Reader Response: Sex For Jobs

It seems there’s an even wider range of opinion about Blair Tindall’s book than I originally thought.  After posting yesterday’s article I received a digital avalanche of email messages from people in, out, around, and withdrawn from the music business.

Many of the notes were filled with sincere feelings about the place of sex and this business and there were many intriguing points I had not previously considered.

For example, one musician wrote in to express concerns that after reading the book conservatory age musicians

” may get the wrong idea about sex being a lock on winning positions”

I would have to agree but, fortunately, I believe Blair’s book contains more than just passages about musicians who trade sex (or drugs) for jobs but there’s always the potential of putting the wrong idea in someone’s mind.  Although I haven’t read the entire book myself, I don’t believe it’s supposed to read like some sort of “how to get ahead in the music business” manual.

A patron from Omaha wrote in commenting on,

” how disgusted [she was] now that [she] knew how musicians really behave.”

I took the time to write this individual back to reassure her that universal applications of any occurrence is never a safe thing to do.  All musicians don’t win jobs or gigs by using their horizontal talents. 

In fact, it’s a minuscule percentage when you look at the entire business.  I would also add that being given a position and retaining a position are two different things.  Any musician who obtains a position with something other than artistic merit will undoubtedly run out of rope one day.

Another person (who has read the book) took a broader approach,

“What I mainly took away from the book, however, was much larger than the sex scenes or depictions of people playing while high, amusing as those are.  The sense that the business has spun out of control, and that forces beyond audience support, legitimate community interest, or artistic integrity govern classical music, are what really hit home for me.”

I think that once the book is released into mass distribution, some people will undoubtedly see things the same way.  It appears the bulk of the PR push behind the book has been the whole sex, sex, sex issues.

Another musician wrote in to say that she does take the time to express to her students who show an interest in becoming professional players (and their parents) that there is a seamy underside to the music business,

“It’s not bad to let ’em know it’s like everything else, but a lot of folks will think it’s unique because they don’t see it elsewhere.”

I can relate to that myself, having had many conversations with parents and students about the business.  The most recent of those conversations was for a student who wants to pursue a career as a vocalist (I told them the soprano joke from yesterday to illustrate some of my points).

I don’t try to scare potential musicians away from the business but I also think it’s fair to let them enter with their eyes open so as not to find themselves surprised and unprepared for a compromising position.

Then there were several letters from players who claim they’ve been the victim of someone in a leadership position looking to trade preferential treatment for horizontal favors.  One player said,

“Once, while auditioning for a local gig orchestra, the conductor asked me to take off my sweater and play the excerpts again (the audition was a “private” listening in his apartment, ah to be young and I again).  I thought that was odd but I did it anyway and then he said he’d like to give me the job but I would really play better if I took off my shirt and tried the excerpts one more time.”

And it goes the other way too.  I received a note from a retired concertmaster who was regaling me with a story of how once, at a student’s lesson, she mentioned that she knew his orchestra was in need of a long term substitute player and that he could put her in that position if he wanted to and she would be very grateful if he did that.

” [she] then proceeded to play Hernando’s Hideaway while unbuttoning her blouse during the rests.  I actually started to laugh out loud and just walked out of the room.”

I also noticed that the vast majority of musicians who wrote in made certain to include some sort of disclaimer that they did not sleep with Blair Tindall at any point in their career. 

In the end, I think it’s fair to remember that the bigger issues of eliminating the ability of a casting couch to influence who players where is of paramount importance.  Taking the time to dust off the old contract and review audition and appointment/substitute procedures would be a worthwhile endeavor for both managers and musicians. 

Coincidentally, Norman Lebrecht’s column in yesterday’s La Scena Musicale covers Blair’s book and many of the issues examined here (plus quite a few more to boot).

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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