The 6/11/2013 edition of MinnPost.com published a letter by Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) Director of Human Resources, Esther Saarela, where the author takes issue with the notion of artistic brain drain within the organization. Officially, Saarela is responding to a letter from the previous day written by an audience association leader that cites data provided by the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (MMO); consequently, Saarela’s letter is actually serving as a fascinating little proxy war by openly challenging the MMO’s figures.
According to Saarela, only two musicians have resigned and five have requested leaves of absence since the lockout was initiated in October, 2012. Saarela also claims that eleven of the musicians the MMO classifies as ghosts (“musicians lost to the lockout”) left before the onset of the lockout; the inference here is that they shouldn’t be included in the tally of departed musicians.
Fighting Fire With Fire
Saarela’s letter suggests that discussions about the impact of musician retention should be limited to quantifiable data.
It’s regretful to lose any talented musician, and debating the impact of difficult contract negotiations on musician departures is fair. But that debate is best accomplished with facts rather than exaggerations or distortions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it might be difficult to find many voices opposed to the notion of using quantifiable data as the basis for reliable analysis; having said that, Saarela’s letter utlizies the very same disingenuous approach she calls out.
Fighting Fire With Water
In order to conduct an accurate analysis of the lockout’s impact on musician retention, you need information from the individuals in question.
The best way to obtain this information from musician employees who have already left or requested leave is via exit interview.
For example, we simply don’t know why all eleven musicians Saarela referenced decided to leave during the 2011/12 season. It could have everything to do with reasons that eventually led to the lockout or it could be due to entirely unrelated reasons.
Sadly, the orchestra field has never embraced the routine practice of implementing a thorough exit interview process (a process that typically falls under the auspices of human resources) and according to my sources inside the MOA administration, that orchestra is no exception.
Consequently, the MOA has no reliable moral high ground when it comes to determining the current work environment’s impact on recent musician departures. Likewise, without any sort similarly reliable interview data, the MMO are in a similar position.
For now, it seems clear that there is a much higher than average numbers of musicians leaving the MOA but the related discussions are characterized more by spin than fact. Unless that changes, observers will have to be content with watching both sides hurl rocks at one another’s glass house.