Category Archives: My Writing

III. Eaux Claires Festival: Twilight

We don’t talk about Bon Iver’s name enough. A homonym of “bon hiver,” or “good winter” in French, the words recall a wooden Wisconsin cabin, probably with the chimney puffing and snowbanks heaped outside. But this Friday and Saturday in that very state, the average high temperature was much hotter: the heat reached around 90 degrees, plus humidity. Far from the icy grip of winter, a July audience enjoyed a rare Bon Iver set from musician Justin Vernon. The occasion? None other than the inaugural Eaux Claires festival, which Vernon founded and co-curated with the National’s Aaron Dessner. It kicked off on Friday; read a recap here. Eaux Claires’s second and final day of music featured extra genre-blurring excitement, a fun Indigo Girls set, and Vernon’s first Bon Iver performance since 2012….

[Sufjan] Stevens also shared some of his personal feelings about the show: “Great to be here and have this view…beautiful and happy faces. It’s a picture of abundance.” He looked out from stage. “I never play festivals — I have such a fear of crowds — agoraphobia, social anxiety. The last two days have been proving all my fears wrong. It’s been like a 48-hour episode of My Little Pony.”…

Billboard, July 19

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing

II: Eaux Claires Festival: Afternoon

On a cold March night, I found a video of The Staves and Justin Vernon singing Make It Holy.

It was early in the month: the time of year when spring seems both impossibly near and far. My mother and I were living at my grandmother’s farm, sleeping in my dead grandfather’s bed. There was nowhere else to put us.

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing, Reviews

I. Eaux Claires Festival: Morning

Her family owns a woods, and like a girl in a fairytale, she disappears between the trees. Leaves murmur above her. Sun dapples her face. Brittle twigs snap beneath her feet.

She is in her mid-twenties, tall and fine-boned and long. Her eyes are piercing. They have a touch of skepticism in the corners. She has a sharp tongue, and a crippling insecurity. She is oblivious to her own strength.

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing

SOTL on Performance Today

I was recently interviewed for “Performance Today” on the subject of music nerd-ism. The interview aired July 21.  I’m going to backdate this entry to make it look like I’m somewhat on top of my career. I totally posted this on July 22nd, guys. Totally. *shifty eyes*

*pastes in scrapbook*

*pastes in scrapbook*

Click here. I’m in Hour 2, minute 16:45, for about four minutes. Right now my bucket list looks somewhat like this:

  • shoot the breeze with Fred Child

When I was in seventh grade, and away at school during the day, I’d order my mom to tape an hour of public radio so I could listen to it when I got home. Clearly, not just the music nerd-ism, but the public radio nerd-ism runs deep. After this, there’s obviously not much left for me to accomplish, so I may just announce my retirement at twenty-six. (Just Kidding! How could anyone retire with all of the potential 2015 labor disputes brewing?) I’ll post more this August. I’m taking the summer to write some more experimental essays, before launching into the Minnesota Orchestra’s star-studded 2015-2016 season, as well as any out-of-town labor disputes that boil over. I promise cool content and fewer family-death-induced hiatuses.



Filed under My Writing

Death and the Maiden

I have a lot of music news to write about that I just haven’t, and I kinda want to explain why.

Saturday June 20th was my grandfather and mother’s dual memorial service. I admit, I wasn’t thrilled about including my mother on the double bill, but it all worked out, and it was lovely. I threw together a violin and cello version of the Dvorak Largo, and a friend and I played it. I know at least a couple of my readers were in the congregation, and I want to extend my deepest thanks to them for attending.

On Wednesday the 24th, my grandmother Carol Hogstad woke up, walked past the kitchen table of half-finished thank-you notes, went outside with the dog, and died.

If there is such a thing as a perfect death, she had it. She was eighty-six. Her heart just – stopped. She had no, or a very brief pain: the autopsy revealed she was dead before she hit the ground. She was on the land she’d loved. She’d never had to endure the dehumanization of an extended stay in a hospital or nursing home. Her mind was still sharp. She cooked until the end. Speaking of which, she fortunately hadn’t started her daily baking yet, so there were no flames licking the sky a la the finale of Rebecca. Her body didn’t fall on the dog (in fact, the dog actually slept on her back after she passed). She died outside, so none of us needed to break in a door or window. She’d spent the week previous with family she hadn’t seen for years. She met all nine of her great-grandchildren, and sat for pictures with them. She’d stubbornly survived the death of her husband and her baby daughter, and the only thing left to wrap up from their service was some cold cut leftovers. She was stubbornly strong…but she was also very tired.

She was an extraordinary steely woman. There was much to learn from her. I look forward to sharing some of the lessons she taught me. (DISCLAIMER: My family is currently averaging a death a quarter, so I may not survive long enough to share, but trust me, they were good lessons.) (DEATH JOKES!)

My most recent selfie

My most recent selfie

Anyway! Until I’m done with writing her obituary, and planning her memorial service, and working with the bedraggled survivors to determine how to settle her estate – forgive another (hopefully brief) absence from the blog. Please feel free to laugh about the absurdity of this situation. She didn’t suffer, she missed her husband and her daughter so much, we are all doing okay, and I think we all learned during the lockout that the best way to break absurdity is to deride it.

So. Rest in peace, dear soul. You worked hard. You did a great job. You earned every moment of the sweet rest you are now enjoying. I’m proud I was your granddaughter.

I’ve had a couple of people ask, so I’ll mention it here. The family requests that memorial gifts go to UW-Stout, the college that she earned her multiple degrees at, and where she was a well-beloved professor for many years. Many thanks.

Also: hello, Hartford Symphony. I can already tell my muse is coming after you next. Hopefully my family will stop dying long enough for me to cover the inevitable orchestral labor disputes that every modern autumn brings.



Filed under My Writing

On Extinction Quotes and Watermelon Ballers

As many of you know, this weekend the League of American Orchestras is hosting its 2015 conference. Or, as it’s known in the biz, “Conference.” Yo.

Definite articles are overrated.

Definite articles are overrated.

It’s no secret that lots of people, especially musicians and rabble-rousing audience types, are wary of the League. I am, too. Everyone has their own reasons. Mine are complicated. I think it’s mainly because their organization provided a total vacuum of leadership during the Minnesota Orchestra meltdown, and that vacuum sucked. I understand that their responding would have come with a steep price. But if the organization’s mission is indeed “to help orchestras meet the challenges of the 21st century,” shouldn’t they have played a major role in addressing…I dunno, the biggest challenge of the 21st century? (That biggest challenge being, of course, the recent wave of lockouts, and in particular the organizational arson set at the Minnesota Orchestra.) Maybe I’m expecting too much. Or maybe they expect too little. Regardless, someday I’d like to go to a conference to get my own idea of what this group is, what it’s seeking to do, and how effective it is at doing it. I don’t know if I’ll make to Baltimore next year, but I do have dear Save Our Symphony friends in Detroit, and so I’d love to crash Conference 2017. (And I bet a ton of attendees will be just thrilled I’m doing so. /SARCASM FONT) But alas, until I actually go to Conference, obviously my perspective will be limited, so take this all with a grain of salt. This is very much the view of an outsider looking in.

Anywho. Like a good little orchestra nerd, I’m following the official Conference hashtag #orch2015. I noticed yesterday in the Twitterverse that two quotes were uber-popular:

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing, The Orchestra Business

Winging Up and Up

On March 9th, my mother Dorothy (Dodie) Hogstad passed away at the age of 59. Less than six weeks had elapsed from her cancer diagnosis to her death. Her dad had died a little over seven months previous.

My mother and I, August 1995

My mother and me, late August 1995

We are overwhelmed and humbled by the fundraiser my friends and readers set up to help the family with the many expenses associated with her passage, and I simply do not know what to say besides: thank you.

Thank you.

After Stephen Colbert’s beloved mom Lorna Colbert passed away, he did a segment on The Report in tribute to her. So much of what he said applies to my own relationship with my mother. You can watch the whole thing here, but here are some excerpts:

I’ve been away from the Report for a week because one week ago today my mother, Lorna Tuck Colbert, died. And I want to thank everybody who offered their thoughts and prayers. Now if you watch this show, and you like this show, that’s because of everybody who works here, and I’m lucky to be one of them. But when you watch the show, if you also like me, that’s because of my mom.

She made a very loving home for us… Hugs never needed a reason in her house. Singing and dancing were encouraged, except at the dinner table…

She was fun.

She knew more than her share of tragedy… But her love for her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on, but to love life without bitterness, and to instill in all of us a gratitude for every day we had together…

We were the light of her life and she let us know it til the end.

And that’s it. Thank you for listening. Now we can get to the truly important work of television broadcasting, which is what she would want me to do. When I was leaving her last week, I leaned over and I said, “Mom, I’m going back to New York to do the show.” And she said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

So. [deep breath]

With that in mind, this is the Colbert Report.

And this is Song of the Lark.

So. Once I settle our affairs, and the time is right, and the finances work out, I will be moving from Eau Claire and starting a new life in Minnesota. Her rebirth into death will ultimately bring a rebirth to the blog, to my work, to my education, to my passion for great orchestral music. There is no more beautiful final gift she could have given.

Thankfully, her presence is enveloping. I dearly hope that her legacy of love and love of beauty and love of hilarious snark can somehow live on in me. And thankfully, music heals. I’ll be at Orchestra Hall a lot this spring, so I anticipate a lot of healing. I look forward to being the best I can possibly be, and to making you – and her – proud. Keep an eye on this space.

In lieu of a funeral I am in the early stages of planning a celebration of her life to take place sometime this year: a fabulous chamber music concert with Minnesota Orchestra musicians as guest artists. I will keep the community posted when I know more.

A few adapted lines of George Meredith’s poem The Lark Ascending:

For singing till her heaven fills, / Tis love of earth that she instils, / And ever winging up and up, / Our valley is her golden cup, / And she the wine which overflows / To lift us with her as she goes…

The sunset that appeared a few hours after Mom slipped away.

The sunset that appeared a few hours after Mom slipped away

With much gratitude – Emily



Filed under My Writing


Some of you have probably noticed that I’ve been absent from the blog lately, and it took a while for me to find the strength to explain why.

In late January, my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer of unknown origin. I’ve left my home to care for her, and nowadays am living out of a cramped spare bedroom in rural Wisconsin. The future is a total question mark.

For those of you keeping track at home, in six months to the day, that’s the death of my grandfather, the death of my sweet Sheltie, and a cancer diagnosis for my mom. So either some very good news is just around the corner, or late last summer someone invested in a voodoo doll with my face on it.

We intend to fight the cancer with everything we have. The women in my family are well-known for their persistence in the face of long odds. But fighting with everything I have on behalf of my mother means that the blog is simply not a major priority right now. I’ll write when it feels like a respite, but not when it feels like a responsibility. How often that will be, and for how long…well, your guess is as good as mine. I’m trying to take things hour by hour at this point.

This isn’t an adventure I’d have embarked on willingly. But then again, neither was the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, and in the end, that nightmare turned into something profound and indeed even sacred. And it’s certainly no coincidence that the people who are keeping me afloat nowadays are the very same people I got to know during the lockout. A deep, deep thank you to those folks.

Okay. So. Send prayers and best wishes for peace and strength. I’ll be back, some way, somehow. Thankfully every circumstance is temporary. And I’ll still be checking in online, frequently. I just won’t be writing long-form entries as often as I’d like. Stay in touch using Twitter and Facebook. I’ve found I like to check those while traveling to hospitals and wasting time in waiting rooms.

To close, because I don’t have the time or the energy to write a separate entry on the subject… I wanted to say that I could not be more excited for the Minnesota Orchestra’s new chapter. Securing the talents of Erin Keefe for the foreseeable future? A Sibelius concert at Carnegie in 2016? Becoming the first American orchestra to perform in Cuba in the Obama era? Well, holy [expletive], guys. I hope you patrons know what you’ve done. These astonishing developments could not have happened without you. When Alex Ross is sent into ecstasies March after next – when the newspaper articles about the historic Cuba concerts are written – when the eyes of the entire world turn to Minneapolis to appreciate the contributions our orchestra makes to international cultural life – remember: that was you who did that. Miracles happen when people work together. That’s a lesson I’ll try my best to hold close to my heart in the weeks and months to come.

Like I said, stay in touch. I can’t take this journey by myself.

Outside my new - temporary - home.

Outside in a gorgeous winter sunset



Filed under My Writing

Analyzing the Almanac Interview

On today’s docket: analyzing Doug Kelley and Tony Ross’s November 30 appearance on Almanac. Please watch it or read the transcript before continuing.

I believe this is the longest live interview that a Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) representative has given. Over the months, the musicians have been much more interested in speaking to the public than the MOA has been. Musicians spoke with us individually after their convention center concert. In late October, Ellen Dinwiddie Smith gave an in-depth interview with Matt Peiken. (This proved to be one of the more clarifying media events of the lockout so far.) The musicians also have provided an email address on their website that you can use to get in contact with them, and their Facebook page is thriving. Contrast that with the MOA’s relative silence. We’re still waiting on Mr. Henson to accept Mr. Peiken’s request for an interview, and for Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis to accept Drew McManus’. The only reciprocal contact we have with management is via its Facebook page…and that’s marginally reciprocal, at best; the responses there consist of little more than regurgitated talking points. (Go ahead and check it out for yourself.) Also, the MOA’s recent annual meeting was closed to the public, and no announcements of any kind of open meeting have been made. So I’m going to assume that this Almanac segment is about as lengthy and in-depth a live discussion as the MOA is willing to risk. What else am I supposed to think?

As you can imagine, this frustrates me to no end. Rightly or wrongly, it makes me feel as though the MOA is hiding things and is afraid, contrary to what they keep asserting. If they don’t have anything to hide, and if they aren’t afraid of anything, then why aren’t they answering as many questions as possible? Why aren’t they giving more live interviews? Anyone can write an editorial or say a few sentences to the Pioneer Press without making a fool of themselves. Those are not difficult things to do, and I can say that with authority, because I’ve done both. The tricky part is engaging with another person in front of an audience – thinking on your feet – being able to defend and articulate your vision in a fair, respectful, factually accurate manner. It becomes increasingly obvious that Mr. Henson, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Davis don’t feel up to the task of defending their position. Prove me wrong, gentlemen. Please.

Anyway. Here’s my point: the longest interview they’ve given has only lasted ten minutes, and that’s with both sides involved, so it’s probably actually closer to five, and that’s really sad and ridiculous, and it pisses me off. Consequently I’m going to hold Mr. Kelley to a very very very high standard of truth tonight. If this is the longest live interview the MOA is willing to give, then they’d better make it as accurate as possible.


Erik Eskola: Well, Mr. Ross, let me start with you. The independent audit that has been sort of at the center of this is due out next week. Will that get things off the dime here, or – ?

Tony Ross: No, we’re really looking for an independent financial analysis, not an audit that is produced by their side. There’s so many fuzzy numbers, numbers we don’t understand, that we need an independent joint analysis to be able to go further at all. And an audit just simply doesn’t do it. It looks backward. The analysis looks forward, looks at all kinds of things, as far as you know, management’s – the atmosphere of management, the workplace, the mission statement, the future of the band.

The interview began with Tony Ross articulating what musicians want to see in addition to an independent audit. There are more details about what they want on the musicians’ website:

Audits do not cover an institution’s viability, stability, business plan, strategic plan, the quality of its management, comparative performance, or present and future prospects. A joint, independent financial analysis would review all of these things, and would assess current and future trends, opportunities and risks.

Before the musicians even revealed that they were seeking such things, resident guest-blogger Mary Schaefle was thinking along similar lines in her two entries here on SOTL:

Do management and the Board have a new set of projections for future years? A review by an investment analyst, which is typically not part of an audit, is needed…

As I pointed out in the comments section of Emily’s earlier post on the endowment, the draw amounts released by Minnesota Orchestra do not match their tax forms. That means percentages are off as well. Yes, we once again need that accountant…

You may remember my suggestion in the last article for an independent financial analysis. The questions I’m raising here wouldn’t be answered by that kind of oversight. A respected leader in performing arts management, preferably orchestra management, would be the best person to review the strategic plan to ensure it is sound…

Of course I don’t know if the musicians are seeking exactly what Mary is suggesting or would suggest. But we do seem to be coalescing around the same general idea: we want a team of outside specialists to come in to provide additional perspective on many subjects, such as the feasibility of the strategic plan, future investment projections, comparisons of the Orchestra with other similar organizations, etc., etc., etc. And I wonder what we should be calling this…review? inspection? examination? scrutiny? study? I don’t know what word to use, and for a writer like me, that’s frustrating! The phrase “joint independent financial analysis” may cover part of what we want to see happen, but I’m not sure that it covers all of it. For instance, I don’t think that someone just tuning in would necessarily understand from the phrase “joint independent financial analysis” that we’re also discussing things like having someone review the strategic plan, or quality of management, etc. On the other hand, I have no idea what to actually call what we want. Hmm.

Sorry; that was a bit of a tangent. But it was a thought I wanted to throw out there before I forgot.

Back to the interview.

Cathy Wurzer: You’re still dealing with a structural budget problem, no matter how you slice it, correct? According to information from the Star Tribune, minutes of board meetings and that kind of thing, you’ve had the structural budget problem for a while. And from 2009 to 2011, there was no public mention of any trouble. So I’m wondering here. You opened the door to accusations that you misled the public, your donors, and lawmakers during that time.

Doug Kelley: Well, I’m glad you asked, because I’d like to put that to rest.

As you’re reading the rest of Mr. Kelley’s response, look for where he puts it to rest.

We, like every other organization, we have income, and we have expenses. And they are certified by an outside accounting firm every year. And those numbers are given to the musicians. We file a tax return. Everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return. And that’s given to the musicians every year. I think the dispute this week is about the budget and how that works. Let’s say we budget $8 million to come from the endowment, and at the end of the year the expenses are greater and we draw $10 million from the endowment. That number – every penny – is accounted for. It goes down, put on all the income tax return and everything else. It’s as transparent as you can be, and we have done that every year, and those numbers are public. The musicians have them. If they want to do a forward-thinking analysis, the first place they’d go would be to a certified financial statement or tax returns. Those are sort of the gold standard documents in financial analysis. And I think that the musicians should really kind of back off the accusation that we misled the legislature. We gave them every number and were totally transparent with them.

Did you catch the part where he explains why the MOA didn’t mislead the public? Where he explains why there were no mentions of trouble from 2009 to 2011? If so, you’re seeing something I’m not. I didn’t realize how blatantly he avoided the question until I worked up the transcript. I shouldn’t have been, but frankly I was shocked. And at this point I have a pretty high shock threshold.

Since I’m an obsessive detail-oriented freak, let’s break his words down even further.

We file a tax return. Everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return.

Yes, apparently Doug Kelley believes it’s impossible to lie on your tax return…? (Not that I’m saying the MOA has. But to give as proof that they haven’t the sentence “everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return”? That’s weak.)

 I think the dispute this week is about the budget and how that works

The dispute “this week”? Wow, way to treat us like teenagers whining because we can’t get the latest iPhone. This kind of dismissive attitude will work well to regain our trust. *thumbs up*

If they want to do a forward-thinking analysis, the first place they’d go would be to a certified financial statement or tax returns.

Notice he says “the first place”…insinuating that it wouldn’t be “the only place.” Is Doug Kelley making our argument for us?

And I think that the musicians should really kind of back off the accusation that we misled the legislature.

Welllllll, unfortunately for management, lots of other people are going to keep beating on that drum, even if the musicians would for whatever reason stop. I for one am not backing off my personal belief that Michael Henson straight-out lied to the legislature. I know that many of you agree with me. The Minnesota AFL-CIO is promising to “urge Legislators to look into the situation in January.” At least one legislator is feeling betrayed, and going so far as to urge her colleagues to “think critically before voting on any legislation that would further direct public dollars into the Minnesota Orchestra (or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra).” In future I think Mr. Kelley would do well to acknowledge that the MOA has, rightly or wrongly, lost the trust of a large segment of the public, as well as musicians.

Okay, onto the next chunk…

CW: However, Mr. Henson in January 2010, talking about bonding money in front of the committee said, “On the financial front, we have announced balanced budgets over the last three consecutive years. We are facing the current economic downturn with stability.” But that wasn’t the case.

DK: The orchestra’s 110 years old. It’ll be on for a long time after this dispute is over.

Around in here I almost start feeling pity for Doug Kelley, and for the impossible argument he’s being asked to sell. Because in order to make his case semi-convincingly, he’s forced to resort to the following logic: if something is 110 years old…it is immortal.

This is a 110-year-old woman named Mary Brown. She attributes her cenetenarian status to “having an inquiring mind, not driving and sprinkling all of food with plenty of salt.” She is also, if I’m following Doug Kelley’s logic correctly, immortal.

Here’s a question for Mr. Kelley. It sounds stupid, but bear with me. What is the Minnesota Orchestra? Is it any old group of orchestral musicians with the label “the Minnesota Orchestra” slapped onto it? Or is the Minnesota Orchestra these specific musicians – this specific ensemble? If we use the former definition, then yes, the Minnesota Orchestra will likely continue to exist after this dispute is over. However, I believe that most of us would prefer to employ the latter definition. And we know that it’s very possible – if not probable – that this Minnesota Orchestra will not exist after the lockout ends. There are too many fabulous players taking too many attractive auditions. Trust me.

But. So when you take that $10 million out of the endowment and you cover your expenses, you match income with expenses. That’s a balanced budget by anybody’s definition.

Oh, for…crap’s sake.

Does this mean that if I get a cash advance from my credit card, and buy a wicked expensive viola, and therefore match my income with expenses for the month, that I’m facing my fiscal future with stability? Really?

Look, I’ll be extremely generous and grant Mr. Henson the “we have announced balanced budgets” bit, on the technicality of the verb. But the “facing the current economic downturn with stability” part…? I mean. Come. On. Cathy Wurzer is absolutely right: that was not the case.

And the other thing I think that’s a little exasperating is the musicians knew we were trying to figure out how to put the best face on it. We talked to the musicians about that. We shared those numbers with them as early as 2010.

…Maybe you did, but why didn’t you share them with us? And remember, not only was the MOA not sharing those numbers with the public, they were actively misleading the public about those numbers. But of course nobody from management ever mentions that. Talk about exasperating.

DK: Yeah, let me just say, what happened in between the time before and now in how we report these numbers is the recession. The musicians have been shielded from the recession.

Yes, musicians apparently…have no realization that a recession has occurred. Those self-absorbed dunderheads! So busy playing…and making the Orchestra the greatest in the world…they didn’t notice the global fiscal apocalypse. For shame, musicians. Get out from under your rock once in a while. Geez.

You had a 25% increase from 2007 to 2012.

Now this I found interesting, because the MOA website says, “The musicians still received a 19.2 percent increase over the five years of the contract.” (If you want to verify that figure, it’s under Have musicians offered concessions in response to the Orchestra’s financial challenges?“) As Tony Ross said in the interview: these are “fuzzy numbers.” Is anyone else amused by the irony that Doug Kelley refutes claims of fuzzy numbers…by citing fuzzy numbers?

And you remember that first big meeting – I think you were just referring to it – Richard Davis and Michael Henson came in front of you and told you exactly what they were doing. They said, you know, we have reported that we have balanced the budget and we have announced that publicly. And we’re also telling you that we’re about a million five short and we’ve done that because of donors. And you guys knew every bit about that, and that’s why I think it’s so disingenuous to go to the legislature.


In the words of Bill O’ Reilly:

Honestly, Doug Kelley might as well be speaking Greek here. He lost me completely, totally, utterly. After I transcribed it, I sat on that paragraph for a while, waiting for an epiphany as to what it meant, but it never came. So a few days ago I went to Drew McManus in the hopes that he could translate the management-ese.

Here’s what I wrote in the comment section of Drew’s blog:

Is Mr. Kelley admitting that they announced the balanced budget only for the donors, thereby reinforcing the idea that the donors were manipulated, even though Mr. Kelley heavily implied earlier in the interview this was not the case? Is this admission as big a deal as I think it is? Aside from the MOA being better positioned to get what they wanted from the state legislature in January 2010, and from the musicians’ union in 2012, what would be the strategic advantage of announcing balanced budgets if you’re going to reveal in a couple years that the financial position wasn’t as rosy as you once said it was? Wouldn’t that be – in Mr. Kelley’s parlance – kicking the can down the road? Or have I totally misinterpreted this? I’m also curious what he meant by “that’s why I think it’s so disingenuous to go to the legislature.” I couldn’t understand if he was talking from the musicians’ POV, or if he was missing a word or two, or what was going on. Am I just being dense here? Does it make any sense to you?

He wrote back:

In the excerpt you quoted, I believe Kelly’s phrasing is such that there’s no way to definitively determine what he is saying here without added clarity.

So um, apparently nobody has any idea what Doug Kelley was actually trying to say. So, hey! Doug Kelley! Feel free to clarify. Comment section’s open. I have absolutely no idea what you were trying to get at. I’d be delighted to listen to a fuller explanation. (If you as a reader think you’ve cracked the code and know what he’s saying, let me know.)

CW: The musicians say, Doug Kelly, that they do not have confidence in Mr. Henson. Has the board voted – has the board discussed Mr. Henson? Do you have full confidence in him?

DK: Yes, we do. Absolutely. And we just – we had a committee meeting to discuss Mr. Henson. Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board.

I know I wasn’t the only one whose ears pricked up at this. Doug Kelley saying “Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board” is something very different from the entire board holding a unanimous vote of confidence in Mr. Henson…or even the entire board discussing Mr. Henson.

I brought this up with Drew McManus, since he’s blogged about the subject:

I know you had mentioned in a previous entry about how we’re not sure what is going on with the Board re: their opinion on Mr. Henson. When asked if the board had full confidence in Mr. Henson, Mr. Kelley said, “Yes, we do. Absolutely. And we just – we had a committee meeting to discuss Mr. Henson. Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board.” Do you think that that’s any indication that a full vote has occurred? Is it likely? Or is it impossible to know based on those words?

Here’s what he had to say in response:

Regarding the board confidence point, I noticed Kelly’s phrasing here too in that he said the committee met to discuss Henson. Although it would be worth confirming, I believe Kelly was referring to the executive committee. If that’s accurate then no, that is not the same thing as a full board vote and/or discussion on the topic.

I’m guessing it was this appearance on Almanac, combined with Jon Campbell’s 11/27 quote, “Michael Henson is a perfect leader at this challenging time and has the full confidence of our board”, that led some bystanders to believe that a full vote had taken place. In fact, MPR actually ran an article that included the phrase “With the board’s recent unanimous vote in support of Henson“, but I (and probably others) contacted them to check if this was actually the case. It turns out it wasn’t. It is official: there has not been a vote of confidence in Mr. Henson, much less a unanimous one. Accordingly, MPR later edited the article.

So. Suddenly, any trust I may have once had in Doug Kelley has vanished. Completely. I feel extremely uncomfortable that he deigned to speak for everyone on the board, without having an actual vote or discussion to back his words up. Is it possible that every single one of the eighty-odd members of the MOA board have total confidence in Michael Henson? Absolutely! But do we have any objective evidence to back that assertion up, like we do with the musicians’ vote of no-confidence? No, we do not.

As Drew McManus wrote, “Although this point may seem heavy on semantics, it is perhaps useful to remember that as tensions rise, words carry greater meaning; even if they are, at times, delivered through the filter of intense emotion.”

I think the reason the musicians have been unhappy with Mr. Henson is because when he first came, he said you have this structural deficit, it is here, you need to address it, and he started to address it, and that makes everybody nervous when you start doing that, and to put it on a sustainable basis, is going to take some real changes.

Question: If the main problem with Michael Henson is his courageous leadership, then why are so many well-informed patrons also angry with him? Is there any chance that we have anger for the same reasons the musicians do? Look, I’ve devoted the last three months of my life to trying to understand Michael Henson and what he’s done with the Minnesota Orchestra. I’ve read literally hundreds of articles and blog entries and press releases about this situation, from both sides. I’ve written over two dozen in-depth articles. I’d be delighted to debate Michael Henson, live and on-the-record, in front of the entire music world. I’m confident I know as much as anyone in the public knows about this situation. And I can guarantee you, my problem with Michael Henson is not his addressing a structural deficit.

EE: How’s this going to get settled?

DK: You know what? I hope that instead of going off on these frolic and detours, we just come back to the table and help us settle and solve this problem.

TR: We made counters, and if you want us to make a more detailed counter, we need that financial analysis. And I’d like to ask you, Doug: what are you afraid of?

DK: We’re not afraid of anything –

TR: Well, let’s have it!

I don’t really have anything to say about this exchange besides it was dramatic and riveting and popcorn GIF worthy. So:

TR: For once in the minutes it says, and there’s very few times they speak of this, there’s a gift of half a million dollars. And the board says, what should we do with it? It was given to the orchestra. Well, ten percent of it goes to operations. And ninety percent of it goes to the building fund – the lobby part of the building fund.

Weary sigh. I’d love to hear more details about this. Honestly, I’d love to hear any details about anything having to do with the MOA’s finances. I wish we had more, but I’m so glad that we have Mary aboard to help us try make sense of the numbers we do have. *waves to Mary* (By the way, she’s working on part three of her Minnesota Orchestra Financials Series! No rush, Mary, darling, but we can’t wait to read it!)

So. With that, I come unceremoniously to the end of the longest live interview a representative from MOA management has yet given. And it wasn’t even that long: ten minutes and six seconds, according to the Almanac website. And about half of that was Tony Ross speaking. And within the space of those five minutes, I had to sort through Doug Kelley’s misrepresentations, weak excuses, non-answers, logical fallacies, a paragraph of complete gibberish…and I was even forced to email MPR to fact-check one of Mr. Kelley’s statements. That’s…not good.

If Doug Kelley is the most eloquent and persuasive communicator the MOA can field, then clearly the MOA is having trouble fielding eloquent and persuasive communicators.

Either that, or not even a lawyer can defend the MOA’s position.


Filed under My Writing

More Misrepresentation, More Realities…..More Misrepresentations of Reality

Today is the Minnesota Orchestra’s annual meeting – a “sober, closed-door affair“, according to Graydon Royce: “the most downbeat meeting in the orchestra’s 110-year history.” Part-y! I’ve been wondering for a while if they’re going to discuss canceling concerts through February or March (or heck, maybe even June, while they’re at it). You know, since they’ve got the whole gang in one place. Here’s some evidence to back that depressing idea up: there are some new Misrepresentations vs. Realities on the MOA’s website. (You’ll remember that the “Misrepresentations vs. Realities” chart initially appeared on the Orchestra website right before they announced the last batch of cancellations.) And bizarrely, new Misrepresentations and Realities are sprinkled among the old Misrepresentations and Realities. Not sure why they didn’t just add them to the end of the chart, or the beginning, but…whatever.

If you’re just joining us, I debunked the old “Realities” here a month ago. So let’s take a peek at the new ones!

Misrepresentation: The Board has presented its final offer and refuses to negotiate further.

Reality: While the Board has been clear that it seeks savings of $5 million annually, the approach we use to achieve these savings can be adjusted through the course of good faith negotiations. We need our musicians to participate for this to happen.

I have a story to share with you…

Pretend you’re in a car. An MD is driving, and recklessly. You get into a terrible car accident. You’re thrown from the vehicle, and are badly injured. The MD – whose specialty is obviously not surgery – investigates your wounds and determines that in order to save your life, he must remove a limb with a chainsaw he keeps in the trunk.

“Which one?” you moan.

“I’m open to negotiation,” he says.

“What? How about a second opinion?” you gasp.

“Not necessary,” he says, revving the chainsaw.

“An outside analysis?”

“Why don’t you trust me? I’m an excellent MD, not to mention driver.”

A surgeon rushes up to the scene. (Let’s say his name is, oh, I don’t know, Dr. McManus.) He says that the cure has “a high degree of probability of killing” you.

However, despite this dire warning, the MD not only ignores Dr. McManus, but pretends he does not exist. “The approach we use to decide which limb to cut off can be adjusted through the course of good faith negotiations,” he says. “But you need to tell me which limb.”

You then bleed out onto the pavement, get a Grammy nomination, and die. The end.

I humbly submit: this is not negotiation. It’s insanity. (Or a deleted scene from Misery. Either/or.)

Misrepresentation: The Board has “cooked the books” to mislead musicians and the public.

Reality: Absolutely not. The Board has appropriately fulfilled its fiduciary responsibility to the Orchestra during extraordinary times.

Hear that? They are absolutely not cooking the books! At all! Ever! Such an accusation is shocking and uncouth and uncalled for! Robert Levine? I think someone’s taking a jab at you… (Mr. Levine, of course, posted a blog entry not too long ago about the Minnesota Orchestra expressly titled “Cooking the books.”)

In fact, the MOA went so far in its effort to not mislead the public that in mid-October 2012 they removed a misleading article from 2010 that had been on their website, which celebrated the Minnesota Orchestra’s sound fiscal health, even though they knew at the time that they were in desperate trouble. They reached backward in time to set the record straight. That’s how committed to the truth they are. Pretty impressive stuff.

The Board signed a contract with musicians in 2007 that called for a 25 percent pay increase.

The Board’s decision to rely on the MOA endowment to help cover these costs through the recession was appropriate and responsible.

At the same time, Board and management were creating a strategic plan that would eliminate the organization’s structural deficit once and for all.

We began talking publicly about our structural deficit as soon as the board had ratified that plan.

Our financial position has always been clearly outlined in public documents that include our annual audited financial statements and our 990 tax returns.

“We began talking publicly about our structural deficit as soon as the board had ratified that plan.” Well, gee whiz, thanks for including patrons in the planning process, guys!

Seriously, though. This aspect of the story never fails to amaze me, and no matter what perspective I come to this question with, I just can’t conceive of an explanation for it. Why would you not include the community in your Strategic Planning? Businesses don’t go radically altering established product lines without going out to speak to actual customers. This is akin to Coca-Cola taking Coke off the shelves and replacing it with a drastically different brand new drink, without ever once talking to a single actual consumer about what they actually want in a soft drink. It just strikes me as being ridiculously reckless and irresponsible. If the MOA would like to explain their strategy, go ahead. Comment section’s open.

Also, note how neatly they sidestep the fact that they knew there was a problem back in 2009 and 2010, when they were saying things were so great and were seeking state money (and your money). FYI, you don’t need to formulate a formal plan to address a problem before you talk about it. (Same way you don’t need to formulate an entire counterproposal before you talk about it. But I digress…) If people had to come up with solutions to problems before we even discuss our problems, then we’d be as dysfunctional as the Senate. It would not be pretty.

Misrepresentation: Musicians had no idea what the true financial picture of the Orchestra was or how steep the current fiscal cliff would be.

Reality: Dating back to 2009, the Board has very thoroughly shared the full financial picture of the Orchestra with our musicians in a series of comprehensive meetings.

In 2010, the Board asked musicians for a 22 percent wage reduction—a clear indication of how steep our challenges were. We said those reductions alone wouldn’t solve our problems but it would make the financial cliff we face in 2012 less steep.

The players chose not to take that reduction, as was their legal right, and so instead we are now grappling with these compounded problems.

First of all, I addressed this point in my last major blog entry, basically deciding that we didn’t have enough information to be able to assess the truth of these statements.

Second… Why is every single person from the MOA saying the exact same thing? It’s creepy. Here’s an example. I bolded the repeating phrases.

Campbell and Davis’s editorial

Mr. Zavadil, and all his colleagues in the orchestra, participated in three meetings — on May 28, 2010, March 18, 2011 and Nov. 21, 2011 — in which we plainly articulated a $5 million gap that would only grow each year. In 2010, we asked our musicians to help alleviate growing deficits by taking a 22 percent wage reduction. We told them that even this sizable reduction would not resolve our financial problems. It would, however, make the cliff less steep in 2012. The musicians chose not to participate in those reductions. That was their legal right, and so we must grapple with even bigger financial issues today.

Mr. Eisele’s MinnPost editorial

The best we can do is request that our players consider midterm contract modifications, and this is exactly what we did in both 2009 and 2010. The musicians agreed to a one-year wage freeze in 2009, but they turned down our request for a 22 percent salary reduction in 2010. It was the musicians’ legal right to do so, but it has made the cliff we face today all the steeper.

And then now again in this chart…

In 2010, the Board asked musicians for a 22 percent wage reduction—a clear indication of how steep our challenges were. We said those reductions alone wouldn’t solve our problems but it would make the financial cliff we face in 2012 less steep.

The players chose not to take that reduction, as was their legal right, and so instead we are now grappling with these compounded problems.

We – are – all – robots. We – are – all – saying – the – exact – same – thing – in -exactly – the – same – way. We – are – apparently – incapable – of – expressing – original – thought.

Greet – ings – Minn – e – ap – o – lis – mus – ic – lov – ers.

Okay, yes, I’m a politics and media geek; I’ll admit it any day. I know what talking points are; I know their purpose; and I know that they are specifically designed to be repeated ad nauseum, ad infinitum. And the musicians certainly have their talking points, too. But the extent to which the MOA is repeating itself (and this “cliff” metaphor is only one example of this) is seriously unnerving. Their repeating the same soulless phrases over and over and over again – simplistic phrases that never seriously grapple with our complicated questions – only plays to the stereotype: that they are all inflexible, robotic, disconnected big businessmen, more concerned about the bottom line than the experience and concerns of their patrons, unsure if their ideas can withstand public scrutiny if they vary one syllable from the pre-written focus-grouped script. The MOA has even coordinated words about how they feel: the meme de jour is “heavy hearts” and “perplexion.” (Seriously. Keep an eye out for those two phrases in MOA literature. You’ll find them. Frequently.) These guys need to put the talking points in the shredder, come down from the tower, and engage with the patrons one-on-one, or in multiple in-depth interviews. They need to talk to us from their hearts.

Misrepresentation: The musicians simply do not have enough information to have a clear picture of the Orchestra’s finances.

Reality: Our Board negotiating committee trusted musicians with exhaustive amounts of information in the current negotiations in order to be transparent. This information includes our most recent independently audited financials; three years of monthly Finance Committee, Board and Executive Committee minutes; detailed reports on all our fundraising activity; quarterly investment reports dating back three years; our investment policies and objectives; and a comprehensive actuarial report on our defined benefit plan.

Aww, come on, MOA. Make this at least a little difficult for me. Here’s all I need to say to debunk this: they never actually answer the misrepresentation here.

Misrepresentation: An independent third party analysis is required to assure musicians that the Board has properly managed its finances.

Reality: The Minnesota Orchestra board is comprised of top business and philanthropic leaders in the Twin Cities, who volunteer their time and money to support the Orchestra. Why would the Board want to do anything but protect the Minnesota Orchestra for the long-term?

Question: do the top business and philanthropic leaders in the Twin Cities commonly put the future of their businesses and philanthropic organizations into the hands of volunteers who know little about how those organizations work? Are you willing to go on record saying that these volunteers, no matter how golden-hearted or well-intentioned, know better about orchestras than Drew McManus, Robert Levine, the past music directors of the Minnesota Orchestra, and others? I’d love to know.

Any financial examination would begin and end with a rigorous analysis of the Orchestra’s income and expenses—in other words, with an independent audit, which is the highest level of objective assurance regarding the state of the Orchestra’s finances. The MOA opens its books annually to an independent auditor and shares these certified results with musicians. The musicians could conduct their own analysis based on the audited financials, the MOA’s annual tax return, its forward-looking strategic plan and the 1200 additional pages of information the Board has shared in negotiations.

But they’re not asking for just a financial examination; they’re asking for something larger and more comprehensive, something that looks ahead as well as backward…just like what Mary Schaefle suggested before she knew the scope of what the musicians were requesting. We’re talking about two completely different things here. And you’re businessmen, and so you know it. So now you’re just trying to mislead us. Or, in other words, you’re frolicking and detouring. Not cool, guys.

Misrepresentation: President Michael Henson is an “obstacle” to achieving a contract resolution with musicians.

Reality: The obstacle standing between Board/management and musicians in achieving a contract resolution is the musicians’ perplexing refusal to put forward a single contract proposal of any kind in any form. How can negotiations possibly succeed if one side refuses to participate?

Perplexion!!! Told you! I’d suggest that we’d start a drinking game every time the MOA mentions the words “perplexing” or “perplexion”, but we’d all die of alcohol poisoning. (Also, this sentiment is lifted from Campbell/Davis’s editorial, in which they write, poetically: “We are perplexed by this standoff. What purpose can it possibly serve?” Just add in some line breaks and you’ve got yourself a haiku.)

Look, I’ve already extensively documented Michael Henson’s extensive failures of leadership during his time at the MOA, so I’ll just leave this “reality” unrebutted here. Check the apocalypse archives if you want more details about how terrible Michael Henson is at his job.

Misrepresentation: The Minnesota Orchestra is unique among orchestras across the country in the financial issues it is facing.

Reality: The recession severely impacted the orchestral industry, as it did most nonprofits that rely on charitable donations and investment returns. Musicians in many other major orchestras across the nation have helped their Boards to address these issues by making significant contract concessions. These include the major orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Other orchestras, such as Cleveland, have not sought wage concessions but have announced major structural deficits. Every community must find its own solution to the challenges that its orchestra faces, based on what its community can afford.

This brings up a good question… What can our community afford? Robert Levine has that same question in a thought-provoking blog entry… The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a taste.

A close look at recent Minnesota Orchestra contracts begs a different question, which is: how did the orchestra manage to run balanced budgets for so many years?…

Essentially the board is claiming that they’re unable to pay, not only tor the orchestra they have now, but for the orchestra that they had for a long time before the most recent settlement. No wonder the musicians want an independent analysis of the orchestra’s financial situation. How does an orchestra go from running balanced budgets year after year, well into the deepest recession in our industry’s history, and then start running massive deficits – far above any increase in overall orchestra compensation – when the economy is coming out of that recession? And all this while raising major sums for hall renovation?

I don’t know, Mr. Levine. It certainly is…what’s the word for it?…perplexing.

On a closing note, the Industry News page has been updated. And I can’t help but notice the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”: Graydon Royce’s bombshell article of 11/26 is not among the articles cited there. I don’t understand, guys. It’s almost as if the MOA isn’t happy about the revelations contained therein…


Filed under My Writing