This Is How You Protest

The US musician labor movement has much to learn about the modern art of protesting from their Dutch counterparts where musicians from the Dutch Radio Orchestra staged a flashmob event at The Hague central train station on October 26, 2010. It was a very impressive event and one that has a great deal of potential not only by player associations but any orchestral organization looking for a way to react against funding cuts…

Let’s examine two of the more striking items in this video that successfully contradict classical music stereotypes:

  1. No f’ing tuxedos! Walking around on a picket line in tails and long dresses only reinforces a stereotypical image of entitlement and elitism.
  2. They look like they’re having fun. It’s no accident that they look like the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Who needs to reinvent the wheel? All you need to do is figure out the flashmob related logistics (note the music attached to the backs of players).

The only thing really missing from the Dutch effort was some signage about who they were and why they were there (it’s even odd that the video didn’t include a title or credit tag). Sure, local laws might have something to do with that but it looks like the players had leaflets attached to their jackets and it is likely they were handing some out, but something a bit more overt would have been helpful.

One big plus of an orchestra related flashmob event is the sheer scope and impact wielded by a full orchestra compared to using recorded pop music or only a handful of live players. In case anyone forgot (or was unaware of to begin with) why full orchestra performances are an attraction in and of themselves, jut take a look at these two US based labor related flashmob protests from 2010 by union members. Sure, they get their point across but when compared to the Dutch protest, they fall so very short.

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Finally, here are a pair of videos that offer a behind the scenes view into the Dutch Radio Orchestra flashmob event; an interview flashmob’s conductor along with a video of the flashmob rehearsal.

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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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6 thoughts on “This Is How You Protest”

  1. That’s a well-executed flash mob. Love the shots of the policemen.

    The entire reaction of the cultural field in the Netherlands and the support from the masses is really inspiring. I suppose in the United States cuts to those few million dollars in government support wouldn’t be protest-worthy for the arts, but I doubt they would anyway.

    In 70 cities and towns across the country, 100,000 people came together to “Scream for the Arts.” People would gather and get up to about 130 decibels, and bands and artists would perform. Tonight, there’s a “protestmanifestation” by famous Dutch artists called “Long Live Civilization” and it’s being broadcast on national television.

    Again, don’t think you’d ever see that here (considering 100,000 people is equivalent to about 20,000,000 in the United States!). And national television and arts? Ha!

  2. This is inspired! As someone not in the arts community, I find this protest to be everything with which I can identify – it’s witty, passionate, smart, energetic. And until you consider the logistics involved, it appears to be spontaneous as well. If an orchestra in my city demonstrated the commitment to pull off something like this, I’d likely be moved to support them! But Drew is correct in noting the lack of a PR focus. The general public would need more information so that we could direct our support.

  3. I know I said I wouldn’t bother you by posting here anymore, but may I please continue to examine the two striking items that successfully contradict classical music stereotypes?

    1. Full dress tails suits and long dresses are simply standard work uniforms which are worn out of respect for history and the art form (not to mention the audiences). How does a respectful uniform have anything to do with an image of entitlement (whatever that is)? And even student and volunteer community orchestras wear the same uniform, so the dress has no bearing on elitism, either. Let’s stop worrying about re-inventing symphony orchestras, and just try to be the best at a long-established and recognized art form.

    2. Every orchestra has fun playing “Mambo”, but this piece is arguably “classical”. Besides, many people resent musicians being paid wages when they are obviously enjoying playing music together. If being serious while performing serious music somehow reinforces a stereotype, then the performers can smile while taking a bow at the end.

    Thank you for posting the video of the hugely entertaining Dutch protest. Any word yet on how effective it was toward the outcome of the dispute?

  4. Hi Tom, you’re always welcome to post here and I’m glad you enjoyed the video. As for the entitlement/elitism issue, the relevance of the concert dress uniform as it relates to the performance environment isn’t the same when taken in the context of protests geared toward general public consumption. In the latter, white tie and long dresses are fodder for caricatures; for example check out two examples I found at The Daily Show that exemplify the connection between white tie and elitism (they took all of 10 seconds to find):

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