What’s All The Hubbub Surrounding North Korea About?

The debate over whether or not the New York Philharmonic should perform in Pyongyang, North Korea is puzzling. There have been so many thought provoking articles written on the issue that it is easy to understand and relate to just about every point. At the same time, this is a good indication that the minutia of the discussion has hijacked clarity. As a result, this is precisely the sort of thing that can benefit from applying Occam’s razor

Simply put, politics shouldn’t be an issue for classical music. Is classical music influenced by politics? Absolutely, it manipulates the process at every possible level from creation through consumption. Has classical music been abused by political tyrants (think Hitler and Stalin)? Undoubtedly, and there’s no sign that abuse will end any time soon; Kim Jong Il included.

Nevertheless, here’s where Occam’s razor comes in handy: even though classical music is influenced by politics in every possible way, it regularly manages to transcend those politics. As such, how will any potential abuse related to the New York Philharmonic performing in North Korea be any different than the centuries of political abuse toward classical music, musicians, and their institutions? Although I don’t discount most of the concerns surrounding the proposed trip, history has shown that in the long run, they won’t outlive the music.

If nothing else, history has demonstrated that music is a universal language. In fact, the State Department should take this to heart and front the resources to send dozens of U.S. orchestras on tour throughout the world.

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 “What’s All The Hubbub Surrounding North Korea About?

  1. This is so right on the point. Other writers got really emotionally ridiculous, you put everything in the right place. Sure there are problems in N. Korea, but hey, there are issues here in the good ole USA that many around the globe hate us for. Thank you for your sanity and even keel take on this!

  2. Why worry? Be happy. That is indeed parsimonious logic. If only our servants could do our living for us.

    I don’t know if I would use the characterization “Why worry? Be happy.” Instead, I would put classical music (as part of a larger component: culture) into the same category of necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care. As such, it makes no sense to play around with looking at it as a commodity to withhold. At the same time, this is obviously a very emotional situation and it would be shortsighted to think that people won’t have vastly different opinions. Nevertheless, it would be worse if those who make classical music a part of their life allowed this issue to drive them into factions against each other. ~ Drew McManus

  3. Politics should not restrict classical music but unfortunately The reputation of the USA and relating issues are manipulated by the media. North Korea also has its problems. Music is universal and soothing so why not let music be the main point not politics

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