Getting To Know You

No, this isn’t an interview with Yul Brynner.  Instead, Adaptistration reader and music guru Robert Levine recently sent in an email prompted by the remarks from Janet Shapiro from March 8th.   In particular Robert wanted to address Janet’s comment that:

” you should write about the players, who in the [Big 8] can make what Joe Kluger makes for putting in 20 hour weeks (and who often act like spoiled children with no repercussions.)  Whatever you think about the job that Joe Kluger is doing, I’d bet the farm that he puts in more than 20 hours per week.

Robert had this to say:

“I’ve never understood how the measure of one’s worth became how much time the job takes. If we really believe that pay should bear some relationship to performance and to the overall job marketplace, why does anyone give a shift how much time it takes? I know quite mediocre violinists who make (deservedly) less than Pinky Zukerman makes but who spend (and who have always spent) far more time on the instrument than he does. Does that make him worth less? I don’t think so.

The 20-hour per week limit is the industry standard because much beyond 20 hours a week is simply not sustainable, nor is it very productive. Musicians in a full-time orchestra geare paid what they’re paid in large part because that’s what’s necessary to create a pool of players large enough and good enough so that we can have the number of really good orchestras we have in this country. 

The article that Dad [Seymour Levine] and I wrote got exactly two different kinds of response once it was published. One was from musicians who were amazingly grateful that someone had finally put into words what their daily life was like. The other was from everyone else, who thought we ought to grow up and join the real world. It was frustrating; it’s not as if I don’t have friends in the “real world” after all, or haven’t spent some time there [ourselves].”

Both Janet and Robert have done us all a great service by bringing these issues to the forefront.  The problem is a simple lack of understanding between professional musicians and the general public.  And it all boils down to the fact that because patrons have very, very little direct contact with orchestra musicians, they tend to have a great deal of misconceptions as to what their lives are actually like.  Consequently, when these same patrons do have contact with individual orchestra players they tend to see some of the very “unusual” behavior and work procedures that are difficult to understand without more exposure.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Go do a Google search for “What’s it like to be an orchestra musician?” and see what you get.  The first page is mostly links to musician jokes (which although many are quite funny, they don’t really let you get to know the players).

I do agree with Robert that the common notion to judge a person’s value by how many hours per week they work is simply wrong.  I won’t even go into the number of hours a musicians spends “working” away from the 20 hours per week at the concert hall.  But instead, I’ll relate this little story I love to tell:

Whenever a new administration takes over at the White House, I tend to always see a similar story in the media: During the first 100 days the incoming administration spokespersons are always touting about how much longer into the day they’re working than their predecessors.  “Just look at all of the office lights on at the White House well past 7:00PM” is one of their favorite sound bytes.  But the reality is that these people are working late because they’re trying to desperately get up to speed on current issues and adjusted to a very new environment.  But after the 100 days those lights aren’t on as long anymore, not because the workers don’t care but because they’ve become more efficient and they don’t NEED to work the extra hours. 

So just because someone is working long hours doesn’t mean they are necessarily working at peak competence. These white House workers are just as valuable now as there were when they started their jobs, regardless of the number of hours they work in a week.   But if were in the White House and could see things up close you wouldn’t have a misconception of what was going on – or tend to believe the media spin.

This is the point where we can relate all of this to orchestra management; why do the patrons not have more access to the musicians?  It’s due to the way the orchestra presents itself to the public.  The marketing departments disproportionately push music directors as the “face’ of their respective orchestras and guest soloists as the “public interest” portion.  Instead, they should promote the individual players and create as much opportunity for the musicians and patrons to interact as possible, while simultaneously promoting these players as the artistic heart and soul of the ensemble. 

To continue along this same path only makes patrons more disillusioned about players and in turn, the players are less receptive to interacting with patrons: loose-loose.  I have some very detailed plans for how this can all be turned into a win-win, but it is part of the same program that’s currently in development I’ve teased everyone with before so we’ll all just have to wait.

Since I think this issue is wroth a great deal of reader input, please feel free to send along your experiences and opinions in an email.


About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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