If you’re anything like MusicalAmerica.com’s Susan Elliott, the one-two punch of interviews with Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) executive vice president Paul Hogle appearing in the Detroit News (here & here) which attempted to clarify the replacement orchestra brouhaha left you thinking “huh?” If that’s not confusing enough, an interview with DSO president Anne Parsons in the 2/21/2011 edition of the Detroit Free Press sent an equally mixed message…
The Free Press article, by Mark Stryker, starts off with Parsons asserting that the orchestra “has no plans to hire permanent replacements for the 85 musicians who have been on strike for 21 weeks.” Seems clear, right? Well, that was followed up with some open-ended comments that may appear to some as leaving the door open for exploring it at a later date.
Parsons said that the possibility of hiring replacements had come up during discussions with donors and community leaders during the strike and was likely to arise in the future as DSO leaders explored ways of operating its business without a resident ensemble. But she said the priority was to find a way to resolve the strike — while also exploring ways to reinvigorate the Max M. Fisher Center by increasing its educational activities, rentals and partnerships.
Others in the field have been speculating on the nature of these mixed messages, including Robert Levine; Milwaukee Symphony lead viola operator (self described), Chairman Emeritus of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, and president of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 AFM.
A third, and more likely, reason would be to raise the ante for the musicians without seeming to do so. I doubt that a single member of the DSO really believes that management isn’t thinking about replacing them after Sunday’s article, which is quite possibly what management wants them to think now. But it’s equally likely that management doesn’t want the public thinking that, especially in a state with a tradition regarding picket lines as strong as Michigan’s.
But let’s give the benefit of the doubt for a moment and assume that the DSO really has no intention of hiring replacement musicians now or in the future. Next, let’s roll the clock back to Monday morning when the Hogel’s comments opened Pandora’s Box and the DSO found itself in the limelight of a public relations storm. What’s the best way out of a mess like that if you sincerely have no intention of doing whatever it is you’re being accused of considering but are suffering from a representative who spoke out of turn?
The good news is the answer is pretty easy; let’s use the DSO’s replacement musician bear trap as an example. Here’s what Parsons should have told the Detroit Free Press.
“Yes, we have had discussions about replacement musicians whenever board members, donors, and supporters have asked. But since they aren’t familiar with how these issues impact the business, we have to take the time to provide thorough explanations. But in each of those instances, we have always told them that we have not explored options, have no current plans, and will not entertain any future options that include replacing our current musicians.”
In short, don’t give anyone anything else to question or report. Sure, there will be conjecture about intent, sincerity, etc. but all you have to do from here on out is repeat that statement whenever it comes up and let your actions do the rest (i.e. don’t do whatever it is others suspect you will do). Even if the DSO was considering the replacement musician option on one level or another, the above reply still provides the necessary fortitude to back out of a decision while still managing to save face.
No mixed messages and the story would be done, over. Nothing left to report folks, move along.
Let’s chalk this one up as the first of what will likely be many lessons to learn from this labor dispute.