Cleveland and Cincinnati Musicians Speak Out On Columbus

One of the most common email topics I receive regarding the Columbus affair is from readers wondering what the orchestra musicians in nearby Cleveland and Cincinnati think about what is transpiring. Unfortunately, I could only respond by saying that beyond personal (and private) communications I’ve had with some of those musicians there has been no official communication. That is, until earlier this week when nearly all of the players from both orchestras signed the following letter…

A Joint Letter from the Musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and The Cleveland Orchestra

May 20, 2008


The musicians of the
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and The Cleveland Orchestra are writing
to express our dismay at the decision of the Columbus Symphony
Orchestra management and board of trustees to cease operations on June
1, 2008. This decision can only be attributed to short-sighted
leadership. Thriving orchestras in smaller cities such as Nashville,
Kansas City, Fort Worth and Raleigh/Durham demonstrate the
possibilities for success in stark contrast to the Columbus Symphony
leadership’s lack of vision.

We urge the Columbus community to find the dedication and the
continuing financial support necessary to sustain a vital major
symphony orchestra for the following reasons:

  • Columbus is Ohio’s largest city and the capital of Ohio.
    The lack of a prominent orchestra there would reflect poorly on the
    cultural level of the entire state.
  • The highly-educated, creative knowledge worker is the future
    of business development in all cities. A symphony orchestra is as much
    a part of attracting and retaining these workers as universities,
    libraries, museums and other parts of the cultural infrastructure.
  • One of the great American cultural accomplishments of the 20th
    century was to bring access to top-quality performing arts to cities
    across the country. The loss of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra would
    represent a setback for the 21st century.
  • The Columbus Symphony is the backbone of the Columbus arts
    community. Any child who studies music lessons or plays in a youth
    orchestra, or anyone who attends opera, ballet or chamber music
    performances, has likely encountered Columbus Symphony musicians. These
    musicians have dedicated both their professional careers and their
    lives to the enrichment of the entire metropolitan area.
  • Music is a vital part of our heritage. Whether people know
    it from Bugs Bunny cartoons or a symphony subscription, it speaks to
    something universal in the human soul.

We call upon the Columbus community to find symphony
leadership that will broaden the orchestra’s ties to the community and
champion its music, rather than use a few other struggling orchestras
as an excuse for under-performing. Ohio’s capital city should set its
goals high and accept nothing less than success.


The Musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and The Cleveland Orchestra

There has been no official response from the Columbus
Symphony Orchestra’s executive board or management to the joint letter
and with less than 96 hours before reaching the executive board’s self
imposed deadline to cease operations, events may unfold fast and
furious or whimper into oblivion. Stay tuned…

For more coverage on how Columbus’ sister cities are following events, stop by Janelle Gelfand’s Cincinnati Enquirer blog, Classical Music and More.

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 “Cleveland and Cincinnati Musicians Speak Out On Columbus”

  1. I’m glad that Columbus’s sister orchestras are taking an official position, but I have a couple of concerns about the letter itself. The first is that it argues in part from the premise that the problem in Columbus is that the board lacks “dedication.” I’m confident that the Columbus board is, and thinks of itself as, dedicated to the orchestra–the problem is that in spite of their dedication they’ve made a long series of greivous errors. I doubt that the board disagrees with the bulleted items–I suspect that the problem is that they have really bad ideas about how to achieve their goals. Admonishing them to show more “dedication” and to simply “find” the necessary financial support is unproductive. The problem is that the board doesn’t believe that the financial support exist–this letter will be read by the board as another case of musicians who don’t understand how the business works demanding a magical resolution to a real-world problem. (To be clear, I’m not saying that’s what I think, just that that’s how the board will read it.) What the board needs is to be shown that their actual beliefs (as opposed to straw-man beliefs and positions) about the situation are mistaken and given alternate strategies to pursue.

    I also have a problem with the last bullet point, which commits the all-too-common crime of referring to classical music simply as “music,” implying that only classical music really qualifies as music and that only classical music is a “vital part of our heritage.” In this context it probably doesn’t really matter, but this terminology is so pervasive and offensive that I can’t let it pass without comment.

    All of this having been said, though, this letter is better than nothing and may have some positive effect on public opinion even if it doesn’t sway the board.

    Although wordplay can be a tricky bear-trap to avoid, I think it is interesting that in the WSO interview with Trafford and Beadle from 5/22/08, one caller made the point that the believed that the executive board sincerely feels that they have passion but based on their actions, they lack initiative. Even though that can be wrestled to the ground with semantics, I think the caller hit the nail on the head. Ultimately, only the executive board can decide whether or not they want to rise above word play and semantics and allow the growing swell of voices calling for mediation and a sincere exploration of options outside their self-imposed parameters to reach their hearts and minds.

    Stay tuned… ~ Drew McManus

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