Friday, November 30, 2012

NLRB Complaint Against JAX Symphony Association

Here's a legal twist to the contract negotiations in Jacksonville. Could this be relevant here?

WTEV-47, Jacksonville:   "The Jacksonville Symphony Association announced Friday that the National Labor Relations Board Regional Office in Tampa is issuing a complaint containing allegations of bad faith bargaining . . ."

Con Blog? Senza Blog?

As the end of a year approaches, it's customary to reflect and take stock:  What have we accomplished?  How do we move forward?   Because I could answer the first question, but not the second, I began musing out loud, wondering whether the ASOC Singers and Friends Blog hadn't run its course ... and was considering archiving everything, letting the blog expire with a morendo.  Maybe 'go dormant' is a better term for what I had in mind. 

Fortunately, Laurie Cronin doesn't possess my anxious navel-gazing tendencies. She wrote to me yesterday ... and her words are, as always, cogent, wise, and inspirational: 

"We know the musicians who were involved in the negotiations are tired, and the others are resigned, or worse.  The hardest thing to do is to sustain the energy and idea generation once the crisis has passed, but we somehow need to do that. Unfortunately, there is no real leadership within our ASO/WAC organization from those we could reasonably expect to take that role -- not just the type of driven artistic leadership that builds the musical side of the house, but more to the point, the moral leadership that not only says, 'This really matters ... standards really matter ... being world-class really, really matters' ... but who has the intestinal fortitude to take those arguments to the community at large.  There is definitely a leadership vacuum, and has been for some time.

As you've asked many times, 'Who speaks for the art?'  We need to continue to try doing that ..."

"Who speaks for the art?"  Well, we do.  We must.   In mid-September, ASOC members were driven by the whip-hand of a specific crisis and an uncertain outcome. Contributors to the blog did an excellent job telling the story of the ASO lock-out.  And for better or worse, the ASOC Singers and Friends Blog has become the repository of that history.  This is what we have accomplished.   

But how do we go forward?

Laurie's letter reminds me that the ASO is still in crisis.  The situation hasn't improved at all ... the 'emergency' didn't go away when the musicians signed a contract. True, there is no immediate deadline, no eleventh-hour save ... but as we've seen with recent events, the ASO continues to be threatened by the lack of financial transparency at the highest level.  WAC and ASO Management -- without submitting to full disclosure themselves -- can impose any conditions they choose when contract negotiations come around again in just 16 months. Cooperation between management and musicians broke down because management violated their trust and made it impossible for the players to carry their concerns to the ASO Board.   How can ASO musicians grow artistically if they are unable to form an alliance with their Board?  Some recent exits aside, good people are leaving the organization as well as the Board.  The city, to my dismay (but not to my astonishment), is staying out of the discussion entirely ... while the Atlanta community, which the symphony has served for over half a century, continues to be fed management-generated press statements by the local media.

One of the few good things to come out of the lock-out crisis is the strong friendship forged between the ASOC and the orchestra.  Beverly Hueter reminded me today that it's the players' livelihoods which are at stake, not ours, so we must look to them to take the active lead.  But we can continue to show them that they are not alone in this struggle; the chorus literally stands behind them.  We publicly demonstrated our support in NY and we can find ways to do this in our own city.  Keith Langston, for example, wonders what would happen if the ASOC should request a couple of seats on the Board.

One other thing to come out of all this is the establishment of ASOC Singers and Friends Blog ... with which we can continue to educate ourselves and our global readership, adding our unique voice -- which is not insignificant -- to the international debate as to whether a world-class symphony matters.  Our opinions, expressed in letters, essays, or comments are important to this debate. And, while it's tempting to express our thoughts solely among our friends on Facebook, in order to get the message out to our audience around the world, we also need to publish them here.  

Let's help the ASO organization move forward, con blog.

Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Speak Out

Of particular interest is the following quote:

" ... we musicians contend that we cannot and should not make a financial counteroffer without a full, joint, independent analysis of the orchestra’s finances.
No one is more vested in the financial health and future of this orchestra than the musicians. Unfortunately, the musicians have neither the access to financial data needed to make a more detailed offer nor the transparency that the Star Tribune and the city have urged management to provide."
The full text of the OpEd piece, written to the Star Tribune, is here:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

WAC Fraud: Hercules Couldn't Clean Up This Mess

WAC and ASO Management decided that the burden of putting the symphony's 'financial house in order' belonged on the players ... so they locked the musicians out until they signed a contract which set salaries back 30 years, cut benefits, playing weeks, and reduced the size of what is a major American orchestra. Virginia Hepner is quoted in the AJC, saying that the day the orchestra gave in to WAC demands was "a good day."

During the lockout, retired Emory Social Ethics professor Jon Gunnemann wrote a letter to ASO Management, the ASO Board, and WAC, arguing how their actions were creating a 'crisis of trust'.  There is, as yet, no word whether WAC's union-busting, strong-arm tactic actually worked to close the orchestra's deficit. All I know is that the principal by-product of management's efforts to 'put their house in order' was more distrust.

Out of the blue, Dr. Romanstein announced he wants to build a new house ... a new symphony hall ... rather than concentrating on repairing the continent-sized rift that has grown between management and the musicians ... nor does he seem interested in formulating a plan to restore the nationally-acclaimed orchestra he helped tear down.  (The chorus received a letter from him, assuring us that the musicians were 'not involved' in this recent fraud investigation. Okay.  I'm at a loss trying to figure out why he would suggest something so peculiar.  Oh, and if the media contacts us, we're supposed to refer them to a WAC representative.)

The nature of the power that WAC and ASO Management wields over the orchestra is explored here ... it's an authority so entrenched and politicized, it cannot be challenged or disentangled easily ... although it was pretty easy for someone to defraud it over a period of five years, without detection, for $1.43 million.

If I were a donor ... or an ASO or WAC Board member ... I'd stipulate a more thorough house-cleaning at the top before I gave another nickel.  I wouldn't wait for The Next Big Disaster to add to my growing knowledge of how disconnected the current administration is from its mandate ... how self-servingly its top administrators behaved during the contract negotiations and continue to behave ... how neglectful those in power have shown themselves to be, unable to preserve and stabilize the artistic and financial integrity of this city's largest arts institution. 

Atlanta deserves better than it is getting.  These aren't public relations disasters or embarrassments.  The desultory ways WAC and ASO Management have gone about fulfilling their job descriptions threaten Atlanta's cultural life and community.

Not surprisingly, Bo Emerson's article in the 11/28 AJC includes a quote from Ferdinand Levy, former dean of GA Tech's College of Management.  

“There is no excuse for an organization the size of WAC not to have first-class internal controls to prevent fraud,” Levy said. “This negligence showing a lack of oversight will certainly affect fundraising, especially with national foundations.”

All this time, the musicians have been doing their jobs brilliantly.  But now it's time for equally brilliant management -- other somebodies, more skilled in management than in self-perpetuation -- to rescue our broken institution, get it cleaned, repaired and moving forward.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Minnesota Orchestra: "Sack the Manager Before We Return"

Article from Slipped Disc features a notable comment:

"I applaud the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra for their proclamation. This is hard ball and to stay a step ahead of this game is paramount. This kind of ruinous leadership needs to go. For others who are in obvious cahoots with this national managerial ‘transformative’ model….don’t count your chickens before they….hatch."

Drew McManus' article in Adapistration

WAC Employee Embezzled $1.4 Million

Thanks, Nicole, Beverly, KKG, Kathleen P-R, and GinnieP for sending 
this unbelievable article to the blog.

And further information ...

The Music is Ongoing™: What Musicians Are Wearing to the Revolution

Show your support for Atlanta Symphony Musicians!  

The music is the message. Every rehearsal and concert, we sing it, play it -- and now we can wear it to be seen and heard.  Orchestra and chorus members wore their shirts to Carnegie Hall ... and continue to wear them to dress rehearsals. 

Designed by Robert Cobucci in a cool typewriter font ... with "MUSIC" highlighted in the color associated with danger, sacrifice, and passion.  Does this sound like your job as a musician these days?  

The Music is Ongoing tee is printed 2-colors on a high-quality black short-sleeved crewneck t-shirt.  100% ring-spun cotton jersey with taped neck and shoulders, double-needle sleeve and bottom hem.

The price of the shirt is $25.00, which includes a $10 per shirt contribution to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association.  In a little over a month, t-shirt sales have contributed over $1,100.00 to the ASOPA account!  
Be a part of this movement -- started by musicians -- that shows the world what is most important.  Wear your t-shirt in solidarity with all the musicians and orchestras in this country who struggle to keep the music ongoing.

Available in sizes S, M, XL, 2XL, and 3XL (Sorry!  L is temporarily back-ordered).  

Click here to go to Nelipot Original Tees where you can order your Music is Ongoing
 t-shirt and wear it proudly in 7-10 days.

Keep The Music Ongoing!

Monday, November 26, 2012

NYTimes Sunday Dialog: Is Classical Music Dying?

Readers react to Les Dryer's 11/16 letter to the NYT editor.  Sobering reading about a national problem.  Any comments from singers?

Food for Thought, shall we say . . .

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, you will note the parallels between the Hostess debacle and the contract negotiations between the ASO Players and management:,0,966735.column

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hey, Kids! Let's Build That Hall!

Scott Freeman's ArtsATL interview with Stanley Romanstein.

Let me see if I've got this right:

When he was hired in 2010, Dr. Romenstein's 'mandate' was to reduce the deficit and build audiences.  Knowing the orchestra's contract was to be re-negotiated in 2012, he did NOTHING ... he gave the orchestra no plan, no heads-up as to how bad things were until eight months prior to the contract deadline ... at which time, he suddenly began poor-mouthing the orchestra ... presenting a dire financial picture (complete with PowerPoint presentations) ... telling the players the 'levers' they needed to pull in order to address the deficit:  salaries, benefits, playing weeks, etc.  He made the players jump through innumerable hoops to pull all those 'levers' and reach a settlement ... which WAC then rejected ... and then locked the players out to insure the musicians signed the punitive contract WAC wanted in the first place.

So, technically speaking, Dr. Romanstein's 'mandate' was (partly) fulfilled by making the orchestra shoulder the debt by reducing their size, salaries and playing weeks, and eliminating benefits.  Well played, Dr. Romanstein.

But building audiences by building a bigger hall?  WAC's symphony hall isn't a great facility and no one disputes that a world-class orchestra deserves a world-class venue.  But what this organization needs -- right now -- is a cohesive plan to restore the orchestra, restore trust between players and management, and build a firm bridge between the arts community and the city it serves.  Frankly, I don't think current management is up to the job.

Was this was all thought out ahead of time?  The promise to build a new symphony hall mitigates reducing the orchestra to part-time status?  A new hall will make up for the mountain of black ill will incurred by the lock-out?  Make people forget the refusal of WAC to let the musicians address the Board while they were fighting for their livelihoods, or the refusal of top ASO Management to make a similar sacrifice?  Does a new hall make up for the ill-conceived and expensive blunder that was, and continues to be, Verizon?  Does ASO Management believe that years and money spent on architectural bidding wars, wining and dining donors and designers, glamorous fundraising parties and exclusive receptions will make people forget the shameful zero-sum contract debacle that just took place?

ASO Concert Review in ArtsATL

Mark Gresham's review of the concert which featured Jessica Rivera.

ASO Musicians and Falcons Honor the Military

This is a wonderful thing ...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Muti Speaks for the Art

Who is speaking for the art?  The venerable maestro Riccardo Muti, in this timely AP article:

"But a people without culture is a people that loses its identity. We haven't reached that point yet, but the danger is there."

Monday, November 12, 2012

ASO Performs Pintscher, Mozart, Ravel

Mark Gresham's 'name-dropping' concert review in ArtsATL

Spokane: Creation of the Poverty-Threshold Orchestra

David Beem's startling article in The Huffington Post.

The 'New' Arts Management: Two Viewpoints

Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), writes about the resiliency of American orchestras in the face of economic challenges.
"Non-profit symphony orchestras are governed by boards, most of whom are wonderful people who truly love music, their orchestras, and their communities. But, most of them now come from the for-profit world, and they hire "industry professionals" to manage their non-profit organizations. The board members tend to take their education for running a non-profit from the "industry professionals  ..."
"The tendency of orchestra managers to present a negative view of the future is not unprecedented, but it is bewildering, and it is a poor fund raising message. People will donate to organizations that inspire them and that serve their communities, but they will not invest in organizations that question their own sustainability."

Kevin Case's essay, referenced in Bruce Ridge's article, can be found here

Henry Peyrebrune's article in Adapistration, October 2012 looks at changes in the American cultural landscape, and the competition for audiences. 

"It strikes me that the conflicts in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Minneapolis point to orchestra boards that have given up on the orchestra field, disregarding or even eschewing professional orchestra managers and forcing major cuts to prepare their orchestras to deal with the “new normal.”

The Situation in Minnesota and Spokane: Update

From MPR

Norman LeBrecht's Slipped Disc.

From Adapistration:  Minnesota and Spokane

Interesting background information from Adapistration:
Examining the Minnesota Orchestra Redline Agreement: Part II

Examining the Minnesota Orchestra Redline Agreement:  Part I

The Commoditization of Symphony Orchestra Musicians

Kevin Case's article (referenced in Bruce Ridge's ICSOM article) which we posted here on the ASOC Singers and Friends blog back in September.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Flashback to Another ASO Negotiation

This fairly full account, which contains statements by both ASO Management and the ASOPA, was published in Instant Encore 3 years ago ...

ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians) has archived all ASO contract settlements.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Situation in Minnesota and Spokane

Minnesota musicians not allowed to talk to their Board.  Where have I heard that one before ...?

Spokane Symphony Musicians go on strike after rejecting salary offer ...

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra rejects contract offer, and cancels concerts to the end of the year.

AJC Article on the Departing ASO VPs

Whoa!  They got a letter too!

Blue Robes

A friend in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra is performing in a sold-out Messiah, featuring combined choruses, and conducted by one of our old friends, John Nelson.

Wish I could be there ... but I googled these up instead.  Two selections from a 1987 Messiah concert, recently posted on YouTube.  Lovely sound, familiar faces in the chorus and orchestra  (and at the organ, too!), and Himself on the old plywood podium.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Dear People ..."

I never worked under Mr. Shaw; I came to the chorus the year he died.  But in the 13 years I've been in the ASOC, his absence has never been more keenly felt than it is today, by those in our organization who knew him best.  Mr. Shaw, whom I never knew ... but whose life and work are ineluctably tied to my life as a musician ... was a tireless champion of the music and the musicians; his passion for both was a fixed principle.  During his tenure he was, reportedly, a thorn in the Board's side, to the extent that they attempted to get rid of him for various reasons, most notably when he insisted on programming the works of modern composers.  His profound respect for the ASO musicians influenced his decision to hold chorus rehearsals outside Symphony Hall during the 1996 strike.

In the last years of his life, Robert Shaw was still following his quest for spiritual food through partaking of the arts, as his remarkable writings show.  By the time of his death in 1999, the orchestra he had retired from in 1988 had grown in stature and renown.

Shaw anecdotes are a part of our preparation, courtesy of Norman, who tells the funniest ones; sometimes he sends Mr. Shaw's letters to us:  "Dear People ..." -- like "Open Sesame" -- is a promise of riches beyond, a glimpse into the workings of a rare mind.  Long-time chorus members, like war veterans around the dinner table, recall the old days, still wearing the stripes of whatever praise or chastisement Mr. Shaw felt called to heap upon them.  These "Dear People" belonged to a particular time, having come together under the aegis of a particular man. We are lucky to have some of these stories posted on the blog.

Stephen Reed's From the Heart ...

Andrew Gee's Together in Shaw-Speak

But even Norman who has, if anyone does, the indisputable right to address the chorus as he chooses, does not use that greeting.

Stanley Romanstein begins his most recent letter by invoking Mr. Shaw:  "Dear People ..."  Is he laying claim to the Shaw legacy by virtue of his choral directing experience?  Does he see himself as Shaw's 'spiritual heir', appointed to lead both orchestra and chorus in this new era?  Disappointingly, the President and CEO's letter amounts to a redacted statement regarding lay-offs and reshuffles in the organization.  Stanley Romanstein has imperiously adopted us as his 'Dear People' -- in order to say virtually nothing at all.

Personally, I think the man who is largely responsible for ransoming the future of Mr. Shaw's beloved orchestra to a WAC-controlled budget sheet ought to think twice about drinking from what is, to the ASO and ASOC, a sacred vessel.   It doesn't take writing on the wall to point out how seriously Dr. Romanstein has mistepped.  Again.  At the very least, he shouldn't be writing 'Dear People" to anybody because it makes him look desperate.  (Although I have to say that he has been consistent in his inability to gauge the true opinions of the people he purports to lead; he concocts pretty pictures of mutual cooperation to the media and in the concert programs, while musicians are refusing to share the same air he breathes.)

Robert Shaw believed that appreciation of the arts requires "equal parts of modesty and vulnerability -- a preference for the small truth over the big lie."

Some people just get it wrong.

Notes on the ASO Lockout and Aftermath

Letter to the New York Times

The recent contract agreement reached by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra after a lockout by its management reflects similar patterns for symphony orchestras across the nation, seeking to deal with shrinking audiences and growing deficits.  From the perspective that the ASO settlement may be a bellwether for other American orchestras, it is important to recognize the circumstances under which the agreement was reached.  There were unique aspects to the ASO struggle that have caused continuing protests from the musicians and from many of the players’ supporters, including members of the ASO Chorus, a volunteer group of international renown since its founding days under Robert Shaw.

The ASO is not a freestanding institution but part of a larger non-profit organization, the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) which also includes visual arts, theater, and educational arms.  The ASO Board operates under the “parent” board of the WAC; its Chair is on the Executive Committee of the WAC; and the management of the ASO is responsible not only to the ASO Board but also to the WAC Board.  The WAC Board has final approval authority for all administrative and budgetary actions of its member institutions.

In the recent dispute, the ASO Board, WAC Board and WAC Executive Committee wielded extraordinary power to exact a contract that the players and their supporters found punitive, demoralizing, and artistically damaging.  Some specifics of this wielding of power included the refusal of the Chair of the ASO Board to meet directly with the ASO Players Association (ASOPA) and his directive that other board members refrain from doing so; the Chair refusing the request of the elected ASOPA representative to address the ASO Board at a called meeting at which the representative had a legitimate seat; the ASO Chair warning ASO Board members not to attend a meeting to which they were invited by the ASOPA (only one board member showed up); the President of the ASO addressing the ASO Chorus and admonishing them to remain silent when anyone asked them about the process (“simply say, ‘negotiations are ongoing’”); and virtually controlling the local media through press releases which painted a rosy picture of the agreement reached. 

The WAC used the mounting deficits of the ASO as its reason for demanding the deep cuts:  reducing the number of ASO musicians from 95 to 88; locking out the musicians for 4 weeks; a cut in salaries of more than 17% through the elimination of the summer season and as a result, employing the musicians for 41 and 42 weeks respectively for the next two years. But in the background, and hidden from public view, are debts incurred by the WAC and ASO management from various large-scale building projects, both completed and abandoned, over more than a decade.

The lockout occurred shortly after the ASOPA had made a counter-offer to the ASO management which included $2M in annual concessions that the President of the ASO requested, a counter-offer which was supported by the ASO Executive Board and Management but which then was turned down by the senior leadership of the WAC with threats that regular-season concerts (including the October 27 Carnegie Hall performance) would be canceled.  It became apparent that although the ASO Chorus and others were assured that “negotiations were ongoing”, in fact, the WAC was not willing to negotiate further at all.

The lockout, which included suspension of all health-care benefits, sparked an outcry from many subscribers, donors, some ASO board members, and from some members of the ASO Chorus.

The ASOC Singers and Friends Blog was established in response to the limited and superficial news reporting from local traditional media.  The blog is ‘chorus-centric’; its 200+ posts comprise a complete history of the ASO lock-out.   The September posts tell the story through ASOC member letters to the ASO Board and to WAC, documents, links and articles related to the lock-out, and many original essays.  Today, post-settlement, the blog continues to focus on information related to the ASO and to other orchestras in similar peril in this country.  In a little over two months, the blog achieved 21,700 page views, with growing world-wide participation.  The administrators of the blog are from the ASOC. 

While looking to help the ASO musicians in a material way during the lock-out, chorus members created t-shirts with the message:  The Music is Ongoing™ (a play on the phrase, “Negotiations are ongoing”), with $10 from the sale of each shirt going directly to the ASOPA account.   Chorus members wear them as an outward visible sign of their continued support, and to honor the musical partnership they value so highly.  As a show of solidarity, chorus members gave the Orchestra their shirts as gifts.  Orchestra members and chorus members now wear their Music is Ongoing™ t-shirts to all dress rehearsals, even to the Carnegie Hall dress rehearsal.  Guest soloists who request them, are given shirts.  People from all over the world are buying them.  Clearly, the message, which speaks for the Art and the Artists, resonates. 
Despite the events of this past year, and efforts to compromise the quality of the orchestra’s core excellence, our respective institutions -- the ASO and the ASO Chorus – are committed to maintaining our high performance standards and continuing our creative partnership.   

ASOC Members

Jon Gunnemann
Sally Kann
Laurie Cronin
Cyn DeBold

Saturday, November 3, 2012