Detroit Rebuttal and Venture’s Launch

Now that primary development recently wrapped up, we’ve been hard at work getting Venture’s sales and support site ready for launch. To that end, I’m happy to say that all things being equal, that should take place sometime between Monday and Wednesday next week…

If you haven’t done so already, stop by Venture’s placeholder site and sign up for the official launch notice. Venture is now on Twitter under the name “VentureTweets” so you can follow news and notices there as well. In the meantime, here’s a pair of screencaps, the homepage and the top portion of the detailed plan comparison page, to show you what’s in store:

As the Detroit Symphony Orchestra enters into the final weekend of negotiations before their current contract expires, conductor Bill Eddins weighed in on the situation in a blog post at Sticks and Drones where he takes issue with a few things I’ve had to say on the topic. So head over and read what Eddins has to say and keep an eye on Detroit news over the weekend.

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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7 thoughts on “Detroit Rebuttal and Venture’s Launch

  1. From what I have observed during various audition weeks at upper tier orchestras, Bill Eddins is correct in saying the supply of musicians in the USA with excellent (sometimes astonishing) technical proficiency has probably never been higher than today. There would be no problem filling vacancies in any of these orchestras even at substantially reduced salaries.

    Artistry, experience, and entrained collective musicianship that comes from a extended collaborations among musician are rarer commodities, however. So I think it would be a stretch to assume artistic quality would not be affected by departure
    of some established players to be replaced by others, at least temporarily.

    Such analysis of course misses the human side of the equation. It is more than challenging to continuing paying one’s mortgage for a home bought with expectations of professional continuity and economic expansion when one is confronted with 20% pay cuts (never mind 90% pay cuts in places like Honolulu.)

    In places like Detroit the finances are probably more challenging, in that it is probably also impossible to take advantage of refinancing rates at historical lows to help compensate for prospective lower pay scales because housing prices there have also plummeted and real-estate appraisers are low-balling value estimates based on foreclosure fire sales. (If you have ready cash to spend in Detroit there are houses for sale at under five figures).

    Tragic.

  2. Eddins’ argument is not a new one. I don’t think it’s correct, though.

    While the level of proficiency has gone up over the years, (according to conventional wisdom), the number of musicians who have the technical proficiency AND complete musicianship AND artistic chops to win a position in Detroit or any other top-flight orchestra is arguably no higher than it ever was.

    In any case, if Bill’s contention were really true, we would theoretically simply see a higher level of finalist at auditions. As it happens, the DSO is seemingly NOT any more overrun with high-level auditioners than they ever were. For instance, in the recent trumpet and horn auditions they held there were NO FINALISTS for either position. Granted, many of the people who showed up may have been capable of playing up to the sought-after level. But, it didn’t happen on those days. (I should point out here that I am not, in fact, a member of the DSO, but I do know about the outcome of those auditions).

    While these instances may bring up other aspects of auditions worth considering – the bottom line is that they seem to disprove Eddin’s (and many others’) theory that there will always be tons of perfectly qualified folks to fill spots.

    Also, the notion that DSO players won’t leave is challenged, I feel, by the fact that six people have done just that in the past couple of seasons. Even though that’s not unheard of, it does speak to the notion that folks can and will “jump ship” when too drastic cuts are made.

  3. I left a comment on Mr. Eddens page (excuse that I spelled his name wrong)-so far all I get is that it hasn’t been moderated yet-so here is is moderated…

    Mr. Eddins-I would like to address a few of your statements:

    1)”For every person who gets that job there are now hundreds of people auditioning. It’s essentially a crap shoot most of the time, but the general quality and number of people who could do these gigs is so high now that the competition is ridiculous.”

    Mr. Eddins-I have been judging auditions for the Detroit Symphony for almost 30 years now. In a typical audition 100′s of players do and always have shown up (there were 130 when I auditioned in 1981)-and if we can find one or two applicants that meet the standards we require we consider ourselves lucky.

    It took us 9 years to fill our principal cello position, 5 to fill our principal bass-in fact typically for a principal position it can take many years, and for a section position more often than not we don’t hire anyone if we don’t find the “standard”.

    So I politely disagree with your statement “the general quality and number of people who could do these gigs is so high now that the competition is ridiculous.” In 30 years I haven’t seen much change in quality ,numbers, or competition. There are always a high number of “competent” applicants-but we look for something more than that, and the numbers of those who meet that standard have stayed very consistent.

    As for the rest, I would ask you to read this Time magazine article:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,942093,00.html

    This article could have been written word for word today-except notice the date-1969!!

    How is it that orchestras found themselves in exactly the same situation in all respects then, yet managed to continue and improve for 40 years after this article was written?

    Perhaps one should look to the people running the orchestras then, their ideals and philosophies of what was important, and compare to some running the show now?

    It seems that “the long term health of the organization” in the past came from first maintaining the artistic standards and thus the product.

    Cutting the product never sells or improves anything. But then as they say, those who don’t know history are condemned to make the same mistakes.

    Of course one only needs to look at the present history-at an orchestra like Baltimore to see how this “new” strategy of cutting the player’s salary works. Ask the musicians how many of their key players have left in the last year, how easily they were replaced, how the artistic quality of the orchestra is doing, and what the long term prospects for the orchestra look like.

    Sincerely,
    Geof Applegate
    Principal Second violin, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

  4. As a point of clarification, moderating comments at a blog means the blog author/manager manually approves comments before they are published. In that sense, all of the blogs at Inside The Arts are moderated. Each author is responsible for moderating his/her own blog so the time from when a comment is submitted to when it is approved or declined depends entirely on when the respective author can check in and review each comment.

  5. I’d like to pose a question for Mr. Applegate. While I can certainly understand why search committees choose to be deliberate in the audition process, what is the artistic impact of not choosing a winner in an audition? Is it really better to leave a position unfilled for years (nearly 10 in one case at the DSO)? What happened to the quality of those sections during the interim period where a principal was not engaged? Was that result any better or worse than it would have been if the committee ended up appointing a very good, but not “perfect” candidate in the initial audition?

  6. A valid point. Luckily our Assistant principals are also of the highest standard and able to do the job. Also in these long time frames-often candidates are tried out from auditions or by invitation to a private audition, and some play with the orchestra for a time period to see if they are a good match.

    Unfortunately, the great deal of time carefully picking our players will likely be undone very quickly by our situation-thus why the DSO musicians are very afraid that years of building quality may be undone so to speak overnight.

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