Atlanta shuts down comment

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra shut down the ‘comments’ facility on its website last night after being deluged with negative responses to its lockout. Soon, its board and management may resort to using bodyguards, as they did in Minnesota.

All so unnecessary.

These are peaceful musicians. Talk to them. Listen.

atlanta musicians

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  • These people, these board members, don’t love the arts.

    They come from “business” backgrounds, are interested in running an “entertainment” venue, and view the 100 musicians of the ASO as one of the “acts.”

    In that equation, a symphony orchestra is nothing but a large, costly band, and Mahler symphonies are the loud, gushy center of the repertory.

    Go to http://www.woodruffcenter.org and try finding the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

    They should go back to farming peaches!

    • On the bottom of Woodruff’s homepage, there’s a clickable link to the ASO. There one can find a list of pablum questions and answers re the ASO’s current problems which on the surface sound reasonable. Anyone knowledgable re orchestras can easily see behind these absurdities.

  • It is perilous for ASO not to have their own development team in such a behemoth organization (WAC). It takes a lot focus and human persistence for an organization to raise funds. What a mistake! Every other orchestra should learn from this.

  • The assumption is that the WAC WANTS the ASO to actually, um, develop – to get their own supporters, and have ASO cultivate them. It’s total control.

  • What is sorely lacking (again), is this: to bring in a third, independent party which enjoys the trust of all sides, to facilitate discussions, ask necessary hard questions, and to enlists the help of an independent financial specialists so as to present the actual financial situation and guide all involved through a step by step process of looking at various scenarios and their financial consequences. Such a step by step process involves, according the Seattle based firm Agreement Dynamics:

    1) Beginning negotiations earlier
    2) Bringing in “neutral facilitators” before formal talks begin to build trust between labor and management
    3) Excluding managers with “historically combative relationships and/or adversarial styles” from involvement in labor relations and including managers who are respected by and have credibility with the workforce
    4) Agreeing with unions on a fallback arbitration process in the case of impasse
    5) Agreeing with unions on a joint media strategy in order to avoid airing disputes publicly.

    I would add: Provide management, board and musicians/union members taking part in negotiations with the same overview of finances as the base on which negotiations are to be conducted

    In the San Francisco Bay Area there have been strikes at the Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) system, severely impacting the life of the community (not only commuters). The Seattle based firm Agreement Dynamics has been asked to provide BART’s board and unions with recommendations so as to avoid nasty and contentious battles in the future. The firm submitted 63 (!) recommendations.

    I think it is high time for performing arts organizations to adhere to a similar process as BART now has been doing. Here is a link to a full article on the matter: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2014/09/10/bart-consultant-big-changes-needed-to-avoid-repeat-of-contract-war/

    Given the war like comments and expressions used by performing artists when communicating amongst each other on social networks, and similar verbiage employed by managers and board members, I think each and everyone can only benefit from the approach in the style recommended to BART by Agreement Dynamics. (To read examples of such language, in the variety used among BART board, management, and unions, read the quotations published in the KQED article – you will get the picture immediately.)

    Frankly, I think such approach is the ONLY way forward. Everything else is pure destruction and disaster. After Minnesota, and now Atlanta, there is absolutely no need for a third lockout – which will happen, I am afraid, if necessary lessons are not being learned on all sides.

    • If the negotiations mirror Minnesota’s as closely as it appears they want them to, the administration will turn away any offers of third-party arbitration.

    • Best response I’ve seen on these boards so far that gives at least gives a logical solution to the problem. Thank you. Loved the BART example.

      I’ve been very embarrassed to be an aspiring orchestral musician for a few days. “Warlike” was exactly the word I was thinking. On top of that, many musicians on these boards prove that they have a very limited understanding of even the basic principles of business and finance. Of course people on these boards are in a position of power to take advantage of musicians.

      Musicians need to work harder than other people. They should be required to at least get a minor in business. It would help them in any stage of their careers, whether they make it into an orchestra or not.

      • I agree that it is a good idea for musicians to have some background in and familiarity with business.

        That notwithstanding, it should not have to be the musicians’ jobs to handle business issues in an organization with a Board of Trustees and a CEO. The Board and the CEO are there to allow the musicians to do their job.

        Alas, we are seeing just how broken this system can be.

        Is there any question that the Atlanta Symphony musicians failed to do their jobs? Did they fall on their faces when making music? Of course not.

        So, who is at fault? The Board and the administration.

        Who is being made to pay for their failures? Who is being made into scapegoats? The musicians.

        I know I’m repeating myself from discussions of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout and other such messes, but it bears repeating.

      • Replying to “Peter” –

        I had to read this a couple of times to understand what you’re getting at:
        “..many musicians on these boards prove that they have a very limited understanding of even the basic principles of business and finance. Of course people on these boards are in a position of power to take advantage of musicians.”

        When you say “boards” (twice!) …what do you mean? Blogs, with comment threads? Or boards of directors? If the latter, what boards are you talking about, what musicians are on them (?!?) , and in what way don’t they understand basic principles of business? (Looking for even one cited reference here.) If you meant “boards” as in blogs or media with comment threads…then who is taking advantage of them?

        I’ll try it this way: When was there an instance of a basic principle of business NOT understood by a musician? Quote us something. Find a link. Remember, you said the musicians PROVE that they have limited understanding. Now…PROVE that occurred even once. Who, when, where.

        Another thing: What on earth can you possibly mean by being “embarrassed to be an aspiring orchestral musician”…? Whose behavior is embarrassing you?
        Your writing is kind of murky.

  • In one sense, I feel a certain pity for performing arts Boards. They are essentially clueless about the art form they are supposed to oversee. Whatever backgrounds they have in business, commerce, high society etc. gives them precisely zero qualities to oversee the management and development of an orchestra – apart, perhaps, from being able to read a balance sheet. They therefore have no alternative but to trust the CEO which they, with their total lack of knowledge, appoint. Yet with considerable frequency, CEO’s are appointed by third parties – executive search companies, few of whom have much of the very detailed and specific knowledge essential for such a key appointment in a range of very different communities. There has to be a better system!

  • As a pastoral counselor/psychotherapist, I could wish that some process similar to that suggested by Mr. Brinninkmeyer could have been/could be implemented. Alas, I think all available mistakes have already been made. I think the administration is deeply entrenched and unlikely to do anything beyond attempting to force control over the musicians.

    • Dear Andrew, as a former pastoral counselor myself (chaplain in both hospital and hospice clinical settings), I still am convinced that even mistakes already made are possible to overcome. Call it “hope against hope.” I simply refuse to accept any tendency to reduce or eliminate (by “budgeting out”) performing arts from society. Elsewhere on this blog I have once said that our world would be a much better place if each trading day on Wall Street would begin with music making. I don’t mean this as a joke only. I am a regular donor to the San Francisco Symphony, and happen to know the Executive Director, as well as some of the orchestra musicians. Unfortunately, I do not know any of the executive committee members of the board, nor (other than the occasional greeting) the board chair. Yet I am utterly convinced that, when negotiations for a new contract take place in 2016, there has to be access to the same financial information by all parties involved, i.e. also the musicians. In addition, there needs to be a person, or persons, who are independent and trusted by everybody, who can get everyone together for one or more days of going through finances and financial scenarios and their consequences, thus laying the groundwork for meaningful negotiation. Such an approach was very successfully practiced in San Francisco during the extremely complex political and labor negotiations toward the building of a new hospital in town. As described above, the most recent example is BART. Call it a “pastoral” approach, if you will. (That said, some basic business training is needed not only in conservatories, but institutes of theological study and training as well. In addition, young musicians in training need to get solid information on the spiritual and psychological and physical health issues related to a life as a professional performing artists: alcohol and substance abuse, etc., etc. – but that’s another area for discussion, though intimately related). Of course, a Symphony is not the same as a public transport system like BART. But severe harm done to each one of them will inevitably result in further savage unraveling of the societal fabric, which is in a perilous state already. I apologize for being a bit long here. Thank you for taking the time to read my response.

      • Forgot one more thing: in my conversations with SFSymphony members I try to share my thoughts in an unassuming but hopefully clear manner. A friend of mine has sent a letter in similar vein, as a humble suggestion from a friend, to the Executive Director. Who knows if it will have any effect. But we keep trying. Even if it takes many, many efforts – like drops of water, over time softening the stone…

      • Edgar,
        Thank you for your thoughtful response. You and I are in violent agreement. 🙂

        Glad to hear of your pastoral/therapeutic orientation. That orientation is very important to me.

        I appreciate your structure for anticipating negotiations and your excellent examples of successful models.

        I, too, believe that nothing is every “wrong” in some conclusive sense but that with time, attention, and care, situations like ours can be transformed.

        I continue to hope against hope.

        Andrew

  • Deacdes ago I had an enlightening conversation with a Principal player in one of the London orchestras who, as it happened to be self-governing, was also its Chairman. He had been a consultant to a number of orchestras facing problems of distrust and disconnect between Boards and musicians.His view was that far too many Board members he met regarded musicians as effectively slaves in a master/slave relationship. This was then mirrored in the musicians’ contracts.

    As suggested above, this is where an independent third party negotiator can help to make both sides see reason. At the same time, it is clearly vital that Boards and musicians together realise they are in the same boat, and never more so than today when funds for most orchestras are more difficult to come by than, say, prior to 2008. If both parties genuinely want to avoid that boat sinking, they have no choice: they have to be open and honest with each other and then together come up with a plan that will work. That means starting negotiations with a genuine understanding of the other party’s issues, honesty is essential and the rhetoric has to be toned down.

  • Exactly. It’s a bit of a distraction, isn’t it: “make those musicians understand business better!” “force music majors to take accounting classes”…et cetera.

    All those touting this (non-)solution, prove that there really is a lack of fiscal understanding on the part of the musicians. I’ll wait. Remember, ideology doesn’t count: condescending remarks about Art Is Nice And All, Sweeties, But Part Of Being a Gwown-Up Is Laying Off Your Employees.

    Musicians Understand Numbers.
    Musicians Deeply Value the Financial Security Of Their Orchestras.
    Musicians Appreciate and Comprehend Change, Trends, Sacrifice, Loan Interest, Health Benefits and Public Relations.

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