Some Recent Comments Spark Good Points

In case you’ve missed it, there’s a good comment thread from the June 24th blog about the articles from two music critics; one in Pittsburgh the other in Detroit. The blog has sparked an intriguing exchange between the Detroit music critic, Mark Stryker, a music director, an executive director, and more…


Much of the discussion thread surrounds the perception of “star” music directors. In one of his comments, Mark Stryker clarifies his position on the importance of a music director. In particular, Mark points out that he is not interested in the DSO acquiring a “star” conductor, rather, a strong artistic leader.

Whether or not any other readers inferred Mark’s article (and subsequent comments here) in a similar fashion as the readers which submitted comments, it makes me grateful that an open ended format such as blogging exists which allows individuals an opportunity to clarify and refine their stated positions.

After reading through all of the comments I tend to agree with Mark on the issue of determining the value of a conductor, which Mark described as a strong artistic leader, and based on the positions presented by the other readers I think they all tend to have similar points of view.

I know of plenty conductors considered “star” quality that also make a habit out of marginalizing (if not downright abusing) musicians, managers, and even general staff. Even if they end up serving as a draw for donors and ticket buyers, what is the internal cost?

Then there are those conductors that command a powerful artistic presence that are respectful of their colleagues and strive toward inclusiveness. First of all, they understand the meaning of the term “colleague” and use it as a sincere gesture of expression, as opposed to a PR friendly buzz word.

As an example of the latter, I remember a blog post by Detroit Symphony trumpet, Kevin Good, which detailed an instance where Neeme Jarvi, then music director of the DSO, could have asserted the oppressive type of “star” power he was contractually granted but instead decided to move in an opposite direction.

Kevin was relaying a situation about a DSO audition where Neeme believed one particular finalist was best suited for an open position; however, the audition committee believed a different finalist was better qualified. Although Neeme had the authority to overrule the committee, he deferred to their judgment and endorsed the candidate they preferred.

Kevin’s blog went on to describe the reasoning behind Neeme’s decision, but what’s important here is that a strong artistic presence understands the value of collaboration whereas a “star” would have likely imposed their will.

As such, serving as the long standing Detroit Free Press music critic, it isn’t difficult to understand Mark Stryker’s frame of reference. At the same time, there are ample examples of opposite behavior from conductors than those displayed in Kevin Good’s blog and I can just as easily understand a contrary position from anyone that has endured an inverse situation.

In the end, all of these situations conspire toward a much larger issue at the heart of the matter: determining the value of an artistic leader, a topic which regular Adaptistration readers know is near and dear to my heart.

It’s a simple fact that, on average, ICSOM music directors are paid 865% more than base musicians. The issue isn’t whether or not each individual music director is worth such a large compensation disparity; instead, determining the characteristics for an individual that deserves that level of pay is a process most organizations don’t spend enough time thinking about.

I also think that a number of the positions in the comment thread were looking at that fundamental question from a number of different points of view. Thankfully, we have forums to conduct such discussions, in the end, the entire business is better off because of it.

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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