Expect Ugliness To Ensue At Louisville

Following the decision to move forward with hiring replacement musicians, the Louisville Orchestra (LO) board has firmly moved the organization into unknown territory. Although there will almost certainly be a number of unexpected twists and turns, one thing you can anticipate is a marked increase in the amount of ugliness (public and private) between stakeholders and their respective supporters. At the same time, the situation raises a number of unique questions.

How Will This Transpire Throughout The National Musician Landscape?

The response from the Louisville Orchestra Musicians’ Association (LOMA) to last week’s replacement musician decision was immediate. They issued a call for action style press statement which encouraged supporters to lodge complaints with the Louisville Mayor and City Council President as well as signing their online petition; which over the course of two days reached 3,508 of 5,000 signatures by the morning or 4/8/2012.

Similarly, discussion throughout the primary social media platforms has been considerable, but here is where this situation becomes interesting from a national perspective.

In the Detroit and Philadelphia labor disputes, both groups of musicians garnered a good amount of support from peers spanning a fairly broad cross section of budget size orchestras. Meaning, it wasn’t limited to large budget orchestra musicians supporting other large budget orchestra colleagues.

Before the LO’s bankruptcy ruling, the $34,225 musician base salary was almost half of the average salary of their International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musician (ICSOM) symphonic orchestra peers. And one of the dirty little secrets among orchestra musicians is a type of hierarchy that perhaps best resembles a feudal caste system that equates value with the size of paychecks and annual budgets (granted, that’s not really much different among managers and for that matter, most other professions).

[sws_pullquote_right]It will be interesting to see how much and what type of support the Louisville musicians can drum up among their larger budget peers. [/sws_pullquote_right] Consequently, it will be interesting to see how much and what type of support the Louisville musicians can drum up among their larger budget peers; and not just the handful of musicians in those ensembles who already participate in player conferences, etc. but how many of the rank and file musicians are going to speak up or take time to directly support their Louisville colleagues.

It’s one thing to toss off a comment of support on Facebook but something entirely different to make a series of donations and/or take personal days to travel to Louisville in order to participate in a labor action.

Where Are The Replacement Musicians Going To Come From?

An editorial on this point from the 4/7/2012 Louisville Courier-Journal asserts that “few professional musicians will defy the players’ union by accepting positions with the Orchestra under these circumstances” but that’s not entirely accurate. Yes, the LO is on the American Federation of Musicians’ Unfair List and member musician can be fined for performing with the organization until the LO is no longer on the list.

But that doesn’t exactly rise to the top of concerns when it comes to reasons why quality musicians will almost certainly avoid the audition like the plague. It will likely have far more to do with a shared and innate desire to be treated fairly and equitably as not only key employees but true stakeholders; in short, respect.

[sws_pullquote_right] If you’re curious about the details behind how hiring replacement musicians would work, I published an article on that very topic bank on 10/28/2011. [/sws_pullquote_right] And per the section heading above, how far that camaraderie extends through the full range of orchestra musician strata is something that time will tell.

Ultimately, it will be surprising to see more than a handful of musicians with the necessary musical skills and experience pursue one of these replacement openings. Instead, you can expect to see the bulk of applicants from musicians who would otherwise never make out of the preliminary audition round at any existing ICSOM or ROPA (Regional Orchestra Player Association) level ensemble, assuming they made it past the application screening to begin with.

What Do Other Orchestra Managers and Board Members Think About All Of This?

You might as well keep on wondering because the only way you’ll likely hear from more than a few rogue individuals is by asking them directly. When it comes to nasty labor disputes, managers and board members throughout the field tend to remain mum. There’s plenty of backchannel chatter going on and just like the musician side of the equation, there’s no shortages of opinions.

But then again, these are unusual times and since the LO has made the decision to add such a volatile component by way of moving forward with hiring replacement musicians, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some folks step up and publicly express some opinions.

But if history is any guide, you can expect most folks to shy away from the topic in public settings. For example, don’t expect to see any sessions on this topic during the upcoming League convention in June.

[sws_pullquote_right]There’s plenty of backchannel chatter going on and just like the musician side of the equation, there’s no shortages of opinions. [/sws_pullquote_right] I’ve had plenty of discussions with managers and board members about this and there’s no shortage of opinion but don’t expect to see me paraphrase any of it here. Not only is it unseemly to publish those sentiments anonymously and out of context but it is inexcusably unethical to do so without the author’s knowledge and written consent. Consequently, you won’t read anything like that here without it meeting those requirements.

In short, if any managers or board members wish to participate in the discussion they will leave a comment at a blog or social media outlet, talk to a newspaper reporter, or even write an article to be published at a new media outlet.

What’s The Point?

Since we’re pioneering new territory here, it is worth taking a quick look at what both sides in this conflict hope to accomplish at this point.

Louisville Orchestra Inc.

The organization has often stated that their decisions have been guided by the bankruptcy rulings and a desire to implement a sustainable income/expense structure. But that sound bite is running thin, even among the LO’s supporters. The 4/7/2012 Courier-Journal editorial adopted an uncharacteristically neutral tone and even questioned the value in what it described as the “board’s ‘our way or the highway’ approach.”

Consequently, unless the LO has an ace up its sleeve with regard to the replacement musicians, they may end up wishing they had never taken the time to get involved as a board member in the first place. And for the field as a whole, that’s a sad lesson indeed.

Louisville Orchestra Musician Association

According to the LOMA petition, the musicians’ goal is stated as “[calling] upon the Louisville Orchestra Board of Directors to stop negotiating solely through their attorney, and ask that they sit down with the musicians to resolve their dispute and bring the music back to Louisville.”

This seems to indicate that the musicians believe there is a large enough segment within the LO board capable of instituting a coup with the goal of clearing out what might be best described as a hawkish approach toward reconciling the work stoppage.

Time will tell whether this is the right move toward securing the best possible foundation for re-launching a professional orchestra in Louisville but my professional opinion continues to be one that thinks this will only continue to make matters worse. Given recent statements from the LO board and executive management, the musicians would be better served by adopting a strategy suggested here as long ago as October, 2011 and push the institution toward liquidation while simultaneously gathering a new board of directors to establish a replacement orchestra.

It isn’t a pretty process, but it did work to positive effect in Colorado Springs a decade ago and it would have done far more to marginalize the sort of terrible public example this debacle is setting for the entire field. Regardless, it is still a far better solution than continuing to win by way of making sure everyone knows someone else lost.


[ilink url=”http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20120405/FEATURES/304050063/louisville-orchestra-impasse-musicians-replacement-bankruptcy?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CHome” style=”tick”]More details on the replacement musician announcement from Elizabeth Kramer in the 4/6/2012 Courier-Journal[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”http://www.insidethearts.com/neoclassical/2012/04/02/not-bad-for-a-local-boy-part-2/” style=”tick”]More on the musician caste system phenomenon, read an article from 4/2/2012 by violinist Holly Mulcahy; Not Bad For a Local Boy Part 2[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”http://www.icsom.org/” style=”tick”]Learn more about ICSOM[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”http://ropaweb.org/” style=”tick”]Learn more about ROPA[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”http://www.americanorchestras.org/” style=”tick”]League of American Orchestras website[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”http://www.louisvilleorchestra.org/” style=”tick”]Louisville Orchestra website[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Louisville-Orchestra/23101658551″ style=”tick”]Louisville Orchestra Facebook page[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”https://www.facebook.com/LouisvilleOrchestra” style=”tick”]LOMA Facebook page[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”http://www.change.org/petitions/get-behind-the-music-support-the-louisville-orchestra-musicians” style=”tick”]LOMA petition[/ilink][sws_divider_small_padding]

[ilink url=”https://adaptistration.com/blog/tag/louisville-orchestra/” style=”tick”]Get up to speed on the saga via the Adaptistration Louisville Orchestra article index[/ilink]

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 “Expect Ugliness To Ensue At Louisville”

  1. Drew,

    Thanks again for your great coverage of this evolving story. There has certainly been a lot of discussion regarding implications of the LO moving forward with hiring replacement musicians. What has not been discussed yet is the LO’s ability to hire guest artists (soloists and conductors) assuming they are successful in putting a replacement orchestra onstage. We all remember the controversy in October 2010 when the Detroit Symphony attempted (unsuccessfully) to present a recital with Sarah Chang after the orchestra went on strike. That incident clearly illustrated that most reputable soloists and conductors would choose not to cross a picket line simply because of the negative publicty they would receive by doing so. Although Louisville has a somewhat lower profile than Detroit, I’m guessing that this labor dispute will still have a noticeable impact on their programming as far as guest artists are concerned. What do you think?

    • Thank you for the kind words and I’m glad you brought up the issue of guest artists. Although it’s certainly worthy of a much longer discussion, the short answer is yes, hiring soloists will become difficult if the orchestra intends to move forward with the replacement orchestra. On a related note, I’ve noticed that the Louisville Orchestra website has been featuring a promotion on the homepage with an image of Joshua Bell and his upcoming performance with Academy of St. Martin in the Fields labeled as a “public service announcement.” I am very curious to know if Bell, his representatives, or those from the ensemble are aware of this and if so, what they feel about it.

  2. “It isn’t a pretty process, but it did work to positive effect in Colorado Springs a decade ago and it would have done far more to marginalize the sort of terrible public example this debacle is setting for the entire field. Regardless, it is still a far better solution than continuing to win by way of making sure everyone knows someone else lost.”

    Unfortunately, once the advertising for replacement musicians went viral via direct recruiting of conservatory musicians, craiglist, and PPC ads on Google and Facebook, the escalation of the public debacle was inevitable and heightened to levels usually reserved for large budget organizations. And, of course, there can be no win for any stakeholder at this point, only a perceived or proclaimed win if the orchestra survives at all. But speaking of the process of liquidation, how does one encourage/push for that process when the replacement musician option seems to be the favored course and has been all along?

    Again, thank you for your expert observations.

    • I don’t know if I would arrive at the same conclusion that hiring replacement musicians was the favored course of action all along. Meaning, it would be hard to imagine that the board wouldn’t have preferred to simply have the existing musicians accept their terms and return to work under those provisions. Of course, that doesn’t mean the musicians should have accepted them, not at all. But when deciding how best to move forward, making that distinction should help the musicians determine the best course of action. And to that end, they should make those decisions as a group via input from their hired counsel.

  3. Your article is insightful. As a Louisville native directly associated with all three organizations in years past, I have often wondered why the boards of the orchestra, opera, and ballet don’t create a “Super Board” whose sole responsibility is to raise funds for general operating, capital reserves, and endowment. These orgs purpose and missions may be exclusive, but, their common need for a professional orchestra is vital to each. Having worked under the likes of Robert Whitney, Morirtz Bomhard, Nels Jorgensen, etc. – and sought funding from the Binghams, Cherry, Jones, Browns, etc., I know there still exist successful business people like them in Louisville who have the ability to create an innovative strategy for reinventing the Louisville Orchestra. My question is: where is the fire in the civic belly? It must be re-ignited.

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