Editorial Cartoon Day: Sandow

It looks like Dixon, Adaptistration’s resident editorial cartoonist and the wit behind the humor at the hit orchestra biz comic strip Who’s Minding The Score?, has a bone to pick with Greg Sandow over some of his remarks to The Australian…

In particular, it was Sandow’s remarks about the Philadelphia Orchestra replacing all of their existing musicians with young players that set the editorializing gears into motion.

Sandow says that if the Philadelphia Orchestra were to suddenly discharge all its musicians and replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizazz.

“I wonder if that wouldn’t be more exciting to hear,” he says. “It might really surprise people.”

Adaptistration Editorial Cartoon Sandow

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 “Editorial Cartoon Day: Sandow

  1. Trouble is, I don’t think the Barnum comparison quite captures the problem. The perception that a bunch of kids could be in any way a worthy replacement for the Philadelphia Orchestra ignores so much, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    Orchestras have histories, and, absent the history, the sound and traditions that have made them what they are vanish. The library would still have parts marked in the style of the orchestra, but the interpretation would never be the same. The value of bringing in younger players to work with the veterans and pick up the style of the orchestra would be irretrievably lost.

    I don’t think this would be lost on the concert-going public. There would be some who might not notice, but many of our patrons are quite knowledgeable. This is not a business where we appeal to a bunch of pre-teens; glossy packaging and slick marketing aren’t enough. If we lose the substance, we lose what we are.

  2. If Greg were correct in this, then every youth orchestra and many regional orchestras would be big news. But they’re not. Now, the YouTube orchestra concert was big news, but hardly viable at several million dollars for one week. Repetition would bring the costs down, but then it eventually wouldn’t be big news anymore.
    The Simon Bolivar Orchestra is big news with both pizazz and some polish, but only when Dudamel is conducting.
    So perhaps rather than replacing seasoned orchestra players, you might as well start NEW orchestras that in fact COMPETE with the established ones… because people turn ON for sporting events! Then people might learn what makes an orchestra truly great!

    • Those are interesting points Rick and I think it comes back to something that’s discussed here in posts and comment threads quite often: if ideas that require radical shifts in how orchestras employ musicians and operate have merit, then they should be able to carry a new ensemble toward success regardless of any existing orchestral presence.

      Consequently, attempting to use existing institutions to test radical ideas seems entirely counterproductive.

  3. I continue to be intrigued that the professional music world (and sometimes the academic world) has people who continue to prose what Greg Sandow has proposed here. It in summary says that seasoned professionals are not needed, and that new upstarts can do much more with essentially much less. Imagine if any of the other professions had proponents of such a position.
    Would Mr. Sandow have similar values if he were rushed to the emergency ward at his local hospital and the admitting nurse informed him that “the hospital had suddenly discharge of its experienced ER staff and had replace them with new recent medical school graduates and that the surgeon doing his emergency bypass surgery had never done it before, but had heard some recordings of it being done just last week.”

    Or perhaps if he needed legal counsel and he was told that the law firm had suddenly discharge all of its experienced trial lawyers and had replace them with new recent law school graduates and that the 24 year old layer handling is case had just recently passed the bar exam, has actually been to a courthouse and last week saw the inside of a court room.

    I wonder if that wouldn’t be more exciting for him to hear. I do agree with him in one aspect with his statement “It might really surprise people.”

    In no other profession would this kind of talk ever be tolerated. But in the music world it is so often viewed as insightful and forward thinking.

    My question is does all of this “replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizzazz” nonsensical rhetoric really reveal a more fundamental and problematic opinion held by Greg Sandow, and others? Could it actually be an opinion (that I do not agree with, by-the-way) which is really saying that the music does not actually matter all of that much, and therefore, who ever does it is not critical?

    • Those are all entirely reasonable questions Robert. I understand Sandow is planning to post something at his blog elaborating on his comments to The Australian so you may find some answers there. I have no idea if he’s planning to respond to anything here directly.

    • That’s not completely true. The graphic design profession has the exact same problem. “Why should I pay for a logo when I can get some college kids to do it for a few pizzas?”

      There’s a terrible disrespect for skilled artists in this country. It stems from this incredible ego. Most people seem to have the attitude, “if I can’t tell the difference, no one else will be able to.”

  4. If Greg Sandow was fired by the Juilliard School and ArtsJournal and Anne Midgette was fired by the Washington Post and both were replaced a recent conservatory graduate and recent journalism school graduate respectively, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up in pizazz.

  5. I think people drastically underestimate the potential of young players. How often do most of you work with conservatory students on the level that Greg does? Greg is not saying that a bunch of pre-teen students could do the job of the Philadelphia Orchestra. What he is saying is that there is an entire generation of young players, searching for jobs with these orchestras, that are highly qualified but probably will never get the chance to due to some of the aging dinosaurs in the back of every section. Even if they do get the chance they rarely get hired because they are too young, so where exactly are they supposed to get the experience to be qualified in the minds of orchestral committees, if it is the orchestral committees that are holding them back? I don’t have any rough facts but I would guess that the average age of a new hire in an orchestra is about 30. In what other business do we expect students to pay 100k+ dollars for an education, then sit around for 5 to 10 years until they can get a salaried position? It is not that these musicians are worse than the ones in previous generations, in fact evidence shows that technical proficiency is probably higher than it has ever been in that 18 to 24, even stretch it to 30, demographic. So, why can’t a young orchestra compete with the big five? I believe what Greg means is that there are a lot of disenchanted, indifferent, and apathetic players in orchestras and young players still have the desire to play with passion and heart because they haven’t been run down by 52-week seasons, and their spirits haven’t been crushed and belittled by egomaniacal conductors and orchestra boards. The fact is that a young orchestra doesn’t demand the six figure salaries of some orchestras, and they’ve grown up to not expect it either. I am fully aware, as is Greg, that you can’t just dismiss a full orchestra that has families to feed and children to raise, and you can’t dock their salary after you’ve promised them a certain standard of living. Greg’s suggestion was not one of real intent, but he was just sticking up for a younger generation that tends to not get the recognition it deserves, and they could do without the people selling them short because they have a hell of a struggle ahead of them as it is.

    • I have to weigh in on this one Mitch. It is dangerous to assume that because someone teaches in a conservatory he or she knows about studetns as much as he or she knows about professionals. I would also suggest that you’re correct in assuming that you don’t ahve facts. The few items you’ve taken a few stabs at are well meaning but off mark.

      I also think the only person who can adequately interpret Greg’s intent is Greg. It’s a similarly dangerous position to adopt assumptions that fit predefined ageism arguments. Simply put, succesful orchestras of all budget size are comprised of a wide range of ages and education. Any orchestra that favors one group at the expense of another is only asking for trouble.

    • I must respond to some of the generalizations you make regarding aging musicians. Since I’m one of the dinosaurs you speak of , let me say I have no problems doing my job. My experience helps keep the other guys honest, and yes, I sit in the back of my section. I promise to vacate my position when I can’t keep up anymore, but in the meantime my seat is taken. Sorry. That said, I’m a little unclear as to what you and Greg are really getting at. What should we do, set up a panel of specialists like Greg, and review everyone to see if they meet the new paradigm? Or should we have challenges, where the young prospect can pick an old geezer(like me) and put him out?

  6. What will happen when the hip, young, fresh, conservatory grads play for a few seasons and are no longer young, hip, or fresh? Will they voluntarily relinquish their jobs to the next generation, get MBAs and look back on their time in orchestra like many a baby boomer looks back on Woodstock? Or will they want more as a significant stakeholder group and look towards healthy protection on their interests akin to the way ICSOM did back in the ’60’s? Has anyone who wants this fantasy considered the long-term outlook?

    The naive wish for a younger, hipper ensemble magically solving an organizations’s budget problems by simultaneously attracting bigger box office draw and not asking for high compensation/benefits (remember Detroits two tiered wage system?) says the maturity level of the managers/critics is likely well below the college grads they wish to hire for this snake oil scenario.

  7. I have to get this rant off my chest or I’ll be gritting my teeth all day. I may still do that, anyway.

    My exposure to Mr. Sandow has been minimal, and having met him in person once or twice, he struck me as a generally friendly person — where personal interaction is involved — and I’m sure he has his redeeming qualities and respectable education, and I want to believe he is among us to do good works. I want that belief, in the sense that I do not yet have it.

    Unfortunately, he has also said some of the rudest, most counter-productive things I’ve ever been exposed to. From what I’ve seen he seems to enjoy poking a stick into the anthill and watching the angry ants swarm around trying to clean up his mess. What I’ve seen and heard of his offerings provides evidence of a purely two-dimensional level of thinking, scratching only the surface of the subject to see if it bleeds. Does he think if he pokes hard enough the ants will do some real thinking for him? Or, to reflect one of my favorite lines from “The Shawshank Redemption,” is he being intentionally obtuse?

    To my mind, Sandow’s contribution is not modern-day Socratic dialogue, as he might want us to believe, it’s no more than shallow provocation. The only reason it’s important, from what I can tell, is that we’re afraid others will take him seriously. The danger is that in responding we are allowing him to force us into a defensive position, which is not always in our best interest. If GS is not being intentionally obtuse, then his knight and bishop may be laying in wait for our king-side castle move: we may end up arguing unintentionally against our own case on another level. The apparent shallowness of the provocations make me suspicious this kind of strategy may be behind them.

    Without knowing an awful lot about him, Mr. Sandow’s ostensible relationship with the arts reminds me of “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger to “psychology,” Sarah Palin to “public service,” Borat to “documentaries.” Sometimes intentionally bad, as in the case of Borat, is just plain bad. It’s embarrassing. Offer some solutions, please, Mr. Sandow. The arts need some serious help, not just a parade of talking egos.

    At the risk of invalidating my entire rant, my opinion is these eruptions from Greg Sandow, like those of Schlessinger and Palin, are not worthy of much attention except as a hopefully brief diversion, a light entertainment after which we can go back to focusing serious thought and action on the problem of keeping the arts visible, viable, and vigorous.

  8. Sandow’s idea seems designed to appeal to the union busting instincts of American corporations and fledgling MBAs. But busting unions is the wrong way to go for orchestras.

    Orchestras exist on patronage. One way to increase patronage would be to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy, who would then be encouraged to reduce their taxable income by increasing employment, investing in capital improvements, as well as giving more in patronage to arts organizations such as orchestras. Orchestral management would do well to join forces with their unions, and unions nationwide, in a lobbying effort encouraging congress to just that.

    • I think his opinions are more geared to appeal to his students. “Replace the PhilaOrch with Kids Like YOU!” he says to his classes. “Hip! Young! With-it!” while they all nod enthusiastically. I think he’s trying to be the Cool Dad to the kids in his classes.

      He’s not bad, and sometimes he’s right on the money. But he’s very anxious to appear with-it and edgy to the young kids he sees every day, and this occasionally makes him say things geared to make him the most popular Old Guy at the student union coffeehouse.

  9. I know this is an old post, but I’m still thinking about this, about what WOULD happen if the musicians in any orchestra were all booted and replaced with youngsters. Seriously, let’s think about what would happen — not what some pie-in-the-sky hipster wannabe attitude is, but what the basic problem is and what the result would be.

    Thing One: The orchestras already have lots of creative talent in their ranks among the musicians. They aren’t taking advantage of it NOW. The three guys in Time for Three are from the Philadelphia Orchestra originally. Plainly, the fatal unhipness of the musicians isn’t the problem. These people do all sorts of neat things on their own, many of which aren’t even music. Plenty of them are visual artists — painters, photographers, etc.

    So obviously, the problem is not the musicians. There’s plenty of creativity there already. For whatever large, ponderous, institutionalized reason, that creativity is just not being taken advantage of. You can write six books on why, but that’s the basic problem. The problem is well beyond who happens to be sucking on the first oboe’s reed at the moment. Whoever’s sucking on that reed, they aren’t going to be fully exploited for whatever their creative output can be.

    Thing Two: The younger a person is, the less power and clout they have. That’s the basic truth in ANY organization. The entry-level kids have less power, make less money, and have less clout, less of a voice, and less say. They are just starting out in their careers and especially in large institutions, they have a much greater vested interest in slotting themselves into the existing power structures. Put simply, you can push a kid around more than you can someone in their 50s, and pay them less to boot. Why do we all think there are so many out-of-work middle-aged folks who can’t get hired for jobs that advertise looking for only 3-5yrs of experience?

    Now, let’s look at Greg’s “daring” solution:

    He wants to solve an institutionalized problem that exists in the back offices by replacing the musicians with people with LESS POWER?

    Is he nuts?

    First, the musicians aren’t the problem, and second … what the hell kind of crazy person thinks that laying even more power and clout on the administrative side of things is going to improve the situation? This is like solving a corporate problem at Applebees by firing all the waitstaff and hiring high school kids!

    Okay, that’s a very extreme example, mostly because the musicians are performing a highly skilled job. But still, I think the comparison holds here: they are also the front lines of the industry, the faces that the audience sees, and they are directly responsible for the customer experience in a way that the back office types aren’t. And in the ultra-conservative corporate world, that means they get ALL of the blame, for everything that could possibly go wrong. Shit rolls their way.

    And Sandow wants to replace THEM. Unbelievable. He probably thinks he’s being daring and revolutionary and progressive, and he’s just walking right in the rut of every uber-conservative business dude: blame it on the countertop help, never on the suits in the back office. He is sucking up to his students and trying to be the Cool Dad, he is acting like a union-buster, he’s acting like a monied aristo, and he’s acting like an academic who proposes impractical solutions that are “correct in theory.” In others words, wrong.

    Either that or, as was observed above, he’s just poking the anthill for fun. Either way, he’s not saying anything worth paying mind to.

    Fire the musicians. Of course. All that institutional fossilization is THEIR fault. Don’t build a new bridge. Replace the one that just fell over with the exact same faulty design, but new bricks. Jesus.

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