Don’t Let The Door Hit Your Ass On The Way Out

The 9/28/08 edition of the Columbus Dispatch published another article about the post-agreement environment within the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and yet again, certain members of the CSO leadership demonstrated they still suffer from foot-in-mouth disease…

The article poses the question of whether or not the CSO will be able to attract the same caliber of musician amidst a poisoned work environment and after implementing severe pay cuts. This discussion was initiated when the article’s author, Jeffrey Sheban, reported concerns among CSO musicians that “the group’s [artistic] quality will inevitably slip as players leave for jobs with better-paying orchestras.”

Sheban does a good job at following up on the issue by asking CSO executive director, Tony Beadle, about his opinion on this issue:

“Not likely…I lament people leaving the orchestra; that’s for sure,” he said. “But every time we have an opening, there are more than 200 applicants. There are many, many qualified musicians out there.”

You don’t have to read between the lines to see that a statement like Beadle’s can easily be construed as having a demoralizing goal. More to the point, public comments like the one above from Beadle have dominated the landscape of the seven month long labor dispute which might leave some wondering if his brain-mouth filter might ever engage. It wouldn’t be a stretch for any remaining CSO musicians, patrons, or donors to interpret such remarks as crocodile tears punctuated with “…and don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out!”

From an administrative perspective, Beadle’s remarks deny historic recruitment activity within the business. For instance, how many experienced musicians will willingly seek employment at an institution that is financially unstable, has demonstrated questionable board leadership, and forced through a cut in musician pay and benefits to pre-1990 levels? Furthermore, out of those more than 200 applicants Beadle referred to how many qualify for an invitation and of those, how many actually show up? What percentage of applicants are experienced musicians from (pre-CSO budget cut) peers as opposed to recent graduates? Does Beadle believe that the artistic quality of the ensemble can be maintained using entirely inexperienced musicians? What about retention rates for incoming players; will the new artistic environment impact the average change in musician attrition and won’t that impact the organization’s ability to build a unique artistic product?

In order to shed some light on the situation, I contact Beadle via email and inquired about his quote from the 9/28/08 Dispatch article and he offered the following reply:

“[The quote from the 9/28/08 Dispatch article] is a truncated version of what I said (I never learn!) It left out the part about having an orchestra improve on the basis of having the same people stay and play together over a period of time. If an orchestra disbands you indeed lose a lot, but over the course of time that orchestra cohesion can be rebuilt since there are so many qualified players who on an individual talent basis can make that happen.”

What Beadle is referring to here is the “Fragile Powerhouse” concept, an oft examined notion during labor troubles. Unfortunately, even with the expanded reference Beadle provided, his Dispatch quote continues to project a callous perspective and denies the dynamic impact of aggravating the already antagonistic strategic planning process implemented by the CSO board back in January, 2008.

Beadle’s perspective lacks finesse, pathos, or even a basic level of empathy possessed by most orchestra administrators. Consequently, if one of the goals coming out of a negative process such as the one endured by the CSO is to begin repairing relationships and creating a productive work environment, comments like those from Beadle will only delay the process. Instead of spending time lamenting over putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, the organization might find use in studying a little bit of the business’ history.

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 “Don’t Let The Door Hit Your Ass On The Way Out

  1. Great post. This couldn’t be put any better.

    I had the same thought when reading Beadle’s comment – “Musicians are an expendable commodity and are a dime-a-dozen.” (followed by a Henry the 8th wave of the finger i.e. “now leave me alone peasant…”)

    What Beadle apparently doesn’t get is that word gets out in the audition circuit and certain orchestras get bad reputations. Why would anyone of merit spend hundreds of dollars and hundreds hours preparing for an audition where the executive director has such a callous and uncaring opinion of his musicians?

  2. I think the questions posed by the recent comments by Tony Beadle are more complicated than we might think. Beadle is a spokesman for the orchestra and therefore must not always speak what is on his mind, even if he thinks it is true. In this way, he needs to be like a presidential candidate, because his comments can actually CAUSE bad things to happen (like the aforementioned auditionees NOT coming to Columbus). However, I have noticed that in many orchestra today, young and totally inexperienced players are joining the ranks of orchestras. While it is true they are inexperienced, they learn among those who are, so the fact is that conservatory grads go straight into major orchestras quite a bit of the time. I have seen this time and time again in major orchestras (Chicago, Atlanta, to name a few) so while I agree that an inexperienced player is overall a much better player, quality does not always suffer when slowly adding new members from among the very best of the inexperienced (and there are MANY of them).

    This, of course, is a travesty for those who are experienced but then it happens everyday in the marketplace with middle management being replaced by younger, less experienced workers. It seems to me that the only power left for the experienced to hold on to their positions is to band together and hope they have the upper hand. Considering all of this, it is a wonder that more orchestras don’t go through what Columbus did.

    If anyone has a good solution to this problem, I;d love to hear it. I’m one of those “experienced” musicians looking to safeguard my position from being transferred to someone younger, less experienced, and economically right where a cost-cutting board wants.

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