A Few Odds And Ends Plus Translating Some Spin

I just received word that the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians have posted a web site designed to offer their side of the negotiation story.  I’m told that it’s a work in progress and new information is being added almost daily.

You can find the new site at: http://www.philadelphiaorchestramusicians.org/

I also wanted to point out that I published an article at the Partial observer earlier this week.  It is a reprint of an article I posted here last week, but with a few tweaks. You can find it here.

I also wanted to take some time to translate part of the spin coming from the Philadelphia situation.  In the op-ed piece from Richard Smoot, POA chairman of the board, he gives the following statements to clear up some misunderstandings (otherwise known as backlash):

Smoot’s Spin
You want to reduce the size of the orchestra and damage the quality of the product.  What we have proposed is eliminating – via attrition – positions now required by the contract that exceed what we need. We have not in any way suggested decreasing the size of the orchestra that performs on stage. We have musicians who perform only a few times a year, and we cannot afford to pay full-time salary and benefits to part-time musicians.
Which positions does he plan to eliminate through attrition?  Does he mean if two of the four trumpet players leave via attrition then the orchestra will just make do with only two players?  Of course, that’s nonsense.  That situation is far more complex and offering the solution in such overly simplified terms and to submit the idea without the details is misleading and reckless.

I also wonder if the POA has ever taken the time to look at these “part-time” musicians in any light other than that cast by the lamp on their Chief Financial Officer.  (BTW, that’s like having a beancounter at an HMO decide what sort of medical treatment you need, not your doctor.)
If so, then they would realize that they are wasting a tremendous amount of revenue and outreach potential by not utilizing these musicians.  In my recent article from the final installment of How To Save Classical Music, I suggest that you can use some musicians that fall into this category to perform before concerts and during intermissions. 

The orchestra can book an acceptable recital venue in an outreach neighborhood and feature the player on the same evenings as concerts (after all not everyone in the suburbs is going to drive into the orchestra on a concert evening).

Smoot’s Spin
The musicians have a chance to be bold and heroic, to work in their own best interests by helping management create a road map to the future. The entire orchestra family awaits their decision.
So is Smoot implying that the musicians are acting cowardly and dishonorably?  So launching a web site designed to insult and paint the players as some sort of greedy, thuggish caricature like the was Mr. Smoot did is the way the musicians should go? 

And Smoot’s assertion that the orchestras remaining stakeholders are somehow on his side is haughty and assumptive to say the least. It’s nothing more than an arrogant statement made by an arrogant man.

Smoot’s Spin (Translation inserted in red)
Our musicians seem perfectly happy to refuse to participate in a real solution, while asking the community to donate more (I don’t recall ever seeing a musicians name on the development staff roster), our management to keep reducing staff (while the executive management simultaneous took pay raises this year), and our subscribers to pay higher ticket prices (I don’t remember the board giving control over ticket prices to musicians either).

Smoot’s Spin
we get demands for clothing allowances.
He seemed to forget that what the musicians wear on stage is a uniform, not just work clothing.  What the musicians must wear on is presented in great detail in their master agreement.  Most other businesses I know pay clothing allowances or provide the uniform.

In all fairness, I have to also examine the op-ed piece written by John Koen, chairman of the Philadelphia Orchestra Members Committee.

The only point in John’s op-ed piece that left me scratching my head is the issue of pensions drawn by the members of the orchestra over 70

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.