience of the conditions themselves. So you know, most people don’t know what the cost of health insurance is on the open market, but $1,100 a month for someone like me right now.
You know, most people who are making decisions in a university about part-time faculty, you know, work by part-time part-time faculty is like a huge component of most working musicians, portfolios. They don’t understand the difference that that makes, but do you have that $6,000 or $12,000 a year or not?
And how that might be like, you know, a quarter or a third of your annual income? Right. There’s just an absolute, like, lack of overlap of understanding.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah, I completely agree with that. Yeah. And I, left part-time teaching because the the university Canceled my class when too few people signed up and you know, there’s no compensation for me when that happens. I always meant for it to be a temporary thing. I never wanted to do that the rest of my life, but I was like, okay, now’s the time that we can move on from this.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: Thought is, is that what you do is you were a content provider and you are replaceable by a number of other content providers. And not that you are a person with a particular set of skills, background, and value commitments that offers something extraordinary to your students.
Part 3 – Personal choice vs. large-scale economic forces
Douglas Detrick: We’ve been talking a lot about these kind of big forces that, that we don’t necessarily control, but like how you point out that, yes, you know, you musician XYZ, you can’t on your own change, the way Spotify does business, you can’t change the way that universities treat adjunct faculty. Those are not decisions that you have much of a say in.
And I want it to say, okay, let’s magically say that we do have a say and we could kind of wave a magic wand and make some changes. We’re kind of wrestling with these big forces that we can’t control, but let’s, let’s pretend for a while that we can. And what, what changes would you make with your magic wand, Tanya?
Tanya Kalmanovitch: Well, I mean, it’s funny, half of me was thinking like, I always thought it’d be great if like the musicians activated their citizenship, like in every level of every organization to which they belong, which made me think like, wouldn’t it be great if we could see a musician and every level of government except that I thought about that old joke how do you make a musician complain? Give them a gig. And then I thought, okay, well, we don’t really want that.
I think, I think one thing that I think would be critical is understanding is to disrupt the idea of individualism and bootstrapping and the ideas of talent, and that sort of sense of like hierarchy of there being like you it’s you against everybody else. That’s one thing we know about from practicing and from performing is how to rise up to higher and higher levels.
But something else we know about that doesn’t get as much attention or thought is about interdependence, collaboration, cooperative structures. And I think the bigger thing that I wish everybody would do better on and really get through their head is how nobody does anything alone and the critical importance of mutual aid of cooperatives, of collectives.
And of what’s possible if you look to the fuller history of this country, which is not my country, so I’m not even American, but you look at the fuller history of, of the United States, the bits that are written out and you’ll see that everything happens on the backs of people, typically people written out because of racism or because of sexism, because of like toxic immigration policy whatever it is.
Right. But the degree to which collectivity is the engine of nearly every American success, true success story is unignorable, if you really look for it. And I think there are models in history books for how to do this. There is powerful resources on the internet. If you just go and look, right. So I started thinking about the idea of what would happen if we were able to meaningfully mobilize musicians, if you can take it as a given that we’re all musical, right?
So even people who don’t identify as professional musicians, that every one of us is a musical actor, right. We all use music to shape our mood or to express ourselves, to shape environments by choosing what song we want to play while we’re making dinner or what we sing to our kids, or all of those are musical acts. And if you took seriously the potential of music to change how people feel, which shapes their behavior, everybody sort of, first of all, recognized their musicianship. And then second of all, recognize what they know through that in terms of their capacity to enact change. So too much of the time, the flip side of the capitalist imperialist model of thinking about individualism and hierarchy is that you think if you fail, it’s your fault, right.
And not the system’s fault. So I was thinking about what would happen if people really understood how powerful collective action is. Right. So it’s people working alone and together in concert that make extraordinary shifts happen that make things that were previously tolerable intolerable. That is the magic wand that I would wave to activate musicians and musical audiences in all kinds of forms of meaningful action in a time of like climate emergency. I think the choices that people make in the next few years are worth like a hundred times the impact of any other time. And so I would wish that people don’t despair.
Douglas Detrick: That’s a good place to leave it. Well, thank you, Tanya. It’s really fun to catch up a bit. We’ve got to work together just a couple of times when I was in New York. It’s really nice to catch up and it’s been great to read the newsletter and I hope more folks will read it.
And we’ll drop the link in on the show notes at moredevotedly.com, but for now, thank you so much, Tanya, and good luck with the rest of this project and with you know, just this personal project and, and of course the newsletter project as well as you go through it. So thank you so much.
Tanya Kalmanovitch: Thank you so much.
Douglas Detrick: Thanks so much Tanya. Subscribe to Tanya’s newsletter at therest.substack.com, or go to her website at tanyakalmanovitch.com. Both links are available at moredevotedly.com.
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I composed and performed the music, and produced this episode here in Portland, OR.
What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?