It’s Called Satire

Perhaps the budget cuts have everyone on edge and granted, we all probably take ourselves a bit too seriously for our own good in this business but it was a bit surprising to see some of the feedback to the satirical news piece posted by Leonard Slatkin at his website on 9/23/2009 detailing some new “changes” in store at the Detroit Symphony…

150x150-ITA-GUY-029I received no less than three dozen emails messages, and who knows how many Facebook notes from folks aghast over this piece for a wide variety of reasons from those who took it seriously to those who thought it wasn’t right to joke around the way Leonard did:

Most of the soloists will be surprised to learn that the tuttis that usually herald the first entrance will go away. So no more three minute intro for either the Brahms 1st piano concerto or Violin Concerto.

Slatkin has a reason for this as well.

“We are not paying them to sit or stand around.”

Personally, I thought that one was hilarious but humor is far from universal so in case you haven’t read it, check it out and decide for yourself. Funny? Not so funny? What do you think?

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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9 thoughts on “It’s Called Satire”

  1. Very funny. Thank you Mr. Slatkin. A little laughter can help ease a lot of real pain.

    But I have to wonder a bit about those offended. Did they feel targeted in some way?

    Or perhaps they subscribe to “concerts as religion” model that began in the 19th Century. (Some religions are uncomfortable with satire as well.)

    One year when I was conducting a Halloween concert with the Brown University Orchestra I gave the students a choice for my bio in the program: the standard one, and one totally outrageous one that included the claim that I was some lost scion of the Hapsburg dynasty. You can imagine which the students chose. Some music faculty members were NOT amused.

    And THAT,too, was funny.

    • I don’t want to misrepresent any sentiments coming in so I hope some of those who didn’t find it amusing will take a moment to send in a comment. If nothing else, I think it’s good for a business that has propped itself up over the decades as an elite form of art can be well served by poking a little fun at itself.

      • Sadly, I heard about a production of a Rossini opera a few years ago in which the director cut almost all of the recitative sections because he thought the music was “boring”. It didn’t matter that the story line was contained there or that it was part of the original composition. The show was shorter, took less rehearsal time and was much more “exciting”… for those with ADD. True story. Mr. Slatkin, while satirical, might be giving ideas to the bean counters.

  2. Slatkin’s piece reminded me of the following, which I finally found after Googling for a while; it’s at:

    Memo From: Efficiency & Ticket, Ltd., Management Consultants
    To: Chairman, The London Symphony Orchestra
    Re: Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor.

    After attending a rehearsal of this work we make the following observations and recommendations:

    1. We note that the twelve first violins were playing identical notes, as were the second violins. Three violins in each section, suitably amplified, would seem to us to be adequate.

    2. Much unnecessary labour is involved in the number of demisemiquavers in this work; we suggest that many of these could be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver thus saving practice time for the individual player and rehearsal time for the entire ensemble. The simplification would also permit more use of trainee and less-skilled players with only marginal loss of precision.

    3. We could find no productivity value in string passages being repeated by the horns; all tutti repeats could also be eliminated without any reduction of efficiency.

    4. In so labour-intensive an undertaking as a symphony, we regard the long oboe tacet passages to be extremely wasteful. What notes this instrument is called upon to play could, subject to a satisfactory demarcation conference with the Musician’s Union, be shared out equitably amongst the other instruments.

    Conclusion: if the above recommendations are implemented the piece under consideration could be played through in less than ten minutes with concomitant savings in overtime, lighting and heating, wear and tear on the instruments and hall rental fees. Also, had the composer been aware of modern cost-effective procedures he might well have finished this work.

  3. There’s no reason for people to be upset over Slatkin’s comment. The amount of money famous soloists are paid (not to mention conductors!) is the real travesty here, but that’s another story.

    After reading that article in its entirety, I have to say I totally support conductors making changes to music and the way it’s played. It’s not necessarily their duty to do so, but let’s face it, if everyone plays every piece in the same, perfectly authentic manner, it’s not going to be very interesting, no matter how good the music, the orchestra, or the conductor is.

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