Orchestras on the Slide: A Tale of Two Cities

Margotlog: Orchestras on the Slide: A Tale of Two Cities

“The Twin Cities were separate at birth and far from identical,” I wrote in a novel called Falling for Botticelli (not yet published). Yet sometimes these separate cities suffer similar fates. Take the duo lockouts of orchestra musicians by management which both cities have endured over the last year. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra resolved its dispute in the late spring, 2013, and played  the final three or four concerts of the season. The Minnesota Orchestra (I know, it pretends to be the state’s orchestra, but in fact it began as the Minneapolis Symphony and remains housed in Minneapolis. More of that in a moment)–the Minnesota Orchestra’s difficulties are, in my opinion, far from resolution. Therein hangs a tale.

The SPCO audience was roused to battle quite early after the  lockout. Under expert (and feisty) leadership, an organization called Save Our SPCO created a logo, began to gain  members, who with all kinds of other music-lovers supported three hugely popular concerts to raise money and remind the community (of both cities and circling suburbs) of how they value and enjoy the SPCO. .

The audience and musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra took a wait-and-see, or perhaps a dig-in-our-heels and resist approach. The musicians refused to negotiate until management canceled the lockout. On the other hand, the SPCO musicians formed a determined and resilient negotiating team who continually attempted to meet with management. To their credit, management was often willing. Yes, there was acrimony and they sniped across the divide.  The audience organization SOSPCO held several meetings a month. They helped bring up the question of using MN Legacy money (each orchestra had been granted money under this program) to the state representative in charge. Though nothing changed in real terms, the publicity created by groups of musicians attending the capitol to lobby helped keep the issue in the public eye.

As the SOSPCO membership grew, the organization staged a public declaration that it was considering negotiating with the musicians to form a cooperative orchestra. Public in its very being–held in Rice Park before the Ordway Music Hall where the SPCO performs, and quite near the mayor’s office–this public demonstration of determination and forward-thinking, I believe, helped spark Mayor Coleman’s decision to become an advocate for a solution.

NOW, finally the MN Orchestra’s audience has become aroused. It’s banding together, listening to Alan Fletcher, CEO of the Aspen Music Festival, assert that not all that happens if negotiating can occur will satisfy everybody. Some musicians will leave–taking other jobs, being relieved of their posts, etc. Salaries will be cut–as they were for the SPCO. And perhaps long-time musicians will be encouraged to retire, as ten of the SPCO did, taking a buy-out package offered by management.

The moral of the story: Be feisty. Be active. Don’t sit on your laurels and wait for fate to come to you. At a recent meeting of over 300 Orchestra Excellence supporters, the first discussion question was “Does Minnesota want a world class orchestra and why?” I point out that Minnesota has two world-class orchestras. And one of them has resolved its gripes.

As Alan Fletcher reminded us, there is no way to predict whether a restored orchestra will be the same as the one locked out. But resolution is crucial. Audience in-put, in my opinion, needs to be regular and argumentative and creatively confrontational. The public, and even more the musicians and management, need to know that they are being supported. Tell stories, as did the SOSPCO, about musicians who are losing their health insurance, having trouble paying their mortgages. There is a very human face to this lock out. Audience needs to care deeply not just for the result, but for the hardship in the ongoing trouble.

Band together, my friends. Lobby, make noise. Do not be afraid of stepping on toes. Don’t be excessively nice. Be smart. Be savvy, but most important of all, show the musicians that you care about them and their talents and dedication.

Our hopes are with you. .

musicians were not working.

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