A Gloss on Seth Godin’s “Abundant Systems”

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The phrases “there are too many flutists today”, and “conservatories are producing too many flutists for too few jobs” may be true in a certain respect, but they really sadden me. And piss me off, if I really admit. It has been hard to put my finger on exactly why, but when a friend posted Seth Godin‘s “Toward abundant systems“, it helped me to put my thoughts in order.

Industrialism is based on scarcity. So is traditional college admissions. In fact, much of the world as we know it is based on hierarchies, limited shelf space, and resources that are difficult to share.

These are his opening words. He goes on to describe which systems thrive on abundance rather than scarcity (language, for example). Then he makes a convincing argument that we need to realize education as an abundant system too, rather than the scarce one that it is today.

He sees this realization as a cultural turning point. I would also like to see a turning point in our musical culture, and its education, as we realize that music, and in my personal argument, flute playing (and by implication earning a living as a flutist) as an abundant system. That means a turning away from the narrow training on offer at most music schools. I believe this narrowness is at the root of “too many flutists”, not the lack of orchestral jobs. Yes, there are too many flutists for too few orchestral jobs.

What lies behind this “too many flutists” statement is the arrogant implication that “in order to be a good flutist, you must win an orchestral audition”. This may be unconsciously arrogant, but nevertheless it is unsupportable. Even more perfidious are those individuals and institutions that attempt to capitalize on the scarcity of orchestral jobs by setting themselves as the elite arbiters of what is the right way or wrong way to play.

Being an orchestral player has a status in its own right. We should refuse to let scarcity define this status.

Yes, aspiring orchestral players need top trainers. But as I have written elsewhere, young players need more.

In closing, I paraphrase Godin’s words: if we can break [musical] education out of the scarcity mindset and instead focus on learning that happens despite status not because of it, then we can begin to shift many of the other power structures in our society.

A shift of power structures means a shift of resources, and that is definitely what the Arts need now!

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