Much To-Do About The Fireworks In Seattle

No, not the traditional type of fireworks associated with 4th of July celebrations, rather, the sort of institutional fireworks resulting from tension between the Seattle Symphony Orchestra musicians and the board over the contract extension of music director Gerard Schwarz. Regardless of the how much the situation is being played up in the Seattle papers, whether or not any of those fireworks become public is dependant on a few simple issues…

First, much of the buzz has centered on the assumption that the SSO musicians will publicly release the results from their recent artistic advisory committee survey. In fact, there’s been no indication from official SSO musician spokespersons that they plan to release the results to the press or public. As of right now, they only intend to deliver the results to the SSO board.

Next, the SSO board has been hinting that they plan to implement disciplinary measures against the musicians for organizing and implementing an artistic survey beyond the typical ICSOM music director survey (which I find entirely amusing since the SSO musicians are not official members of the AFM or ICSOM). Consequently, this is just bravado as the SSO collective bargaining agreement doesn’t contain any explicit restrictions for these types of survey actions. After all, the musicians have stated that they are only attempting to communicate their collective opinion about artistic direction to the SSO board.

In the end, this issue could easily remain “in-house” as a topic of continuing discussion between the SSO board and musicians. The only reason it will go public is if either side makes a conscious effort to sever communication and/or implement draconian tactics designed to force the other side to submit to their will. However, if any of these events come to pass, you can expect a battle royale centered on the issue of just how much influence should the musicians of an orchestra have on the artistic direction of the organization.

Postscript: For those of you that were perhaps expecting something more about fireworks, here’s a few pics from the fireworks display in Oak Park, IL last night:
Ooh, a palm tree…

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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