Thanksgiving Snark

Question: Can I mock the Minnesota Orchestral Association while still leaving its CEO, board chair, and immediate past chair in the Bin of Irrelevancy?

Answer: This is my blog, I’m the queen of my blog, and I’ll do what I want.

Because the inspiration for this entry was just too beautiful in its absurdity to leave alone. I know I’m a few weeks behind the times, as this was sent out on November 1st, but this is a Mona Lisa of absurdity, and I’ve been pretty busy this month and haven’t gotten around to it yet, and I want so badly to mock this Thanksgiving Eve, and like I said, I’m the queen of this blog, and I do what I want, so there.


Behold the fount of absurdity!

Dear Ms. ____ ,

What do the holidays and Minnesota Orchestra have in common?

Ooo ooo I know!!11!! In my dealings with both the holidays and the Minnesota Orchestral Association, I am forced to attempt to engage with frustrating unresponsive disrespectful people whose worldviews I feel are only distantly rooted in reality.

They bring people together.



Our shared experiences are often our fondest and most vibrant memories. One moment can stay with us for a lifetime.

Oh my God, SO TRUE, guys. So true! Shared experiences are one of the habitually underestimated upsides of live orchestral performance. I remember the communal power of Stan’s expansive Bruckner 4 in April, a performance that was…not put on by the Minnesota Orchestra. Oh. Well, there was the great community concert in May where Erin Keefe captivated the audience with Piazzolla in a performance that was…not put on by the Minnesota Orchestra. Well. There was the joy of finding out on Facebook that the park police counted 7000 people at the musicians’ Lake Harriet concert in September, but that…


Oh, I remember the one experience I was able to attend that the Minnesota Orchestral Association put on! That was at Symphony Ball 2013, when I was kept behind rented hedges and watched by armed security guards (I – kid – you  – not), just in case I or my colleagues would suddenly decide to storm the hall with weaponry. I remember now.

Many of us, like Joan,

Wait a minute. Who the hell is Joan?




remember our first experience with the Minnesota Orchestra as children attending Young People’s Concerts. “My most memorable moment with the Minnesota Orchestra was riding the bus to my first concert in 3rd grade at Northrup Auditorium. It was during WWII and it was a special luxury to attend. I am now 77 years old and with every season of my life the Minnesota Orchestra has played a memorable part.”

Touching. Also, interesting how “Joan” writes an incredibly vague impersonal testimonial using a narrow set of buzzwords in a voice that would read well in a stereotypical fundraising appeal.

Wait a minute.

Has Michael Henson taken on the identity of Joan???


(By the way, a shout-out to fellow blogger Scott Chamberlain for his fab rant on this letter from early November, in which he complains that “Joan’s anecdote could be describing a field trip to the state capitol.” I’d like to marry this metaphor. Scott’s is a more enlightening analysis than mine, so go read it. )

Others of you may have seen your first concert as an adult in Orchestra Hall, at Sommerfest or during a community event in Greater Minnesota.

Wait, are you saying the Minnesota Orchestra…once gave concerts? In Minnesota? Wow. My head hurts.

No matter where and when you saw your first performance, I have no doubt that today you look back on it with joy and thankfulness.

Mmm. Yeah. And some of us even used that performance as the rhetorical centerpiece of our speech on Peavey Plaza at Symphony Ball. You could have heard that…IF YOU HAD STEPPED OUTSIDE.

The holidays are a time for reflection and sharing.

In that the Minnesota Orchestral Association is currently reflecting on and sharing why it is serving “the public interest of the City of Minneapolis to promote and provide for performing arts in the City.” Have fun with that reflection, guys. (Panicked MOA employees: “Mitch Daniels is a performing artist, right?”)

Remember why the Minnesota Orchestra is important to you. That reason still applies today.

The Minnesota Orchestra is important to me because of Osmo Vänskä’s unparalleled artistic leadership.


Oh. I’m sorry. Was that the wrong answer?

We want to hear about your first or favorite experience with the Minnesota Orchestra.

… Are you sure?

Take a moment to write your story on the enclosed insert.

… You really want me to do this?

You may also consider telling us: What does the Orchestra mean to you and why should it be preserved?

An altered Internet meme

Let’s hear it for strategically cropped images!

Then! Suddenly!!

We are listening.


Oh goody goody! They’re LISTENING! In bold, italics, AND an underline! So does that mean the lockout’s over now? Or that patrons’ questions about the dismal financial performance of the MOA are going to be answered? Or that the MOA is embarking on an aggressively apologetic PR campaign for misleading the legislature and the public?



Unfortunately, in this context, without additional action, we’re listening seems more like a threat than a reassurance.

This holiday season we are more grateful than ever for the community members like you that have stood by us for many wonderful years and now in our most trying times.

So. The MOA is grateful for those community members that have stood by them, but other community members who have asked questions can go jump off a cliff, I guess? Hmm.

We need your support again this year to see us through to a brighter future that is both artistically vibrant and financially stable.



One more season of memorable music is not enough.

Wow, apparently the MOA is so bad off it would only be able to last one more season. This statement is in a bold font, so you know it’s true. You have to admit, though, with over $150 million of assets in various endowments, and over $40 million in contributions and earned income in FY2012, and only $24.1 million in total employee expenses in FY2012, including Osmo and Henson’s salaries and bonuses, the MOA is sure envisioning one heck of a final season. Yo Yo Ma and Josh Bell every Saturday night! Complimentary diamonds! Free caviar in the lobby (just make sure you don’t drop it and stain the new floors)! It’ll be like a season-long Symphony Ball, except with music.

The proposed 2013-14 season

The proposed 2013-14 season

Or maybe they’d just approve a $200 million bonus for Michael Henson.

As we move forward, our plan must be to ensure the long-term stability and development of the Orchestra. For the sake of community members like you, we cannot compromise on our future.

Uh-oh. Somebody needs to get a hold of board member Nicky Carpenter, who, if her byline is to be believed, wrote in the Strib on November 14:

We must find a way to a compromise settlement.


NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Not the c-word, Nicky! Ixnay ethay ompromisecay! No Compromise! EVER!

Please make a gift of $25, $38 or $50

Yes. $37 is useless, and I think we can all agree that a $39 donation is going seriously overboard. But $38? Now that’s a completely arbitrary number I can get behind!

to preserve our important cultural institution that has brought so many people together. We want to not only provide memorable cultural experiences for you and your family, but for generations to come. By giving this holiday season, you can help ensure that when the negotiations end

Negotiations…end? That’s crazy talk…

the Orchestra has the resources it needs to resume playing at the level we all remember.

In the spirit of giving, I ask that you remember why the Orchestra is important to you and how you can play a personal role in protecting its future.

Well. Since you asked…


Happy holidays, MOA leadership. Enjoy living in your little alternate reality. Happily, the community has a lot to be thankful for without you.


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

11 responses to “Thanksgiving Snark

  1. This is semi-unrelated, but have you red this article? I highly recommend it in dealing with the loss of art patronage, namedropping the Minnesota Orchestra in the final paragraphs. Austerity for everyone except for the bosses and CEOs!

  2. jdav0743

    Thanks again Emily for bringing this hopelessly clewless appeal from the MNO Board to light. Your animated and mercilessly humorous dissection identifies how many? times in one letter they show they be out of touch with the community, how deaf they are; indeed, tone deaf. Kick me again, please Sir! Totally, like, you know?

  3. My analysis may be more “enlightening,” but yours is far more fun. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Thank you, Emily! I needed a little humor. I love the Jon Stewart gif, I had to giggle upon seeing that. I enjoy your snarky posts, they always make me smile. Your analysis of this solicitous letter is spot on–it’s pure malarkey!
    By the way, you have lovely penmanship. With Warm Regards, Erika

  5. George Slade (@rephotographica)

    Any guesses who “Joan” is (besides Michaela Henson)? Was there another glossy insert in that envelope in which “Joan” touts her uniquely memorable transportation experience to, what was it called then, at the University of Minnesota? The Minneapolis Symphony at Northrop? Maybe she was having a senior moment, recalling the Bell Museum field trip as an orchestra encounter. All those exotic creatures! Very silent, though. You could hear a fake pine needle drop.

    • I’m super curious about Joan. I want to know who she is. If she even exists. My luck, she’s probably some sweet darling long-time donor and supporter, and the MOA will use my criticizing her here as evidence of my general awfulness. But on the other hand, if Joan does exist, I’d think the MOA would have used her last name and explained her connection to the orchestra more fully in such a critical fundraising appeal. So… Who knows! That’s the MOA for ya, always upping my cynicism meter!

  6. And so the destruction continues, with Erin Keefe auditioning for first chair of the New York Philharmonic.
    This shows the depth of the costly destruction wrought by this board of Philistines.

    The advice Colin Powell gave to president Bush before the invasion of Iraq: “If you break it, you own it,” applies here.

    However I suspect the dishonorable members of the board of the MOA, will slink away from their responsibilities and leave it to the strapped middle class audience members to pick up the tab. This is now standard banker practice.

    If they have any honor left, then they personally need to pay the musicians lost wages, pay to recruit the lost musicians, and the music director and rebuild the endowment from their mismanagement. They won’t of course and their names will for ever live in infamy.

    • JKM

      I am afraid that Mark Carter has it right. Without any apology, compromise with the MOA Babbits is impossible. The broke it and now own a vacant Orchestra Hall, or at least are stuck with a 20 year lease to the City of Minneapolis. Read the MO calendar on the website and calculate how much they might make this year on a $52 million investment.

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