What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate

Chattanooga Symphony concertmaster Holly Mulcahy published an intriguing article on 7/8/2015 that takes an unfiltered look at why those in our field may be getting what they are asking for when lamenting that no one seems to care about orchestra music. The good news is that yes, people really do care but the other side of that coin is we aren’t doing nearly a good enough job at crafting our narrative to get them to that point.

Adaptistration People 153Mulchay’s post is, in turn, based on an article by Paul J. Zak, Ph.D, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, which was featured in the April 2015 edition of Entrepreneur magazine. The part that caught Mulcahy’s attention is the editorial blurb that introduces the article; in short, it cuts to the quick of what is heard so often from a myriad of stakeholders in this field.

Amy Cosper, Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur said in her note, “One of the most frequent comments I hear is: People just don’t understand us, our value and what we do, but we are absolutely the best at it. That statement is a problem….If you ever catch yourself making that sort of statement, take a step back. Because it is total BS.”

Yes, those sorts of sentiments are total BS and in a field that coasted along for so many decades on a position of inherent value (i.e. “we’re the cathedral of high art”), it becomes that much easier to slip into the bear trap of frustration when reality arrives at your door as an uninvited house guest that just won’t leave.

Interestingly enough, this is one topic that finds its way into both administrator and musician stakeholder camps with equal aplomb; however, the latter group is comparatively new to these challenges.

It is difficult to miss the sharp uptick in the number of players’ associations which have started some form of formal communication portal, whether it be a website, social media platform, digital newsletters, or all of the above. And notwithstanding a few excellent exceptions, most of these efforts come across as responses to the sorts of straw-man arguments Cosper defined as BS; as a result, their efforts tend to reinforce the negative contexts they seek to enlighten.

It’s a vicious cycle and not unlike a clever knot in that the more you struggle, the tighter it becomes.

Do yourself a favor and carve out a few moments to read Mulcahy’s article; my bet is you’ll be thinking about it on and off for the rest of the week.

Read Classical Music Is Cancelled! At Neo Classical

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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1 thought on “What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate”

  1. I just wanted to add to this discussion the following. In response to a concert given by the Boston Pops, someone wrote: “It was an impressive performance by a group of diverse musicians coming together to produce harmony, entertainment and a superb degree of professionalism. A performance appreciated by thousands.”

    They go on to mention how the government could follow the example orchestras set – but what they say about orchestras having to work together at a very high level is completely true, and is inspiration to any professional, and indeed any person. Orchestras prove the immense value of the whole when everyone works together – which says a lot for a 100 piece group with chorus… It’s on display for everyone to hear. When you consider how players choose instruments to work for particular pieces in particular settings, how they practice, or in performance how they adapt to whatever happens, and all the other minor decisions that are made. If one reads into it more, orchestras have the ability, and maybe even the duty, to inspire this kind of change in the public.
    Maybe it is an issue of how to package that – but the need for orchestral music seems to be more important now than ever.

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