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Musicovation Guest Blog

This week I partnered with the music website Musicovation (their tagline?: “the positive news about music, for a change“) to write a guest-blog entry. For my topic I chose the relationship between amateur and professional musicians: two great tastes that taste great together.

The piece begins:

Thursday night rehearsal. I’m in a small room with twenty other string players, members of my local amateur string orchestra. I’m rehearsing a solo of the Piazzolla Oblivion. I shake my wrist out. I’ve got jitters for no reason at all.

 ***

 Adult amateur musicians are almost universally embarrassed to play in front of other people. An adult who has just come to classical violin (or just returned to it) will invariably apologize for how they sound. Self-deprecating jokes – with an edge of desperation – proliferate. The violinist.com discussion board regularly features entries from adult amateurs asking questions like: I’m the only adult at my teacher’s recital, should I even participate?

I can relate. If I’m ever complimented on my playing, I’ll smile graciously, but in the back of my head I’ll invariably think: honey, go to Minneapolis, watch a program of their Sibelius, and get back to me on how good you think I am.

Why?

Read more here.

Thanks to the Musicovation team and especially Zachary Preucil for the opportunity. Definitely check out the website while you’re there, and follow their Facebook page and Twitter account! We can never have too many positive stories about music!

***

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Doug Hertz Takes On The Crazy People

It is becoming increasingly clear that the power players in the Atlanta Symphony lockout are the members of the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) board. This impression was solidified once former ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein resigned and it was revealed that the interim CEO would have no role in negotiations. Nowadays it’s all Woodruff, all the time.

During the upheaval of the past few weeks, I’ve been chatting online with disgruntled Atlanta patrons. Lately we’ve been wondering who the Richard Davis / Jon Campbell equivalent is over at the WAC.

Well, good news: We Found Him!

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Well

Well, let’s see what the news is today, Tuesday January 14 year of our Lord 2014…

*ambles over to Google News*

Obama to Place Restraints on Surveillance. Interesting…

Some rumblings about net neutrality. Compelling…

Why Journalists Frighten Putin. Haha. Haha, yeah. Dictators better beware of the power of writers…

…There’s apparently now a first-person cat simulator

Oh, yeah, and the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians is over.

***

Um, so, I don’t really know what to say tonight besides thank you. Thank you to everyone. I didn’t have anything prepared to say tonight (no, duh). In all honesty, if I’d been forced to make a prediction at gunpoint, even a week ago, I’d have said another six to twelve months will pass, my friends and idols will ultimately be forced to their knees, Save Our Symphony Minnesota will fizzle out, and I’ll enter my twenty-fifth year as a total cynic who will forevermore hate orchestras and everything associated with them. (It was not a future I was particularly anticipating.)

But…that didn’t happen.

The contract on the table isn’t perfect by any means, but if you were expecting a perfect contract, you were always going to be let down.

We saved the Minnesota Orchestra and we saved it together. Because of our work, the Minnesota Orchestra will not die.

However, the new business model did. We killed it, and we killed it together.

But. Now we have to create the model that will replace it. And that’s where the hard work will come in.

Are you ready for that?

Tonight is not the end. In fact, it is only a chance to have a new beginning.

But in the meantime, I think we’re allowed to celebrate how far we’ve come, and think with hope of a better future.

***

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New Year’s Notes

It’s New Year’s Eve, so it’s time for some sentimental naval gazing.

Well. 2013. You wanted soul-crushing disappointment? You wanted dizzying ecstasy? You wanted proof that arts activism is alive and well? (You wanted proof that orchestral music is alive and well?) You wanted proof that improbable, impossible things are, in fact, quite possible? Then 2013 was the year for you.

Here were the year’s most popular SOTL stories in reverse order…

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Michael Henson’s Massive Bonuses

Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson saw two massive bonuses as he was planning for his musicians’ major work stoppage, totaling $202,500.

This information comes courtesy of the 990 that covers the time period between 1 September 2011 and 31 August 2012. It was recently quietly posted on Guidestar.org. This document is not on the Minnesota Orchestra’s website, so you will have to go to Guidestar.org to see it.

Henson bonus

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Henson took home $386,916 in base compensation – $202,500 in bonus and incentive compensation – $9,800 in retirement and other deferred compensation – and $20,097 in non-taxable benefits for a grand total of $619,313.

Here is the explanation on the 990.

supplemental information

Click to enlarge.

Michael Henson’s bonus amount in Part II, Section B, Column 2 consists of bonuses for two separate fiscal years that were paid in the same calendar year. The bonus for fiscal year 2011 was paid in March 2011 and the bonus for fiscal year 2012 was paid in December 2011. Per IRS regulations, this schedule was filled out based on the calendar year 2011.

For comparison’s sake, here are some other American orchestras by budget – their expenses – who their executive directors are – how much they were compensated – and what percentage of the budget their compensation is.

Here are orchestras who haven’t yet publicized their 2012 990. This is from FY 2011.

Los Angeles Philharmonic – $103,925,230. Deborah Borda – $1,602,228 – 1.5%

New York Philharmonic – $68,400,555. Zarin Mehta – $887,401 – 1.3%.

And here are orchestras who have publicized their 2012 990.

Boston Symphony – $85,844,758. Mark Volpe – $622,938 – 0.7%

Chicago Symphony – $80,055,672. Deborah Rutter – $577,189 – 0.7%

San Francisco Symphony – $78,338,012. Brent Assink – $638,857 – 0.8%

Philadelphia Orchestra – $57,182,000. Allison Vulgamore – $610,446 – 1.1%

Cleveland Orchestra – $51,298,527. Gary Hanson – $584,498 – 1.1%

St. Louis Symphony – $26,597,756. Fred Bronstein – $394,572 – 1.5%

Houston Symphony – $25,817,059. Mark Hanson – $295,979 – 1.1%

Baltimore Symphony – $25,116,360. Paul Meecham – $261,843 – 1%

The Pittsburgh Symphony, Dallas Symphony, and Indianapolis Symphony were in a time of leadership transition so I left them out.

The Minnesota Orchestral Association’s expenses were $32,908,241. Mr. Henson’s compensation was $619,313… or 1.9% of expenses, roughly double the rate of other orchestras.

Edit, 1pm: The entry was altered. I – and my proofreaders! – made a (rather embarrassing) decimal error in calculating the percentages above. Apologies. But the point of the entry still stands.

As everyone who has been following the lockout knows, the Minnesota Orchestra posted a six million dollar deficit in FY 2012. Michael Henson’s compensation and bonuses would account for a full tenth of a six million dollar deficit.

***

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17 Tips On Marketing Orchestras to Millennials

Yesterday I read a slim but interesting book called Marketing for Millennials, by Jeff Fromm and Christie Garton. It verbalized a lot of my gut instincts, and especially the gut instinct that most orchestras suck at marketing to millennials.

Roughly speaking, millennials are carbon-based human life forms aged 18-35. (For a point of reference, I’m 24.) It’s tough to generalize about an entire generation, but I’m about to do so.

Millennials

  • use the Internet a lot
  • tend to be more politically progressive
  • are extremely well-educated
  • value companies with consciences
  • frequently live with our parents thanks to the recession
  • possess larger social networks than any other generation

And here’s an interesting factoid: there are more of us than there are baby boomersYup, you read that right: we’re the largest generation in American history.

You would not know any of these things based on most orchestras’ marketing efforts.

So here, without further ado, are seventeen suggestions for orchestras to keep in mind as they think about how to attract young people.

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The Firebird

I hope that you were able to attend Osmo’s Farewell concert, or at least listen to MPR’s broadcast. Circumstances conspired to keep me at home, so I listened from afar. In all brutal honesty, it was probably a good thing I wasn’t there in person; my sobs would have spoiled the broadcast. Brian Newhouse knocked it out of the park – he never succumbed to unwarranted pessimism or optimism, he never assigned blame, and he made it very clear that it was the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra onstage, not the Minnesota Orchestra. Everyone turned in a flawless performance. Bravo. It was a show for the ages.

After I dried my tears, I looked up the story of the Firebird and stumbled across this website.

And I cried some more.

The Firebird is known to many as the Phoenix. It is a mythical bird that lives in five hundred year cycles, which is able to regenerate from injury and is therefore, immortal. With plumage of red and gold that illuminates its flight, the Phoenix is as much a symbol of divinity as it is of fire and many legendary tales have evolved around its existence. Its most spoken about quality, that has inspired stories of encouragement or been compared to adversities that have been overcome, is that the Phoenix, nearing the end of its life cycle, builds a nest where he sets himself and the nest on fire. From the ashes left behind, a young Phoenix rises, to take the place of the older…

The glow from the Firebird’s feather was powerful enough to light up an entire room. It is also believed to bring hope and relief to the suffering and in need, and one story in particular tells of pearls falling from the Firebird’s beak to the peasants below, for them to trade for food…

Over the ages, the Phoenix, or Firebird, has inspired many artists, such as Igor Stravinsky, who in 1910 immortalized the legend of the Firebird, in his ballet score of the same name. From being a symbol of doom to hope, the Firebird’s rise from its ashes has given many the inspirations to rebuild their lives and to believe that there is light in even their darkest moments. The Firebird holds a sacred place in the folklore of Russia, as a creature that is in itself as much of a mystery as the legendary tales.

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An Announcement

You may notice a couple tweaks around the blog. The reason? Until further notice, I am tossing Richard Davis, Jon Campbell, and Michael Henson into my mental Bin of Irrelevancy.

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These three men now join other things that are personally irrelevant to me, such as Windows 98, asparagus, and shag carpeting.

I’ve done a good job over the last year explaining why these men aren’t good custodians of the orchestra. At least I’m assuming I’ve done a good job because they’ve never come forward to dispute anything I’ve said, which insinuates that what I’ve said is accurate. The alternative is that they think I should be ignored just because of the platform I use, or because I’m young or poor. But in this day and age, that’s all the more reason to toss them into the bin.

So I’m archiving the “Hello, Minnesota Orchestra Management!” entry. I don’t need the answers to those questions. I have all the answers I need. The questions I’m currently asking have literally nothing to do with Minnesota Orchestra management. This feels good.

As for the pinned “If you’re just joining us” entry, that’s going as a link under my re-vamped About tab. You guys all know who I am now. This still comes as a huge surprise to me, but I’m beginning to get used to the idea. That introductory entry doesn’t need to be front and center any more.

I also tweaked my bio to reflect the fact I’m a lot better known for my writing than for my freelance fiddling career.

And ta-da! I can now move forward with a clean slate! I feel like I always did at the start of a new school year. I can practically smell the crayons and erasers.

If by some crazy miracle circumstances change dramatically within the next few months (former Minnesota governor Arne Carlson has suggested getting the Vikings involved, which would be a fascinating plot twist), and I’m forced to deal with Davis, Campbell, and Henson again, then I will, of necessity, re-assess…air sickness bag in hand. (Blech.) (And I’m sure they’d be just as thrilled to have to work with me!)

But until then, I am putting the lid on the bin. And I’m doing it gladly.

Thanks, Mr. Davis, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Henson, for helping to launch my career! *thumbs up* Couldn’t have done it without you.

As for everybody else, I can’t wait to work with you to make exciting things happen this season! Do you have your tickets for the show in November? We’ll get to hear Brahms – beloved Brahms! How blessed we are!

What do you want to see in the 2013-14 season, since your ideas will be taken into account by the team planning the shows? Personally, I want to work with young people, and I want to share some music history. If I’m extremely lucky, maybe I can shoehorn some women’s music history into whatever project I undertake. What do you want to do – or see someone else do? As we dry our tears, and mourn what we’ve lost, let’s have a conversation about the future.

And so. I hereby decree that my attention and energy will no longer be spent deconstructing. It will be spent reconstructing. The only reason to look back now will be to learn from past mistakes as we move forward.

“Living well is the best revenge.” – George Herbert

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In Search of a Plausible Story

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.

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Fatalism, Sherlock style

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:

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Fork in the Road

We’ve been on a bumpy road together for twelve months. And as expected, we’ve finally reached a fork.

The path to the left says that a worthwhile symphony orchestra can never be rebuilt here…or even if it can, it will take so long that it’s not worth trying. It says the great Minnesota Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony, is dead, so mourn it and move on. Go to New York or Boston or Chicago for great live symphonic music, or don’t see great live symphonic music at all. Requiescat in pace. Cue the apocalyptic silence after La Valse.

The path to the right says this is going to be a hard slog, but, despite any teary exhaustion, the story isn’t over yet. There are still great musicians performing in Minnesota this autumn, and those performances might contain the seed of a new way of doing things, if we work hard and are very lucky. It would be a waste to give up now, so let’s get to work trying to rebuild what we can on our own. Cue the final movement of Shostakovich 5.

There is something to be said for both paths. Each of us will have to make a decision which one we want to follow.

I’m guessing more musicians will want to take the left path than the right path. And I don’t blame them one whit. Many patrons and donors will follow them. I don’t blame them, either.

But you know the path I’m taking (for now, at least). At this point, I’ve invested too much to stop. Plus, unlike the musicians who find work elsewhere, I don’t gain anything by stopping. If anything, I stand to gain more by seeing this thing through to…wherever it goes. At least for the foreseeable future, moving from the Midwest isn’t an option, nor is staging a coup within the MOA offices. And I can’t really give up on the idea of live orchestral music because I’m an addict, and addicts do what they can to get their fix. So I’m stuck with the slog of rebuilding. There are worse fates.

To all my readers headed down the path to the left (including a certain beloved Finnish maestro): give me a hug before you go. I understand your decision completely. It’s been an honor and a privilege to travel together: thank you for your company. I’ve learned so much, and I’m a better writer and musician and maybe even person because of it. I’ll try my best to keep you posted and do you proud. I just wish my best was more! Don’t be a stranger.

And to all my readers headed down the path to the right: I’ll see you this autumn in Minneapolis. As you cry – and I imagine there will be more than a few people who will be crying themselves to sleep tonight; I fully expect to be one of them – do yourself a favor and remember that you are not alone. It is too easy to feel alone. You are not. When just two or three people gather in the name of music, there is something sacred at play. And we will have a lot more than two or three people gathering.

***

The lockout will likely no longer be the sole topic of conversation here. I’ll still cover it – no, duh – and I’ll cover it as extensively as I possibly can. But there are way more fulfilling things to blog about than Michael Henson’s stupidity…like the history of women in classical music, my part-time performing career (which has gone increasingly dormant this year), or (and I’m just throwing this out there) the gripping work of a musician-led orchestra in the Twin Cities. I hope that even if some of the entries bore you that you’ll be patient and stick around for the other stuff that doesn’t. Or maybe eventually I’ll keep two blogs, one for current orchestral events a la Adaptistration and one for research on dead women violinists and my rambly musings on the violin and viola. Because I don’t think the two audiences overlap much. Not sure. But anyway, as always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!

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