Chicago Symphony Musicians Leaflet For Detroit

On 1/20/2011, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) distributed leaflets before the evening’s concert which expressed support for musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and urged DSO music director Leonard Slatkin to “use his influence to persuade the Board of the DSO to negotiate in a spirit of compromise and respect.”…

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the evening’s concert included substitute musicians from the DSO as well as guest conductor Leonard Slatkin. Since learning of the news last evening, I have been trying to think of another situation where musicians conducted a leafleting activity during a guest conductor appearance in support of colleagues at an orchestra engaged in a work stoppage where said guest conductor served as music director, but I haven’t been able to recall anything. As such, if any readers are aware of similar event, I’m sure everyone would be interested to learn more about it.

In the meantime, here is a copy of the leaflet distributed by CSO musicians.


Locked in a bitter labor dispute, our colleagues in the Detroit Symphony
Orchestra (DSO) have been without work for seventeen consecutive weeks.
The musicians have agreed to substantial concessions to help alleviate a
financial crisis, only to be met with further demands threatening the nature and
quality of this excellent orchestra.

Our conductor tonight, Leonard Slatkin, is the Music Director of the DSO.  We
ask him to use his influence to persuade the Board of the DSO to negotiate in a
spirit of compromise and respect. The musicians of the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra support the DSO musicians in their efforts to achieve a contract that
will preserve their orchestra.

Our colleagues in Detroit face personal and collective catastrophe as this
season and next are in danger of being cancelled.

We urge you to visit the website: and to
send an email supporting the musicians of the Detroit Symphony

The Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra thank you for your
interest and support.

Chicago Federation of Musicians, Local 10-208
American Federation of Musicians

This appeal is to the public.  We are not asking any individual to refuse to pick up,
deliver or transport any goods or to refuse to perform any services.

Postscript: Chicago Classical Review critic Lawrence Johnson reviewed the concert and had no mention of the leaflet activity see the first comment below, the piece does parenthetically mention the leafleting. Moreover, he provided a decisively positive review of the concert and Slatkin.

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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14 thoughts on “Chicago Symphony Musicians Leaflet For Detroit”

  1. Actually, Lawrence Johnson did mention the leaflets in his review in the third paragraph. (Perhaps he added it after reading this blog entry…?) At any rate, I’m glad to see that the CSO used DSO members for the concert, what a great show of support.

  2. I do find it surprising (and in somewhat poor taste) that musicians of the DSO have superseded the usual substitute musicians used by the Chicago Symphony, when I doubt that few (if any) of them have actually auditioned for the right to play with that specific group.

    I realize that each orchestra has its own set of rules (or lack thereof) for apponting extra or substitute musicians. But I find it disturbing that there are musicians in and around Chicago who had to slowly earn the right to become be one of the first CSO calls. Now, they are losing their livleihood because DSO musicians are getting special treatment out of pity and spirit of brotherhood. Apparently freelance musicians aren’t regarded as “brothers” as much as the red-headed stepchild.

    • I’m very glad that you brought up these points Will, the short answer to everything is “yes and no” but it is worth a deeper examination.

      If everyone can think back to Katrina when there were hundreds of displaced professional orchestra musicians. At that time, the official recommended policy from the national AFM offices on providing work via substitute positions was that it should be done as much as possible but only if it does not displace another musician in the process. What we do not know about the DSO musicians who are playing the current CSO concert series is whether or not that process took place so to levy any sort of accusation isn’t called for at this point in time but there is no reason to believe that the same recommended AFM policy from Katrina isn’t what that organization still recommends.

      As for subverting the substitute process, that matter is far less clear cut. I do know that the CSO has substitute auditions but I do not believe it is for every section. In fact, it is common among a 52 week orchestra for smaller sections, those comprised of mostly or all fixed chair members such as winds/percussion, to select their substitutes directly. Add to that, it is also common for 52 week orchestras to waive certain audition requirements for musicians at other 52 week orchestra (or sometimes they even apply a blanket “all ICSOM” orchestra musicians). This also applies to the audition procedure for open seats whereas musicians with existing jobs are sometimes exempt from submitting a pre-audition recording.

      All of this leads to the conclusion that it would be more than a bit hasty to levy blanket condemnation and to be fair, if you wanted to go down that path, then the same scrutiny would have to apply to Leonard Slatkin; was he hired as a show of support to the DSO board/management?, etc. to be clear, I don’t think that’s the case at all and as for the musicians, if the CSO made certain that no other substitute musician lost income and the opportunity to play with the ensemble in order to provide preferential treatment to a DSO musician (or it was something that was even cleared with subs beforehand, something else that was often done during Katrina), then no harm no foul. If, however, that isn’t the case, then it begs more than a few questions.

      • Thanks for covering this Drew! And, being one of the DSO refugees that is subbing this week with the Chicago Symphony, I thought I’d add my two cents.

        Speaking as a member of a major symphony orchestra, I will say that who we use (in Detroit) as a substitute is very carefully considered. Most of the top orchestras have different policies for assembling a sub-pool. My standing here as a sub goes back quite a few years to 1986, the year I joined the Detroit Symphony Orchestra(and was a finalist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). I have subbed here more than a few times over the years and am very proud to be here anytime I can!
        In the months since our strike began, I have subbed in the Boston Symphony and here at the Chicago Symphony. While the strike at DSO may have “flooded” the sub market (world wide, I might add) with highly qualified players, It also gives orchestras the chance to hire very experienced players that will contribute at a high level. Perhaps there are elements of pity and support of fellow orchestra “brothers and sisters” involved but the larger feeling is of opportunity. It remains a complex issue to most of us, and we do not take it for granted!

  3. This situation indicates a closer communication not only between different ICSOM orchestras but throughout the AFM since its new administration took office on August 1st of last year. As for Slatkin’s conducting the CSO, he was hired as a replacement for John Eliot Gardiner with no change in the programming probably because he could do the program and because he was free thanks to the work stoppage in the DSO.

    • Interesting observation Michael, I don’t know how much – if any – influence the AFM national offices had on any aspect of the CSO leafleting. But it would be fascinating to learn more. My immediate thought was it was coordinated on much more of a direct musician-to-musician and Local-to-Local level but that could certainly be incorrect. If someone with verifiable knowledge has an answer, I hope s/he posts a comment as I’m sure everyone would love to hear it.

      Vis a Vis Slatkin, I think your Occam’s Razor approach is probably right on target. And to add to your points, he has a history with the CSO already, as was pointed out in Lawrence Johnson’s review, and he doesn’t have the nick-name “last minute Leonard” for nothing. He has a strong reputation of being able to step in at last moment and do a very good job (a plea to my gentle readers: please refrain from writing in about the Met fiasco). Suffice to say, I would be surprised if there was any sinister motivation behind the decision.

      • Drew, I know that the members of the AFM’s International Executive Bd. are very concerned about the DSO and its possible domino effect. The Officers of the RMA and ROPA – two AFM players’ conferences in addition to ICSOM – are concerned as well. I can state that there is much more interconnectivity within the AFM now than at any time in my sixty years’ membership.

  4. I’m inclined to agree with you regarding the motivation of hiring Leonard Slatkin. From what I’m hearing and seeing, people aren’t as sympathetic regarding his situation, as he’s not technically a part of the strike and still receives salary. It’s just my opinion, but at this point, I feel the much of the strike has become more about the musicians of the DSO – not the DSO itself.

    I do agree that it’s not fair to speculate too far into things, but I would be hard pressed to be convinced that no substitute lost work (unless it was voluntarily given up beforehand – something that would very much surprise me). Typically, each section in a major orchestra has at least 2 or 3 priority call subs. I don’t know exactly how many DSO musicians were playing this concert, but if we’re talking 4+, it seems far fetched that on this particular week, some outside forces suddenly made it necessary to hire multiple people outside of the usual list.

    • Thanks again for the perspective Will. I’m particularly intrigued by the phrase “I feel the much of the strike has become more about the musicians of the DSO – not the DSO itself.” I hear similar phrases all the time from board members or other stakeholders in my consulting work and one of the first things I ask in response is “why are those two things mutually exclusive?”

      Since your comment came in about the same time as the one from one of the DSO musicians who is playing in the CSO this week (Randall Hawes), I doubt you had a chance to read it before submitting this comment but I think it provides some of the additional details you’re wondering about.

      But to answer your question about numbers, my (very reliable) sources said there were two DSO musicians in this week’s CSO concert. But even if there were more than the limit you mentioned, it wouldn’t be beyond the point of reason to believe that the CSO went through the process prescribed via the AFM Katrina recommendations. Case in point, during Katrina, there are several examples of orchestras that fielded several sub positions with permission from their existing sub pool.

      It just goes to show that when there’s motivating circumstances beyond the norm, people can get things done that may otherwise seem unusual. Nonetheless, because it is unusual I don’t see anything wrong with questioning motivation, so long it the question isn’t simultaneously offering condemnation before knowing the answers.

      I am curious though, why would you find it surprising that a sub would give up a handful of work weeks in order to give it to a colleague involved in a work stoppage. I’m afforded a better than average perspective on the specifics here in Chicago because I have a professional and/or personal relationship with many of the key individuals involved in that process as well as the actual subs in this area so I’m privy to a more comprehensive set of variables and I can say that it wouldn’t be surprising to at least some being willing to forgo a spot in order for it to go to a DSO musician. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a very clear limit to how often they would make that decision but taking that position from the first instance would be more surprising than the alternative.

      Regardless, this is a very healthy and productive topic to discuss and I’m glad it is unfolding.

  5. My apologies for the multiple posts, but several comments were posted between page-refreshings, and Randall’s comment sparked a thought. I suppose one can’t blame DSO musicians for taking the many opportunities that are being given to them. If one gives you good work, it only makes sense to take it.

  6. I appreciate the importance of substitute musicians and the process by which they get hired, but little attention seems to be given to exactly why these CSO musicians agreed to participate in this action. CSO patrons aren’t usually the same ones we see in Detroit, so why do you suppose the CSO musicians chose to show this level of solidarity with our cause?

    Perhaps a closer look at the ASOL (aka the League) donor list might shed some light on what musicians outside of Detroit see in their not-too-distant future: On that list you’ll find Peter Cummings, former DSO Board Chair and Son-in-law of Max Fisher. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Max was the major donor in funding The Max, the $60 million dollar addition to Orchestra Hall now known to be the major source of debt driving our current financial distress. You’ll also find that Peter’s the Vice Chairman of the American Symphony Orchestra League AND he serves on the Board of the New York Philharmonic.

    Connect the dots.

    These CSO musicians correctly realize that if the current League-driven ideology isn’t stopped here in Detroit, they may have to deal with it in their own home town.

    Kevin Good-Committed musician and
    32-year veteran of countless management
    incursions and clueless board inaction.

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