Detroit; In Their Own Words Part 2

On December 13 and 20, 2010, Detroit’s WRCJ 90.9 FM broadcast interviews with Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) Executive Director, Anne Parsons, and DSO musician spokesperson and cellist, Haden McKay. Program host, Chris Felcyn, set the tone by asking a single, straightforward question: “If you had a magic wand that could bring a settlement to this strike, please describe your vision of what the post-strike orchestra would look like.”

In order to keep the conversation grounded in reality, Felcyn added the following caveat: “This magic wand does not include a huge bucket of money.” The segments are only available at the WRJC website so head over and give each one a listen.

After processing the non-events from the Levin/Granholm proposal and the content in both interviews, it is increasingly easy to see why supporters are losing faith in the DSO’s direction. The Detroit News published an article on 12/24/2010 by Michael H. Hodges that reports a group of symphony supporters purchased a full page advertisement in that Sunday’s Detroit Free Press claiming the “Detroit Symphony Orchestra management has been incompetent in managing its finances and intransigent in handling the nearly 12-week old strike.”

As the labor dispute and related work stoppage drag out, don’t be surprised to see more organized voices like the one featured in the Detroit News article pop up to influence the outcome. In the meantime, I know what piqued my interest in the WRCJ segments but I’m more interested in hearing about your observations and thoughts. So take a moment to send in a comment or email.

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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19 thoughts on “Detroit; In Their Own Words Part 2”

  1. Anne Parsons said in her interview that 17 weeks of unemployment per year for the musicians could be used as “time for personal reflection.” That’s an awful lot of reflecting. Was she joking?

    Let’s also not forget that under management’s imposed proposal, the librarians would be forced to work 6 weeks extra per year for 43% less compensation. One can only assume that with less orchestra services to prepare music for, management will probably have them prepare music for the dozen educational Civic ensembles. Much more work, much less pay. I don’t mind working extra hours (since I usually do that anyway) and the musicians and librarians have offered a 25% cut the first year, but management’s proposal is absurd considering they claim ticket sales are down 20% and donations down 30%. So why 43% cut for librarians? Sounds like a personal attack to me.

    Ethan Allen
    Detroit Symphony

      • We have received many letters, messages and gifts of support from MOLA members and MOLA has submitted a letter to the Board. I will check with them to see if we can make their letter public.

      • Interesting. The support letters are certainly useful but in the end, they are individual voices whereas an official statement from the organization along with the letters of support would carry more weight. It seems to me that one of MOLA’s goals over the years has been to increase awareness on the value and professionalism of librarians and if your characterizations about how librarians are being targeted in the DSO’s proposals are accurate, that would run contrary to MOLA’s goals.

        Granted, stepping into a political minefield like the DSO dispute isn’t an enviable position but it would seem beneficial for the MOLA to use the situation to help reinforce one of their primary objectives. To be fair, I have yet to contact the organization but I hope this comment thread might help cut to the chase.

  2. Anne Parsons, one person who absolutely would need to be in the room if the DSO strike is to be resolved, or even negotiated, is in Paris this week. The first rehearsal for the concerts scheduled for next week is, I believe, Tuesday. Clearly she does not consider ending the strike a priority, and that is exactly why everyone in Southeast Michigan has lost faith in DSO management.

  3. Compensation cuts appear to be a given on both sides of the
    table. I believe they are not the real sticking point here, though.
    The biggest issues are the removal of the tenure system and the
    creation of a second salary tier for new hires. As to tenure, I’m
    not certain how that would have any real effect on the financial
    standing of the organization, unless they intend to fire people for
    making too much money.

  4. We know, Anne Parsons is in France, because on Leonard Slatkin’s webpage ( his itinerary is posted.Towards the end of the trip displayed,
    is Anne’s name as featured performer playing the Bass Trumpet. ( Yes,it is a real instrument). She is performing under Slatkin’s baton.
    Thus, while she is appearing with our Music Director in another venue and country, earning another fee, no doubt, they are both collecting checks from the DSO for not working. Yet, under the contract they are demanding the musicians sign, the musicians would be sent out to do concerts wherever and whenever the DSO management sends them- and they are not to be reimbursed.
    One wonders, who paid for Anne’s trip? How does her Contract read? Is she permitted to take outside jobs for pay? Or is she going to claim she met with a potential donor to write off the trip?
    What is so galling is that Slatkin hired her! If nothing else,the lack of etiquette and consideration for the musicians is galling! The two of them, together.
    She really should be fired ,and never work in the field, again.
    To me, this is grounds for

  5. The thing that jumps out at me is that no one is talking about how to deal with the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. The deficit! To dangle the hope that more work will appear outside of the 35 weeks plan is a pipe dream until they deal with the millions that are owed. I hope that there is something being worked out in this regard but I fear all of this “reorganization” is just window dressing around a much much bigger issue.

  6. Dear Maestro Slatkin and blog readers,
    Well, I am writing to admit, I have been
    mistaken. I checked with my source, and he admitted the email posting, which looks authentic in its presentation, is, indeed
    a spoof. He related, he used to be a humor writer.
    So, I apologize for any confusion.Actually, I did think it was possibly a joke when I first read it.However, there happens to be several aspects to it that caused me to think it was true. I had no reason not to believe it.

    I apologize, to Ms. Parsons and Mr. Slatkin.It was an innocent mistake . Ms. Parsons will not be receiving remuneration, obviously.
    I would ask everyone to pass this along to others, if and when, necessary.
    I am most glad Mr. Slatkin recognized it for what it was.
    A Happy 2011 to Mr. Slatkin as well. We all hope to see you on the podium at Orchestra Hall- soon.
    A Happy, Healthy, and Inspired New Year
    with much Luck along the way to everyone. A special note of gratitude and appreciation for you, Drew.

  7. Crain’s Detroit Business has just announced Anne Parsens as one of the 10 newsmakers of the year (2010). They do this in early January of each year, selecting one newsmaker for the ultimate award presented at a grand banquet. The reporter responsible for the write-up is Sherri Welch who covers nonprofits for Crain’s (which devotes an entire issue each year to nonprofits along with daily and weekly reporting on them). You would do well to review the writeup before falsely concluding any achievement is being recognized. Crain’s approaches nonprofits from a management and business perspective and have provided the most thoughtful reporting of any periodical or paper in southeastern Michigan. Their reporting offers comments and analysyis neither seen nor reported in your Blog. Would gladly upload nomination article as well as other previous articles if you provide server url.

    Have also been tracking the three Lyon papers for both reviews of Slatkin’s 12/31, 1/1, and 1/2 concerts (and any potential sightings of Parsens).

    There is basis to discuss/deal with the 800 lb. gorilla that Mr. Hipp refers to. However it is a bit more complex than this comment forum is intended for. Would suggest that at a minimum all interested read “The Max”, The Albatross, an article on the Musician’s website written by clarinetist Doug Cornelsen (with the DSO since 1970).

    Richard L. DeLisle – 40 year Saturday Series A subscriber – activist subscriber determined to have the Orchestra back on stage performing along with necessary changes for both the Board and Management.

    • Quick survey.

      Mr Delise, do you donate money to DSO as well as purchase?

      Do you donate every year?

      Have your donations gone up every year?

      If so, would you say the increase is higher than the rate of inflation?

      Would you say your donations are a reflection of the salaries the musicians are seeking?

      Do you have friends that donate to the DSO? How do you think they would answer the above?

      I bring this up because I’ve seen no data or reports on the average subscriber and donating patron.

      In general, (and not directed toward Mr. DeLisle) I think “supporters” of arts are like the kids in the children story who want the corn muffins but don’t want to help make them. Polyphonic has a YouTube video up that does a good job of explaining a big problem in our industry.

      The problem is further exacerbated by the population decline. Michigan was the only state in the union to LOSE population in the last ten years.
      It would be interesting to see how many of the supports that go to the Musicians of the Detroit Symphony concerts a) actually BUY tickets during a season and b) donate money.

      I also wonder what is going to happen to donations after the strike. The strike obviously is not going to help, but I worry more about the rhetoric of “bad management.” If I was a lay person and I heard all about the bad management from DSO and how they can’t keep their financial house in order, I’m likely not to donate. It does seem possible that the extreme rhetoric of bad management from the musicians could back fire.

      • A quick thought on the population decline issue; one aspect often overlooked in this business regarding changes in population is how small of a percentage of population actually participates in live concert experiences (ticket buying, donating, etc.). If you believe the Knight Foundation report, that figure is approximately 4% and of that, it isn’t evenly distributed among all demographics. As such, any examination of population change via Federal studies etc. aren’t necessarily relevant on a 1=1 scale to any given orchestra. In order to determine if the actual impact is less, null, or greater requires additional research.

    • I did read the Crain’s article and it seems to be a perfunctory overview of what has transpired. I’m not sure there’s anything there we haven’t covered here at one point or another as we covered the previous labor strife when it was happening as well as a retrospective piece shortly thereafter. Granted, I just realized that I failed to tag those posts with the DSO tag and have such rectified that oversight so you should now have a much easier time finding the posts.

      What content did you find unique in the Crain’s piece?

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