Funny Is Relative

A number of readers weighed in with their opinions last Friday…


…and as promised I will take a moment to explain my reasoning behind why I thought the piece way funny. In particular, I want to focus on why I think orchestra managers should have a defined opinion behind why they found “The Onion’s” piece funny or not.

Beyond the surface value gags used in the bit there’s a number of inside points an individual simply wouldn’t get if they weren’t familiar with some of the stereotypes associated with orchestra musicians.

For example:

  • Danette’s comment which refers to the stereotype that viola players are “slow” and
  • MC’s observation that brass players “would spend more time complaining and criticizing than brown-nosing”.

  • The fact that a manager would know these things is a good indication that they take a genuine interest in the musicians and, as such, want get to know them well enough to appreciate the humor used in the radio sketch.

    On a larger issue, Martin and MC noticed that the radio sketch portrayed the orchestra as segmented by their instruments (brass vs. violas). That too is representative of very real problems within some ensembles where players congregate into “factions” against each other. All though they don’t always flock together in like instrument groups, there are numerous historical examples of such behavior.

    In particular, MC focused on issues of musicians holding negative feelings against each other during times of financial stress. Given the long memories maintained by most players, that single incident can evolve into a career long series of disrespect toward certain colleagues.

    In the end, it’s good for managers to know why they did or didn’t find the sketch amusing (beyond the surface elements). Managers that simply “don’t care” are just as likely to not demonstrate any concern toward the overall well being of the entire organization. And an employee that doesn’t care about the organization is an employee waiting to be replaced.

    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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    1 thought on “Funny Is Relative”

    1. Of course, the biggest divide is between instrumentalists and singers(consider all the dumb soprano jokes) I remember in college that folks would ask if such an such was a musician, and the jokey reponse would be “No, he or she was a singer).
      We tended to look on them as trained seals!

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