Other people saying smart stuff about the orchestra

If you care about the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, you should probably be reading Emily anyway, but here’s a really good one. Her incredulous rage is my incredulous rage. Other letters are worthwhile, too.

In the last week, the Orchestra Board has openly declared their willingness to treat us as commodities. I don’t mean “us,” the orchestra patrons, although honestly I don’t doubt that we’re pretty fungible in their minds too. I mean us, people who work in the arts. Artists. (I get a little squirmy about declaring myself an artist. But muttering things like “I tell lies to strangers for money” only gets you so far.) Anyone who’s an avid reader or a fan of music or the visual arts or dance or–hell, anyone who watches television–we all know that these things are not like cans of Campbell’s soup. Not even the extra-fancy super-chunky cans. You may like my short stories and Alec’s short stories, or mine and Bear’s, or any of a number of other combinations, but everybody knows that liking both does not mean that they’re interchangeable.

I’m sure the Minnesota Orchestra could get some young, desperate musicians. It could even get immaculately trained young, desperate musicians. And the thing is, sometimes young musicians are the right answer–the Orchestra needs a range of ages not to fall into a variety of problems. But leaning heavily on the young and desperate–the people who need some orchestra job to pay off their conservatory loans–is not going to get you the same quality as focusing on the best. It’s not going to get you Burt Hara. It’s not going to get you Douglas Wright. It’s not going to get you Wendy Williams. I play the flute. If you want to hear a demonstration of what you’re paying Wendy Williams for, you can have me as a flutist for the Orchestra for a weekend. I promise, nobody will ask for me back.

I’m really afraid at this point that even if some kind of official settlement is reached, the musicians are going to have to look for better options as soon as they can find them. And I mean that: have to. I would. I would advise them to, unless we can get this Orchestra Board changed. I will be sad and in some cases devastated to see them go, but I work in the arts, too, and I have seen what happens to people whose publishers do not value them. It’s not pretty. I cannot recommend it. If we do get a settlement–which became even less likely the minute they started treating Osmo like he was a can of tunafish or a pair of sneakers–the first priority has to be ousting this board. Because they don’t have a plan, they don’t have a clue, and their attitude towards the musicians is scary and toxic.

This is not a difference of attitudes on one contract. This is a difference of attitudes on the value of art and artists.

Compromise means I get what I want and you get what I want.

I am long past being surprised by anything the Minnesota Orchestra Board does. But this article, while not surprising, was pretty frustrating. “Let’s do mediation! Crap, mediation seems to mean that we don’t just get our way! Let’s go outside the mediation! To ask for the same things as we did in mediation!”

There was a perception in the Mpls classical music community that the deadline for getting this fixed was Labor Day weekend, because Osmo–our conductor, a kickass Finn who is pals with other kickass Finns of classical music interest–has said he will resign if the Orchestra is not going to be ready for the Carnegie Hall concerts in the fall. We’ve since heard that 9/15, not 9/2, is the date at which he thinks that’s reasonable. I can’t really argue with that. The man knows his stuff, which is why we still want him around.

Which is why. We still want him around.

One of the life skills I only acquired as an adult, and with some difficulty, was the ability to say, “Hey, this person’s behavior makes no sense. I should stop twisting myself into knots to try to see a way in which it does make sense! Because sometimes people just don’t.” I try not to overuse this. But it’s a lot better to acknowledge when someone is making no sense than to warp reality around them. And that’s kind of where I am with the Orchestra Board here. I have turned it over and over, trying to look for a hidden agenda or a secret way in which all this would make sense. It doesn’t. They’re trashing a local cultural treasure out of stubborn conviction that they are Righty Right Right, without regard to whether being right is the only relevant thing here.

I recently read Lawful Interception, the new Cory Doctorow novella, and I’m not sure I really thought the music analogy in it was quite right. But I thought of it again when I read the MN Orchestra article. I thought of how the MN Orchestra has already built this system with great communication among skilled artists, and…well. Cory’s story seemed relevant after all.