Even MORE Obfuscations from Minnesota Orchestra Management!

The following post contains uncontrolled levels of sarcasm. If sarcasm isn’t your thing, then please, step away now.

You’ve been warned.

Warning: Radioactive levels of angry sarcasm ahead.

If you’re a new reader, please start here. Otherwise big chunks of the following won’t make much sense, and will, in fact, sound exceptionally  b*$#@y. Actually, it may sound exceptionally b*$#@y even if you know what’s going on, but at least then you’ll know why I’m sounding b*$#@y.


I’m going to start by quoting myself from a few days ago, discussing the new Misrepresentation vs. Reality chart on management’s website:

The only interesting thing about this crap is the fact that management found it necessary to post it. Is this a sign that they’re having difficulty winning over their public? Or that they’re gearing up to pull an SPCO and cancel concerts through December 31st within the next few days, and they want to be prepared for the surge of confused PO’d patrons who will be coming to their website looking for an explanation? Who the crap knows.

Sooooooo, you know what happened yesterday! Yes, either I’m psychic, or management is laughably transparent.

So here’s the latest press release, interspersed with my (bitter) commentary…

The Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) has cancelled or rescheduled its concert performances running from Friday, November 30 through Sunday, December 23, noting that contract talks with its musicians are currently at a standstill, with the Union not yet submitting a counterproposal.

You forgot to finish the sentence. Allow me: “The Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) has cancelled or rescheduled its concert performances running from Friday, November 30 through Sunday, December 23, noting that contract talks with its musicians are currently at a standstill, with the Union not yet submitting a counterproposal, because we have not yet submitted to an independent financial analysis, despite the fact our city’s newspaper encouraged us to do so in a major editorial, and, despite the fact that, bewilderingly, the publisher of this newspaper is actually on our board of directors, and despite the fact that we linked to this major editorial on our website, thereby tacitly endorsing it, and yes I know this makes absolutely no logical sense whatsoever, but we abandoned logic a long time ago, so get used to it, and also we are never ever ever answering any questions about what we’re doing, ever, no matter how politely or rudely or persistently you ask, so STOP ASKING QUESTIONS AND EXPECTING A BASIC LEVEL OF ACCOUNTABILITY, OKAY??????”


“We are very disappointed that we are no closer to an agreement today than we were in April,” said Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Jon Campbell.  “In consideration of the needs of audiences, guest artists and our performance venue to make alternate plans for the holiday season, we feel we have no choice but to cancel performances through December 23. We make this decision with heavy hearts, and once again ask our musicians to return to the negotiating table with a substantive proposal so our concert schedule can resume as soon as possible.”

Yes, extremely heavy hearts, I’m sure. Hearts made out of…

*clears throat*

(Also I think it’s hilarious that Campbell thinks this early cancellation will be somehow be a service to their guest artists, and enable them to make “alternate plans.” Um, no. Not really. It’s extremely difficult to get gigs on this short of notice. It’s unclear whether Campbell understands this. I don’t think he does. Honestly, why should he? He’s doing a zillion other things right now; his prime focus isn’t the orchestra. It never has been. Never will be.)

(I would also love to know if management is legally obligated to pay their guest artists for their canceled performances, or if some clause was inserted that kept the MOA from having to pay them in the event of a strike or a lockout…)

Contract talks between the MOA and its musicians, who are members of the Twin Cities Musicians’ Union (Local 30-73), began on April 12.  The MOA’s final proposal offers a total package averaging $119,000, including an average salary of $89,000 with $30,000 in benefits per musician.  The proposal also includes 10 weeks of paid vacation and up to 26 weeks of paid sick leave.

Ugh, for crap’s sake. I’ve already debunked this “paid vacation” and “sick leave” stuff, and still you keep regurgitating it. We’re not baby birds, thanks. We’re sentient human adults who can think for ourselves…and even Google things! (Shocking, I know.) Once again, the proposed base salary is $78,000. Musicians don’t have ten weeks of paid vacation; they play every single day of their lives; “vacation” is merely “weeks they don’t play with orchestra.” Musicians also don’t have sick leave; they have injury leave. Obfuscation obfuscation obfuscation blah blah blah nothing new nothing new nothing new ever ever ever.

Musicians have never put forward a counterproposal, but have instead called for the Board to submit to binding arbitration, to conduct an independent financial audit, or to engage in “pay and play.”

Sorry, but I can’t help but laugh at this. “Pay and play“? Love the alliteration there; very catchy! Did you focus group that? Did someone decide that the phrase “play and talk” sounded too reasonable? Did someone finally tell you in the orchestral world, “playing and talking” can’t technically happen while a contract is still in place? Did you realize that the whole music world was laughing and pointing at you? Who knows. But it makes me giggle – bitterly – to think of these discussions even happening. But the bizarre thing is, they had to have

*imagination runs wild*

CAMPBELL: The musicians say they want to play and talk? No, no, no. That sounds much too reasonable. I believe we have a slight PR problem on our hands. Nothing unmanageable, but I think we need to re-brand, come up with another phrase for that. Anybody? Henson, what do you have?

HENSON: I’m not quite sure, sir. How about something about how if we allow them to play, the musicians will slowly but surely suck the lifeblood out of a once-mighty organization?

DAVIS: No. Not catchy enough. We need something catchy. *phone rings* Just a minute, guys; Pawlenty’s on the other line… *exits room*

CAMPBELL: That’s your job, Henson. Come up with a phrase. Got to be shorter. You heard what Davis said. Give it some zazz.

HENSON: Zazz, sir? (thinks) Perhaps something with alliteration?

CAMPBELL: Hey, I like that! Excellent idea. Yes, I think we could turn this whole thing around with some alliteration. Get on that, Henson.

What’s your favorite Orwellian phrase from the orchestral apocalypse? So far we have “vital holiday festival”, “market reset”, and “pay and play.” I’m sure we’ll get more as the weeks – sorry, months – go on. (Oh, yeah. You heard me right. I called it. After today, I don’t feel as if this will end until the fall of 2013, at the earliest. Somebody please prove me wrong. PLEASE.)

“Moving to a ‘pay and play’ agreement following our contract’s expiration would result in our organization continuing to incur significant operating losses,” said Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson. “We simply cannot continue operating under the terms of a contract our community cannot afford.”

Quick question: can our community afford Michael Henson? Shouldn’t the greatest orchestra in the world have the greatest orchestra CEO in the word? Can anyone on the face of this earth make a remotely cogent case that Michael Henson is one of the great orchestra CEOs in the world? I’m dead serious here. Anyone? The comment section is open!!

The board turned down the players’ suggestion of binding arbitration, noting that it is highly unusual to turn to arbitration to settle a contract dispute when one party has yet to engage in negotiations by submitting a proposal.

Other things that are highly unusual: gay Republicans, Linux, two-headed calves, demonstrative Scandinavians, and disabled 23-year-olds who get international attention for their blogging about the Minnesota Orchestra’s series of epic failures of mismanagement. And yet, strangely, all of these things exist. Is that really your best defense of your refusal to go through binding arbitration? “It is highly unusual”?

Cue Barney Frank again: “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” How do you even engage with these kinds of intellectually lazy arguments? You don’t. You mock them.

The Board has been supportive of involving a neutral third party in the contract talks, however, and a Federal Mediator is overseeing the negotiations.  Every year the MOA undergoes an independent audit and previous years’ audited financials have all been shared with musicians.   The MOA is currently undergoing an independent audit for F2012 which will be shared with musicians upon its completion.

But that’s actually different from an independent financial analysis, because an independent financial analysis would include other –

Oh, *(#*$(#*$@# it. They know the difference; they’re businessmen. They just don’t give a crap. They just want to manipulate all the poor souls who take their line as gospel. *cracks open a beer* *downs it*

A Painful Time for All
“This is a very painful time for Orchestra leadership, musicians and all Minnesotans who love classical music,” said MOA Negotiations Committee Chair Richard Davis.

Aww. Yes. Yes, I’m sure it is painful for you. Very very painful. Heartwrenching. However, it’s slightly more painful for certain individuals…like the people who aren’t being paid, have no health insurance, and are currently seeking jobs in other states or countries. It’s a little insulting – okay, INCREDIBLY UNBELIEVABLY SCREAMWORTHILY INSULTING! – to suggest that the pain that the board is feeling is in ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM ~~~REMOTELY SIMILAR~~~ to the pain the musicians are feeling. O.M.G. That would be like me going up to a double amputee and saying sympathetically, “I know what you’re going through. I stubbed my toe once.” NO. NO. NO. That is TOTALLY. INAPPROPRIATE.

“It is the Board’s role to safeguard the Orchestra for the long term so that it may serve our community for many decades to come as an artistically great and financially solvent organization.

Really? Fascinating. Because I’ve seen absolutely no indication whatsoever that the Board wants to safeguard the orchestra. Instead, I see a Board of wealthy out-of-touch people who appear to know very little about how major orchestras work, who are drunk on the ambrosia of their own power, who are treating an internationally renowned cultural institution in much the same way spoiled children would treat their own personal sandbox, who worship ideology at the expense of reality, and who are consistently – obstinately – avoiding all calls for public accountability, no matter how loud those cries grow.

Funny how your perspective changes what you see, isn’t it?

The fact is if we continue to draw down our endowment at the current rate, which is more than three times what is considered sustainable, to fund a contract we cannot afford, the MOA endowment will be depleted by 2018 and the future of the Minnesota Orchestra will be in jeopardy.  We believe that our community deserves a solution, and we hope that our musicians will come back to the table at their earliest possible convenience.”

I hope you guys allow your musicians to address you at your earliest possible convenience, too. Oh, you didn’t – ? Despite the fact the mayor and city council advised you to? Oh. Well… That was…charitable…

In 2011, the Minnesota Orchestra posted a $2.9 million deficit, the largest in the Orchestra’s history, and the organization anticipates an operating loss near $6 million for Fiscal 2012, for which an independent audit is currently underway.

(Why do I imagine this being read in a tone of excited relish?) *shakes this heretical thought*

The musicians’ 2007 contract, which expired on October 1, 2012, included an increase of 19.2 percent to musician base salary over the life of the five-year contract.

(Psst. You signed this contract. And even expressed confidence that you’d be able to balance the budget with it in place. Just wanted to remind you. Because from the way you’re talking, I think you might have forgotten.)

The Orchestra’s Board fulfilled that contractual obligation to musicians by taking additional draws from the organization’s endowment.

*sound of screeching brakes* Wait. Stop. Stop everything.

Are you really trying to garner sympathy from me by pointing out that you fulfilled your contractual obligations? A contractual obligation you okayed, by the way? Is that our standard now? That’s like a wife saying, “Look at how smoking hot that man is! I resisted the urge to sleep with him. Aren’t I a wonderful person for keeping my marriage vows?” … What? I hate to break it to you, but, um, no. You aren’t a wonderful person for doing that. At all.

Hey, guess what? As a professional violinist, when I sign a contract to play at someone’s wedding, I invariably show up and play the wedding. Everyone, praise how responsible I am!

Concert Detail
All ticketholders to December concerts will be directly contacted by the Orchestra to outline ticketing options.   “We have sought to give our ticketholders advance notice around these concert cancellations in order to allow them time to make alternate plans during a busy holiday entertainment season,” said Henson. “We’ve also tried to reschedule as many of the performers as possible in December 2013, so that our patrons still have the opportunity to see these popular artists.”

Oh, how generous of you, Mr. Henson! I wonder how many of your musicians will have the opportunity to back up these popular artists? I wonder if you care? Because I’m not really getting the vibe that you particularly give a crap. Say what you will about me – I’m rude – mean – sarcastic – over-dramatic – a total B – but nobody in their right mind would accuse me of not caring. I do this out of love. I do it out of passion for this organization. I do it for free. You, on the other hand…

So. Bottom line: if you wanted to hear holiday music played by the Minnesota Orchestra this season, you’re out of luck. In fact, you were a naive sucker to guess those concerts would take place. You gullible, gullible fool.

An aural representation of the 2012 holiday season in the Twin Cities music scene

More substantial analysis coming later. Sorry; this was mainly a venting post. It’s not going to change anything, or persuade anybody, or contribute to any constructive discussion. I probably shouldn’t even have published it. But for crap’s sake, this whole thing is so ridiculous. Permit me some venting time, please.

Also, if any members of management are reading this – and I know you are – I hope you’re satisfied that you made the disabled girl whose life was forever changed by the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra to go to bed last night weeping uncontrollably. My heart broke in half. Split down the middle. And it wasn’t because of the crisis itself; it was how you’ve chosen to respond to it. It was because of your cold-hearted callousness, and your complete inability to regard the musicians – or concerned patrons – or me – as sentient human beings. It was devastating to realize that the powerful among us have apparently no empathy or sympathy or humanity, or concern for anyone but themselves. What a void of leadership. I will hold you accountable for this. And I vow here, very publicly, that I will fight you, kicking and screaming, until I can drag some answers out of you.

This will, eventually, pass. Who knows who will still be here by the time it passes, or who will get paid what when it passes, but it will, eventually, pass. (I don’t think Henson could earn his $400,000 salary for more than, say, two years without somebody stepping in…do you? *gets nervous wondering*) Anyway. I can guarantee you that the men and women who run the orchestra of the future will look back on this whole lockout and use you as a shining example of what not to do and how not to act. If you want to be remembered that way…cool, I guess. Whatever. It’s your legacy, not mine. (Although I do have to say, the longer your stubbornness drags on, the more famous I get, so I do have to thank you for that…) But I can’t begin to fathom why you’d want this stain of mismanagement on your resume…or your conscience. Everyone is pointing at you and staring in horror. You are a train wreck. And the worst part is, judging from your public statements, you don’t even know it.


What you think you are


What you actually are

Some last minute addenda that came up after I finished the essay. but which didn’t warrant their own entry…

Michael Henson isn’t really bothered by musicians leaving, judging by this MPR article. He says that he can’t stop musicians who choose to leave. (Um…I’d hope he couldn’t stop them… They’re not under house arrest in Henson’s basement……..I don’t think……….) He’s convinced that a major reason musicians will want to be in Minneapolis – and I am not making this up – is because Minneapolis is “very easy to get around.” If you put your basic humanity away for a moment, and forget the upheaval his behavior has caused, his total disconnect from and denial of reality is almost as entertaining as Karl Rove’s on election night. (Almost.) He also – apparently unconsciously – raises an interesting point when he says, “It is one of the truly great communities of America and the world to live in.” Of course that begs the question: shouldn’t a world-class community be able to support a world-class orchestra? Question: how can you get a world-class orchestra when no sane world-class player wants to join us? (Oh, but I forgot: Minneapolis is easy to get around. Yes, the leaders of the organization may consistently disrespect the contributions of musicians, but at least musicians can take buses and enjoy bike paths once in a while…)

Here are some closing words that ought to serve a rallying cry for us all…

That simple single paragraph says more than I’ve said this whole entry, and more eloquently, too.

Ball is in your court, management. Try explaining why you won’t undergo an independent financial analysis or go through binding arbitration to a sobbing eight-year-old. I’ll wait.


Filed under My Writing

4 responses to “Even MORE Obfuscations from Minnesota Orchestra Management!

  1. Emily, I love you. And your sarcasm.

    Would you post the whole of the Michael Henson article on your blog? If you really are getting international attention, EVERYONE needs to see that article. Someone might be able to do something about the sketchy things Michael Henson and the Board are doing

    • Not long ago, I posted screenshots of the whole thing under The Mysterious Disappearing Michael Henson article after the cached version disappeared. It is ridiculously damning, isn’t it? Utterly bewildering how they possibly could have overlooked that thing in their lead-up to the lockout announcement. Someone clearly spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours on the material they posted on their website…and yet they forgot to check what was still up to see if it matched their narrative. What a pathetic display of incompetence. https://songofthelark.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/the-mysterious-disappearing-michael-henson-article/

      And if you’re interested in sketchy things, be sure to stay tuned for tomorrow’s entry, which will feature the research of a guest blogger who has been digging into the publicly available documents that discuss the MOA’s finances. She is very confused and troubled by what she’s found there, as am I. Hopefully there are benign answers to the questions she raised…but unfortunately I’m not holding my breath. I’m hoping, however, that raising hard issues about confusing numbers will encourage local reporters to step up to the plate, or else force a representative from the MOA to explain their position more fully. We’ll see.

      Hey, I’m sorry I missed you at the November 18 show! I looked for you afterward but it was so crazy, and I imagine you left relatively early. I’m going to be at the December 16 show – will you? I also appreciate your contributions to the massive Minnesota Orchestra concert cancellation thread. They’ve been excellent.

      • I assume you got my Facebook message then? YES! I will be there! The tickets seem to be selling out fast, I need to buy mine tomorrow. I’ll be in the cheap seats!

      • Also, I am “excited” (more like anxious) to read tomorrow’s post.

        In other news, I think SPCO might be done for :( it’s incredibly sad but the recent developments make it seem like there is no hope left and the management seems worse (if that’s possible) then minnesota orchestra. Another important factor is that they are much smaller which means less money, less support, less visibility and less power in general. I don’t mean anything bad against the musicians at all, they are just as astounding as mn orch, but it puts them at a disadvantage when compared to the size, support and visibility of mn orch. It’s so sad. I’ll be completely devastated if they fall apart.

        I think Minnesota Orchestra still has a chance. I won’t give up on them…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s