Breaking News From Seattle (updated 3:27 PT)

An article in the 07/14/06 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by R. M. Campbell details some of the results from the recent artistic survey conducted by the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players’ Organization (SSOPO) artistic advisory committee. According to a previous public statement from the musicians, the survey results were not intended to be released to the public or press, however, the Post-Intelligencer published specific quotes from individual survey results…

In order to help clarify the situation I contacted Tim Hale, SSO violist and incoming chair of the SSOPO players’ committee. According to Tim, only members of the artistic advisory committee and a few members of the player’s committee had access to the survey results and they were only delivered to the SSO board.

A call placed to the SSO administration to confirm if the Post-Intelligencer was given copies of or access to the survey results from someone within the administration or board has been received and they are currently investigating the issue. Once they have confirmed their internal results, they plan to release a statement (see update below).

In an earlier article from the Post-Intelligencer, the SSO board chair indicated that the board might institute disciplinary actions against the musicians if they carried through with conducting an artistic survey. When asked whether or not the board has carried through with that warning, Tim Hale said,

“We are working internally to resolve these individual issues and we are meeting with the employer until they are resolved. I’d rather not comment on any specifics issues at this time as they are currently unresolved but we are hopeful to work at improving communication with the board.”

Additionally, according to a SSO spokesperson, whether or not the SSO administration and board intend to take any disciplinary action against individual musicians or the musicians as a whole is in the process of being investigated (see update below).

Another point made in the Post-Intelligencer article was that some SSO musicians who are Schwarz supporters claim they never received copies of the artistic survey. When asked whether or not any musicians were left out of the survey process, Tim Hale said he contacted the artistic advisory committee to investigate their methods.

“Every effort was made by the artistic committee to best guarantee that every regular musician received a copy of the survey. This included hand delivery to players at thier home address as well as utilizing professional courier services. However, we did have players who were out of the country when the survey was distributed and some regular musicians elected not to return the survey.”

Whether or not players claiming to be excluded from the survey process will be able to subsequently submit responses is an issue which is being investigated. Obviously, the issue is not yet resolved but the SSOPO musicians continue to assert that they hope the situation will be addressed to everyone’s satisfaction internally.

The center of the issue doesn’t necessarily focus on any given individual within the organization as much as the musician’s stated desire to have sincere influence on artistic issues. Whether or not these events will resolve the matter to everyone’s satisfaction will likely play out in the coming weeks.

UPDATE: According to a spokesperson for the SSO, the board is working with the musicians directly on the matter of the orchestra survey. When asked about the above issues Seattle Symphony Acting Executive Director Mary Ann Champion said,

“Seattle Symphony is working hard to resolve past differences and to create an even stronger organization. We look forward to focusing our collective energies in continuing to bring great music to our community.”

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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3 thoughts on “Breaking News From Seattle (updated 3:27 PT)”

  1. I wonder why the players didn’t use certified registered mail to send the surveys – our management often uses this method to send us our annual personal contract documents – it would have left a binding paper trail of who was sent a survey.

  2. It’s about time the SSO recognized “new leadership” is needed on the podium. So many of our colleagues, including the former concertmaster, have been targeted as scapegoats by Schwartz, in order for Schwartz to escape blame for his lack of respect from musicians.

  3. Every attempt was made by the artistic committee of the Player’s organization to give the survey to all members of the SSO. I believe less than 5 members of the SSO did not received the survey, because those members were either on vacation, or on sick leave. The committee went out of their way to explain the seriousness of this survey, and to advise a thoughtful approach to filling it out. All opinions were welcome. The survey was not administered by a team of anti-Schwarz supporters, like the newspaper articles suggested. The artistic committee of the Player’s organization handled the distribution and collection of the survey. These are the people that the body of the symphony democratically voted for to put forth the artistic opinions of the symphony to the Board. They were totally professional, and non-biased in their approach. It is my understanding that a professional secretary, someone not even related to the symphony, was hired to compile every comment made by the orchestra members and construct a survey pamphlet. For the executive board to belittle this democratic process by hiring its own survey firm to put a cloud over the players organization’s process is insulting, and raises serious legal questions. This was a democratic, legal, and morally dignified attempt to give the Board of Directors the artistic opinions of its ochestra. Perhaps less thought should be given to how the information was collected and more thought given to the actual contents of this information, which clearly calls for a new music director.

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