Let’s trust our supporters

I’m amazed, truly amazed, at some of the pushback my recent posts have gotten.

And maybe what amazes me most is the idea that we’re going to hurt orchestras — and all of classical music — by talking about things that might be bad news for the field. Such as financial trouble, or declining ticket sales.

Why do people say that talking about bad news will hurt us? Because — allegedly — it will scare away our supporters, especially those who give us money.

Amazing. If we believe that, then we believe:

(a) that our supporters (ticket buyers, donors, patrons, volunteers, whoever) are children, who can’t handle bad news

(b) that our supporters are gullible, that they can be fooled, that they won’t find us out if we give them good reports when the news is actually bad

(c) and that if they do find us out, they won’t be annoyed, they won’t be angry at us for misleading them.

I think it’s crazy to believe these things. Especially in the current climate elsewhere in our culture, where everyone demands transparency!

And to believe these things is an insult to the good people who support us. Who, let’s remember, tend to be educated, mature, and financially comfortable. They know how to live their lives. They aren’t dumb.

So let’s trust our supporters. Let’s try some constructive honesty. If there’s trouble, let’s tell people that, and also — very important! — let’s tell them how we plan to fix the trouble.

And then they’ll rush to support us. As in fact has happened, as I’ll explain in another post.

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  1. says

    Indeed, we must tell the truth…. being open and honest about a problem or difficulty is the only way to find solutions to improvement……. Step 1 in problem solving of any kind is honest and open identification of all aspects and only then can one move to Step 2…..an analysis of what needs fixing/why is there a problem…then to Step 3… finding solutions. and eventually Step 4 acting on those solutions to fix the problem.
    In music education, we are seeing the dropping of programs from curricula because seen as “not of value or importance”, are only there for “fun”……. Why? with all the studies for several years on the development of the brain/critical thinking/better visualization skills/improved motor skills etc.. Is it also partly the decades of “dumbing down” of intellectualism? labels like “nerd”, and “elite”. and with the dropping of programs, are reinforcing to our young people to also not value music education. Why is it that Classics like the Iliad and the Odyssey, Shakespeare, and many others of written works are upheld as great and necessary parts of the study of English and literature, but not the music of their times which also expressed the culture of the times. Our society is becoming mre stressed at high and prolonged levels….health is suffering, leading to obesity and its related heart diseases, diabetes is on the rise, even in very young people and children….There are fewer outlets for relieving this stress. Older people complain the young only want to play guitar and rock music, yet that is what is available…… and people need music, they need to play instruments…it is innate.

  2. says

    Well, it’s probably a fine line to tread. There are dedicated supporters, and then there are what? fair-weather friends, perhaps? And/or potential friends who might be easily scared off.

    People don’t want to pour money into a dying operation. So when you, or anyone else, articulates difficult truths, like a declining interest in traditionally-presented classical music, discomfort in large concert halls whose architecture is rooted in 19th-century concepts and practices, disinterest in buying subscriptions, etc., etc., it can seem like most large orchestras are in a state of inevitable and irreversible decline So why waste any more money?

    Which is a phenomenon you have described in various ways numerous times.

    To turn things around, there has to be some sense of ultimate optimism. That if we invest money and work together, things can work out. So I imagine the mix of positive messages on one hand, and cold, hard transparent truths on the other, has to be very carefully balanced, or one risks alienating some current and potential donors.

    I can see how there can be a fear of losing core donors as well as potential ones if too dire a picture of the present is painted. And many decisions are being made by Board members who are business people who are thinking very locally, and not necessarily in broad terms.

    “Let’s tell them how we plan to fix the trouble.” Exactly. In resounding, convincing, optimistic, confident terms, I’d think, or it just won’t work. Looking forward to the next post.

    • says

      Thanks, Eric. Good thoughts. And, you know — we talk about scaring away, or not scaring away, existing supporters. But there also are people who might support us, but don’t, because they don’t think we know how to fix the problems they clearly, all on their own, think we have.

      And then there are existing donors who are just about ready to bolt, because they also think we’re not making sense.

      This isn’t theoretical, when I’m saying this. I’ve talked to people in both these camps. And, interestingly, not because they sought me out because of my views, or I sought them out, wearing what I think like a flag. These were social encounters, that came about for completely different reasons. And led to some unexpected declarations from the people involved, about how little faith they had in the classical music business as it’s presently conducted.

  3. says

    Greg, you keep trying to apply rational thinking in an industry that’s governed by extra-rational forces. It’s like Oliver Douglass in “Green Acres” thinking he’s the only sane person in Hooterville when, in reality, Hooterville gets along just fine.

    It’s not so much that the arts are like Hooterville as it is that their collective agreement on relative sanity determines how they’ll function, and those who insist on an alternate definition – no matter how well rooted in external reality – are likely to find themselves on the outs.

    Who knows? Maybe the arts’ extra-rational belief in a bright future is the right vision. It’s certainly more appealing than the alternative.

    Hotscakes, anyone?

    • says

      Nice, Trevor. I think the debate about classical music’s health is a little like the debates about global warming, evolution, or health case. It’s become ideological. Large worldviews come into play.

      Though sometimes, to be honest, I think I’m watching Peter Pan, the scene where Tinkerbell is dying. “Clap if you believe in fairies!” If we believe in her, she’ll live. Otherwise, she’ll die. Is that what we think about classical music? That if we don’t speak well of her, that in itself will make her expire?

  4. ken nielsen says

    One aspect of this I have been grappling with is whether we are most concerned about the loss of jobs for musicians or the loss of the joy that music evokes in the audience.
    I care about musicians but I care more about music. I want it – performance and recordings – preserved. If we can do that with fewer musicians we might have to.
    Much of the discussion on other sites suggests that the worst thing about the crisis is that musicians are going to be out of work or that their (already poor) conditions will be cut.
    My way of looking at the problem might not end up with very different solutions but I think it important which end of the problem we start with.
    As I said, I am still grappling with this and am planning to write at more length when I get my ideas sorted.

  5. says

    You pretty much nailed it — I don’t doubt that most people have good intentions, but for the reasons above, I don’t think some people realize how condescending they might come across when they make certain types of arguments. It’s not even a high/low thing, either — it’s between classical music vs. people in the other industries, who’re just as educated as we are!

    Confidence is a good thing, but if you’re puffing your chest while your ship is sinking, you end up looking foolish. Real courage comes from knowing when to ask for help.

  6. Mike says

    Classical music is clearly alive and well. The classical music “business” however is not: Beethoven is doing just fine, thank you, but trying to make a living by performing his music is becoming more difficult. Just because some people still love to listen to the music doesn’t mean that the people who perform it will have a secure future.

    I couldn’t agree with Greg more: this isn’t the time for a “we’re all going to die” moment, but it’s also not the time for false optimism. The folks who support the arts will respect and support efforts to clearly understand and confront our challenges.

    • says

      Thanks, Mike. I like what you’re saying. We’re not — all of us in classical music — about to die. Though things will change. That’s what we have to be ready for. And what we have to tell our supporters, so they’ll be ready to support the changes that (a) we’ll have to make, and (b) which are happening on their own in any case.