Oboist Tindall debuts with a provocative blend of no-holds-barred memoir and tough-minded reporting about the state of classical music.
Born in 1960, Tindall played the piano in elementary school and switched to the oboe at age 11. She was an indifferent student at her Chapel Hill, N.C., school, but music won her praise and pretty concert clothes similar to the “magic dress” she’d yearned for ever since she saw a magnificently garbed opera singer in Vienna at age seven. During the 1970s, it was easy to get scholarships to places like the North Carolina School of the Arts, scathingly depicted by the author as rife with drugs, sex and predatory teachers who hit on the students while doing nothing to prepare them academically for any career other than music. Interspersed with Tindall’s personal story are chapters tracing the arts boom that greatly increased funding for classical music organizations, which promptly expanded with little thought for whether their audience base justified lengthier seasons, expensive new buildings and overpaid star conductors and performers. The results were ballooning deficits and a floating proletariat of musicians who, like Tindall, patched together a professional career of freelance gigs without ever getting a permanent orchestra seat or any real financial and emotional stability. Problematically, the author’s tone is sour and disillusioned from the first page; readers never feel that she had a real vocation or even much love for the music. Tindall’s clunky prose and overuse of that “magic dress” metaphor are also off-putting. But her relentless catalogue of criticisms is ultimately too convincing to be dismissed. She eventually got a master’s degree in journalism and made her mark with a controversial New York Times article about the inflated salaries of executives and conductors at nonprofit (indeed, financially floundering) classical music organizations. She urges young people considering a career in music to “research the reality” and advises taxpayers to insist that their local arts institutions be fiscally responsible.
A real eye-opener, though it could have been more elegantly written and argued.