Monthly Archives: March 2013

Guest Column, Interview, and Happy Anniversary

I wrote a guest column this week for Opine Season…

Check it out.

It’s a little piece called “The Orchestral ICU.” Hope you enjoy. Or enjoy it as much as you can within the context of your world-renowned orchestra imploding, leastways.

Speaking of which, happy six month lockout anniversary!

I also did an interview for Stubble Magazine a ways back but I don’t think I ever mentioned it here on the blog. You can read that here.

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Filed under Interviews, Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Detroit, Minnesota, and Funhouse Mirrors

Will the DSO be Michigan’s next casualty in this recession?

YES, if DSO management and board of trustees have their way.

They believe the DSO cannot survive in its current form and propose to downgrade our orchestra from its world-class stature by drastically reducing the number of musicians and performances, slashing the musicians’ compensation and benefits while imposing draconian working conditions…

We are DSO patrons, donors, subscribers, business owners and community members.

We are people who love great music and also recognize the economic value that this powerful orchestra brings to Detroit and Michigan.

We believe so strongly in preserving the essential character and tradition of this world-class orchestra that we formed the nonprofit group: Save Our Symphony (SOS).

The mission of SOS is to promote and support the world-class artistic excellence and stature of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and to hold its management and board of trustees accountable for their fiduciary responsibilities to the public trust including the preservation of this great orchestra and its future.

Join us so your voice can be heard: please register your email with us to stay sharp on the latest updates. Thank you for your patience as we establish contact information and build our website.


A few weeks ago I was contacted by David Assemany, the vice president of Save Our Symphony, the audience advocacy organization that formed in the wake of the crippling 2010-2011 Detroit Symphony strike. He was curious about some figures I’d posted here on SOTL, and he said if I had any questions to contact him. Before I wrote him back, I checked the Save Our Symphony blog to read about that group’s experiences. The first entry was the one you just read.

I couldn’t scroll fast enough. I felt as though I was looking in a funhouse mirror: the reflection wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly recognizable…and it was us. There was a community caught off-guard – a group of citizen activists scrambling to learn how orchestras work – stakeholders who felt ignored, disrespected, and betrayed – musicians leaving in droves – tensions over an expensive building project – accusations that the board cared more about bricks and mortar than souls – theories about capitalism and capitalists run amok – a CEO saying wildly insensitive things – a total breakdown in communication in the triangle of board, musicians, and community. Entry after entry after entry after entry could have been written by Twin Cities music fans. Just replace Minnesota with Michigan, and voila.

It was deeply, deeply unsettling.

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra, The Orchestra Business

Politicians’ Addresses

Since Minnesota Orchestra concerts have just been canceled through April 27

And since you’ve certainly already signed the petition asking the MOA to Play and Talk…

Want to write some letters and/or emails? I want to make it easy for you.

Some of you have lots of time that you want to devote to lockout activism. Others care deeply, but just don’t have the time. So depending on how much time you have, pick and choose individuals from this list to contact. This could be either a huge project for you, or a little one. You get to choose how much you want to take on. Bonus points if you’re a constituent of any of these guys.

Here’s a sample letter. Feel free to adapt this one or to write your own.

Dear [Politician],

I am writing to express my concern about the effects of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. This tragedy has been devastating to countless Minnesotans, including thousands of students. If decisive action is not taken soon by our community leaders, one of our greatest cultural institutions will be destroyed.

Please do everything you can to end the lockout. Contact the parties involved (including audience advocacy group Orchestrate Excellence), apply pressure where you can, and use your position of leadership to inform your constituents about the ongoing tragedy.

There is a petition circulating at . It asks the Minnesota Orchestral Association to resume the season using a portion of the funds it has saved by not paying musicians since October first. Please sign and share.

Sincerely, [Your Name]

Minnesota House of Representatives –

Minnesota Senators –

Governor Dayton –

Mayor Rybak –


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Play and Talk Petition – Call to Action!

One of my readers – MaryAnn Goldstein, who you may recognize from the SOTL comment section – is tired of the musical gridlock in the Twin Cities, and so she started a petition asking the MOA to “Play and Talk.” You can sign it here.

Here’s what she wrote:

Since October 1, 2012, the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) has locked out the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, cancelling concerts and educational programs, putting our renowned orchestra, its musicians (who have now begun leaving) and our cultural quality of life in peril. Tens of thousands of Minnesota citizens, including thousands of students, have been negatively impacted by the silence. Michael Henson, MN Orchestra CEO and President, has claimed that the MOA saves over $500,000/ month by locking out the musicians, so at this point, the MOA should have more than enough funds to pay the musicians for the remaining 3 months of the 2012-13 season. As a non-profit organization that receives funding from patrons and the State, the Minnesota Orchestra belongs to the people of Minnesota as well as the Board. Therefore, as music lovers, dedicated music educators, and students who value and miss our world-class, Grammy nominated Minnesota Orchestra, we, the undersigned, ask that the MOA and Board hear our collective voice and reinstate the Minnesota Orchestra 2012-13 season while continuing negotiations with orchestra musicians.

Will this make a difference? I don’t know. (To be brutally honest with you, probably not.) But even if the MOA turns our pleas down, the petition accomplishes several hugely important things:

  • it reminds people of the costs of this ongoing conflict;
  • it gives people a sense of ownership in the outcome; and
  • it presents a positive plausible win-win proposal that everyone should be able to get behind.


  • it can’t hurt.

For those reasons alone, I’d recommend sauntering over to the petition and signing it. And please leave a sentence or two describing why play and talk is important to you.

*** has several suggestions of how to make petitions count.

  • Share the petition with friends and family.
  • Share your petition on Facebook.
  • Ask people to “like” your Facebook status update about the petition.
  • Tweet about the petition.
  • Post to your own blog.
  • Post as a comment in other relevant blogs.
  • Find allies and ask them to sign. In our case, this might consist of music teachers, politicians, business leaders, MOA board members, or other prominent local figures who have a vested interest in the Minnesota Orchestra playing again.
  • If you have any other suggestions, leave them in the comment section. Go wild with the brainstorming.

So many of you have asked me “what can I do to help?” And to be honest, I’ve never had a good answer for you besides “don’t stop caring.” But here, finally, is a concrete thing you can do. Sign the petition and spread it. Think of three or five people who you know would be interested, and contact them and ask them to consider signing.

I’m in touch with MaryAnn, and she’ll let me know what’s going on re: the petition. (Brava to her for taking initiative!) You can also follow this Facebook page for updates: “Petition to Ask the Minnesota Orchestra to Play and Talk.” Right now there are plans forming about the delivery of the petition to the MOA, so stay tuned.


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Musings on Marketing

Today a friend pointed out the Marketing portion of the MOA’s website to me, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on it. I remember being suspicious of their claims a while ago, but I had no way to confirm or deny those suspicions. Now, however, I’m better versed in the art of the 990, and the MOA has shared more information about the auditorium at Hall. So let’s take a look!

From the website:

Throughout the recession, our earned revenue has been essentially flat—a significant achievement in this economy.

“Essentially” is such a magic word, isn’t it? Stick “essentially” in front of anything and you can essentially say anything and essentially no one will ever bother you for any essential details. Essentially.

Given the context, I’m assuming that by “earned revenue” the MOA means “program service revenue”… (Ticket revenue, rental revenue, concession revenue, etc.; not grants, contributions, or investment income.) The MOA’s “program service revenue” can be found on the first page of the 990s…

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Orchestra Hall: Orchestra Optional: Part 1

As disruptive as it has been to everything else, the Minnesota Orchestra lockout hasn’t stopped time. Consequently, our luxurious new lobby continues its ascent apace…

This leaves us to ask questions like:

  • Wait, we spent how much on this again?
  • How much? I don’t think I heard you correctly
  • How much in state money?
  • Holy [bleeping] [bleep]
  • What?
  • And the orchestra still isn’t playing?
  • When will the orchestra start playing?
  • You don’t know?
  • How can you not know?
  • Will the drinks be good? do we at least know that? because for fifty million, the drinks better be good

And of course the most pressing question of all:

  • If there’s no orchestra…can I at least hold my family reunion there?

The Minnesota Orchestral Association might not have an answer to the first ten questions…but that last one? They’ve got you covered!



A new Song of the Lark series…


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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Audit Time…

Big news…

Forty-two percent of the Minnesota State Legislature wants a state audit of the Minnesota Orchestral Association.



In the great tradition of Song of the Lark British reaction GIFs, here’s Benedict Cumberbatch giving the thumbs up to accountability.

Here’s the full letter from the legislators…

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Investment Income Excitement

Let’s pretend you’ve been asked to analyze the investment income of eight corporations. Consequently, eight shiny charts have just been delivered to your desk…

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Before you go any further, scribble down some thoughts, free of any preconceptions you bring to this blog. Who is doing the best? Who is doing the worst? Who is under-performing? Who is over-performing? Who had the best and worst years? Are there any questions you’d like to ask the men and women in charge of these corporations about the investment decisions they’ve made over the last few years?


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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra, The Orchestra Business

What Michael Henson Doesn’t Want You To Read

Awareness of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout grows daily. However, if you’re just tuning in, I imagine it’s tough to know where to start. So to make things easier, I tagged some entries “merge lane.” These are entries that don’t require any background knowledge about what’s been going on. Pick a few merge lane entries to read, and soon you’ll be up to speed!


Welcome to the Minnesota Orchestra lockout information highway!

However, if you prefer to tackle things chronologically, I do keep an extensive “table of contents” here. And you can always explore topics using the tags in the right-hand column of the blog.

For this particular “merge lane” entry, I gathered 25 quotes that contradict the narrative Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson has been selling the last couple of years…in other words,”What Michael Henson Doesn’t Want You To Read.” Enjoy!


An orchestra does not recover easily, from such drastic cuts, if ever. – former Minnesota Orchestra music directors Edo de Waart, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Neville Marriner, Star Tribune editorial, 6 October 2012

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Putting Michael Henson Under the Microscope

This February, Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson was thrust into the international spotlight like never before. He became a recurring character on Norman Lebrecht’s widely read blog Slipped Disc (“Michael Henson and his board continue, against all logic, to defend their lockout” – “a cultural tragedy, scripted by a pair of tough-talking boards and feeble managements” – “we have received a recording of Michael Henson’s stumbling appearance before the state legislature in Minnesota“). Alex Ross of The New Yorker opined, “The management and board in Minnesota need to think long and hard about what they are doing.” On another New Yorker blog, Russell Platt wrote that “Michael Henson, the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s C.E.O., seems determined to put his foot in it.” Orchestra blog Adaptistration ran a “Most Bush League CEO” competition, which Henson won by a country mile (as of this writing, with 77% of the vote). Closer to home, MinnPost was critical of the attitude Mr. Henson took regarding the neutral Grammy concert put on by Mayor Rybak and Judy Dayton, and state legislators were obviously skeptical of Mr. Henson’s testimony.

Especially in light of the massive cuts in compensation that Mr. Henson is proposing for Minnesota Orchestra musicians (thirty to fifty percent), many of my readers have wondered if he has also taken substantial cuts. So I ran some numbers for you…

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra