Blair Tindall’s book, Mozart in the Jungle, is like getting two books for the price of one. Tindall creatively weaves together a memoir based on her life as a classical musician along with a stunning exposé on the business aspect of classical music. Shifting back and forth between the two, she keeps the reader engaged and avoids getting too bogged down in either realm.
Blair is a professional Oboist and journalist. Having spent decades in NYC playing with the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras around town, including long stints in the pit of several Broadway musicals, Blair provides an entertaining view of her life as a classical musician. From sexual escapades, to rampant drug and alcohol use, near-poverty existence, and intense competition among musicians, Tindall doesn’t leave one stone unturned when it comes to describing her anything-but-glorious (albeit, at times, raucous and fun) life as an oboist. Musicians may look stunning on stage in their sophisticated black formal wear, but underneath Blair contends, they suffer from low wages; meager, if any, health and retirement benefits; repetitive use injuries resulting from endless hours of playing; and little camaraderie. In fact, when it comes to job satisfaction, Tindall reports that they rank among the worst, even lower than federal prison guards. At 40, faced with no future in the music world, and having no formal education to speak of, Tindall boldly returned to school to re-engineer her career.
The memoir aspect of the book is shocking. But no where near as shocking as her revelations into the business side of classical music. This is where Tindall relies on her journalism expertise to reveal the ugly underbelly of the business. From the philanthropy that fed the system during the 1960s, to the impact of unions and the reliance on public monies to maintain their existence in the 80s and 90s — it is not a pretty picture for the world of classical music. More recently, with the advent of CDs, the proliferation of classical music has flooded the market causing supply to far outpace demand. This combined with the impact of synthesizers on reducing the number of musicians required for studio gigs, continues to diminish opportunities in the world of classical music. Tindall warns all young musicians to think long and hard before embarking on a career in this field. Too many musicians are already chasing too few gigs, in an environment that is notorious for its dissatisfied constituents.
It is definitely an interesting look at the world of classical music from both a personal and business perspective. But beware: the unending references to Tindall’s sexual prowess used to accomplish her musical aspirations does get a bit tiring. And it is important to remember that this is only one person’s experience. Not every classical musician relies on drugs or sex to achieve special favors in the form of gigs or position within an orchestra. But that wouldn’t be exciting enough to generate a book, or a wildly successful series under the same title, on Amazon (which I also recommend).
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