SoundNotion 17: It’s Always Sunny in East Lansing

Topics include streaming opera performances, the future of American orchestras, rethinking digital distribution, the existential crisis of glockenspiel vibrato, and more.

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This week’s panel:

This week’s topics include:

  • James Levine is withdrawing from a slew of upcoming performances.
  • Are streaming opera performances really a good idea?
  • WQXR brought together some luminaries to ponder the future of American orchestras. (And Ray Hair embarassed himself and musicians everywhere.)
  • Detroit Symphony announces a gamble on lower ticket prices.
  • The Rethink Music Conference rethinks distribution models and intellectual property issues.
  • Ty Forquer helps Sam and Dave settle an old score about the existence of glockenspiel vibrato.
  • Interested in an orchestra administration career? Adaptistration’s Drew McManus wants to help you find a gig.

Pick of the week:

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  • I disagree with the initial assessment about the orchestras. I had a band director (of all people) when I was 16 that said “people like sports more than music because, as a spectator, they like to see a clear winner and a clear loser.” I think it fits perfectly into the American mentality of not liking to think. It’s also a matter of salaries that are out of line, bad marketing, bad repertoire, and ticket prices, etc…

  • wozzeck

    I’m so glad to see someone talking about the elephant in the room. In large part the biggest threat to major orchestras right now ARE ineffective managements.

    Though he opened with a weak argument point, his larger point is definitely true, and I’m glad to finally see the AFM take a more realistic approach to the discussion – regardless of whom he happens to be sitting next to. For too long, symphony musicians have tried to make their point by standing in picket lines in tuxedos, or playing music at malls, to try to reach out to their communities, instead of really talking about where the most glaring problems are. Musicians are historically not great at negotiations, and are often afraid of being too rude.

    I commend you guys for taking on this debate. Maybe you live near a symphony or major arts organization that is well run and legitimately come on hard times. Maybe you aren’t aware of the pure corporate greed that plagues many large non-profit institutions (we aren’t immune) In situations like Detroit, Philadelphia, etc. the larger problem is that their management really doesn’t understand the nature of a non-profit arts organization, or are incapable of running them effectively.

    Symphonies are not, have never been, and never will be for-profit institutions. It’s a waste of time to compare them to other forms of entertainment (like sports or pop music). Like libraries or art museums, symphony orchestras aren’t designed to be run profitably. Still, that doesn’t mean they are suddenly destined for the collective scrap heap. Take Philly’s $140million endowment. There is no reason why an effective manager can’t run a major symphony that amply fulfills its purpose and pays reasonable compensation with that kind of backing.

    While ineffective managers spend all kinds of resources in vain attempts to be more “relevant” (or whatever the latest buzzword is) they’ll continue to go to the musicians’ salaries to pay for their mistakes unless we are more aware of what’s going on behind the scenes.

    An interesting article:

  • Thanks for the comment, wozzeck. Actually, we’re in Michigan, so we’re quite familiar with bad arts management.

    However, to lay the blame solely (or even mostly) at the feet of managements is to say that this is simply a business problem. It’s not (just) a business problem. It’s a cultural problem. Each person in the ecosystem of an orchestra has to give up feelings of personal entitlement. If orchestras are going to continue to exist in the 21st century, they MUST make MAJOR changes to their cultures.

    They have to become more nimble, more flexible, and most importantly, they have to give up on the idea that tradition itself has intrinsic value. This is not a management problem, it’s a problem for the whole orchestra organization, and a problem for all of us as musicians.

    Don’t try to defend Ray Hair. He made a fool of himself. I was embarrassed to have ever been a member of AFM. The kind of crap he was spewing makes orchestra labor problems WORSE, not better.

  • Woyzeck

    Forgive me for saying it, but that really is a quaint statement:
    “Each person in the ecosystem of an orchestra has to give up feelings of personal entitlement.”

    It’s a great line, and is used to great effect since time immemorial in dealing with many labor problems.

    But, we’re not talking about “feelings of personal entitlement” here. We’re essentially talking about a cut in salary by a third – right? Call it what it is: it’s an orchestra shut-down. And, at the end of the day, the musicians don’t have any real control over whether or not management can fill the seats, or sell the product.