How not to do it

Here’s a link to a speech by Bruce Ridge, the chairman of ICSOM, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents unionized musicians at 51 top American orchestras. The title of the speech? “Danger, Will Robinson! How Hyperbolic, Negative Rhetoric is Hurting America’s Orchestras.” And what Ridge says is that orchestras are in good shape, along with all of classical music, no matter how often we hear otherwise.

Which is fine. He’s entitled to his opinion. But his speech is a great disservice to his membership, not because I disagree with what he says, but because of the way he supports it. His adversaries, as we’ll see, have detailed social science data. Ridge, by contrast, has little more than anecdotes. So in any serious debate, he loses. His members may not think so. They’ll like what he says (and he speaks with great vitality and charm). But that just means that he’s a good cheerleader. He can’t back up what he says with serious analysis.

Let me explain why this matters. People who know the current orchestral landscape understand that Ridge is taking the musicians’ side — or the side some musicians take — in a very important debate. Orchestra managements, joined by the League of American Orchestras, have been saying that orchestras are in trouble. Financial trouble, above all. Which then means that managements want to cut orchestral budgets, and ask musicians to take cuts in pay. They also think they need to change the face their orchestras present to their communities, which means that musicians should play more community concerts than they currently do.

Many musicians, understandably, don’t like this. (Though some, let’s note, have cooperated with management, as has happened, for instance, at the Columbus (Ohio) Symphony.) When they embarked on their careers, orchestras seemed healthy. So they never expected to take cuts in pay, or to focus more on concerts they might not think are musically satisfying. I have to sympathize with them, especially since many of them have mortgages, or kids in college.

But what can the musicians do? One answer is to disagree with management, to say that, no, things aren’t really bad. Or if they are, it’s only because management is doing a bad job, not selling tickets effectively, not raising money well. Which means — if they’re going to say this — that they also have to say that orchestras are at bottom healthy, no matter what we hear to the contrary.

Which gets us back to Ridge’s speech.  He takes exactly the point of view I’ve just described. And does it, as I said, with a lot of brio. What’s missing, though, is serious analysis. Ridge cites, for instance, newspaper headlines. Too many people, he says, focus too much on negative news about classical music and orchestras. But they’re neglecting positive news.

And so Ridge cites some headlines:

“Colorado Symphony (cue drumroll) is back in the black”

“Buffalo Philharmonic shows surplus under economic challenges”

“St. Louis Symphony ticket sales, gifts, endowment grow in 2011″

And more. But this, as I said, is not much more than cheerleading. You can’t reason from newspaper headlines. Anyone can cherry-pick headlines to prove — or seem to prove — just about anything at all. Nor can you base an argument (not a serious one, anyway) on isolated data points, which Ridge also supplies. The Met Opera sells lots of tickets to streams of its performances in movie theaters! 12% of iTunes downloads are classical music! (A stat, by the way, that I and my wife Anne Midgette were the first to circulate, after we were given it by an insider.)

These things may be true, but what do they mean? Facts in isolation don’t demonstrate anything. In any complex situation many contrary things can happen. The vast majority of orchestras, for instance, could be falling into an abyss, and still a few might be selling lots of tickets. People might be downloading classical music from iTunes, but staying far away from classical concerts. (As in fact is true.)

In another post, I’ll look at Ridge’s thoughts more closely. Right now I only want to say that facts — to add up to anything — must have a context. And the context should be comprehensive data — longterm numbers on such things as classical music ticket sales, the size and age of the classical music audience, and classical music finances.

This data exists. There are NEA studies, and also data gathered by the League of American Orchestras. Plus data cited and assembled by Robert Flanagan, an economist whose book The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras is (as far as I know) the first full-length study of orchestra financing. (I’ll blog about it shortly.)

Now, Ridge may not like this data, and may not think it’s accurate. But he needs to deal with it. Which means, to start with, that he ought to mention it! Which he doesn’t do. He doesn’t mention, for instance, that the NEA four years ago reported that the percentage of adult Americans who go to classical performances had declined nearly 30% in recent decades. Nor does he mention Bob Flanagan’s book. (Though he does cite its title — without saying where the words come from — as an example of the negative talk he thinks is far too common nowadays.)

And then, having mentioned the data, he ought to refute it, along with the arguments — taking viewpoints contrary to his — that are based on it.

How could he do that? Well, he could do what his adversaries did. He could commission a study. The League did this. When they saw the NEA data that I mentioned, they commissioned a study of their own, to see if the NEA was right. They concluded that it was.

And how did Bob Flanagan’s book come into being? Some orchestra professionals — including a few CEOs of major orchestras, but also some musicians — got together informally, and worried about something they’d come to understand, which was that orchestras run structural deficits. Over many years, without regard to changes in the state of the economy, they spend more money than they take in.

This informal meeting happened at a retreat held by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as part of a funding program called the Orchestra Forum. I happened to attend. What followed were more meetings — organized more formally — to discuss structural deficits. From which came the very good idea that someone more qualified than orchestra professionals should consider the problem in far more depth.

Enter Bob, a business economist. The Mellon Foundation recruited him to study the economics of orchestras, coming to it from the outside, with no preexisting point of view. He made a report to the foundation, and then — independent of Mellon — published his book, in which he says that structural deficits do exist, and that orchestra finances (quite apart from current economic troubles) are inherently perilous.

Ridge (along with all of ICSOM) is free to disagree. But he needs to play major league ball. If he wants to disagree with professionals — economists, statisticians, and others with serious social science qualifications — he needs professionals of his own. So ICSOM should find its own economist, and make a second study. I’d applaud that, no matter what the conclusions were. I find Bob’s book convincing, but Bob, I’d guess, would be the first to say it ought to be debated. And not just by amateurs like me and Ridge, but by economists whose credentials are as good as Bob’s.

So come on, Bruce Ridge. Come on, ICSOM. Do your job in a serious way. If you want to say that orchestras and classical music are healthy, don’t just make charming speeches. Put some real analysis together, done by people professionally qualified to analyze the data.

And if you don’t, you’re doing a disservice to your membership.

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Comments

  1. says

    WHAT A GREAT COLUMN. Thank you for continuing to speak so frankly and forthrightly on these fundamental issues. I am continually stunned at how many in the classical music world are either ignorant of the data we have about our current state of affairs, or just simply refuse to admit the clear implications if the data is at all accurate.

  2. says

    Lol, nice picture. The main reason why I stopped pursuing a career in classical music was largely because of what you’ve just talked about — a sort of a blind faith in the idea that things will get better if they just repeat the same mantra (repertoire) over and over, even in the face of undeniable, cold, hard, facts. Because the business model isn’t expansive (and most of the time they don’t even bother) we all end up fighting for the couple of good positions that exist.

    It’s the same in the pop world, too. Been addicted to ABC’s “Shark Tank” lately — it’s like the American Idol for entrepreneurs. (And I never watch TV — don’t even own one.) It’s a bit overdramatized like most TV shows are, but the people there are real, the ideas/pitches are all original, and the questions they ask are the same ones that investors will ask in a real negotiation (valuation, sales, why would anyone care?, etc.). Whereas American Idol just does covers of songs already made, and I do remember an episode where a young musician who dared to performer an original song was scolded for “not following the rules” — in a nutshell I think that sums up what the real problem is right there.

  3. says

    I took a slightly different message from his speech than you did, which was that orchestras need to do a better job of communicating their success and not always being such downers. The perception of fear and pessimism can discourage people from going to concerts and donating. I agree w/ you that he needs more facts to tell this story, but we can’t always be depressed about the present and expect people to want to take part. There’s got to be some space for joy and excitement next to the acceptance that the world isn’t the way we want it to be.

    • says

      Marc, I find it truly amazing that some people judge comments on orchestras by whether the comments are happy or sad. Smiley face or happy face! What matters most — and what certainly matters to serious donors — is whether orchestras describe themselves accurately. Nobody wants to be suckered into giving money because a happy story gets told, only to learn later that the story isn’t so happy.

      If orchestras really are in serious trouble, would you like them to lie about it? Do you think that’s going to make donors happy?

      In my view — and I’m certainly not alone in this; many donors feel the same — orchestras that tell a happy tale when that’s not accurate aren’t worth giving money to. If they’re not facing their problems in public, how can I believe they’re facing them in private?

      Whereas an orchestra that admits in public what its problems are is just about compelled to act on those problems. I far prefer that.

  4. Tom Reel says

    I am a musician in an ICSOM orchestra.
    In addition to performing, I have also been on the Board of Directors and held a job for a time on the Staff of the orchestra in which I have earned my living for the last 28 years. I was not always a professional musician, having started out in an entirely different career and having held many different kinds of jobs. With a Bachelor of Science degree plus two degrees in music, I don’t come to this discussion with the usual resume.

    After reading the column, I was inclined to think Sandow’s observations might hold some water.
    After all, if this was a “head in the sand” speech of filtered news in an optimistic frame, it would be only the cheerleading that Sandow describes.

    BUT HERE’S A SUGGESTION FOR EVERYONE READING MR. SANDOW’S COLUMN.
    Click on the link and actually read Ridge’s speech.

    In addition to the usual criticism of some managers & boards trying to sell a product (and raise money) while simultaneously trumpeting the near-term demise of that product – a criticism with which I happen to agree – there are specific references to real data and identification of real problems – always the first step in finding real solutions.

    Sandow and I might both be more persuaded if charts & graphs accompanied the declaration of ever-rising guest artist costs, to cite just one example.
    We know this is true but the hard data would better support the case.
    And if this was a power point presentation given by Ridge rather than a speech, maybe he would have provided the visuals.

    And while more word-driven than number-driven, I find the “last rites” offered for the industry written across all the decades of all the centuries to be worthy of some attention.
    So we’re dead or dying yet again?
    Cats with but nine lives must be quite jealous!

    We in the orchestra biz didn’t miss the memo about the Great Recession.
    Arts organizations are typically early to feel the pain and late to recover when the economy and people suffer.
    Being a little older and having heard that my art form is almost extinct for my entire career – in good times and bad – I just can’t accept the gloom & doom.

    Rather than criticize the absence of hard data (although there is some presented) in a speech, the undertakers might want to engage in a little history and some balanced DIALOGUE with the artists (whose knowledge of the industry generally far exceeds that of their volunteer boards).

    Is the American business model for orchestras a little screwy?
    Yup!
    Are new practices such as broad community engagement taking hold in lots of orchestras, including the very top tier?
    Yup.
    Are we really near death THIS TIME?
    A balanced view says nope.

    To be both fair and smart, I am NOT dismissive of everything Sandow has to say.
    I prefer to examine reality and not “take a side” in advance of that examination.
    (We’ll have more than enough of that in our national political debates this year!)

    But Ridge’s relentless over-arching message – that you cannot both sell and denigrate your industry simultaneously – remains unassailable and worthy of constant repetition as long as some organizations try to do just that.

    • says

      Thanks for a very fair, balanced comment.

      But about selling and denigrating the industry — citing serious problems isn’t the same as denigrating an industry. If you’re in trouble, you’re in trouble. For years, orchestra managements kept their troubles secret. Along with the data that demonstrated the trouble they were in. They didn’t want to frighten away donors.

      Now they tend to think the problems are so serious that they have to go public. This doesn’t have to frighten donors. It might inspire them. An industry that fearlessly states its problems would be an industry that’s going to out and solve those problems. There are many reports of donors — individual, corporate, foundations — getting tired of funding orchestras, because they think orchestras aren’t solving their problems. Or even admitting them. I heard this from a major foundation executive myself.

      Look at the newspaper industry, and the auto industry. There you have industries that state what their problems are, and supply full data. And look at the results in the auto industry.

      • Tom Reel says

        Ridge’s remarks did not fail to “cite serious problems.” Chief among those cited was the imbalance of focusing on those CHALLENGES (a better word choice, I think) versus, and sadly often to the exclusion of, creating the excitement of the art form and the spiritual & intellectual & economic capital that accrues to communities with high quality resident professional orchestras.

        In a sense, Greg Sandow and Bruce Ridge are almost in agreement here. Each seems disturbed by an imbalance – Ridge by the chronic negativity that emanates from Managers & Boards (often in the context of contract negotiations) that is counterproductive to their mission, and Sandow by Ridge’s attempt to restore some balance by emphasizing the reasons we ought to be able to thrive.

        Both men speak and write eloquently, so neither needs me to present or re-state his ideas. But accusing Bruce Ridge fails of failing to focus sufficiently on a dire situation (which is not entirely dire) pretty much makes his point!

  5. david gaudry says

    I take exception to your article. As an orchestral musician and one of the negotiators for a labor agreement, I have learned to be skeptical when managements complain of financial problems. The bankruptcy at the Philadelphia Orchestra (140 million in assets) was one of the largest scams in the history of the arts in the United States.
    Some orchestras are clearly healthier than others, but ALL of them lean heavily on the perception that the arts and classical music are in trouble when bargaining contracts for their musicians. All the while, money gets pumped into special projects, touring and recording, capital improvements to buildings, and executive and music director salaries are skyrocketing. I heard Bruce Ridge’s speech in person, and he is an excellent advocate, not only for musicians but in fact the entire industry.

    • says

      DAvid, thanks for your comment. But please permit me to be skeptical of what you say. What information about orchestras are we supposed to believe? There’s only one detailed study of orchestra finances by someone qualified to discuss them, with professional credentials as an economist. That’s Robert Flanagan’s book, which I’m sure you know about. And I’m sure you disagree with it.

      Which is your right! If you think Bob is wrong, go for it. But to oppose what he says, you can’t just say you think he’s wrong. You need to bring equal weight to your side of the argument.

      And the only way you can do that — the only credible way — would be to have Bob’s work demolished by his peers. If other economists can show that he’s wrong, that would carry far more weight than anything you (or I) could assert. That’s why I said that ICSOM should commission another study by an economist. If Bob is wrong, and other economists can prove that, you’re in a much stronger position when you go out and say that orchestra managements are lying about their financial position. As it stands, you’re not entirely credible, because the only detailed study of the problem says that orchestras in fact are in a perilous financial state.

      Again, you say that’s wrong, but you need to play in the major leagues in this dispute. Which means you need to get economists on your side. I’m sure you won’t believe me, but if we were talking about the newspaper industry or the auto industry, where serious data is widely available, and serious analysis done by many, many people, you’d never get very far talking the way you do.

      • says

        You’re probably both right. Finances are fledging — therefore management gets desperate and starts pumping money into vanity projects in hopes that it’ll revitalize their industry as a whole. (Often at the expense of the performers and staff.) Whether that’s working or not is up to debate (I don’t think it is) but of course you’re not going to get a straight answer from anyone who has a vested interest in projecting a certain type of image.

        But if you think about it very carefully, does “going into bankruptcy” and “our culture needs help” sound like a good business strategy? There’s something incredibly wrong that’s obvious to everyone out there, and the only people who don’t seem to get are the practitioners themselves. That’s why we need a third party to really hammer in the facts from a realistic point of view.

        No more BS.

  6. Paul Lindemeyer says

    Not to go all meta here, but there is lots of unacknowledged negativity in traditional music schooling, the profession, and the music world generally. It’s a kind of quiet tradition the public is supposed to remain unaware of because of how it nourishes Art.

    Why would a community as tradition-bound as orchestras choose to acknowledge the existence of bad karma? Whatever it might be costing them, tradition is everything. It’s kind of a Romantic ideal, back in places we don’t talk about, to go down fighting, after all.

  7. says

    Greg, show me where I advocated lying. My point is similar to Ridge’s, which is simply that we need to be as determined to celebrate success publicly as we are willing to state when there are problems. That’s honesty, and that is accuracy, and it’s dishonest to favor either good news and be Pollyannas, or favor bad news and be Cassandras. People don’t trust you when bad things happen if you’re a Pollyanna, and they don’t trust you if the worst doesn’t happen when you’re a Cassandra. I live this every day, Greg, and work through these problems constantly. Chin up. Problems have solutions. Questions have answers.

    • says

      Mark, I didn’t accuse you of lying. Please be logical. I asked you, instead, what we should do with information that seems to show orchestras are in trouble. Suppress it? Or talk about it freely?

      When you say we should celebrate success as well as trouble, who doesn’t do that? The question, though, would be what the balance is of trouble and success. We can’t talk about both in equal measure, if there’s more trouble than success. Or, for that matter, if there’s more success than trouble.

      So when you say you want success to be talked about as much as problems, then you must believe that the two are equally balanced among orchestras today. Which is perfectly fair. It’s your right to believe that. But what do you recommend for someone who doesn’t believe it, and who thinks the situation of orchestras today is very troubled? Should they NOT say this, because you want them to be balanced?

      It seems to me that — though I know you don’t intend this at all — you’re following a course that will end in limiting debate. Because you’re putting a requirement on those who think orchestras are in serious trouble. They have to talk about orchestra successes as much as they talk about the trouble. But if they do that, won’t they be unable to make their point?

  8. Rob Weir says

    Greg.
    You can put your skepticism aside. Are you a member of the AFM or ICSOM? If so you’ll be happy to know that there is, within the AFM website, an in-depth study dating back to the late 90’s of the “state of the state”, so to speak, of American Orchestras. You seem to be limited by the findings of The League of American Orchestras and Mr. Flanagan. The League is an unabashed opponent of unions (read the transcript of remarks made by Jesse Rosen in Ann Arbor at the ASOL symposium at the University of Michigan earlier this month. I attended with two colleagues ) and so they will present a very slanted view. Mr. Flanagan? He seems to have missed out on the gathering of real data and perhaps might consider a re-working of his book. The Melon Foundation’s motivations are suspect but that is for another time perhaps. I would recommend your taking a look through the aforementioned materials and then you will be able to avail yourself of the balanced view that you seem to covet.

    • says

      Rob, I’id love to see that study. Though if it’s from the late ’90s, it’s not up to date. Still, I’d love to see it. I gather from what you say — and from browsing the AFM site — that I need to be a member to see it. I’m not a member. Would you or some other member download it, and send it to me?

      I’d be curious to know why Bruce Ridge doesn’t mention the study, or why no union official — when I’ve talked to some of them — ever mentioned it to me. But the main thing is that I’d like to see it. I want to see all sides of this question.

  9. david gaudry says

    Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography: “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’”
    I agree with your point that it is critical to listen to professional and objective economic analysis. In San Francisco, as with most ICSOM orchestras, we have relied for years on studies by the late Ron Bauers, professor of economics and accounting at the University of Nebraska. He tracked the financial health of our orchestra, using multiple parameters, from 1995 until his death in 2009. The following is a link to his resume:
    http://cba.unomaha.edu/dir/HomePagebio.cfm?id=7
    His studies always confirmed our suspicion that things were a lot more robust than we would be led to believe by our management.
    Looking under the hood at the financial realities of all non-profits, and orchestras in particular, requires a different mid-set. They lose money. ALL of them. They are in busness to do just that. Most of them do it so well that they amass war-chests of stocks, bonds, cash and real estate while doing so. The Boston Symphony, who recently required their musicians take freezes in wages and pension, has seen its endowment double in the last ten years to close to 400,000,000.
    Immediately after the bankruptcy in Philadelphia, their chief executive, Alison Vulgamore, received the the following package of compensation and bonuses in addition to her 450,000 base salary, according to Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Enquirer:
    A “performance-based compensation” cash bonus of between $50,000 and $150,000 per year.
    POA board chair has the discretion to increase the maximum bonus to $175,000.
    A retirement contribution of $125,000 per year, less applicable withholdings.
    Up to $15,000 per year for supplemental disability insurance.
    “Executive health benefits” of up to $10,000 per year for costs not covered under the group plan.
    A car allowance of $5,000.
    Free parking at the Kimmel Center.
    Four weeks’ paid vacation.
    $2,000 a year to pay a financial planner.
    A one time, $50,000 bonus to be paid by June 2012 as part of an earlier bonus program for which she had not yet received payment .
    To the AFM, whose multi-employer retirement plan was left deficient by 25,000,000 in pension liabilities by the bankruptcy, and to the musicians who wont receive their full benefit, this seems like a slap in the face that no amount of professional economic analysis will be able to soothe.

    • says

      Thanks for all of this, David. It’s very helpful. I’d love to see Ron Bauers’s studies. They’d be enormously helpful to me. Where can I find them? Or is there someone who could send them to me?

      As for nonprofits losing money, of course they do. Who’d dispute that? But still they need income — from many sources — to cover their expenses. So the question is where they’ll find that, and whether they’ll be able to keep finding it in the future. The mere statement that they’re supposed to lose money doesn’t answer either of these questions.

      As for Alison Vulgamore’s salary and perks, they don’t prove that the orchestra is in good financial shape. What you picture is pretty common throughout the corporate world. You can argue that it’s unjust, that she should get less and the musicians should get more, but that she gets as much as she does isn’t remarkable. If it’s unjust, the injustice goes far beyond orchestras. Corporations in financial trouble may in fact think they need to pay their CEOs quite a bit, because they need very high-level expertise to get themselves out of financial trouble. Whether any given CEO provides this is another story, but the concept is — in corporate terms — perfectly respectable. If you don’t like those corporate standards, fine, but then your quarrel isn’t with the Philadelphia Orchestra. You’re looking for something like a social revolution.

  10. Joan says

    The ONLY musical fact that has changed in the last 30 or so years is the destruction of music education in public schools. The cuts of those years have decimated two generations of possible audiences for classical orchestral concerts of music. This means all instrumental music written in 1300 all the way to today. A similar process is going on in visual arts, as several generations of ordinary folks no longer know what it feels like to represent the world using their own eyes and hands. It has always been necessary for species homo sapiens to express who and what we are and what the world is, personally and collectively through many art forms which consequently lets us feel for and admire those few who then choose to do it daily as a career. Without participating in school for ten years or so of real playing, drawing, theatre, and dance, no students will ever understand what the formal arts are good for. It is truly a form of madness to ignore the damage done to the physical arts skills by never teaching them. I advise you all to watch a British program called The Choir. The terror and shame ordinary people feel at the prospect of simply opening their mouths to sing real notes (without putting on a pop American Idol spin) is unbelievable to see. And then to witness their emotion as they discover what finally doing so means. Well. That is what we have lost.

    • says

      Very true. Music education, especially in the early years (up to about 12 years old) is crucial for a healthy society, and it’s great for building future classical audiences. El Sistema isn’t all over the news for nothing. And look what Kodaly did for Hungary. Think of all the new classical music fans China will have in 15 years because of the current music lesson craze! Classical music isn’t declining in Venezuela or China is it??

      Besides the numerous cognitive improvements music education gives (proven time and time again), it also naturally leads to improved active listening, which is key to really appreciating classical music (or any music on a deep level).

  11. david gaudry says

    Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography: “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’”

    I agree with your point that it is critical to listen to professional and objective economic analysis. In San Francisco, as with most ICSOM orchestras, we have relied for years on studies by the late Ron Bauers, professor of economics and accounting at the University of Nebraska. He tracked the financial health of our orchestra, using multiple parameters, from 1995 until his death in 2009. The following is a link to his resume:

    http://cba.unomaha.edu/dir/HomePagebio.cfm?id=7

    His studies always confirmed our suspicion that things were a lot more robust than we would be led to believe by our management.

    Looking under the hood at the financial realities of all non-profits, and orchestras in particular, requires a different mid-set. They lose money. ALL of them. They are in busness to do just that. Most of them do it so well that they amass war-chests of stocks, bonds, cash and real estate while doing so. The Boston Symphony, who recently required their musicians take freezes in wages and pension, has seen its endowment double in the last ten years to close to 400,000,000.

    Immediately after the bankruptcy in Philadelphia, their chief executive, Alison Vulgamore, received the the following package of compensation and bonuses in addition to her 450,000 base salary, according to Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Enquirer:

    A “performance-based compensation” cash bonus of between $50,000 and $150,000 per year.
    POA board chair has the discretion to increase the maximum bonus to $175,000.
    A retirement contribution of $125,000 per year, less applicable withholdings.
    Up to $15,000 per year for supplemental disability insurance.
    “Executive health benefits” of up to $10,000 per year for costs not covered under the group plan.
    A car allowance of $5,000.
    Free parking at the Kimmel Center.
    Four weeks’ paid vacation.
    $2,000 a year to pay a financial planner.
    A one time, $50,000 bonus to be paid by June 2012 as part of an earlier bonus program for which she had not yet received payment .

    To the AFM, whose multi-employer retirement plan was left deficient by 25,000,000 in pension liabilities by the bankruptcy, and to the musicians who wont receive their full benefit, this seems like a slap in the face that no amount of professional economic analysis will be able to soothe.

  12. Keith Dom Peter Powell says

    I applaud your words. To think things are rosy overall ignores the situation in St. Louis, Philadelphia & other cities. Boards are not doing their jobs in fund-raising. Ultimately the musicians suffer. Pittsburgh Symphony players took a substantial hit in contract negotiations about 12 years ago, agreeing to no raises for a number of years. They are again being asked for even more concessions. Look at City Opera in NYC. It’s now a per-service company, a far cry from its glory days. Board members blame “the economy” instead of coming up with innovative ways to raise money. The American Symphony Orchestra League is more and more, protecting the jobs & interests of the management to the detriment of the organizations they are supposed to be helping. Yes, the demise of “serious” music in the US has been predicted for years. It must again be made a priority by the government and schools as part of a vital American culture.

  13. david gaudry says

    The primary goal of our player’s conference has nothing to do with social revolution or corporate whistle -blowing, which I’m sure you know. Our mission is to ensure that the musicians who dedicate their lives to this art-form are fairly compensated. Most of us, as must be obvious from Bruce’s speech, feel a responsibility to advocate for orchestral music as an important part of daily life in western civilization. We have much in common with the goals of our employers, and we simply require equity in the distribution of company resources.

    Our job as negotiators is simply to determine what IS, regardless of what is being said. We draw from a range of sources, audited financial statements, actuarial valuations, economic studies, peer data, and common sense. The latter is highly under-rated as a tool. If my company welches on pension liabilities, through bankruptcy, while sitting on 140000000 in assets and writing luxurious bonus packages to the executive who engineered said bankruptcy, then this situation has failed the sniff-test.

    My recommendation to you is to apply your best critical thinking to this situation. Be skeptical of all parties, not just labor or management. As I said to Ellen Schultz, Wall Street Journal Pension reporter, don’t simply accept the word of anyone without checking their data.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203315804577211064028695608.html

    The ICSOM reports are for current fiscal years, based on information provided by the companies. They are comprehensive and complete, and are archived back to the 90’s. I’m sure you must have at least one friend who is a musician, have them sign on and let you see this treasure trove of information.

  14. says

    I don’t want any information suppressed, of course, and I wouldn’t want someone who thinks there are problems to ignore them. But I honestly do think that the financial success stories out there don’t get as much play as the horrible stories. That makes sense, because no one ever writes about all the airplanes that don’t crash. The story of a non-profit running a surplus never gets as much recognition as one that doesn’t. The group/corporation that’s in trouble gets added automatically to a list of all the problems, but no one seems to be grouping the successful news out there in a similar way. I wouldn’t want anyone who thinks the systemic problems are the big story to change his tune, but I also would hope that the good news that’s out there is equally valid. And not find ways to undercut it (“too small to make a difference,” “too little too late,” “management/musicians still overpaid,” etc.). Classical music seems to revel in these death throes, while people are working every day to address them, but rarely take a step back to say, “You know, that actually worked pretty well.” Congrats on the 6-month birthday!

    • says

      Thanks for the congrats!

      I think the good stories get lots of play, actually. Bruce Ridge cited many of them. And the fact that he was able to — often quoting newspaper headlines — shows that the stories are out there. There’s even an old journalistic adage that would predict these stories would get coverage. I’m sure you know it: “Dog bites person” isn’t a newspaper story, but “person bites dog” is a headline. So if the conventional wisdom is that classical music institutions are in trouble, any that can announce good news automatically get coverage.

      What we lack, in our business, isn’t so much citing of individual institutional stories, good or bad. It’s aggregate data that we either don’t have, or don’t circulate widely enough. So our picture of what’s going on isn’t really a picture. We have lots of individual pixels, but not much of an overall image. That’s the big difference between us and the newspaper industry. They have comprehensive data, and it’s widely known. We either don’t have it, or don’t know about it.