Things That Make You Go “Buh?” – Columbus

Although the 2008 Orchestra Compensation Reports were a big hit this year, they meant a week without reflecting on some significant developments in the field. In particular, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) crossed the self-imposed line in the sand for cancelling operations last Sunday, June 1st. Since then, the organization has dismissed all but the executive staff and according to the Columbus Dispatch, CSO Board President Robert “Buzz” Trafford terminated the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the organization’s musicians although the contract does not expire until August 31, 2008. This isn’t the first time this executive board implemented a short sighted decision but the real head-scratcher is Trafford’s comment to the Dispatch where he was quoted as saying that cancelling the CBA “has no impact on the negotiations” with musicians. Although I tend to avoid arguing with an idiot out of fear that they’ll drag me down to their level then beat me with experience, this foolish statement deserves some attention…

Unfortunately, the reality is that Trafford’s assertion is correct in that cancelling the CBA won’t impact the negotiations because he and the rest of executive board made the decision several months ago that negotiations would be meaningless. Consequently, when you consider that Trafford apparently never had any intention to bargain in good faith then his comment to the Dispatch may accurately reflect his position. Of course, what does that say to the character and judgment of the CSO’s executive leadership?

Once again, by offering up such nonsensical comments to the Dispatch, Trafford continues to display all the symptoms of a chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease. Conversely, the better course of action in this instance would have been for Trafford to shut up, sit down with the musicians, and find a mutually agreeable plan to enter binding arbitration.

The reality of the situation is that Trafford’s comments will certainly impact the negotiation unless the CSO is fortunate and the musicians will rise above Trafford’s latest folly. If they can avoid letting the idiot drag them down his level and continue working toward concrete solutions that don’t require the institution to stand in front of an economic execution squad, then there is a good case for hope.

As the National Performing Arts Convention approaches this week, Trafford’s comment to the Dispatch makes me feel legitimately embarrassed to be a part of this business. At the same time, Trafford (and those out there like him) serves as a prickly reminder that the weeds of faulty governance can overtake even the best kept gardens if the stewards fail in their duty. Fortunately, Columbus’ topsoil is more than adequate to continue growing the healthy artistic product it has grown accustomed to and deserves. All it needs are some new gardeners.

For more perspective on events in Columbus, a few of my Inside The Arts colleagues Ron Spigelman and Frank Almond have published some wonderful articles.

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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2 thoughts on “Things That Make You Go “Buh?” – Columbus”

  1. Just a couple of questions…
    Do you know what is happening with the Honolulu symphony?
    Who are the possible concertmasters for the Edmonton Symphony orchestra in Alberta, Canada?
    Which American orchestra has the highest paid concertmaster and approximately how much do they make?

    • Hi Orchestra Fan,

      1) The Honolulu Symphony filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and is no more. Since then, a group of donors has stepped up and purchased the old institution’s assets, signed an agreement with the remaining musicians, and is now in the process of putting together a new inaugural season.

      2) I don’t know about the ESO concertmaster shortlist. You might ask Bill Eddins over at Sticks and Drones (but no guarantees on if he’s free to say anything).

      3) Concertmaster compensation data (along with CEO, music director, and base musician) including who earns the most and which orchestra they work for is available at Adaptistration Premium:

      The Orchestra Insider

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