Recent Developments in Jacksonville

The "Jacksonville Emails" debacle moved to a new phase over the weekend when a user identifying himself as "Henson Markham" posted what he identified as "Tom Beames letter to the JSA Board" at the jsomusicians.org guestbook. Conversely, the Jacksonville Symphony Association (JSA) has acknowledged that they will release any official response written by or on the behalf of JSA Executive Board member Tom Beames to his email message from 12/19/2007 as soon as it is available but to date, no such response has been issued. Nevertheless, the letter attributed to Mr. Beames posted late Friday evening, 12/28/2007 was apologetic for what it defined as "misunderstandings" of "typographical" and "missed context" nature. The letter closes with the author stating "For even a single member of this orchestra to see me as anything but an active, grateful, well-intended volunteer trying to make our community and its citizens all that is possible, is unacceptable. I implore you to accept the remorse of an impassioned but at times clumsy friend that is subject to mistakes and foils like anyone else". Three days after the letter allegedly written by Mr. Beames, the JSA Board of directors cancelled the musician’s health care coverage…

Following is the full, unedited copy from the letter attributed to
Tom Beames (my apologies for not providing a direct link but the guestbook used by the jsomusicians.org website does not generate direct links to each entry):

Name: Henson Markham

Comments: Tom Beames letter to the JSA Board:

To the Jacksonville Symphony Association Board of Directors:

Ladies
and gentlemen, in a moment of haste I inadvertently replied to all of
you with comments intended for Jim Van Vleck and Alan Hopper. Those
comments were sent as support for two leaders going through
particularly difficult business and personal trials resulting from the
current contract dispute between our fine musicians and our management.
What was meant as a message of steadfast support was taken by some as
mean-spirited and insensitive, and I’d like to please clarify my
comments, as nothing could be further from my intent.

I made two
errors in that reply for which I would ask your understanding and
forgiveness. My first and most egregious mistake was a misspelling in
the intended phrase "crack in the dike", which was meant as a friendly
play on words to reference not only Jim’s proud and oft-cited Dutch
heritage, but also referencing the possible discord within our Board
that may arise as our conflict is waged in the media. The phrase had
been used by another member at a prior meeting, and I was simply trying
to reference that conversation. The misspelling was a gross and
embarrassing error on my part, and one that has drawn the ire from a
few symphony supporters who inferred that I was making a slur against
members of a particular sexual orientation. Please be assured that this
is most certainly not the case, as my passions around this stalemate
are based in cultural and artistic excellence, not any single person,
or group of persons, nor the myriad of artists’ traits that make art
what it is…something special for everyone. To those that took offense
at my clumsy misspelling, please accept my apology and acknowledge it
for what it was: a simple but terrible misspelling and nothing more.

The
second error I made was quoting, in my reply, an e-mail I received from
an individual musician. What no one could possibly know after reading
my letter is that earlier that week I had received the latest of a
series of messages from a particular individual musician imploring me
to do all I could to move the board to arbitration. He cited in his
message that his children had to learn the true meaning of Christmas
because there would likely be no presents under the tree. I don’t know
how many of you received that message, but it was one of several to me
by this individual and it is now obvious to me that the address list
for my reply was not the same as the address list for this musician to
send his plea. Without the context of his message, my phrase seems
confusing at best, cold-hearted and disgusting at worst.

These
two errors, one typographical and the other of missed context, have
caused me tremendous anguish. Furthermore, I have drawn negative
attention to a negotiation process that needs as much positive energy
as possible, and I am deeply sorry for any delays to resolution I may
have caused. I have received e-mails from angry Symphony supporters
that have viewed my message, and if I had read my note without proper
context I imagine I would be rather angered as well. But I would ask
that you consider what you know about me; that I, too, am a symphony
supporter. Not only of the organization, but of the individual
musicians who make it the shining artistic and cultural offering that
it is. That I take strides to personally thank our musicians and
introduce them to guests, to the extent possible, after every
performance I’m honored to attend. That as two-year chair of the
Artistic Affairs Committee I take pride in soliciting the artists’
opinions so that they find our programming challenging and rewarding to
play, while maintaining the required economic balance that we so
desperately need.

The passion I share for our Symphony goes
beyond fiscal philosophy and contract disputes. I was never good enough
to play professionally, but with a clarinet in my hands from grade
school through college I understood the expression and transcendent
joys of bringing life to what appeared to others as dots on paper. I
have been fortunate enough to see the smiles of a grateful audience,
and I have labored for hours over a difficult piece of music, and have
come to know the satisfaction of finally hearing it correctly from my
own instrument. Although I cannot pretend to know the experiences our
musicians live every day, I do all I can to promote, support, and thank
them at every reasonable opportunity.

I apologize, and am truly
deeply sorry, for the misunderstandings I inadvertently created. Those
of you that know me well, I ask that you consider your past dealings
with me and agree that I don’t have a mean-spirited or insensitive bone
in my body. Those of you that do not know me well, I would ask for your
time and experience with me to clearly demonstrate that my heart and my
head lies with this outstanding assembly of talent that we proudly call
our own, and hope that you too will come to realize that I meant no
disrespect to anyone.

Finally, to the individual or individuals
of you that do communicate with or on behalf of the musicians, I hope
that you will take this apology and clarification to them with the same
speed and economy that you spread my original note. For even a single
member of this orchestra to see me as anything but an active, grateful,
well-intended volunteer trying to make our community and its citizens
all that is possible, is unacceptable. I implore you to accept the
remorse of an impassioned but at times clumsy friend that is subject to
mistakes and foils like anyone else.

Grateful for your time,

Tom Beames

Friday, December 28 2007 – 10:49 PM

The letter does not address musician demands from 12/26/2007
that Mr. Beams leave the JSA Board of Directors and at the time this
article was published, no official reaction from musicians has been
issued.

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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1 thought on “Recent Developments in Jacksonville

  1. This reply by Mr. Beames makes it hard to believe he could ever take place in a LockOut of the musicians he claims to support and have such a deep love, admiration, and respect for. Perhaps he should direct prose of this quality to the Board arguing for an enhanced vision of the orchestra, not the diminished one the current Board is imposing on the community at large and the orchestra in particular.

    I think that point is one which will come back to the bargaining table assuming the JSA will acknowledge Mr. Beames’ letter during negotiation sessions. It also comes back to the situation from a public relations perspective; for example, is the decision to lock the musicians out and cancel health care coverage some form of tough love? If the JSA board adopts that position, they may inadvertently end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater and Jacksonville might be the latest addition to major Florida cities without a symphonic orchestra. That’s hardly a noble accomplishment for anyone professing the sentiments in Mr. Beames’ letter.~ Drew McManus

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