Enough Already!

If you’ve been away for the past week you may have missed the hoopla surrounding the YouTube video of Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s (SSO) performing Baby Got Back with Seattle rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot. The video has racked up nearly two million hits on YouTube as well as a great deal criticism and praise and it’s that last bit that I find completely baffling.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-060Opinions appear to swing toward two primary extremes on the pendulum; haters dislike the lyrics while fanboys go so far as to ascribe virtues of outreach and inclusion.

That latter group is genuinely puzzling; if you want to an example of one of the absolute best outreach programs to minority communities that pursues the effort with genuine deference look no further than the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Latino Community Collaborations initiative which functions within their larger Lyric Unlimited community partnership program (granted, you’ll probably need to call or email in order to gather info since it is more difficult than it should be to find a dedicated resource page about the program at their website).

So where does that leave the SSO’s Sir Mix-A-Lot event? Simple, it’s a pops concert featuring a promotional attraction. That’s it, end of story. The show’s success can be gauged by the same two simple metrics applied to the vast majority of pops programs:

  1. Did it clear a profit?
  2. Did it damage the orchestra’s reputation?

I can’t answer Question #1 and Question #2 is in the eye of the beholder. What do you think?

Postlude, if you’re really into Classical/Rap mashups, then you’ll likely enjoy Peter Schickele’s Classical Rap from the 1990 album Oedipus Tex & Other Choral Calamities: http://youtu.be/4aq_V06-nyQ. Granted, I have zero clue why it’s set to anime but there it is.

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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6 thoughts on “Enough Already!

  1. Perhaps no more or less tacky or genius than the Colorado Symphony’s dope concerts? Times sure are a-changin’ but I’m not yet convinced it’s all for the best. What I do know is that Europe and the Far East are still laughing at us, even more than before.

  2. It might not play in Peoria, but that’s okay. Reading the SSO’s own description (on the YouTube link), they didn’t seem to be going for ‘outreach’, or presenting a simple pops concert with a headliner. Here’s an org celebrating the uniqueness of their community. Would that more orgs would do that! As to being inclusive, there are still many people in our communities who aren’t comfortable at a symphony concert, and imagine we’re all stuffy. Showing them that we’re actually diverse musicians and all of this is on one long continuum? Yes, please!

  3. If this was my orchestra and I knew I was going to get 2M+ views, I’d post it too. But that said, it made me feel a bit icky because I knew that (whether it was the SSO’s goal or not) it will be used industry-wide as an example of “outreach and inclusion” – just as you said. To me, featuring a 90s rapper is just indulging in nostalgia – just not the Mozart and Beethoven kind of nostalgia. And that’s fine, and hopefully they filled the hall – but I agree: let’s just let it be a promotional attraction.

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