Will The DSO Cancel The Season?

We’re in a holding pattern this morning as we wait to see whether or not the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will cancel the remainder of the 2010/11 season. Earlier this week, the DSO’s executive committee secretary and executive VP indicated that a decision is expected today so check back later for updates as we’ll post information as soon as it is available. Update: an official message from DSO Public Relations Director Elizabeth Weigandt follows the break…

“We have informed the Board, staff, artists, sponsors and community partners that the DSO stands ready to cancel the season. We are currently in informal conversations with intermediaries…The timing of an announcement this evening [Friday, 2/11/2011] is not determined but an announcement may still be forthcoming.” ~ Elizabeth Weigandt, Director of Public Relations, Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

As of Sunday, 2/13/2011 no firm updates are available other than theboth sides appear to be engaged in something other than formal, mediated bargaining sessions. Read more at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.

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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0 thoughts on “Will The DSO Cancel The Season?”

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if the announcement is postponed or scaled back to only a few concerts. All things being equal, the DSO did not provide any reason why today was a firm deadline so without some sort of outside reason, it would make sense to continue negotiating as long as possible.

      • Juan, eluded to Ms. Parson’s proximate cause of the demise of the DSO. I would say the same could be said of the musicians – or at least their leadership.

        But for her… But for them… But for a lot of stuff. All end with no music.

      • One difference worth pointing out between a musicians’ negotiating committee and a CEO is with the former, it takes far less effort to remove/replace members if those they are entrusted to serve are displeased with their performance. Whereas staffers, managers, and VPs do not have that luxury. If they are displeased, options are limited to staying and enduring or leaving for a work elsewhere.

  1. When it comes to making decisions, I find it hard to compare the power of Anne Parsons, Stanley Frankle and the executive committee of the DSO board, to that of the negotiating team for the musicians and the union. One party is acting and the other reacting. The only real power the musicians have is to withhold service.

    The members of each section of the orchestra have just as much say in the direction of events as do the principal players, no more…no less. And the musician/union negotiation committee is acting at the direction of the musicians.

    • I don’t see how they are different. How can you say the “only real power?” That is THE power. If you supply the flour for bread and withhold the flour there will be no bread. Either side can finish this. Management could offer the 36 MM (Although I’m in agreement they should not because the money is not there to offer (or at least in the fashion the musicians want), so it would be a hollow promise that will only result in more financial difficult that does nothing more than “kick the can down the road.”)

      The musicians could give in and go back to the Max. Both sides have power. To not recognize that is narrow-minded thinking with blinders. This is nothing more than a “Mexican Standoff.” And as it gets more drawn out the stakes get higher because neither side wants to “give in” (different than reaching an agreement) because then this past four months could be looked at as in vain.

      But to put this only on Ms. Parsons, Sr. Staff and Executive Board goes to a larger problem of this situation – not understanding the constraints, financial viability and their duties to steward the DSO.
      While I side with management on this one, I do recognize the arguments of the musicians. My statement has always been – that while you can say the DSO is under bad management that does not elevate the fact the musicians (and staff) will have to suffer for managements mistakes.

      If a company goes bankrupt can the employee’s just say I think you did a bad job so you still have to pay me? No, those employees will suffer for the decisions of management and the circumstances of the business. So, even if I concede that DSO management was piss-poor, it would still not elevate the pain the musicians will have to endure.

      You are correct everyone has a vote. I should have expounded my statement. I’m sure that there is at least one member in the DSO, that voted for acceptance – for whatever their reasons. I said section member because they are more likely to have less sources of alternative income (other gigs, chamber gigs, steady teaching). It is the “one musician” that is ready to accept – again for whatever their reasons – that is in the minority that I feel sorry for.

      • The “real power” the musicians have is only available when the contract is being negotiated. For the 3 years ( or whatever length) of the contract musicians often see incredibly bad decisions being made in which they have no say, resulting in frustration and animosity. They see a great organization being trashed (along with their livelihoods) and they feel there is nothing they can do. To think there is anything close to a real balance of power is absurd.

        If our contracts were based on what the “one musician” is willing to work for we would never have had any improvements in musician’s pay – there will always be someone willing to work for less. It’s the solidarity that the musicians in Detroit are showing that is inspiring to the rest of us.

    • This particular thread is fascinating from the perspective of whether or not the DSO situation is a “blameless crisis.” also fascinating is the notion of minority opinion among stakeholders.

      In any labor dispute, there will always be a degree of dissent among each stakeholder group; board, management, musicians, and patrons and the DSO is likely no different. What’s interesting, however, is how each minority voice can exercise his/her own conscious. In previous disputes, I’ve witnessed friends and colleagues inside management leave a perfectly good, otherwise satisfying job because they didn’t like how the association approached and subsequently dealt with the dispute. The very same is true for board members.

      With musicians, it is a different story in that leaving a position doesn’t have the same flexibility unless the individual is willing to leave for non-orchestra musician oriented work. Although I’ve seen that happen, it is more common for those who feel disenfranchised to become more active within the greater collective representation model. Sometimes it is direct participation by running for a committee seat and sometimes it is more political by forming and growing a coalition of like-minded colleagues and encouraging those members to serve on the committee.

      What is far less frequent, is watching individuals continue in their career with a sort of “quiet desperation.” At the same time, those individuals are far more likely to audition elsewhere and accept a position even if it is a lateral career move.

      This is one area where I find the preparation for a career as an orchestra musician to be entirely lacking within the current academic system. These are very real concerns and impact an individual’s happiness and job satisfaction. Knowing how the system works, and how to be an effective member of that system regardless if your views are in the majority or not is something that can – and should – be taught.

      I have a prepared lecture on this very topic that I’ve had the pleasure to conduct on many occasions but that is still a drop in the overall bucket of what this business needs.

      My apologies for hijacking the discussion thread topic a bit but I think these are entirely relevant points and I’m glad to see that they’ve been approached. But to get back to some of the direct points, there’s ultimately no need to feel sorry for anyone in a minority view, that’s how a most systems work and without knowing more about why they are in a minority to begin with, it is likely that we project our own feelings and sensibilities onto their situation.

      Finally, I would caution against characterizing section string players as somehow put upon with regard to to the financial realities of a work stoppage. In fact, most metropolitan areas provide far more gig and private teaching opportunities than exist for their wind and percussion colleagues. Ultimately, each musician is responsible for his/her financial situation and how people deal with their personal finances varies as much as the actual individuals.

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