Tag Archives: society can be really weird sometimes

Dead Women Are Dead To American Orchestras

If you spend any time in the online orchestra world, you’ve probably seen the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s infographic about American orchestras’ 2014/15 seasons. A few days ago, the BSO released figures tracking the 15/16 season, and this year, the data net has been cast even wider. Writer Ricky O’Bannon describes the methodology:

This season we collected programming data for both major American symphonies as well as smaller regional orchestras — 89 in total — to give a more holistic view of symphonic repertoire in the United States.

My thoughts after reading that:

Oh, cool! With so many more orchestras included in the data-gathering this year, surely the proportion of living and historic women composers has skyrocketed, or at least inched upward gradually!

Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Last season, the works of female composers accounted for 14.3% of the performances of living composers (and a mere 1.8% of the performances overall). This year, even with the wider field? 14% and 1.7%, respectively.

And then there’s this little asterisk at the bottom of the graph.

every composer

*deep breath*


Look, I know it’s hard for orchestras to program works outside The Canon. And at this point, pretty much every orchestral work by women is outside The Canon. But no one in the bunch of eighty-nine orchestras wanted to program a single work by a female composer once? No one thought that would be musically or historically or politically or culturally interesting? No one thought that would be unique or exciting? No one thought that would be fantastic press release material? No one thought that would excite donors? No one thought that would advance orchestras’ missions to broaden audiences or educate communities? No one saw this as The Easiest Way Ever to outperform peer organizations? For crap’s sake, a random orchestra could program a dead lady’s ten-minute overture once, and wow, suddenly they’re playing 100% more historic women than any other orchestra in America! Congratulations, random orchestra! Your commitment to underrepresented demographics is palpable.

download (1)

The 2015 Song of the Lark Award for Demographically Diverse Orchestral Programming

And hell, it’s not like I’m asking every orchestra to throw an annual month-long Vagina Festival. It just would have been nice to see one orchestra play one work by one woman at one point. I thought that someone, somewhere, would throw us a pity Gaelic Symphony or Farrenc third or Clara Schumann concerto. But, nope.

Anyway. I would love to offer probing analysis. But it’s pretty f***ing hard to analyze the number zero.


Filed under Women In Music

What Ever Happened to Michael Henson?

“What ever happened to Michael Henson?”

I’ve been asked this question countless times. I’ve been asked this question loudly, quietly, surreptitiously, obviously, outside of concert halls, inside of concert halls, in moving cars, in non-moving cars, and, most recently, in the lobby of the Madison Concourse Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, during a personal vacation that was not Minnesota Orchestra related whatsoever.

I’ve always been vague because I didn’t know the answer ( “um, consulting work…I guess”). (And the Pulitzer for best investigative blogging goes to…) But as long as I’m happy with the direction in which the Minnesota Orchestra is going, and I am, I don’t really care what its former leader is up to. Yes, the question of his whereabouts is interesting to think about in the abstract, but any answer you might uncover has little practical use. If bread is square, why is sandwich meat round? That’s an interesting question, too. But it only does you so much good to think about it.

That said, some new intelligence recently landed in my lap in the form of Michael Henson’s LinkedIn profile.

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Filed under Labor Disputes

Five Takeaways From The Conversation on Female Composers (Link)

Hey, y’all! I just wrote a follow-up to my last blog entry for NewMusicBox:

“Five Takeaways From The Conversation on Female Composers”

Many thanks to the fine folks over there. Feel free to continue the conversation! The places where I’d most like you to continue the conversation would be at local artistic committee meetings, at music stores, at your private teachers’, and anywhere else where repertoire is decided and debated.

It's been fun, Spectator!

It’s been fun, Spectator!


Filed under Women In Music

In Which I Learn Why There Are No Great Women Composers

Lots of people have hobbies like knitting, jogging, or stamp collecting. Because I am the nerdiest nerd to ever nerd, the closest thing I have to a hobby is learning about the history of women in music. It’s a topic that doesn’t get as much press as the old chestnuts like “classical music is dying” or “Stradivari’s secret varnish” or “lockouts.” Nonetheless, once in a while the mainstream media will run articles about women composers, and when they do, I enjoy reading what other people have to say on the topic.

Today a very special article ran in the conservative British magazine The Spectator. It’s called “There’s A Good Reason Why There Are No Great Women Composers.” I’m not going to link to it for reasons that will gradually become obvious to you.

It begins:

Last week a 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus to include the work of women composers.

Wow. A 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus? How did she do this? Did she hack an extensive computer network? Did she threaten the board and then hold it hostage? Did she storm their office with firearms and issue terrifying proclamations with her foot resting upon the skulls of her enemies?

The truth is actually far more frightening: she began a change.org petition.

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Filed under Women In Music

Naked Nymphs and the Atlanta Symphony

A provocatively titled blog post made the rounds the other day: “Maybe Atlanta Symphony Should Lock Out Its Marketing Department Instead.” It included a link to the Atlanta Symphony brochure for the ill-fated 2014-2015 season. I clicked it, thinking to myself, well, it can’t be any weirder than the Dallas Symphony’s Beefcake Beethoven

And then mid-thought this loaded.

aso brochure 1


Holy –

Holy wow.

I might as well warn you: I’m gonna talk about naked people now. So if you’ve got a problem with reading about naked people, I’ll catch you later, once I start writing about 990s again.

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Filed under Labor Disputes

Advertising Beethoven’s Crotch

Whenever I need a break from music, I log on to Tumblr, scroll down, and zone out.

Then the other day in the midst of mindless scrolling I saw this.



Of course I immediately wondered if this was the work of a trickster with too much time on his hands and a grudge to bear against the Dallas Symphony, so I opened a new tab and Googled “dallas symphony beethoven festival brochures.”

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Filed under The Orchestra Business

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

Mr. Henson Goes to St. Paul, Part 2

Click here for part one of my “Mr. Henson Goes to St. Paul” series.


Well, after that marathon transcription session, I’m ready to dig into the meat of the matter. Please feel free to join me in the comment section.

Margaret Kellihan: …There’s a wonderful packet that they’ve put together for all of you, including the impact on your own districts of the Orchestra.

Some questions… What specifically did this packet say? Did it include anything about the Orchestra’s financial situation? If so, what? Can a person or organization face consequences for submitting false or misleading information in writing to the state legislature? I highly doubt that anything illegal occurred; I’m assuming the leaders of the MOA were extremely careful to check with their lawyers to make sure that everything was done within the bounds of the law. But just the fact that I have to say “I’m assuming the leaders of the MOA were extremely careful to check with their lawyers to make sure that everything was done within the bounds of the law” leaves a terribly rotten taste. I’d be very interested in seeing what claims were made in that packet, or to the state government in general. How closely did lawmakers look at the financial situation of the Orchestra while deciding whether to entertain the request? What information did they need? What answers were they given? I don’t know how this all works, and I’d be interested in finding out.

MK: Over 900 jobs will be created with this little bit of state money, partnered with a lot of private money.

MH:  Our private fundraising efforts are going very well, but public funding is critical if we are to reach our ultimate goal. Our private donors are keen to hear that the state is a partner in our project.

Of course we already knew about the synergy between public and private money within the Building for the Future campaign, but hearing it here again really underscores how desperately important this bonding request had become to the MOA and their vision of the organization’s future. I doubt the renovation could have even happened without it. So I completely understand what a temptation it must have been to manipulate numbers to, as Mr. Ebensteiner said in 2009, “support our state bonding aspirations.” I don’t agree with that tactic, at all, but I certainly understand it.

MK: The Orchestra has been winning terrific acclaim all around the globe, including the London Daily Telegraph, as well as the New York Times. And you can also know the reach of this Orchestra by the fact that it’s one of the only – it is the only American orchestra with a regular broadcast on the BBC. I think that’s pretty amazing, Madame Chair, and members.

It appears from the Speaker’s words that a major reason this request was entertained was because the Minnesota Orchestra is a world-class ensemble…or, in other words, a destination for world-class orchestral players. Implication: if they were to secure this money for the renovation of Orchestra Hall, Mr. Henson and the board had ethical (if not legal) obligations to do everything they could to maintain the status and the reputation of the Minnesota Orchestra. But I’ve yet to hear anyone in the orchestra business suggesting that the current leadership team is doing that. Indeed, Robert Levine has called for the entire board’s resignation, as well as Henson’s dismissal. We all remember the joint editorial that Marriner, de Waart, and Skrowaczewski published in the Strib in early October, in which they said, “An orchestra does not recover easily, from such drastic cuts, if ever.” And Drew McManus recently wrote in the comment section of his blog:

I would also add that provided everything in Royce’s article is accurate, the public trust is likely damaged beyond repair at this point as well. It’s difficult to separate the accounting decisions vis-a-vis the public bond funding and the corresponding decision to then reverse the policy for the purpose of artificially exacerbated negotiation leverage.

As the situation unfolds, it is depicting an increasingly sad state of affairs for an organization that once held one of the highest reputations in the field.

If we hear from dissenting respected voices from within the orchestra business praising management’s handling of the conflict, I’d be happy to feature them here. But I personally have found none.

On the financial front, we have announced balanced budgets over the last three consecutive years, and we are facing the current economic downturn with stability.

The slickness of that sentence just… It makes me queasy. It’s so terribly upsetting. As a commenter on violinist.com said, “Henson uses an interesting choice of words: ‘…we have announced balanced budgets…’ rather than saying they achieved, attained, or just plain had balanced budgets. I could ‘announce’ tomorrow that I am indeed the Queen of Sheba. Doesn’t make it so.” Well, exactly. He’s allowing himself wiggle room. And listen to the tone of his voice as he says it. He doesn’t stop; he doesn’t hesitate. He’s owning that obfuscation. It’s not troubling him at all, even though he’s clearly constructed the sentence to allow him to backpedal later if necessary.

We could debate whether the “we have announced balanced budgets” line is false or simply misleading, but personally, I consider the bit about “we are facing the current economic downturn with stability” to be a lie. A total fabrication. You might disagree with that assessment; “stability” is a subjective word, and it can mean a lot of things to lots of different people. But personally I can’t begin to conceive of a “stable” fiscal future that involves a 20-40%+ pay-cuts for musicians and endangers the quality of the core product. I wonder why Mr. Henson even included this phrase? He could easily have stopped after the slippery “we have announced” bit. Nobody would have noticed.

In general, the orchestra is musically enjoying a Golden Period with music director Osmo Vänskä.


This is obligatory now

Since I joined the Orchestra, we have tested and re-scaled the scope of the hall project in light of the very challenging economy.

This is a point I would love to hear more about. What did the testing and re-scaling consist of? Did anyone ever consider postponing the project for a few years? Did the public have any input into the decision-making process? If not, why not?

Our private fundraising efforts are going very well, but public funding is critical if we are to reach our ultimate goal.

Yes, fundraising was going so well that, a few weeks after testifying to the legislature, Mr. Henson said to the Strib…

“You recall that the project was downsized from $90 million,” Henson said, referring to a previous plan announced in 2007. “If we can generate more money through our fundraising, then it would make sense to grow the project, but it’s too early to say that, and we’ve made a priority to be fiscally responsible.”…

KPBM was expected to deliver sketches last December, but that likely was delayed to see whether fundraising might be robust enough to expand the project.  – Star Tribune, 15 March 2010

I know I mentioned that point a few days ago, but I think it deserves repetition, especially in light of Graydon Royce’s recent article. Because now we’ve got to wonder: did Mr. Henson really believe he could grow the project, or was he just saying that to manipulate the public? Your guess is as good as mine. This is incredibly disheartening. As Mary recently said in the comment section of Drew McManus’s blog: “A nonprofit’s most precious asset is trust of the community and donors that they are doing the right thing.” And right now we have a major trust deficit. Which will lead to exacerbated financial crisis. And so the downward spiral continues.

In other words:

We’re aiming to maintain the vast majority of that orchestral series, and the object has to be to actually retain that audience, so that when we close the hall and reopen it in a year’s time, we have retained as much of that audience as possible and retained that enthusiasm. So hopefully in the next couple of months we will be announcing that, and we are trying to minimize the amount of disruption.

Hmm. Yeah, about that…

(You know, now would be a fascinating time for minutes to surface in which MOA leaders discuss the possibility and likelihood of a work stoppage. Paper proof that Mr. Henson and his colleagues were anticipating a strike or lockout in January 2010 would add a whole new level of sleaziness to this entire affair.)

(Also, I’m eagerly anticipating the release of the Orchestra’s 2013-2014 schedule. Then we’ll have a much better idea of how many classical concerts the MOA really wants to put on relative to other non-renovation years.)

If I could also supplement that, we’re also aiming to increase our state touring for that year as well.  And we’ll be looking at between two to four weeks of activity. So I think we’re going to see a smaller main season, but we’re also going to take that in terms of increasing our presence across the whole state.

Great idea! Unfortunately, it never happened. Most (if not all; I’m not sure) of the Orchestra’s state touring is now done via the Common Chords project. In the 2011-2012 season, when the Orchestra was still in the hall, there were two Common Chords residencies, one in Grand Rapids and one in Willmar. In the 2012-2013 season, there was only one week scheduled, in April, in Bemidji…even though the Orchestra’s performance calendar was totally blank from September to mid-October. Is this an indication that the MOA was anticipating a work stoppage back when they were scheduling the season? Read the tea leaves as you will.

Well, those were the gist of my thoughts. I might have more as time goes by, and if I do, I’ll flesh those out in the comment section in conversation with you.


Filed under My Writing


I’m just going to leave this here. It speaks for itself. From the Star Tribune

Thursday’s cancellations will have consequences beyond the orchestra.

The Minneapolis Convention Center had projected income of $274,000 from the fall and holiday orchestra seasons, said spokeswoman Kirsten Montag. And the Minnesota Chorale, which had been scheduled for dates with the orchestra in October, November and December, will lose nearly all of its earned income for the fiscal year, said executive director Bob Peskin.

“We’ll have to make up the lost income with further expense cuts and increased donations,” Peskin said.

Orchestra president and CEO Michael Henson said the December dates — which include classical, jazz and presentations in addition to the holiday fare — were projected to make up 19.3 percent of annual ticket revenue. However, the net impact is a wash because the orchestra won’t have to pay rent at the Convention Center or musician salaries and benefits.


Filed under Not My Writing

Misrepresentation, Reality…Misrepresentation of Reality

~ Preface ~

If you’re a first-time reader, I highly highly highly recommend that you mosey over to this post, If you’re just joining us…, to get all the relevant details about who I am, what I’m doing, and where the Minnesota Orchestra negotiations are at right now. Otherwise big chunks of the following won’t make much sense.

This blog has been criticized – and occasionally rightly so – for overuse of sarcasm. Well, if sarcasm isn’t your thing, then you’ll want to look away now, because this entry is loaded with it.  That being said, until Minnesota management gets serious, I’m not particularly interested in being serious, either. The time for joke charts like this one is over. It’s time for some real answers. And if you don’t give them to me, then I’m going to Release The Snark! What else am I supposed to do? Reason calmly and politely and rationally? I – and many other patrons – have already tried that. And it didn’t work. Like, at all. So I dunno. Might as well turn up the sarcasm?

I’d also like to say – once again – that I do not speak for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. I have never spoken for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and I will never speak for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. I speak solely for myself. If we often share perspectives, then so be it, but keep in mind that’s incidental. We are totally separate entities. They never pressure me to say anything, and even if they did, I wouldn’t listen to them. I say what I say how I want to say it when I want to say it. So if you’re going to criticize this entry, or the tone of this entry, then remember the criticism belongs squarely at my feet. Not an ounce of it should go to them. Because they’re better wiser human beings than I am, and they consistently take the high road, while I routinely veer off into the brambles of angry, cranky, frustrated snark.

Now for our feature presentation…


What’s that, you say? Minnesota Orchestra management has some new information up on their website?

*heart rate spikes*

*face flushes*

*do you think they’ll answer any of my questions???*


*gallops along to read, excited to finally get some answers!*

*reads document*

*heart rate slows*

*becomes ridiculously disappointed*

*resists urge to get drunk*

*pounds wall in frustration*

*searches Google Images for “FRUSTRATION”*


Here it is, in all its irrelevant, completely unhelpful glory. It’s a two-column chart called “Misrepresentation vs. Reality.”

Deep, man. Cuz I mean…what is reality, really? Do we really know? Like, really?

I love how we’re all tip-toeing over the word everyone’s thinking but nobody’s actually saying. I say obfuscation; you say misrepresentation; we both mean another word entirely…am I right? Anyway. Let’s get to analyzing. I’ll copy/paste the Misrepresentation and Reality, and then counter with my own Misrepresentation of Reality. Then management (assuming they ever acknowledge I exist) can come back with a “No, That Misrepresentation of Reality Is Really A Misrepresentation of Reality.” Or, whatever.

Here goes:

Misrepresentation: The Minnesota Orchestral Association’s (MOA’s) contract proposal calls for salary cuts of up to 50%.

Reality: The proposed salary cuts in the current proposal range from 20 to 40% with the vast majority under 35%. (Specifically, 70% of the musicians would see salary cuts of less than 35%.)

The current proposal offers an average annual salary of $89,000 plus ten weeks paid vacation, and additional benefits averaging $30,000 per musician (including healthcare and pension), for a total package of $119,000.

Misrepresentation of Reality: “The vast majority” are “under 35%”? Oh, well, that’s not so bad, then! I guess I’ll put away my picket sign. Twenty to forty percent of someone’s paycheck is chump change. So chump-ish, in fact, that, if Michael Henson took that pay cut, he’d only lose out on a mere $80,000 to $160,000 a year. I’m sure he’d swallow such a cut easily, without any resistance whatsoever. Especially since there are so few orchestra CEO positions available in the world today, and since he’d have such difficulty finding work elsewhere.

I’m going to sound a bit like a broken record here. As I’ve said before, keep in mind the difference in base versus average salaries (the proposed base is $78,000); both numbers should be considered. As I’ve said before, musicians don’t have vacation weeks, ever; only weeks in which they do not perform with the orchestra. As I’ve said before, take everything from both sides with not just a grain of salt, but a salt mine.

The more I read about this topic, the more I realize I can’t state with any certainty what numbers are accurate. Especially not when we’re talking about the massive fiscal infrastructure of a major American symphony orchestra. And especially especially not when the numbers come from management, since they have a long – and apparently proud – history of obfuscation. However, I am well aware that just like Bible verses, numbers can be massaged to say whatever the crap you want them to. (Exhibit A.) And since management routinely obfuscates about the things I do understand, like musician “vacation time”, then that makes me feel as if they’re also obfuscating about the things I don’t understand, like their financial status. That’s just common sense. If someone obfuscates about one thing, what’s to keep them from obfuscating about another? So they’ll really need to step up their game to get me to believe them.

So let’s keep reading and see if they do that…

Misrepresentation: The MOA turned down three musician contract proposals.

Reality: Musicians have not presented a single contract proposal since negotiations began in April.

The three “proposals” provided by musicians—to play and talk, to submit to binding arbitration and to conduct an independent financial analysis—are not contract proposals.

Misrepresentation of Reality: But…binding arbitration would have resulted in a new contract, right? If I offer to do something that’s guaranteed to end in a contract, then that’s basically a contract proposal. IMHO. If I tie a ring box around the neck of my boyfriend’s dog and push the dog into the room where my boyfriend is sitting, I’m not saying out loud “please marry me,” but the intent is obvious: I’m making a proposal of marriage. If an orchestra offers to go through binding arbitration, then their intent is obvious. Correct?

Misrepresentation: The MOA is refusing to share specifics on the Orchestra’s finances with musicians.

Reality: Board and management have been communicating the financial position of the Orchestra with musicians for three years.

In addition, the Orchestra’s Negotiating Committee has provided more than 1,200 pages of information to the Musician Negotiating Committee in the past six months, including the independently audited financial statements.

Misrepresentation of Reality: Oh, I see. So the board and management have been communicating the financial position of the Orchestra with the musicians for three whole years…just not with the public or with the press. *thumbs up* My confidence in you is soaring…like the Hindenburg! (To borrow a famous quote from Colbert.)

There is nothing in the “reality” spiel about incomplete and misleading numbers, which, to the best of my understanding, is the crux of the issue. Number of pages tells me nothing. Nada. Zilch. I could easily print out 1200 pages of documents about the sorry state of my finances and still not reveal to you how much is actually in my savings account ($5, if you’re interested). Also, notice: no word about the already approved budget that they are apparently refusing to release. And no word about the mysterious vanished article from 2010 that says how well they’re doing. No word, no word, no word. The rest is silence, et cetera.

Misrepresentation: The audited financial information shared was from Fiscal 2011 and is out of date.

Reality: The Fiscal 2011 financials are the most current audited figures available.

Our most recent fiscal year ended in August and our 2012 independent audit is now underway. Those figures, too, will be shared with musicians when the audit is complete.

Misrepresentation of Reality: Dunno the exact truth here (and if you do know anything, please don’t tell me – unless you want to go on the record; I really really don’t want to get stuck in the middle of discussions about numbers I can’t verify), but this is what Ellen Dinwiddie Smith said in the Matt Peiken MNuet interview… (5:29 in)

MP: Ellen, you also told me, and I want you to talk about this a little more, you mentioned that to date, you have not seen…as an orchestra, you have not been shown the books, let alone your request to have an independent auditor look at them. Is that true, that the musicians have not seen the books?

EDS: This is true. We have repeatedly called for a joint independent financial analysis, and they have refused to do that. We have given the papers that we were given to people who have looked at them and basically told us that everything they’ve given us is so contradictory to each other that it doesn’t make sense.

So…take from that exchange what you will. Pretty impossible for those of us on the outside to understand all the subtleties of what’s going on here, I think. Nonetheless, management doesn’t once address the musicians’ central allegation: that there are contradictory numbers at play.

Misrepresentation: MOA’s refusal to “play and talk” signals an intention to create a second-rate orchestra.

Reality: After six months of playing and talking without a single counter-proposal from the musicians, Orchestra management concluded that continuing to repeat that activity would only result in more unproductive discussions and costly delays. A “play and talk” agreement incurs monthly operating losses for our organization of $500,000.

Preserving the future of an exceptional Orchestra for generations of music lovers is our highest priority. We await a counter-proposal from the musicians so we can resume negotiations and reach a settlement as quickly as possible.

Misrepresentation of Reality: Hey, guys. I know it’s hard for you, but let’s get real for a brief moment. The idea of the “playing and talking” period being while the musicians were still legally obligated to play…that’s just such a ridiculously ludicrous notion, and so far outside the definition of the phrase “playing and talking” in the orchestral world, that I don’t even know what to say. Barney Frank said it best: “On what planet do you spend most of your time? Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table; I have no interest in doing it.” And you know what? He’s right. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea why I’m giving this chart the time of day. It’s ridiculous and useless and irrelevant. This is the Dick Morris of charts. At a certain point, you stop reading for information and start reading for the sheer entertainment value.

But we’ve gotten this far. So let’s keep going… Maybe we’ll be surprised by a flash of insight…

Misrepresentation: Most of the musicians will leave if this contract is approved.

Reality: We believe our musicians remain committed to this organization and community, and hope they will choose to remain.

Other major orchestras across the country who have undergone a market reset have not seen significant departures from their players.

These orchestras still report a high number of qualified candidates applying for positions that do become available.

Misrepresentation of Reality: That Kool-Aid must taste awfully delicious. While you’re drinking, you might be interested in checking out what happened to the principals in Detroit after their own orchestral apocalypse. Here’s a little taste.

Also, clever clever clever use of the word “most.” No, “most” probably won’t leave…but “a lot” certainly could. Especially our principals. Who are some of the very best in the business. Heck, one could easily argue that we’ve already lost Sarah Kwak over this. She and her husband – also an Orchestra violinist – saw this coming. I wouldn’t be surprised if that knowledge factored heavily in their decision to leave for Oregon.

Also also…”undergoing a market reset.” Ha. Hey, while we’re throwing around chilling Orwellian phrases, here are some of my personal favorites: “Ministry of Plenty” – “Newspeak” – “Ignorance is Strength” – and “no animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.”

Note that once again, there is no concern at all, whatsoever, for THESE particular musicians, for these individuals, for these hearts and souls, and for the relationships the community has with them. The callousness verges on entertaining…if it wasn’t so cruel. The relationships they’ve built with community members – particularly, with children and young people – are not easily replaceable. I know this will come as a shock to some of you, but there are other consequences to this conflict besides economic ones. And you’ve yet to address those.

Orchestra member Manny Laureano is a co-artistic director and conductor at the Minnesota Youth Symphonies. If he’s anything like my youth symphony conductors, he is hugely influential, and his example brightens hundreds of kids’ lives. When he announces his departure for greener pastures, I defy you to walk up to every single student that he has led and inspired over the years in the Twin Cities, and reassure them that “well, a high number of qualified candidates are applying for Mr. Laureano’s now-vacant seat, so don’t worry, kids! That’s just what happens during market resets!” I dare you to do this. Orch dorks may not look threatening, but I think you’d be surprised by the reaction you’d get. Repeat a scene like this for every single individual who leaves the orchestra due to the behavior of management. Behind every single departed musician, I guarantee you will find a wake of depressed fans, students, friends, co-workers…maybe even families. These are holes that cannot be mended quickly or easily…if ever. Poking open those holes is not a task that should be taken likely. And when it does need to be done, it needs to be done with empathy, sympathy, and respect. None of which you’ve shown. Ever.

For future reference, this is how an emotionally intelligent person would answer the question “will musicians leave?”

Yes, there is a danger that some will leave. We regret that our community cannot afford to pay them the salary they could earn elsewhere. We respect these individuals’ decisions to seek work elsewhere. We are proud of them and the amazing work they’ve done in the Twin Cities, and we wish them well as they seek better-paying jobs in other communities. We can only hope that their replacements will live up to the high standards they have set.

In other words…… R-E-S-P-E-C-T!!! Find out what it means to me! (And plus it’s to-tal-ly free!) You can sing along with a karaoke version here! (Actually, the lyrics to this entire song are hilariously applicable to this entire debacle, and I really recommend taking a break from this blog to belt them out. It will be therapeutic.)

Misrepresentation: The Orchestra Board raised money to renovate Orchestra Hall that should have been used to pay musicians.

Reality: The funds for renovating Orchestra Hall are part of a larger $110 million campaign which began in 2005.

The majority of these contributions ($60 million) are being used for two purposes: to build the future endowment, which will continue to fund musician compensation, and to support artistic initiatives (like touring and recording).

Misrepresentation: The MOA should now use the funds raised for Orchestra Hall to support its musicians instead.

Reality: Our donors had a choice over which component of our $110 million campaign they wished to support.

Some donors (corporate, foundation and individual) prefer to give one-time capital gifts that come with naming options.

The funds raised for the renovation of Orchestra Hall are restricted for that purpose and cannot be diverted for other uses.

For example: $14 million in bonding support from the State of Minnesota must be used for this capital project and cannot be used for ongoing operations. In order to draw down these funds, the Orchestra has met a requirement for a 2 to 1 match with funding from private and corporate supporters.



Look, I don’t think anyone is saying “Stop the renovation in its tracks and give that money to musicians!” No. We’re objecting to the picture you painted in 2010 and earlier, in which you were “a beacon institution” among “bad economic news.” We’re wondering if people would have donated to the hall construction effort if they’d known such massive pay cuts were coming. In other words, if you guys had told us in 2010 about the impending pay cuts, would you have raised enough money for the hall? That’s what we’re asking. But you’re not answering. Hello! Is anyone home? Anyone? It’s not that complicated a question!

Misrepresentation: The MOA has money to pay the musicians—it just doesn’t want to.

Reality: The Orchestra has paid musicians’ salaries over the last several years by making additional draws from its endowment. The draw rate was three times higher than a sustainable level in 2011 (17% vs 5%).

That’s like taking money out of a 401k to pay normal living expenses. The more that’s pulled now, the less there is for the future.

If we continue to draw from our endowment at our current rate, the MOA endowment will be depleted by 2018.

Misrepresentation of Reality: Groovy, cool beans, awesomesauce. How about you prove this to us by submitting to a joint independent financial analysis? Like this Star Tribune editorial said you should? The very same Star Tribune editorial that you posted a link to on your website? In the words of Reagan and the Star Tribune, “trust but verify.”

Or is Reagan too much of a union-loving commie pinko lefty for you?

Look, even if the numbers come back as total exact duplicates to your independent audits…well, hey, at least you’ll have shut the musicians – and us patrons – up for a while. And I mean, you’ve got to admit, we’re frigging obnoxious.

Misrepresentation: The musicians already took a pay cut in 2009.

Reality: The musicians agreed to a one year wage freeze in 2009. They did not offer to take a cut in salary.

Misrepresentation of Reality: Um, that’s actually not how you characterized it in 2010… “At the same time, Henson negotiated modifications to the musicians’ contract, resulting in around $4.2m in cost savings up to 2012 – mostly through salary and pension reductions, and a wage freeze in FY2010.” (That “winning article” just keeps on giving and giving. My goodness. No wonder Henson wants it removed from the face of the earth.) That’s also not what you told the Star Tribune in August 2009: “Musicians at the Minnesota Orchestra have agreed to concessions in the face of financial pressures on the organization… The plan involves pay cuts totaling $1.8 million.”

What am I missing?

Misrepresentation: The musicians offered to take more cuts but were rebuffed by management.

Reality: The musicians did not offer to take any cuts.

They did offer to defer salary increases in exchange for extending the current contract an additional two years. However, this would have further depleted our endowment and put off the problem, not solved it.

Misrepresentation of Reality: Fascinating! Of course this had absolutely nothing to do with the fact the SPCO’s contract would be up for expiration in 2012. And it has nothing to do with the fact that an overworked local media wouldn’t be able to keep track of both stories. And it has nothing to do with the fact that major contracts were coming up in Atlanta and Indianapolis and Cleveland and Chicago and St. Paul, and at least three of those were likely to be settled with sharply concessionary contracts. No…nothing whatsoever to do with any of those things. It was all 100% concern over the health of the organization and the endowment. Mmmhmm.

*tinfoil hat crinkles*

(Of course I have no proof of this, and I can’t imagine we’ll ever get proof from management. But it’s not very hard to read the writing on the wall, and wonder. And since they’ve never addressed it…)

Misrepresentation: Management hasn’t taken any cuts internally.

Reality: In fact, staffing costs have been lean for many years. Over the last decade, all costs in the organization—minus musician costs—have decreased by 6%. In that same time period, musicians’ costs have increased by 26%.

Since the start of the 2007 musician’s contract—during which time the players received a 19.2% increase to base salary—the management and administrative team has taken a salary reduction, a wage freeze and had their pension contributions from the MOA reduced by more than 40%. This includes the president.

The size of the staff has decreased by 20% since 2009 due to layoffs.

Misrepresentations of Reality: I think a guest blogger (or two) may eventually have something to say about this. I think you’d be surprised by the…tenaciousness, shall we say, of certain patrons. So stay tuned. And stop belittling us.

Is anyone saying that management hasn’t taken any cuts internally? Because we all know that people have been fired, and fired brutally. In fact, that’s actually one of our concerns! Take a listen to what Ellen Dinwiddie Smith said in the Peiken interview (at 29:30).

What happened when they fired our staff…right before they closed the hall this summer…we had several staff members who were actually told that morning. They were brought into an office, and as they were being brought into the office, their computer passwords were changed, and they were told they had to leave the building. They were escorted out of the building and they were allowed to come back some time later and pick up their things. These are people who had worked at the orchestra twenty years, some of them just like at the stage door. There was no reason to make that kind of a layoff because they knew they were going to get laid off or whatever in a week or two weeks when the hall closed, but the Association staged it in such a way that, oh, we had to do this, you know, big layoff thing.

Soooooooo. Is this true? Why aren’t you addressing this allegation? Do you still want to talk about cuts in management, or would you like to move onto another subject?

Here’s a question: if this is true, then what the actual [bleep]? What possessed you? Who on earth decided this was okay? This isn’t how we do things in Minnesota.

This also is a phrase that interests me: “This includes the president.” Then whassup with this? $390,000 in 2009 and $404,000 in 2011-ish? Even if Michael Henson’s total compensation, including benefits, somehow did go down, it sure as crap doesn’t look like it went down 20-40%. Also, how about this article? “For the big guns, nonprofits with budgets of $25 million to $50 million, the median CEO compensation was $243,000 at the top tier.” Thoughts? Explanation? Justification? Rebuttals? Apologies?

No. Crickets.

One more thing: I’d imagine the decrease in the size of the staff was at least partially due to the fact that your hall is under renovation, and you had to let some people go while you were away. Correct? And yet…no mention of that here. Obfuscations obfuscations obfuscations. At this point I’m realizing it would have been easier to point out the things in this chart that are true, rather than pointing out the things that are misleading. Oh, well; we’re too far along now. Let’s keep going…

Misrepresentation: MOA doesn’t want any assistance from a third party to break the stalemate.

Reality: Orchestra management strongly supports an independent party involved in negotiations, and a federal mediator is participating in our negotiations.

It is highly unusual to suggest arbitration in a negotiation in which one side has not put forward even a single proposal.

Final and binding arbitration provides no assurance that the Orchestra’s financial instability would be solved, even in the short term.

At best, it would delay needed changes for many months while the arbitration unfolds. The Orchestra would incur significant operating losses with each month’s delay.

Misrepresentation of Reality: OK, so I know that every orchestra is local, and every orchestral meltdown is unique in its own way (“each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”). And we could probably have a long in-depth discussion about why (if you would bother discussing anything with anybody in-depth, which you won’t). But here’s a question: why do you think that the managements at Louisville and Detroit even entertained the idea of binding arbitration for more than five seconds, if it didn’t provide any assurance of financial stability, even in the short term? Were those leaders just being reckless? Were they desperate? Stupid? Or do you think that your financial position and outlook are even worse than theirs? If so, why? Because our arts scene is envied across the country. And I think the folks in power at Louisville and Detroit would have killed to be in this generous, thriving, well-educated community.

Misrepresentation: The Orchestra’s endowment has been mismanaged.

Reality: On the contrary, the MOA Endowment has exceeded investment return benchmarks over the last five years.

The critical issue is that we have taken additional draws from our endowment in order to fund the 2007 musicians’ contract—and this has reduced the endowment’s value. In short, we have less money to invest because of the salaries from the previous contract.

Our organization needs to learn to live within the means of a 5% investment draw, to ensure the endowment can grow and support the Orchestra in the future.

Misrepresentation of Reality: FYI, in case you’ve forgotten, the musicians didn’t unilaterally impose a contract in 2007: you guys agreed to it, too. If that contract is the only thing that went wrong, you deserve blame, as well. In 2007, orchestra board chairman Paul Grangaard said, “We have a three-year plan to break even, and we’re confident we’re going to achieve that.” (Mr. Grangaard is still listed as being on the Board of Directors.) So don’t give me this crap that it’s solely the musicians’ fault and you had absolutely nothing to do with it and you have no idea who on earth okayed all these crushing fiscal obligations.

Also: what is the definition of “mismanagement”? It could be anything from “fraud” to “slightly under-performing the market,” really. Depends on who you ask.

Two questions. First question: is this bit from the musicians’ website false? “Board Chair Jon Campbell expressed regret at the Board and Management’s handling of the endowment funds over the past ten years, noting that they had been unhappy with the advice they had acted upon and had to change investment advisers. Campbell also admitted that the Board and Management had been wrong in 2007 regarding their investment predictions.” Second question: why the switch in independent investment consultants? You said yourself a few days ago that you switched: “In 2010, a new independent investment consultant, Cambridge Associates, was hired to manage the portfolio.” Answer those two questions honestly, and then maybe we could get past the posturing and strutting and puffing and begin to discuss this like adults.

Let’s get past this. It’s not impressing anybody.

Misrepresentation: MOA leaders created the organization’s strategic plan in secret and the plan reflects no interest in artistry, community service, education or marketing.

Reality: Musicians were participants in creating the artistic and community outreach portions of the strategic plan, since this is their area of expertise. Likewise the board and management created the financial portions of the plan.

As part of the strategic planning process, the board openly shared the Orchestra’s financial situation with musicians in a series of meetings spanning three years.

The complete plan—including sections on artistic achievement and community outreach—is available online, and includes many initiatives relating towards international touring, recording, broadcasting, and new community outreach programs

Misrepresentation of Reality: First off, please please please stop touting the fact that you were telling the musicians how terribly you were doing financially, when you weren’t telling us. This only reminds us of your fundamentally disingenuous nature. I feel like my husband cheated on me for three years with a woman named Nicole, and, worse, that he keeps insisting he’s trustworthy by saying, “But I was faithful to Nicole the whole time!You’re. Not. Helping.

Second, the “complete strategic plan” is utter poppycock, full of phrases that are so vague and cliched as to render them practically meaningless. “New concert formats”? “Explore new earned income streams”? “Vital holiday festivals”? What in the name of crap is a “vital holiday festival”? Let me check Google…

Oh. Well, maybe Google Image Search will be more helpful – ?


Those are the first three results when you look up “vital holiday festival” on Google Image Search. Unfortunately, this doesn’t clear up my confusion, or answer my questions. And neither does management. So I’m still in the dark.

Look, you can’t write a “complete strategic guide” for a major symphony orchestra in a glossy thirty page document full of pretty pictures and sentence fragments. The idea of that is absurd. A real comprehensive strategic plan would be difficult nuts and bolts work, requiring substantial input from the community, and it would take hundreds upon hundreds of pages to debate, define, and implement. And you haven’t released those pages. I don’t even know if they exist! Right now I kinda doubt they do.

And that’s not even touching on the changed mission statement. Here’s the old one:

Our mission is to enrich and inspire our community as a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence.

Our mission will be implemented by:

  • Enhancing the traditional core of concerts with innovative approaches to programming and format;
  • Providing the finest educational and outreach programs;
  • Representing and promoting the Minnesota Orchestra and the State of Minnesota to audiences across the state, across the country and around the world through tours and electronic media;
  • Maintaining an acoustically superior hall with a welcoming environment.

Here’s the new one:

The Minnesota Orchestral Association inspires, educates and serves our community through internationally recognized performances of exceptional music delivered within a sustainable financial structure.

End statement. Something’s missing in that second one that’s very prominent in the first. I can’t quite put my finger on it… Something about “an orchestra”, maybe? Question: why take the word orchestra out of an orchestra’s mission statement?

Misrepresentation: MOA’s proposal includes a dramatic shift in healthcare costs to musicians.

Reality: In the proposed contract, the musicians will participate in the same medical plan that covers management and administration.

Even with this change, the MOA will make an average annual contribution towards family medical coverage of $17,250 per employee, almost twice the national average.

Misrepresentation of Reality: Um, yeah. Quick question… Are you aware that the “reality” you just gave didn’t even address the misrepresentation?

I ask this in all sincerity: Do you think we’re dumb? Because I’m getting the vibe you think we’re dumb. But the thing is, we aren’t dumb. And we get really annoyed when you treat us like we’re dumb. Because we aren’t, in fact, dumb.

Misrepresentation: Musicians have collected more than 7,000 signatures supporting their position.

Reality: None of the petitions provide any specifics on the contract negotiations. The current petition online reads “Minnesota deserves artistic excellence. I support keeping world-class musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra so that all Minnesotans may continue to enjoy extraordinary music.”

Orchestra leaders support that position. Preserving extraordinary music for generations is the core of the proposed contract and the Orchestra’s five-year strategic plan.

Misrepresentation of Reality: Well, duh. Nobody is going to sign a change.org petition if they have to read a 50-page contract full of indecipherable legalese first. But I can guarantee you, the people who signed do support one thing: they support keeping these particular world-class musicians in Minneapolis. And orchestra leaders simply don’t support that position. And don’t tell me they do; Davis and Campbell themselves have said they’re expecting turnover, and they seem awfully cool with it. Also, there’s that old maxim: “actions speak louder than words.” Pretend you’re management. If you really wanted to keep these musicians in town, would you treat them the way management has been treating these musicians? No. Of course not. We’re Minnesotans. (Well…I’m from western Wisconsin, but that’s basically the same thing.) We have a long proud history of being fundamentally decent human beings. There’s a whole Wikipedia entry on it.

*reaches the end of the chart*

*keeps clicking, convinced there’s more, somewhere*

*reaches end of page*




I feel just like I did at the end of season one of Sherlock!

You can’t end the story there! Guys! That’s narrative malpractice! There are so many unresolved plot points! Nothing more about why you refuse to submit to an independent financial analysis? Nothing explaining why the Strib was wrong for recommending you do so? Nothing about how your Industry News section only has sad articles about orchestras and never happy ones? Nothing about being sorry for treating the musicians like cogs in a machine? Nothing about how Henson is still earning roughly $1100 every single day the lockout churns on? (He’s earned over $36,000 since it began, by the way…) Nothing about the dozens upon dozens of questions I’ve raised on this blog? Nothing about why you won’t talk to Matt Peiken? Nothing about the intelligent questions Mary Schaefle asked? Nothing about the mysterious vanishing Michael Henson article of 2010 that everyone’s talking about? (Even frigging Alex Ross at The New Yorker knows about it at this point!) Guys, this was such a huge opportunity for you, and you just…you kind of blew it, to be honest.

I could tear this chart apart even further. Maybe I will, too, eventually, if I’m ever in the mood to shoot muskies in barrels. But doing so would just consist of me further blabbing about things I’ve already blabbed many thousands of words about, and that would be boring and a complete waste of space. (Just like this chart!) 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. But if prior efforts haven’t done anything to move the needle of public opinion, I can’t imagine this will.

Hey, Minnesota management! The day you start getting real, then I promise you, that’s the day I’ll drop the sarcasm and start taking you seriously. Until then, I can’t view management’s position as anything except a terrible joke. And I’m going to treat it with what an inappropriate joke deserves: with massive amounts of scorn and derision.


Filed under My Writing