I’ve received some intriguing email from people in the business about Blair Tindall’s new book, Mozart in the Jungle.  What makes the email intriguing is the wide variety of responses; it ranges from shock and anger to unrestrained giddiness.

For those unfamiliar with the book, Blair discusses obtaining playing jobs throughout New York City in bed.  The UK paper, the Times, quoted a passage from Blair’s book which consciously sums it up,

“Between XXX and my former oboist boyfriends, I got hired for most of my gigs in bed.”

The most amusing response I received was from an orchestra patron who was flabbergasted that such things happened in the classical music business.  Well, as it turns out, the classical music business isn’t all that different in some respects from other entertainment based businesses.  But this casting couch mentality is hardly anything new, it’s such a common practice in some circles it even spawned one of my favorite music jokes,

Q. What’s the difference between a Porsche and a soprano?
A. Most musicians have never been in a Porsche before.

Talk to any musician who’s been around the orchestra business for a few decades and you’re bound to hear more than a few good stories about how some player or soloist obtained a job through sex.  If you talking to someone in the opera or musical business, multiply the number of instances by a factor of twelve.

In the end, you can’t entirely blame a musician who uses their natural assets to secure a long term job or a gig; you have to blame the person responsible for giving it to them.  The power to dole out gigs based on artistic influence holds the same lure for the classical business as anywhere else.  Unfortunately, those who abuse this power function as enablers and provide avenues for musicians to exhibit less than appropriate behavior.

This is another instance where increased institutional transparency becomes a positive mechanism.  You’ll never eliminate the problem, it’s just about as old as the world’s oldest profession, but you can marginalize it throughout the orchestra business by increasing the contractual language which dictates the procedures to hire substitute players, ensures blind auditions, etc.  They also need to ensure that they don’t provide any single individual with absolute and unchallenged authority to appoint musicians.

I have a bad feeling that as the number of musicians seeking jobs in this business increases and the number of worthwhile positions decreases, we can only expect a proliferation of the casting couch mentality.  The organizations with enough forethought to see this storm on the horizon will take action to implement the types of measures mentioned above.  The others will learn the hard way (no pun intended).

Don’t forget that Blair Tindall was one of the magnificent TAFTO contributors.  She wrote a wonderful piece; in case you missed it last month, here it is.

Postscript: In an effort to head off all the email coming in let me say that yes, I know Blair has a link on her page which says I rake orchestral muck.  I think it’s funny. 

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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