Does The Psychology Of Wealth Influence The Orchestra Field?

There’s a fascinating report by Paul Solman about new research from the University of California, Berkeley on how wealth and inequality affects us psychologically. Originally broadcast on June 21, 2013 at PBSNewsHour.com one of the conclusions derived from the experimental evidence is rich people (those earning $150,000+ per year) are more likely to lie during negotiations and endorse unethical behavior.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-086Given the frequency and degree of intense labor disputes in the orchestra field over the past few seasons and the associated lack of stakeholder trust and good faith bargaining, the study (co-authored by psychology professor Paul Piff) could provide some insight on one reason why the field is experiencing such an uptick in what some might define as self destructive behavior.

To be fair, using the report’s own parameters for what constitutes being rich, that threshold shouldn’t be restricted to only orchestra board members since a handful of the professional orchestras in this country (less than five percent) pay the lion’s share musician employees an annual wage. That being said, the economic gaps referenced in Piff’s study do encompass most professional orchestras. Moreover, Piff’s study concluded that there was no significant separation in behavior between rich liberals or conservatives.

It is even more interesting when considering the recent commencement speech given by Aspen Music Festival and School President and CEO Alan Fletcher during the school’s 2013 Convocation. In that speech, Fletcher indicated one of the fundamental problems contributing to so much labor unrest is “one or more of the ‘sides’ in a dispute is saying that they can’t, or won’t, recognize another side’s good faith…”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the quandary here is whether a reliable way to determine if a good faith threshold exists in a practical sense beyond the established guidelines by way of the National Labor Relations Act and subsequent National Labor Relations Board rulings.

The bit about lying during negotiations is at the 1:38 mark but the complete report (transcript) is worth your time so make sure you find a way to watch the entire 8:56 segment.

At the very least, it should get you thinking so feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment.

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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8 thoughts on “Does The Psychology Of Wealth Influence The Orchestra Field?

  1. Orchestrate Excellence will be sponsoring Mr. Fletcher at a program in August!! It will be a very interesting evening . . .

    As for the “thesis” of your post, I totally agree. I could say a lot of things but won’t because I can’t “back them up” . . . 😉

  2. As per a line from the 1989 movie Batman stated by the character Alexander Knox: “The rich. You know why they’re so odd? Because they can afford to be.”

  3. There seem to be (at least) a couple of ironic facts involved in money and the current model for orchestras.

    First, the orchestra associations are non-profit, when they really want to make money and need a great deal of it.

    Second, the players are put in an Oliver Twist-like position, having, in a worst case scenario, to practically beg for their daily gruel. Even with the union blocking for them, the players are put at a disadvantage by being dependent on non-musicians to find the money to support them — or, in the case of Minnesota, to not…

    • I don’t know if I would define those observations as facts; although it’s a well worn discussion, nonprofit status doesn’t mean an organization can’t have high levels of revenue and expenses.

      All nonprofits want to maximize revenue in order to support mission driven activity. Likewise, it doesn’t mean those working for nonprofit organizations can’t, or shouldn’t, earn living wages commiserate with their skills and accomplishments.

  4. Slip of the tongue: “…earn living wages commiserate with their skills and accomplishments.” We certainly commiserate with the Minnesota musicians.

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