What Bill Said…

Bill Eddins posted a great piece yesterday at Sticks and Drones about the New York Philharmonic’s decision to perform in North Korea. In a way that is so uniquely “Bill”, he made a number of points that demonstrate the value of Occam’s razor in examining seemingly complex issues…

This is precisely what I suggested back at the end of October when I posted something in response to voices opposing the New York Philharmonic’s tour stop in Pyongyang. I still firmly believe that music is a universal language that transcends politics, bigotry, and centuries of other such learned hatreds.

Bill’s piece mentions the tours orchestras used to take to the former USSR and I have distinct memories of living in the Washington D.C. area as a teenager and going to hear some of the USSR national military bands that used to come into town for cultural exchanges. At that time, I used to study privately with a the principal tubist of the United States Air Force Band, Bob Daniel (Ret.), and during one of my lessons immediately following one of the USSR military band concerts I asked him about his own experiences touring through the USSR with the USAF Band.

He said the USSR musicians were mostly just like the members of the USAF Band. On the few occasions group interaction between members from both bands was available, he said they swapped a bunch of military insignia trinkets, talked shop, traded sheet music, and generally had a good time. “They’re just like us,” he said. As a child of the Cold War, that very simple conversation went a long way toward getting my head above the steady stream of propaganda and look at Soviet citizens, musicians in particular, as something more than just “commies.”

As such, unless there are indisputable facts that support the conclusion that the New York Philharmonic’s trip will directly support oppression, it is time to trust that the universal language will begin to forge bridges across rivers of misinformation and propaganda. As Bill wrote “God knows it may take a while but this can and will be a first step.”

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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What Bill Said…