I Dare You To Not Love The Kittens

A great big hat-tip to Bill Eddins for posting an article at Sticks And Drones on 9/15/2011 which highlights a video from the musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS). The video is a wonderful example of a well made and affordable promotional video that reinforces simple is good.

Eddins points out the outreach value in the video by way of illustrating to the viewer how the professional musicians are intertwined into a wide cross section of the community. But what makes the video special to me is it does this while simultaneously avoiding the bear trap that most efforts fall victim to in the form of making the musicians come across as some sort of non-musician professional who happens to also play in an orchestra.

It should certainly make you stop to think about how much (or little) an orchestra knows about the way its musicians are connected into the community. Moreover, the next time you hear about a labor dispute where one stakeholder is touting the merits of increased community relevance, you should ask how much they know about what the current employees (onstage and in the offices) already do.

Another interesting tidbit about GRS is it recently wrapped up what started off as very contentious negotiations for a new four year contract that provides between two and three percent increases per season, maintains the current number of weeks, freezes retirement contributions, and includes the potential for increases to employee contributions to heath care plans based on future changes in premiums.

But enough with the words, watch the video, share, and enjoy! (the kitten part is at 1:05)

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 “I Dare You To Not Love The Kittens”

  1. It’s a lovely video and I’m sure these are all lovely people. But it doesn’t make me want to hear the orchestra. It just confirms what many of us know…everyone has a life beyond their work and it’s often a meaningful one. I bet you could make the same video for orchestra administration if you took the time (without the beautiful playing).
    The challenge of the orchestra in 2011 is to find a way to make the orchestra meaningful to the community, not its members.

    • Hi Mary and thanks for the comment. Although I don’t think you’re alone in your observation I do think it falls into one of the problematic aspects of outreach efforts; a phrase that in and of itself has an arguable definition.

      But the goal of these efforts isn’t to inspire anyone to buy a ticket; it’s part of a larger, ongoing effort to raise awareness (“We have professional musicians?” “They’re paid?”) and reinforce dynamic benefits to having a resident professional orchestra. Part of that is underscoring the benefits of having educated, well paid, professional artists who contribute and help define the local community. In short, it begins replacing the “what can you do for us” syndrome with a symbiotic relationship.

      To that end, I think videos such as this are an excellent part of that ongoing effort.

      If you haven’t done so, give Eddins’ article a read as he covers some of these same issues from his unique perspective.

  2. So much of the culture of an orchestra is based on anonymity. The musicians are to surrender their identity to the conductor — the important guy — and they are just the acolytes. Even the formalwear I think is about that — it’s not the formality that makes the tailcoats a problem, it’s that they are a uniform. Everyone looks the same.

    This sort of video doesn’t just hammer the We’re Nice People drum, it also indicates that they are individuals. You can sit in the audience and make out the kitten lady, the reading tutor, the dude who plays in churches, and so on. Instead of them all being just faceless, interchangeable, and anonymous in the same clothing. That’s a big part of why I loved that doco from 2001 about the Philadelphia Orchestra. I still look at their tour photos and watch them playing now and say, “Oh, there’s the trombone dude who loves salsa music, there’s the violinist whose whole family’s nuts on bluegrass, there’s the violist who paints, there’s the other violist who rides a motorcycle … ” That’s why hearing one specific rock band is more important an experience than hearing a cover band. It’s not just the music a listener cares about — the music is also the people who make it. If I’m enjoying this beautiful music, I want to know who the hell’s making me feel this way.

    The 20th century really managed to hammer in this whole “submerge yourself behind the conductor/composer” mentality to the point where anonymity is almost the whole point of being an orchestra musician. It’s even been used as an excuse to keep out non-white or women musicians, or even just people who play their instruments left-handed — it’ll break the uniformity of the look. In other words, you’ll stand out too much. You won’t blend in. So we end up with a stage full of people who don’t want to get noticed. It’s crazy.

    Anyhow, I think that’s a big draw fro these types of videos. It’s not just look-how-charitable-we-are. It’s look WHO we are.

  3. Affordable? I would guess everybody donated their services. If an orchestra’s management wanted to make this video with the same people doing the exact same thing, and put it up on the internet, it would cost tens of thousands of dollars or even more. The video is great, but it also shows how much a typical orchestra’s management has their hands tied when they want to do something like that. There should be videos like this everywhere but they are too expensive to make unless people donate their time and sign waivers for internet streaming.

    • thanks for that note Clive, I’ve been waiting for someone to bring up those points (otherwise, your comment would have been filtered becasue your gmail address is not valid). But it is important to point out that the musicians are subject to the same media rules as are their employers and I suggest contacting them through their website with any specific questions. But in the end, it demonstrates that yes, projects like this can be done, they can be affordable, and they can produce a high quality end product.

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