More Thoughts On Unionism

Monday’s post on unionism garnered some good reader comments. One of them was Galen H. Brown, a composer, contributing editor to Sequenza21, and a member of the New York Philharmonic development department. The topic motivated Galen to not only submit a comment but he authored an article on the topic at his Sequenza21 column…

Being the hotbed for all things related to contemporary music that it is, the largely composer oriented readership at Sequenza21 began responding to the unionization issue in a series of comments that slowly evolved into a few small sub-discussions. Among those are issues related to accessibility, the nature of professional musicianship, and professional representation.

Galen’s article makes some very good points, but there’s one issue that left me scratching my head. In particular, there was some conjecture over whether or not unionization has kept the number of professional orchestras at a lower level than would be the case otherwise. Personally, I think unionization has kept the number of professional orchestras as high as possible.

As I wrote in Monday’s article, once musicians begin to see themselves as stakeholders and not mere employees becoming involved in the strategic decision making process is inherent. As such, compared to board members and managers, musicians have a higher level of vested interest. Overall, they are less adverse to risk taking and growth all of which allows an organization to reach its full potential.

As such, if the level of artistic ability entering the field continues to rise, those players will flood the lower budget professional ensembles and the quasi-professional ensembles. So long as those musicians stay true to their desire to make a vocation from playing their instrument, they will eventually come to the realization that collective action is their best option for influencing the development of an infrastructure capable of supporting their decision at an economic level.

In the end, take the time to read Galen’s article at Sequenza21 along with the comments and then weigh in with what you think.

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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