right war, wrong enemy

These are what the Chinese would call ‘interesting’ times – as in the curse ‘may you live in interesting times’ – for orchestras and their musicians. As if coordinated by an invisible hand – cough, wink, nudge – a series of boards and their managements have made the decision that their problems are solely due to the unnecessarily high cost of their labor force – the musicians. Unlike a company that, say, makes cars, the people in an orchestra are the product. Without them, there is no music. The conductor can show up, but he won’t make much of a sound with his arms unless he flaps them really hard. And, like the NFL referees, experience matters. An orchestra full of just out of conservatory graduates would sound pretty good, but orchestras are artistic organisms that take generations to build and perfect. The experience and grounding of the senior players mixes with the youth and virtuosity (which the veteran players also possess, believe me!) and results in a sort of group-think alchemy that is extremely hard to describe, but is an undeniable part of what makes an ensemble great. Continue reading “right war, wrong enemy”

detroit after the dust settles

I was thinking about the Detroit Symphony strike today, as I was going about my business, and a few thoughts came to me. My first thought is what are all of the stakeholders at the DSO feeling right now? Surely, they are all relieved that the orchestra did not go over the brink and cancel the entire season and suspend the summer season and what followed. That would likely have meant the death of the organization. As it is, the DSO faces major challenges over the coming months and years.

My next thought was that this entire episode is rather like a divorce proceeding with children involved. The orchestra players are one spouse, then management and board, the other. The children are the concert-going public. How will they feel after this extended custody battle for their hearts and minds? Because, unlike divorces, the players are going back to work for the same management which, in their view, forced them to strike. The parents are back together, but a lot of very ugly things were said in front of the children. How will they react? Will they seek emancipation and take their dollars elsewhere? Or will they, though years are reassurance and therapy, return to the fold?

My final thought is this: what has this strike earned for we fellow unionized musicians? We’ve been told (and told each other) that the DSO musicians were not only doing it for themselves, they were also taking a stand on the front line for the rest of us. Ok. I can respect that, admire it even. But what will this have done for us as the months and years go by? Will managements take a more inclusive line in their negotiating tactics? Will players be more aggressive in theirs? Will boards look to the manifold mistakes and mismanagement that have happened in Detroit and learn some lessons about how to deal with their property and infrastructure issues? Will players parse the progress of the negotiations and learn to better gauge the circumstances of the broader community in which they serve before taking hard action?

Many advances in technology and learning take place in the period during and directly following acts of war. Medical technology is a prime example – with practices learned on the battlefield being brought straight into the urban trauma center. Will the same sorts of lessons be learned in the aftermath of this bloody conflict in Detroit? I can only hope so, because if we do not heed the lessons learned here, than it will have been all for naught. And that would be a terrible waste, indeed.

UPDATE: According to the Associated Press, the starting salary for the Detroit Symphony in the new contract (including the electronic media guarantee) will be $79,000. That’s a 33% cut from the previous base wage. That’s substantial by any measure. However, I was curious just how much $79,000 in Detroit would equal in Portland dollars. The answer, found here, was $128,000. I’m feeling less than sanguine about my own salary after reading that.

whisky tango foxtrot??!!

DSO management consultant?

Or, as they say on the internets, WTF??!!

The Detroit Symphony regime, er, management, has taken a Qadaffi-esque approach to the musicians’ strike with a spray of gunfire, er, announcement that if the musicians don’t settle for more concessions than were proposed in their last, best offer, then the orchestra would be replaced.


I’m literally speechless, until I realize that this clearly is where the DSO management and board has wanted to go all along. Of course, the completely trustworthy Joseph Kluger (former Philadelphia Orchestra president and now whore, er, consultant) chimes in with the usual “new paradigm” b.s.  And of course Leonard Slatkin is expensive, but “we can’t afford not to keep him”.  Unlike the orchestra.

What … a … mess …


For more consistent updates (and excellent analysis) go over to Drew McManus’ Adaptistration website.

Here is the American Federation of Musicians response:

AFM Denounces DSO Management’s Plans


February 21, 2011

CONTACT: Honore Stockley

(315) 422-4488 ext. 104


Following action taken last weekend to suspend the remainder of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) season, DSO management has announced that it plans to create a new orchestra in Detroit. Current DSO members would be eligible to play in the new orchestra only if they were to accept unilateral terms, which are now harsher than those outlined in the proposed contract that was overwhelmingly rejected by musicians last week. DSO management’s commitment to staff the new orchestra with professional musicians rings hollow, given that nearly all professional orchestral musicians stand in solidarity as members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). The new orchestra would therefore have to be made up largely of amateur musicians.

“The DSO’s threat to hire amateur replacements reveals the business model that management wanted all along. It is part of a larger plan to impose unjustified concessions on professional musicians to adversely reshape their lives, not just in Detroit, but everywhere,” says AFM President Ray Hair. “The American Federation of Musicians will not grovel to these union busters. We will take comfort in the power of our music. We will never surrender.”

Management has flatly stated that no further negotiations will take place, but DSO musicians are convinced that a settlement of the 20-week-old strike could still be reached, if only management would allow musicians to have a say in how funds are allocated. A sticking point in negotiations has been how much money would go toward the orchestra’s community engagement projects, versus musicians’ base pay. Musicians point out that, while management has been discussing a new model for community engagement, they have been living it for four months, performing self-produced concerts in schools, churches, and other community venues.

A donation to the DSO Members Fund will enable the DSO musicians to continue to take a stand for their art form, and will resound nationwide. Checks should be made out to DSO Members Fund and mailed to: DSO Members Fund; C/O Susan Barna Ayoub, Secretary-Treasurer; Detroit Federation of Musicians; 20833 Southfield Rd.; Detroit, MI 48075. More information on the DSO strike is available at www.detroitsymphonymusicians.org.