There’s A Reason Why You Pay Musicians

The 6/27/2018 edition of the Boston Globe published an article by Malcom Gay that reports on what appears to be a sizeable purge of the all-volunteer Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

Adaptistration People 153Orchestra chorus’ have always occupied a peculiar stakeholder position inside the larger orchestra field. In many orchestras, chorus musicians are unpaid volunteers, which stands in stark contrast to their instrumental peers.

That’s how the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus is structured so it may not come as a surprise to read in Gay’s article that existing chorus members are rather unhappy with the incoming chorus director’s decision to begin clearing house.

According to the article, the new chorus conductor, James Burton, created a re-audition process designed to force large numbers of veteran singers out of the ensemble (emphasis added).

According to several members who’ve tabulated the losses, roughly 70 choristers have resigned, retired, or been cut amid a recent re-audition cycle — the first of several Burton has planned for the ensemble’s nearly 300 members.

Simply put, expending the resources to create a multi phased audition cycle for existing volunteer chorus musicians immediately after appointing a new artistic leader risks reaching past being merely disingenuous into something darker.

While you’ll be hard pressed to find any musician that isn’t passionate about artistic standards, reconciling that need against the organizational benefits of unpaid artistic labor would almost certainly lead you to a place other than the audition process described in the Globe article.

In the end, it’s this sort of approach that contributes to apathy and low satisfaction levels among professional musicians and arts administrators.

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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