Define Majority

Thanks to Marc Geelhoed over at his deceivingly straightforward blog, Deceptively Simple, for pointing out something I missed in the local Chicago news…


In his June 27th blog, Marc provides a pointer to a letter written by Chicago Symphony bassist, Mark Kraemer, to the Chicago Tribune about the decision to name Daniel Barenboim “Honorary [CSO] Conductor for Life”.

Within the letter, Mark claims that less than half of the musicians were actually present during the meeting where the Conductor for Life resolution was proposed and voted. Of course, this has nothing to do with Daniel Barenboim and everything to do with process and perception.

Mark’s letter to the Chicago Tribune claims that although the majority of those present at the meeting agreed with the resolution, it was never voted on by the entire orchestra. If this account is accurate, it is disappointing that measures weren’t enacted to poll the entire membership in order to accurately portray their position to the media. Mark’s letter demonstrates what happens when these sort of procedures are overlooked.

I can’t seem to say it enough: process validates perception and process is everything…

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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10 thoughts on “Define Majority

  1. Under most orchestra’s players’ by-laws, only a quorem (which needn’t be a majority of the orchestra) is required to enact business on behalf of the orchestra. It’s amazing how many people can’t be bothered to attend a very important orchestra meeting, called by the orchestra committee – thus decisions are made with less than a majority of the orchestra present.

  2. Good points Charles. I don’t know the CSO by-laws well enough to say one way or another in this case but what it comes down to is a demonstrated need to improve participating rates. Finding additional methods for players to conduct discussions and vote on non-contractual issues is something worth looking into.

    That being said, there’s simply no substitute for participating. Emphasizing the value of internal communication and participation is another area orchestras could benefit from improvement.

  3. With respect, I don’t think this is about process, by-laws, or defining majority.
    I think it’s about grace, common sense, respect for one’s public and colleagues, all of which Mr. Kraemer lacked in sending his letter. Summer comes not a moment too soon.

  4. Thanks for the comment Tom; however, I tend to disagree. If we were examining the merits of Mr. Kraemer’s decision to submit a letter to the Tribune then I think your points would fit into that sort of a discussion. But I think this venue is well suited for that issue.

    Nevertheless, in the end, the letter is nothing more than an outcome determined by a process. How that outcome manifested itself would likely be different for just about anyone involved in the respective situation.

  5. Charles is correct. Most musicians Iwith emphasis on most) will not attend any meetings which do not affect their checkbook. It isn’t meant to degrade musicians. It is a fact of life. There can be a strike vote and you will still get only 90% attendance because the 10% who don’t show up are there to play music and only music. Those 10% just don’t care about anything else, which has its good and bad points. But it isn’t just music that has this problem. Look at voter turnout for elections. Same problem, different issue.

  6. No argument here. Apathy is a sincere problem within too many ensembles: managers and musicians alike. It’s certainly a good topic for discussion in-and-of itself.

  7. Drew McManus wrote:

    “Mark’s letter to the Chicago Tribune claims that although the majority of those present at the meeting agreed with the resolution, it was never voted on by the entire orchestra. If this account is accurate, it is disappointing that measures weren’t enacted to poll the entire membership in order to accurately portray their position to the media. Mark’s letter demonstrates what happens when these sort of procedures are overlooked.”

    If the action taken at the orchestra meeting was intended to make a media statement, then perhaps Drew has a point. But I doubt that this was about media. It was a statement by all of the members of the CSO who cared enough to show up at the meeting, and I suspect that the intended audience for the statement was Barenboim and not the Chicago Tribune. Assuming that the action was taken according to the musicians’ internal bylaws – and I’m sure it was – then the action has to be regarded as the will of the orchestra. We don’t say that all of our elected officials aren’t really elected because not everyone voted, after all.

    And, at least on the surface, it does seem very bad form for a member of the orchestra to write a letter to the local paper to complain about how a legitimate action taken by the orchestra isn’t really legitimate.

  8. It will be interesting to see if the CSO or the players association releases any sort of statement clarifying the issue Robert brings up about intended audience.

    I don’t think I would discount the media perspective so easily especially when considering Barenboim’s remarks about whether or not he ever intends to return. Naming some as conductor for life offers some sincere leverage for future use.

    At the same time, it could have been just as motivated by the component of CSO musicians that felt strongly about the issue. Even if the matter was initiated more by the players, I would be surprised to learn that the marketing department wouldn’t want to capitalize on it every way they could.

    If I had to bet on one reason over the other, I’d hedge my bet by placing even amounts on both…

    I’m still interested in learning about the details behind the procedure of the vote and if it was in accordance with the bylaws as that is still the heart of the issue. The only individuals that can shed light on those issues are the actual CSO musicians, especially the orchestra committee members.

    Nevertheless, Robert’s points bring up even more worthwhile issues (although the semantic value begins to increase exponentially); for example, do most by laws provide for only yea or nay votes or can members officially abstain from voting (which isn’t the same as simply not showing up to vote). Even more intriguing, of course, is this issue can be examined with just as much vigor from the perspective of board governance.

    Let the pontification begin…

  9. Robert Levine wrote:

    “We don’t say that all of our elected officials aren’t really elected because not everyone voted, after all.”

    I always love to hear what Robert has to say. The above comment made me smile because I immediately thought about our presidential elections and how the national press typically does a thorough job when it comes to mentioning the voter turn-out and percentage of the eligible population that participates in national elections.

    Of course, the low voter turn-out doesn’t make an elected official any less legitimate but at the same time, the press does a very good job at consistently defining that legitimacy.

  10. Drew wrote:

    “I’m still interested in learning about the details behind the procedure of the vote and if it was in accordance with the bylaws as that is still the heart of the issue. The only individuals that can shed light on those issues are the actual CSO musicians, especially the orchestra committee members.

    Nevertheless, Robert’s points bring up even more worthwhile issues (although the semantic value begins to increase exponentially); for example, do most by laws provide for only yea or nay votes or can members officially abstain from voting (which isn’t the same as simply not showing up to vote). Even more intriguing, of course, is this issue can be examined with just as much vigor from the perspective of board governance.”

    Most internal orchestra musician associations run according to Robert’s Rules, and don’t talk about absentions per se. More to the point, most orchestra votes are only recorded as “pass-fail” and not with vote totals attached – at least in my experience.

    As to the issue of whether or not the vote was held according to the bylaws, it’s worth noting that the letter to the Tribune doesn’t allege that there were procedural violations – just that a majority of the orchestra wasn’t present at the meeting.

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