Why is my orchestra such a hostile workplace?

Why is my orchestra such a hostile workplace?

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norman lebrecht

April 07, 2021

Emily Skala, principal flute of the Baltimore Symphony, recently felt the wrath of her management and some of her colleague when some of her less orthodox opinions were leaked to the media. Emily believes this hostility is endemic to many orchestras, especially those where minorities of gender and race are seriously underrepresented.

She has published a response to the issue in the Baltimore Sun, which we are happy to share with an international readership.

 

I am a professional classical musician and educator for 38 years, 32 here in Baltimore. I’ve performed in all the major venues of North America, Europe, several in Asia and a few in South America. My students and colleagues have come from all over the world, representing all ethnicities, and music has been our common thread. My employer, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, recently sought to distance the organization from me and my views, expressed on Facebook, regarding coronavirus and the legitimacy of the November election. Subsequently, someone I do not know has aired two of my work emails on social media as supposed evidence of racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. (”Baltimore Symphony Orchestra rebukes flutist over social posts pushing conspiracy theories on vaccines, election,” Feb. 16)
I had posted information from what I understand to be peer-reviewed studies, independent journalists and licensed medical doctors who weren’t chosen to be presented on our mainstream channels, along with educational videos and charts. These pieces contradict what we are being told through mass media. I posted these things as an act of compassion, an act of humanitarian aid. After all, I have been rescuing animals from the age of 4, teaching music from the age of 15, gainfully employed since the age of 21, and a member of Amnesty International and the like since the age of 26. My social media activity is simply consistent with who I am.

BSO senior management believes by making an announcement distancing themselves from my views, they are safeguarding their interests. In their post, management claimed that my activity does not comport with their “code of conduct grounded in humanity and respect.” This led to a public outcry for my resignation, as I am supposedly not worthy of them. And of course, this must delight the “colleagues” who supplied my work emails to Baltimore-based soprano Melissa Wimbish, who tweeted about how “upsetting” she found them.

How backward this all looks from my vantage point. Where is “humanity and respect” when the BSO allows its musicians to claw away at each other, fomenting hate speech on the BSO’s professional Facebook page for patrons and donors to participate in the public stoning of a veteran VIP player? A local singer suggesting the principal flutist is a danger to the organization and personnel? While leadership does nothing? Does that sound respectful? Humane? Where is the public show of support from the chair of the Players’ Committee? The Union?

My emails were exposed for two reasons: I spoke of two of my own experiences with discrimination. First in Pittsburgh, where I believe leadership colluded with another player to ensure I would not receive tenure; and second, here in Baltimore, where I have been the first female principal in the wind, brass and percussion sections of the BSO since joining in ’88. It was another 12 years before the BSO had another woman leading a section, violinist Qing Li in 2000, followed by oboist Katherine Needleman in 2003, conductor Marin Alsop in 2005, and violist Lisa Steltenpohl in 2014.

If we are going to be honest about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the BSO, please let’s acknowledge our significant progress, and our Asian, Portuguese, Mexican/Native American musicians, and women principals, as well as our Black colleagues who populate the stage in 2021. By my count, we have 17 musicians of color, including a narrator, and 28 women out of 77 players. Altogether, we have 35 people — nearly half of our performers — who are traditionally underrepresented in symphony orchestras.

This was the point I was trying to make when my microphone was purposely cut off at last summer’s DEI Zoom meeting. I was once again experiencing workplace discrimination by a male colleague for being a female leader exercising my voice and expressing my ideas based upon my legitimate experiences, which I then wrote about in two emails to the participants in that meeting. I considered the point to be very, very important, which is why I risked everything, trusting even the potentially untrustworthy colleagues with my truth, in search of an honest exchange under the aegis of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. I was extremely upset after that incident. I called a member of senior management to explain what had happened and asked for her help. I let her know, not for the first time and not for the last time, that we have a problem with discrimination against women; that I am being harassed.

Well, the quality of senior management’s response to this call is on display now. And this player is coming forward to ask you to hold them responsible for a hostile workplace.

Emily Skala

The writer is the principal flutist in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Comments

  • Paul Dawson says:

    When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

    • Rogerio says:

      To put it another way;
      Seems Emily just can’t shut the f*** up.

      • Musician says:

        This self-described “veteran VIP player” believes she’s the real victim. Like many, she’s completely adrift and in desperate need of attention to compensate for the lack of solo bows.

        Her tenuous grasp of reality goes back decades, when she made up a story to save her ego because she was denied tenure in Pittsburgh. Always the victim, this woman.

        • Rogerio says:

          A tenuous grasp on reality.
          But a pretty strong grasp on that orchestra salary.
          You gotta give her credit for that.

        • Emily Skala says:

          Musician, your remarks are based on quite a few assumptions, to start with. “Always?” Do we know each other? Have you observed some kind of a pattern, in your opinion? “Victim?” You judge these experiences to have no merit based on very few details. That’s quite a feat. “Tenuous grasp of reality?” Without the details, how can your grasp of my reality be anything but tenuous. Honestly, you are bold, and that is putting it nicely! “Self-described veteran VIP player…” Well, not sure what the problem is. A veteran is a long-standing player (32 yrs is a long time) and a Principal is a VIP player on the team, so to speak, as a loose sport analogy. Did I say anything about solo bows?

      • Giustizia says:

        Spoken like a true Maoist. She’ll learn to shut up and won’t dare to question the Official Narratives once we open those re-education camps, right?

        • Emily Skala says:

          I believe a lot of folks will be mightily surprised to see who ends up in those camps.

        • Emily Skala says:

          All this time I was under the impression you Brits were such gentle and kind, well-bred folks.

          • Hayne says:

            It was sarcasm Emily…

          • Hayne says:

            “All this time I was under the impression you Brits were such gentle and kind, well-bred folks.” I don’t know about that. After all, the Brits invented concentration camps in the Boer War.

      • Giustizia says:

        In other words, how dare she question the Official Narratives. Spoken like a true Maoist. She’ll learn to obey and shut up once we open those re-education camps, right?

      • Emily Skala says:

        It’s a letter to the editor, Rogerio, because for twelve years my employer did nothing to address insubordination and workplace harassment; to stop people interfering with my job. It’s called standing up for myself. I think you would do well to practice civil discourse and some empathy. I sure would appreciate it.

    • Save the MET says:

      Though I am loathe to get political, she’s pulling a Gaetz.

    • Trumpers gonna trump says:

      It’s all ok though, she saved an animal once when she was 4.

      • Ruth Desmond says:

        We all miss Trump.

        Biden’s senility has supported the calls to invoke the 25th Amendment as he is both highly offensive and clearly unfit. His white privilege is now on full, horrid display.

        • Antoine P. says:

          At least Biden is trying to keep guns out of the hands of black and hispanic criminals!

          Can’t wait until he makes the Whitehouse, Capitol, SCOTUS, etc all GUN-FREE ZONES to set a positive example of Democrat leadership.

        • jt says:

          What is wrong with you?

    • Emily Skala says:

      That’s one way of putting it, Paul. Or when you find others continually slinging dirt at you but you want your quality of life back, dig your way out of the hole they keep trying to bury you in.

  • Music fan says:

    Cry me a river. Would Emily Skala like some cheese to go with her whine? Any employer looking to protect its bottom line would sensibly distance itself from the kind of tin-foil cap nonsense Skala was pushing. Not “peer-reviewed” as she claims – but utter folderol.

    A similar situation happened in Cleveland when a classical radio host made racist comments about Koreans. He was rightly dismissed and took refuge in a self-funded program on a radio station that’s part of the “Salem Media Group” which is affiliated with a host of right-wing sites. Perhaps Skala should do the same an apply to play intros/outros for “Fox & Friends.”

  • Fred says:

    Any other employer would distance themselves from an employee that had her views. She’s has a right to her opinions, but she doesn’t have a right to demand her colleagues or her employer approve of them.

  • Pagano says:

    I always consult flutists when I want to learn about vaccines and pandemics. So much more reliable than those pesky epidemiologists!

    • Hayne says:

      Yeah, I get my information from such highly regarded “epidemiologists” such as Dr. Fauci, Dr. Tedros and of course the brilliant Dr. Gates.
      Your flaw is in conflating Ms Skala’s posting of peer reviewed studies, medical doctors and journalists writings as her own.

  • Alan says:

    You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.

    And when your opinion is ridiculous you should expect to be ridiculed.

    As someone notes in another comment. Time to put the shovel down.

  • sam says:

    Skala is very cagey about the precise nature of her exposed emails, here’s what she actually wrote, you be the judge whether she’s anti-semitic and racist:

    “You saw the part where Hitler is quite probably the offspring of a Rothschild? Half Jew himself? Except his mother was Polish and many Poles are Jews. Is it possible he was more than half Jew? So that Adolf Hitler may have taken the last four letters of the Ashkenazi sect to identify his party by code language, a war tactic.”

    “I was a gentile in a flute section of middle-to-old-aged Jewish men.”

    “[Black children] need to be trained to love Classical music from an early age and their families have to also learn how to support and encourage their music education.”

    “Our color palette [at the BSO] is acoustical, not visual; metaphysical, not physical.”

    -Emily Skala, Principal Flute, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

  • Jimmie says:

    I see Emily’s post strictly as her right to speak out and defend herself. She has every right to express her opinions. If her opinions upset the fragile whinny weak, so be it. Good for Emily for fighting back. I hope she continues to express herself even if the pansies get upset. The BSO should not have made a statement. By doing so they contributed to the controversy and division within the orchestra. I admire her tenacity.

    • Larry D says:

      Do you often use the term “pansies”? Among your friends, no doubt.

      • RLW says:

        “Do you often use the term “pansies”? Among your friends, no doubt.”

        I like pansies…pretty flowers…they belong to the genus “Viola”, so as a viola player I would like them I suppose…

      • MWnyc says:

        I’ve grown pansies. They’re pretty tough and resilient.

    • Symphony musician says:

      In the UK a ‘pansy’, euphemistically speaking, was traditionally a very derogatory synonym for a gay man, so you might want to rethink your choice of words.

    • Symphony musician says:

      In the UK the word ‘pansy’, euphemistically speaking, was traditionally a derogatory synonym for a gay man, so you may want to rethink your choice of words.

  • Y says:

    Leftwing authoritarians can’t tolerate dissent. They try to crush anyone with opposing viewpoints. Such has always been the case. Unfortunately, those leftwing authoritarians are now in control of pretty much every Western institution. They can reshape public opinion however they want, and in so doing, turn ordinary people like Ms. Skala into social pariahs, which is what they’re doing. It’s a power they wield ruthlessly and without remorse. Welcome to Nazi Germany, A.K.A. 21st-century America.

    • Music fan says:

      Tomorrow is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Your comparison of the embarrassment Ms. Skala brought upon herself with the real terror that took place as a result of the Nazi regime does a profound disservice to those who suffered during the Holocaust.

      And the Nazi’s were a right-wing movement.

      • Hayne says:

        “And the Nazi’s were a socialist movement.”
        FIFY

        A lot of bad education around…

        • John Kelly says:

          You must be like the guy who told me a few weeks ago that WW2 was “a war against Socialism”. He drew a blank when I reminded him the USSR won the war……….

      • Y says:

        The whole point of Holocaust Remebrance Day is to prevent such bigotry and human stupidity from happening again. Well, guess what? It IS happening again, carried out by the Left and their “moderate” liberal allies, who are only too glad to give their extremist cousins a free pass.

        Yes, America is in the grips of leftwing extremism, and the Nazi comparison — especially to anyone who has been on the receiving end of the Left’s bigotry and intolerance — is apt.

        Of course, a comparison to the Cultural Revolution in China would be even MORE apt, but not many people would understand it these days, because our schools don’t teach kids about the Cultural Revolution. I wonder why that is…?

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Thank you for this comment, Music fan.

      • Giustizia says:

        Which is why they called themselves National Socialists. But either left or right wing they had the same totalitarian statist impulses. Competing thugocracies. Neither side believes in genuine diversity or freedom of expression. Both were and are cancel cultures.

    • Lars says:

      Bigotry and anti -science conspiracies are not opposing points of view. And nobody is saying that she can’t spew her ignorance.
      Consequence is not the same as censorship.

      • Emily Skala says:

        Lars, I am many things but ignorant is not one of them. I shall clarify my Pittsburgh experience soon for all of you on this side of the pond, but in the meantime, consider what former CIA spy Kevin Shipp says here:
        https://youtu.be/d19y78LnJtw

    • Bash says:

      Tell that to Colin Kaepernick. It was Trump who called for players to be fired for taking a knee at NFL games. He and the NFL fans prefer to see blue knees on black necks.

    • Giustizia says:

      The totalitarian mindset of the snowflake cancel culture movement is much closer to and modelled on the Maoist Red Guard cultural revolution. Even Orwell didn’t quite anticipate it happening in a nation with supposed human rights constitutional safeguards. But for today’s ruling left, ‘1984’ is an operations manual.

  • Johnny says:

    Satire is dead.You couldn’t make her up, she’s terrific. Made my day.

  • I am totally unsurprised an orchestra org of 100+ people has “office politics” at work, where people maneuver on grounds other than merit or talent.

    But… “the legitimacy of the November election…”

    Oh jeez.

    The writer seems to have fallen for some of the most preposterous disinformation notions currently circulating.

    I haven’t read her comments about COVID but if they are as well-grounded as the election stuff they are likely to be quite bonkers as well and more dangerous for practical purposes.

    How does one take that person seriously in any other complaint she has?

    • Hayne says:

      Mr. Holmen,
      Why don’t you at least try to research information on the disputed election. You know, stuff that isn’t censored…

    • Paul Dawson says:

      “Bonkers” does not go far enough for her Covid stuff.

      The virus was apparently manufactured in North Carolina and shipped to Wuhan. No explanation as to why anybody would do this. Amazing that someone so deranged can play the flute as well as she (presumably) can.

      However, I think if I were offered a Faustian pact – you can be a very talented musician, on condition that you sign up to a collection of idiotic conspiracy theories – I think I’d be tempted to take it.

      Having written that, back to trying to trying to get my fingers to play the final chords in BWV 851 as they should be done. If they come out sublime this time, I’ll know that Faust has been monitoring me.,

    • Paul Dawson says:

      Freudian slip – Mephistopheles, of course. Like many, I wish NL allowed post-submission editing.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Thank you for this comment, Robert Holmén.

    • D.T. says:

      She’s “only a woman” as Cuomo would say..about all of his victims.

    • Emily Skala says:

      Robert, clearly you have access to technology, too. Why don’t you put it to positive good use, rather than passively allowing corrupt government and media people to program your mind? Do you think Sidney Powell has falsified evidence in court with her all this time? Standing her ground on nothingness? Convinced with nothingness so strongly she left the president’s defense team to lead the Dominion law suit team instead? Standing up for Democracy and world freedom on the basis of fiction? Does she strike you as that kind of individual? One with no integrity?

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    The villains in all of this are the people who attack, mob, and create an environment of intolerance all the while demanding it from others for themselves. But, in the end ES needs to realize that fairness is elusive and its time to let this episode pass.

  • Susie says:

    Kind of surprised her contract does not include a public decorum clause. It’s not uncommon for there to be regulations about what one can publish on social media. There’s a huge difference between saying those type of very questionable things in a private friends only context and running your mouth in a public forum.

    • Saxon says:

      “Bringing your employer into disrepute” is usually something that lands an employer in trouble.

      If I was an organisation attempting to encourage ethnic minority (or Jewish, if we don’t include them amongst ethinic minorities) participation and financial contributions, I would not be happy to have an employer putting this stuff on facebook. I can imagine potential donors might not want to contribute if they believe their money is being spent on people with these sort of views.

    • Emily Skala says:

      Susie, the BSO didn’t make a social media policy until the 2nd week of February 2021. It isn’t in anyone’s individual contracts per se. Anyway, I never posted anything that wasn’t factual. I always established that first.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The Left will finally always eat itself. That’s fair.

    • Ainslie says:

      Certainly not with the gusto with which the Republican right is attempting to obliterate anyone who refuses to declare fealty to Donald Trump.

  • Pablo Sulang says:

    Says the malignant narcissist.

  • Zandonai says:

    Gone were the days when entertainers and musicians kept their nose out of religion and politics and knew when to shut up.

    • Emily Skala says:

      That’s offensive and it shows how little art you partake of. Artists are the ones singing and painting and writing and depicting socio-political situations to heighten awareness more than any other sector of society. Poets, sculptors, composers, philosophers…

    • Hayne says:

      Which was when, Zandonai?

  • Save the MET says:

    I suspect Madame Skala has a fairly standard entertainment contract with the orchestra, as most orchestras do with a morals clause which forbids public speech including the internet which would bring shame and embarrassment to the institution. I suspect based upon what I have read that she posted, that she likely will be unemployed in the near future. Orchestra boards of directors do not take kindly to this sort of codswallop.

    • Solzhenitsyn was right. says:

      “most orchestras do with a morals clause which forbids public speech”

      what you really mean to say,-

      Most larger organisations are forbidding free speech as are governments.
      I don’t care what she said, she has the right to say whatever she likes without getting lynched on here too.

      “All it takes for tyranny to triumph is for good people to do nothing”.

      It starts small then before you know where you are next, it’s “gulag archipelago”..for reasons not a single person could imagine or understand.

      • Grow up says:

        You sure you want to use the word “lynched?”

        The expectation of freedom from accountability amazes me. That’s the true definition of privilege.

      • Ainslie says:

        The first amendment only prohibits the government from inhibiting free speech. Businesses and private institutions are under no such constraint.

        A business, corporation or orchestra can decide that opinions offered by employees, when identifying themselves as affiliated with the institution, can be a reason for disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

        Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but there are — and there should be — consequences for expressing them.

        Words matter, and they have consequences. If an employer believes that a statement by someone identifiable as an employee has damaged its reputation, then the employer is free to express its opinion in disciplinary actions.

        • Emily Skala says:

          I think you are confused. Speech with consequences, by definition, is not free speech. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The employer is not above the Constitution and it does guarantee us freedom of speech. Also, the employer cannot fire an employee for the employee’s beliefs. That said, I am being
          FALSELY accused of racism and antisemitism. I am seeking a public apology and statement to that effect from my employer to correct the record, because of course they know this.

      • Save the MET says:

        Typical, put a small portion of what I stated without including the qualifier. If she embarrasses the organization, should she still be employed. What she said was extremely radical and antithetical in some of her statements to the truth. She had every right to say it, but as she did it in public, they have every right to fire her if there is a morals clause. Keep in mind if it is in her contract as I suspect it is, she signed the contract. The leadership of the orchestra also does not have to sit back and take it.

        • John Kelly says:

          Quite right, as an employee try talking trash about your employer in public and see how long you last. Employment is at the discretion of the employer – imagine if first flute in a major orchestra started a blog trashing their conductor and colleagues – no contract renewal for certain………….

          • Emily Skala says:

            talking trash about my employer? where? the title here is Norman’s, btw. the BSO represented themselves

        • Emily Skala says:

          too many assumptions

        • Emily Skala says:

          Save the MET, I made my posts public as an act of conscience, to educate as many people as possible as to the true situation all around us. Information sharing, creating awareness, generating knowledge is never radical or antithetical to anything that my employer stands for in general, but at a time when society is controlled by deeply ingrained fear, it did seem to cause alarm within the public consuming our product. What IS radical is that Operation Mockingbird is still ongoing, ever since WWII. That is something worth looking into.

          While I do have tenure, and this is common here, I am not aware of a morals clause in any US orchestra contract to date.

    • Emily Skala says:

      interesting point of view

  • Rumor monger says:

    Did SD ask for the other named individuals’ comments before publication?

  • John Porter says:

    “First in Pittsburgh, where I believe leadership colluded with another player to ensure I would not receive tenure…” She “believes” leadership colluded…Of course she does. Maybe that’s part of the problem with this person, that she is always attacking others, putting out controversial and sometimes hostile statements, and then she claims she’s the victim. In Pittsburgh, does she really think that there is a pure line between the orchestra leadership and the musicians, when it comes to tenure? But at any rate, she doesn’t really have proof that there was “collusion” (as if that were illegal in this instance). So, she accuses the PSO and its musicians, then claims she’s victimized. It’s a classic tactic, refined by Roy Cohn, the mentor to Donald Trump.

    • Emily Skala says:

      John, you just don’t know what you are talking about. All you can do is conjecture. You’d be better off asking questions rather than making statements.

  • Snowflake says:

    I’m having a hard time understanding her complaint. What has the BSO done to inconvenience her? She says it’s “on display.” But I only saw their post that said they disagree with her views.

    Is that her only complaint? That they said they disagree?

    • Emily Skala says:

      Well, if you consider that they have allowed cyber bullying to the tune of 674 comments, the angry mob calling for my resignation over false accusations, saying I am not worthy of the organization, no one speaking on my behalf, defamation, disrespect, implied violence, etc. when they could have said they same thing in a newsletter to their subscribers and donors, I call that an intent to cause harm, or even retaliation, which is illegal.

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