Okay, Let’s Talk About MTT

In case you’ve been buried under a mountain of work lately, you’ve probably seen the hubbub surrounding Michael Tilson Thomas’ (MTT) encounter with a mother and eight year old child during a 10/17/2014 performance with the New World Symphony. In short, there’s plenty of talk about whether MTT acted appropriately and accounts of the actual event vary depending on which source you read.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-063The story originally broke in the South Florida Classical Review and there’s another good post about it by Brian Wise in the 10/22/2014 WQXR blog.

But in the end, the lesson for arts managers is painfully straightforward: have a policy. If you invite and/or encourage parents to bring children expect there to be an incident from time to time. At the same time, make your polices clear to understand, easy to find on your website, and train your usher staff to handle situations as gracefully as can be expected.

For conductors, the take-away is make sure you know your orchestra’s policy is as well. You might think your actions are justified and appropriate but it may conflict with written policy and you end up looking like a heel; or worse, an audience

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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7 thoughts on “Okay, Let’s Talk About MTT”

  1. Hi Drew,
    I find this discussion quite enlightening as it can be a sticky point as to when do you think a child is old enough to attend a Classical Music concert that is not specifically designed with them in mind.
    The Spokane Symphony Orchestra’s policy is clearly printed in the program guide and it’s stated:

    • I got interrupted by a pesky return on the keyboard. Anyway the Spokane Symphony Orchestra Child policy is as follows; Children are welcome to come with you (address parents) to a concert providing they can sit without interruption for two hours. (Usually it would be an hour and forty-five minutes tops) That is essentially our orchestra’s policy. It works well too, as I often see youngsters who are well behaved sitting with mom and dad in many of our concerts. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the adults some times as they are often talking, whistling, humming or other distractions. Even, using their cell phones after being warned to turn them off. And yes, I’ve been guilty of it too. I might be a well dressed audience member, but that doesn’t always make for a gentleman who disregards the rules. I have been in the habit though of leaving the iPhone in my car so, I guess I took care of any problem.
      As for the ‘child’ problem in general, I think that we need to remember that this is where the new audience comes from and so it would be good of conductors to keep that in mind. It might be a few years down the road, but kids have a way of remembering bad things and if that child associates MMT with being a bad person, he may avoid Classical Music for a long time.

  2. Completely agree with wdwright77 on this.

    The best guidance I’ve seen is along the lines of “Children are welcome to attend if they, like adults, can remain still and silent throughout the performance”

    Classical music is not the sole preserve of the older generation who perhaps do not see frequent coughs, mobile phones ringing (and in my experience a noisy phone is far more likely to belong a senior audience member), retrieval of cough sweets placed diligently in individual plastic bags or stage whispers when commenting to their companion mid-performance as behaviours which are likely to disturb others.

    Today’s children are the future of classical music and they if they have a bad experience attending a concert at an impressionable age then it will be an immense challenge to bring them back, even much later in life.

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