Apparently, It Takes More Than “Obvious Looks Of Disapproval”

On average, I’m not the kind of individual that finds most of the humorous content sent to me via email all that funny. The operative word there is “most”.

Recently a fellow tuba player buddy of mine sent me a link to something that actually made me spit up the water I was drinking at the time. It’s one of the bogus radio broadcasts from The Onion.

Go give it a listen and then come right back, it’s short so it won’t take much of your time (WARNING: the clip contains strong language. I’m not responsible if you get into trouble because you’re not bright enough to realize that you should be using headphones if you’re in the workplace or around minors):

Now that you’re back, why do you think this was or wasn’t funny? How do you think this applies to orchestra management? Send in a comment explaining the thought process behind your answers and I’ll post what I think later in the day on Monday (sorry, the day got away from me).

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.

9 thoughts on “Apparently, It Takes More Than “Obvious Looks Of Disapproval””

  1. I thought it was hysterical! In reality, I have found brass players, by and large, are among the least likely to be engaged in brown nosing a conductor. They’re way too busy discussing mouth pieces or getting directions to the nearest strip club. Principal string players tend to be more prone to schmoozing the conductor, in general.
    Maybe it is just a matter of proximity.
    How is an orchestra like a bull?…

  2. Funny, yes, but the brass players I know would spend more time complaining and criticizing than brown-nosing. On a serious level, I do think it speaks to the issue of divisiveness within the musician ranks. I’m not sure if this is the angle you’re going for, but this divisiveness can be easily exploited by management. In my very short experience as an orchestral musician, I have noticed that the more wage cuts we are forced to take, the more animosity we feel to each other. It’s as if we imagine that the financial and management problems would be solved if only the violins would play in tune. Mostly I think it is the expression of musical frustration when so many other non-musical issues conspire to undermine artistic integrity. It is unfortunate, how we end up attacking a symptom rather than the root causes, and a difficult tendency to break.

  3. A lot of what MC is saying makes sense: divisiveness is a major issue. In orchestras where the section players have to work very hard (teaching, gigging, etc.) to earn that little extra to make life bearable end up directing some of their frustration at those earning high overscale (and who may also be getting a significant amount of time off). It doesn’t come from nowhere, however. In a lot of orchestras, there is a pervasive “me” culture: people seem all too anxious to squeeze as much as they can out of the management for their individual service agreements. They don’t give much thought as to how the smaller “pot” will affect the ones who are making the least. In my orchestra the average overscale for all musicians is 17%. However, there are very few members who are making any overscale at all.
    I prefer to not address the “evil admin” scenario, where they use this to drive wedges into the orchestra in order to strengthen their position when the next big contract negotiations come around. I’d rather focus on the opportunity that the administration has to address a number of issues, among them being: 1) Definition of the roles of leading players in the orchestra. 2) How to keep the majority of the orchestra (the section players) feeling good about their service relative to those making overscale (which doesn’t necessarily mean just compensation, but also good working conditions, such as adequate relief). 3) Making sure everybody has equal, ready and safe access to the administration when there are concerns. 4) Making sure that all constituencies of the orchestra are adequately and equally represented, which is important for the nature of negotiating and other committees (although I suppose this last one may be more of an orchestra function vs an administrative one, depending on the individual orchestra’s infrastructures).
    All of things can help build a positive group self esteem and ensures the working environment remains healthy and so there aren’t violists hurling themselves at butt-kissing tubists! By the way, in my orchestra, there is an old tale of a male trumpet player hitting a female member of the viola section – but it at least it wasn’t over her overscale!

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