People in my social media circles are slitting their wrists over the following probing blog entry from SOTL reader Paul Cantrell: When a tree falls.
Read the whole thing. I’ll wait.
Paul makes an alarmingly convincing case that we’re all screwed:
No, my heart is unmoved: this tree has already fallen.
Orchestrate Excellence, you’ve been by far the most constructive and reasonable voice in this mess. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?
Board members, some of you argued to me this week quite vehemently that you haven’t failed yet. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?
SOS Minnesota, you’re still brandishing the torches and pitchforks of the good fight as if the fight is not already lost. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?
Musicians, even after all you’ve been through, two thirds of you have not yet jumped ship. Bless you for your strength and optimism, but pray tell, why not? Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?
Somebody needs to tell that story, or else fatalism will self-fulfill.
Just like you can’t kill Sherlock Holmes, you can’t kill the Minnesota Orchestra. It will continue to exist in some form. The only question is, what form of Minnesota Orchestra do you want to support – or do you want to support a Minnesota Orchestra at all?
I’ve thought about this. A lot. For like, a year. At this point, I think every person is going to have to make a decision which end-game s/he wants to embrace. Here are the three end games, and their pros and cons as I see them:
1) Musicians agree to management’s best proposal.
- Music again! (Finally!)
- Musicians get paid.
- Musicians have health insurance.
These are not inconsiderable pros. On the other hand…
- Morale sinks to never-before-seen lows.
- Watch the talent gush from Minneapolis like water in Niagara Falls!
- Michael Henson stays on. There is zero indication that moderates will take charge of the board.
- We’re not sure what quality musician will be attracted to the Orchestra to replace the ones who have fled.
- Artistic quality will be severely compromised because of the number of vacancies and the reduced sub pay.
- Stakeholders won’t have the same priorities or vision when hiring a new music director.
- (Will they even be able to find a new music director? Who? When?)
- Musicians and management will make each other’s lives a living hell.
- With the current governance structure in place, there will be another, likely horrific, negotiation in another three years…toward the beginning of a new conductor’s tenure, when institutional stability will be most necessary.
2) The musicians do their own thing, under whatever banner…whether that consists of starting a new organization, or just continuing to develop their own ensemble without ever formally resigning.
- Music again! (Finally!)
- The musicians – and their supporters – will be able to put all their newly learned skills in action…skills that would go to waste if the musicians return to the MOA as it is presently structured.
- Amazing musicians from around the country (maybe the world?) will likely be open to working with their Minnesota colleagues as subs or soloists.
- Artistic autonomy.
- Repeat: artistic autonomy!
- The environment will be a perfect laboratory for creative problem-solving.
- Young people from Young Musicians of Minnesota will get a really amazing chance to work alongside their idols in reaching out to young people.
- Potential fruitful partnerships that the MOA has shot down – like those with El Sistema Minneapolis – can be be explored.
- A wider array of voices will be able to integrate themselves into the orchestra, creating greater longer-term relevancy for the organization.
- This is hard work.
- Seriously, this will be a crazy crazy amount of hard work.
- I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet, this will be hard work.
- Can we fundraise sufficiently to provide even part-time compensation to our musicians?
- What about insurance? Will we be able to provide them insurance? They need insurance.
- Will factions arise between musicians or musician supporters as we chart a new path forward? (Worst. Nightmare. Ever.)
- A network of extraordinarily committed volunteers will have to be built up very, very quickly.
- I’m guessing that musicians will have to guard against burnout by handing over a lot of the responsibilities they’ve been handling to volunteers, some of whom they’ve only known for a few months. This will be hard.
- Musicians will continue to leave town at a good clip for more secure jobs elsewhere.
- A lot of musicians will be unavailable for long stretches of the season because they’ll need to take sub work at orchestras that haven’t imploded.
- Technical standards will likely fall (but technical standards will certainly fall if Henson’s put in charge, so…).
- Also, this will be hard work.
(Caveat: For this option to have even the smallest chance of success, discussions of the copious failures of the MOA ought to end, except in private. But maybe we’re all ready to make that happen. I know I am.)
3) Screw this. I’m done.
- You can stop wasting energy on the clusterf*ck.
- You’ll go without hearing symphonic music.
To me that con invalidates that option. But others may find option 3 attractive, and I completely understand why. In fact, I said an impassioned good-bye to those folks in my last entry.
Maybe I’m being impossibly starry-eyed, but one of those options is a lot more appealing than the others, and actually doable. (The musicians obviously think it’s doable, as they’ve committed to doing it.) I’d like to think I have a relatively good vibe for what’s happening on the ground. I’m in a unique position to hear from a lot of people. There is a lot of enthusiasm out there. If the musicians can successfully capitalize on that enthusiasm, and provide a positive – positive! – alternative to the MOA, I think they’re set to provide some amazing symphonic music this next year, and possibly – possibly – creating an entirely new paradigm…a “new business model,” if you will. Their doing their own thing is certainly a better option than Michael Henson ordering them around. Besides, lots of variables can change in a year.
This is my personal goal: I want to see as high a level of orchestral music as can be achieved away from the MOA. Make the performances and the outreach intelligent, relevant, accessible, inclusive, positive, as well as community-based and relationship-based. I think that’s a worthy goal to work toward. I think it’s attractive and plausible. And I think we’ll be able to sell people – a lot of people – on that vision.
I also think it’s a mistake to think of the rebuilt orchestra in terms of what we had during, say, Osmo’s tenure. But that doesn’t mean that it will be any less relevant to its community, or that it’s not worth pursuing. In fact, a rebuilt orchestra will likely become more relevant to its community. Maybe we’re going to need to trade world-class quality for high quality and increased community relevance: an orchestra organized by and for the actual broader community. That’s a trade-off that, in these circumstances, I’m willing to make.
Anyway. I see a large number of worthy goals to work toward. Since the musicians are already getting their ducks in a row for a season of their own, I don’t know why we shouldn’t give it our best shot. There is a chance of success. If the thought of what has been lost keeps you from wanting to rebuild anything at all, well, then option 3 beckons. Trust me, no one will blame you for choosing it.
But for the adventurous (and/or totally desperate), a crazy new historic path fraught with risk and excitement awaits in the 2013-2014 season. Pack your popcorn.