Who Knew Conductors Could Be So Deep?

I kid, I kid. But in all seriousness, Sticks and Drones co-authors and music directors, Bill Eddins and Ron Spigelman, each posted articles this week that will get you thinking. One examines the enemy within and the other looks in the same direction for support…

First up is Bill’s piece, titled We Have Met The Enemy…. which pulls no punches on three segments within the business that have been contributing to the current round of problems. In short, he finds fault with music directors, Artist Management companies, and musicians. Granted, that’s a pretty big swath but stick with it as he tends to drill down into specifics right away.

Bill’s piece is fascinating because whether he intended it or not, each one of his individual points is equally interchangeable between groups (with a slight exception for one of the music director points). What’s more, you can apply them to the other stakeholders he left out from his piece, primarily administrators, service organizations, consultants, and the growing cultural-industrial complex.

Next up is Ron’s article, A little help here!!!!!! (these guys really love expressive punctuation). In this article, Ron proposes something that sounds a lot to me like an orchestra field version of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). He calls it an orchestra crisis team but in general, what it sounds like he’s proposing is a system where orchestras pay into a service that provides emergency support during times of critical stress.

As the principal pops conductor for the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, Ron approaches his article from a very personal perspective as he’s dealing with the immediate aftermath of an institution that is in the process of liquidation. He suggests that the his cultural FDIC idea should be a component of the League “or maybe a new organization.”

I think he’s on a better path with the latter idea and although I can’t imagine anything that operates with the sort of resources of the actual FDIC, the idea is still intriguing, especially in light that most groups approaching collapse usually tip over the edge because of a catastrophic collapse within the administrative ranks.

I don’t think I’ve come to any firm conclusions in my mind on either piece but they certainly have me thinking. What about you?

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 “Who Knew Conductors Could Be So Deep?”

  1. An issue that must be considered is the reluctance to seek or accept help. It is nearly impossible to provide help to those who do not want to be helped. Often in times of crisis, organizations cling more tightly to their positions – essentially “circling the wagons” – the opposite of what one might expect.

    The image of Monte Python’s “Black Knight” comes to mind. “Just a flesh wound…”

    An orchestra “emergency response team” would have to have some authority to intervene. I have no idea how they would get it.

    I’m afraid we are left to be like audiences watching a slasher film, yelling “he’s behind the door!” knowing the soon-to-be-victim on screen cannot hear us.

    • Those are the right questions to ask and I think this is a good point to mention to everyone reading the comment threads that we’re all just thinking aloud here. That being said, the authority issue is certainly one of the key points but I think it is something that can be sorted out and ultimately, it would be in an agreement that both parties would enter into voluntarily.

      But your Black Knight point is spot on(always a good thing to reference MP) as is the 4th wall observer. For those very reasons, having some outside assistance could be a very good thing.

      Some of the larger obstacles I see is finding the right people to fill the variety of roles in some sort of cultural FDIC. Although I can think of enough people to put two or three teams together, I can think of more who should never be considered. I also see the concept as being very easy to hijack with much of the agenda laden nonsense popping up like weeds nowadays. Nonetheless, I still think the idea is fascinating.

  2. I agree that the idea of an orchestra emergency response team is fascinating. Perhaps even of critical importance. Glad you are providing a forum for the discussion.

    I maintain, however, that the biggest “overcome” is a general unwillingness to seek or accept help. Not discussed very much, maybe not even noticed very much, but very, very real. What we need is to lure Jeff van Vonderen away from “Intervention!”

    Face it – we human beings are not always logical.

    Now that you have put your money where your mouth is on the subject, please tell us what comes of it.

    • No arguments to any of that. I’ll do my best to remember to follow up on it and to that end, feel free to rattle my cage about it (that’s an open invitation to everyone). What I can say so far regarding my offers of help from yesterday’s post is that I have heard from no one.

  3. Just to be clear for those reading, it’s not about being right or wrong on the issue. I’m only trying to point out a significant barrier that requires a strategic response. Logic, facts, and figures have to come with some psychological/emotional component. Personally, I’m terrible at the psychological/emotional aspect of the discussion. I’ll just bludgeon you with more logic, facts, and figures until you go away or I tire of the debate. That approach, as you can imagine, has a very low success rate.

    If we really want to have an impact, we have to find a way to address the psyche of the institution to prepare it for the delivery of the necessary care.

    • I like be bludgeoned with facts, but that’s just me. But to your point, there is such a stigma behind accepting help unless there is some sort of prestige attached to it. But in more cases than not, those gifts seem to be bare minimum, watered down, and create more problems than they solve.

      What’s needed is a way to attach an “award status” to assistance. For example, if the Knight Foundation selected orchestras via the very same parameters I set forth in my offer yesterday and then labeled it as some sort of “acknowledgment grant” we probably would have had everything set up and running.

      Actually, that might not be such a bad idea. If anyone from Knight (or any other Foundation) is reading, drop me a note and let’s make things happen.

  4. Not to quibble over technicalities, but I don’t think the FDIC is the right comparison. The FDIC takes over insolvent (read:failed) banks, transferring remaining assets to another bank, whereas I believe Ron’s idea is a team of experts who gets involved with an organization in crisis but prior to insolvency. Perhaps a better comparison is with the A-Team!

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