There Are No Toxic Avengers

The 3/15/2021 edition of the New York Times published an article by Julia Jacobs that reports on the beleaguered Metropolitan Opera’s efforts to wage labor war on multiple fronts. Spoiler: it’s no better than where it was a few months ago.

Having said that, there was one piece of news that should draw attention. Over the past year, 10 of the orchestra’s 97 members have retired.

At just a hair over 10%, that’s a substantial number, doubly so for an organization where the orchestra benefits more from experience and acclimation to demanding physical conditions than their symphonic cousins.

Jacob’s interviewed one of the retiring musicians, Jeremy McCoy, who served as assistant principal bass until his decision to leave. His reason for retiring early at 57 was simple.

“I don’t want to go back to big concessions and to a toxic environment,” he said.

Unlike the comics, a toxic environment doesn’t produce superheroes.

Imagine how awful a work environment must be if it’s driving away the most experienced well-paid life-long employees in key leadership positions. Would you want to go to a hospital where 10% of their senior surgeons are bailing out?

While the Met’s executive leadership may be weighing what they are paying to get the upper hand in labor relations, they may want to spend a little more time thinking about the actual cost.

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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