Why I Don't Comment on Labor Difficulties
I have received a number of comments, particularly recently, asking why I don't explore the difficulties that some orchestras, such as the Columbus Symphony, are experiencing, and perhaps offer analysis and even recommendations for solutions.
I'll admit it is tempting - but it
would be extremely foolish. First of all, the specific problems of any
orchestra are the result of a very complex set of problems that would require
weeks, if not months, of exploration and detailed examination to understand.
All orchestras that get into financial trouble get there because their earned
and contributed revenues do not match their operating expenses. But to
understand the cause of any individual situation requires a level of study and
knowledge of that specific situation that is not possible for me, sitting on
the outside and observing. Is the problem mostly on the income side (poor
fund-raising given the community resources available, ticket sales below what
should be expected in a particular market)? Or is the organization obtaining a
level of revenue appropriate for the size, demographics, and economic
conditions of that particular market, and did it just let itself spend at too
high a level? If the answer is a combination of those, where on the scale does
it lie? Toward the "too much expense" or "too little revenue" side? It is easy for outsiders to jump to
conclusions -- conclusions that are frequently informed by a particular bias on
the part of the observer. But I have learned, from 45 years in this business,
and as someone who has served as a mediator in a number of labor disputes, that
the answers are never obvious from the outside.
Secondly, even if the answers were
obvious, or knowable, the solution is almost never brought about by public
pressure or commentary. Emotions run high on both sides of any labor-management
dispute, and are frequently the biggest barrier standing in the way of finding
common ground. The more positions are staked out in public, and endorsed or
promoted by one faction or another, the harder it is for people to give up
When I did serve as a mediator in labor disputes (in Nashville, Louisville, Houston, San Antonio, Honolulu) one absolute insistence of mine was that there would be no more talking to the press, no more printing of flyers or brochures, in fact no public comment of any kind, except that which I would issue. And all I would issue, during the process, was "no comment."
So while I understand the desire of those who have asked me to write about the problems, I hope you can understand why I would not even consider it. All one can do is watch from the outside, hope that all the parties will have honest conversations with each other, and offer advice or assistance very privately if it is requested. Any public forum for this kind of dispute is more likely to exacerbate than to calm it.