When “Repressed Joy” Is Your Brand

There’s an absolutely fabulous video making the rounds at Instagram featuring comedian Kimberly Clark in a segment about orchestras…and Gustavo Dudamel. She has quite the fan-crush on Dudamel and while her set is pure gold, there’s more going on that should get your attention.

Clark explains how much concerts move her and there’s real sincerity in her delivery. She really likes the way Dudamel’s hair bounces around too but just when Clark gets to a point where she’s on a roll about all the things that move her to joy, she forces us to realize one of most negative stereotypes the field: patrons don’t get to experience joy on their own terms.

She cuts right to the quick with one line:

“You gotta have that repressed joy when you go to the orchestra, you know?”

I felt like simultaneously laughing and crying but didn’t have the time because she launched right into another truth.

“They just take all the joy away, you gotta go ‘Mm, beautiful music.’ That’s no fun.”

If you’re wondering who “they” are, it’s us. Every manager, musician, board member, and core audience member who rolls their eyes, shushes another patron, uses “Beloved” in marketing copy, lectures an audience member for clapping between movements, or simply doesn’t take the time to make patrons feel welcome.

We’re not just maintaining an environment of repressed joy; we’ve made it our brand.

Fun Fact: I grabbed the video embed code from Dudamel’s Insta profile (H/T Jamie Roberts).

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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