Why Isn't Everybody Nice?

Sunday’s appearance on SoundNotion.tv was a great deal of fun but one conversation in particular worth noting from the Good News segment is something that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time now but simply haven’t done it. Specifically, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and their ordeal while forced out of their brand new concert hall due to the devastating Nashville 2010 flood. Of all the doom and gloom stories going around these days, Nashville’s situation is one of real inspiration and a model behind what can be accomplished when an organization leverages a strong institutional vision and cohesive stakeholder support.

The segment above is from the 10:55 mark (visit SoundNotion.tv for the entire program) but in short, I recount my time in Nashville during the hall’s post-flood opening concert gala. I showed up a day early and took a tour through the new facility (thanks to Tim Lynch for taking so much time out of an otherwise very busy day for that) and spent some time talking to the NSO’s CEO, Alan Valentine, about what the organization went through during their extended time out of the hall.

question mark

One item that caught my eye during the tour was the number of familiar faces working in the kitchen (for those who don’t know, the organization maintains an extensive catering department that provides meals and food service related to concert events and daily visitor traffic). I asked Tim and Alan about this and expressed my surprise that they were able to hire everyone back after being out of operation for so long.

Both of them said they never laid anyone off. Even in the face of extreme economic challenges and daunting repair expenses, the organization determined that the value of maintaining an efficient kitchen staff was worth the added effort of keeping the staff on payroll so they could hit the ground running when the hall reopened.

When talking with Alan Valentine, he said they put them to work wherever they could, especially in positions uniquely related to being out of their offices such as operating shuttle vans, making sure mail reached remote offices, etc.

When I told this story during SoundNotion, the show’s host, David MacDonald responded by saying that sounds like common sense.

“So when you tell that story, to me that just sounds like people being nice. Why isn’t everybody nice?”

Indeed. Perhaps one of the lessons here is being a part of the community goes far beyond outreach concerts.

For those interested, here are some pictures from my tour through the Schermerhorn Symphony Center (SSC) after the flood damage construction.

Lessons Learned

New Doors
New doors make it possible to use the entire, massive, stage lift to move instrument and equipment out of the basement storage areas.


Increased fuel storage capacity (left) means longer running times for backup power generator (right).

Fuel Locker

Silver Lining

Although SSC had a state of the art air handling system before the flood, having to replace it meant a new, smaller, and more efficient unit could be installed.

Air Handler
The previous air handing system extended all the way to the floor but the new model (the big white thing) is nearly half the height.
The new organ console (under the black cover) was crafted and delivered in record time!
Kitchen Equipment
All of this kitchen and catering equipment (a fraction of what actually exists) had to be replaced.

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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