August 21, 2009
To the members of SOON,
First, as a member of the NHMF I know that we all want to let you know how tremendously grateful we are for your support this summer. You literally helped save our jobs, at least for one more year. Your voice of outrage turned a powerless situation for us into a situation where we had to be reckoned with. The creation of your group was an overwhelming articulation of the power of the music that binds us all together. I know all of us in the orchestra have been deeply moved that our performances over the years affected you enough to work this hard on our behalf. I can personally say that this unexpected gift has been a profound revelation.
I think it is also safe to say that our agreement with management was made under duress to save our jobs and certainly represents numerous compromises on our part that many in the orchestra are quite uncomfortable with. Of course, all contracts represent compromises, but the circumstances of these negotiations were obviously more harrowing and difficult than usual. It resulted in an agreement that is certainly far from ideal. This is a long and detailed email, and I apologize for its lack of brevity, but I hope it illuminates some issues that are nuanced. Here are some specific examples of the agreement itself that cause many of us concern:
We were unable to achieve an agreement where current musicians have a legal and binding role in future firing/hiring decisions. Although current NHMF principals will be involved in a defined process, the actual hiring/firing decisions will be made by a single, and currently unknown, Artistic Director selected by management. This lack of protection causes concern amongst many musicians in the orchestra. The process as currently defined requires enormous faith in the management to select an Artistic Director with integrity, exceptional artistic leadership and a complete lack of political alliances that might color his/her decision making. The problem is, that the strength of this agreement rests on faith in management. And, of course, any lingering faith in management completely eroded as a result of their actions at the start of the summer. It is entirely possible for this new Artistic Director to fire whomever they or the management wishes with no legal recourse on our part and could easily place us in exactly the situation in which we began the summer. It is also possible that Henry Fogel has enough influence and integrity to select an Artistic Director for the festival who is of exceptional artistic and personal gifts.
Another concern for many is the new model going forward both in its practical and philosophical applications. An example of the practical application is that the details of our new jobs are as of yet undefined. We do not know how many hours we will be expected to work; what the scope of our new duties will entail in regards to undefined teaching and coaching responsibilities; and how much rehearsal time will be added. The reason this is uncomfortable regarding our agreement is that it has been suggested (not promised) that we will have an increase in pay of 25%. However if we are working 50% more for 25% increase, we have just taken a significant pay cut in our hourly wage. It leaves us in a position in which we are unable to assess the efficacy of our agreement. This is an uncomfortable position.
The philosophical implications of the new model are obviously an even greater issue. For one thing, the philosophy professes to have a more open, collaborative approach to music making. However, management violated this principal immediately by developing their principals, concept, and vision without any input from the current musicians. Their timing and presentation of this new vision as well as their initial requirement of re-auditioning the entire orchestra further solidified this schism between their stated philosophy and their actions. This makes skeptics of many of us that the collaborative approach is sincere and will function well.
Additionally, orchestras generally work as a specific hierarchy because they are efficient and effective as such. By charging a Music Director with the responsibility of the global view of the music making (pacing, balance, over-arching concept of the music) the musicians are left free to specialize in the technical musical and instrumental specifics of their individual parts. Even more specialization occurs as people play specific positions within an orchestra, say section cello or principal second violin. The skill set required to play second bassoon is different (not more or less skilled, just different) than first bassoon. A football team functions much the same way as an orchestra, The coach is in charge of the global view, the quarterback has a very specific skill set which is different from the skill set of a fullback or the offense in general. The longer you play in one position in an orchestra or on a football team, the more refined your skill set becomes and the more seamlessly the ensemble or team plays together and functions as if it is one organism.
In the new model everyone will be asked to play any and all positions in their section and rotate from week to week or even piece to piece. (This is common in a student experience at a conservatory to give everyone a chance to experience many roles.) The conductor will no longer expected to function as the leader of the group, but instead become another collaborative musician whose job is to coordinates events. It would be considered absurd to ask the football coach to make decisions about the strategy of the game exclusively in a collaborative manner. It is also hard to imagine creating a better football team by asking all offensive players to be able to play all offensive positions and in fact to change on a weekly basis. This would likely result in a loss of the team functioning at its highest possible level as each player would be unable to refine their detailed skill set in exchange for a more all-purpose football playing ability. Generally speaking, the finest musical performances in history have been achieved by having an exceptional Music Director, exceptional musicians, and time for everyone to work together. This recipe creates a situation where everyone knows each other’s musical inclinations and gestures so well that an almost mystical musical union is produced resulting in the highest possible artistry. There are notable exceptions to this model, the most famous being Orpheus, a conductorless ensemble out of NYC that produces exceptional recordings and performances.
This new NHMF model defines five levels of musicians within the orchestra – the incumbents (that’s the NHMF musicians to date), the new professional musicians (to be selected by management), the students (also selected by management) , rotating guest conductors (chosen by management) and the Artistic Director (who will be at least a sometime member of the orchestra). At this point it appears that a new hierarchy is being set up – with the Artistic Director at the top (in charge of hiring/firing), the musicians selected by management next (they are to mentor the pre-existing musicians), the guest conductor in a difficult position of third in line(not what they are used to, or trained to do), the incumbent musicians fourth, and the students last (we are to mentor them – however they are to mentor us also). This new model also appears to be hierarchical, just with a new hierarchy that could cause inefficiency, opposing global viewpoints, a lower level of ensemble playing, less consistent auxiliary instrumental performances (like piccolo, or english horn) and an atmosphere of confusion regarding appropriate roles and professional behavior.
It might also be important to point out that this collaborative, power-sharing model is not being embraced by the management themselves. I am unaware of any situation where Henry is going to be the Stage Manager one week, the Operations Manager the next, and the Artistic Director the third. I think all would agree this would create disruption, a lack of continuity and a lessening of quality.
And then there are the students. It’s possible that students can be excellent members of our orchestra, contributing energy, enthusiasm and other desirable traits. I play in the Boston Philharmonic, an orchestra with several of these concepts already in place and one of the models for Henry’s vision. Most of the students in Boston Phil come from New England Conservatory, an excellent music school. In my decade with Boston Phil flute section, there has been a single student who made genuine contributions to the musical experience. She won a job in a major Canadian orchestra within the year. However, to argue the opposite point, my husband, the violinist Charles Dimmick, played in many professional orchestras while still a student – including NHMF. Students are tricky!
So, in the end, what would help? Since all of these plans and agreements having successful outcomes rests on a foundation of trust, I believe creating trust between management and musicians is paramount. Based on many orchestra meetings this summer, I am certain I am accurate in stating that the majority of the orchestra is entirely distrustful of the intentions, honesty and integrity of both Henry and David. Implementation of our agreement requires trust; decisions about our continued employment require trust; the success of every facet of the new model requires trust. In my opinion, legal protection in future years is an absolute necessity. I also think your continued presence, support and activism is an absolute necessity. After all, you have been our source of power throughout this difficult summer.
As for the new model itself, personally, I am not strictly opposed to it. For it to work, in my opinion, everything about it would need to proceed just right and many things about it need to be defined and decided. Again, my major sticking point is management itself. If we are treated like fourth class citizens (and there are signs that this will be the case) I fear the new model will be a disaster. It is precisely the disrespect management showed me and every one of my colleagues at the start of the summer that causes me to fear this potential outcome. If the many musicians they bring in to the Festival are favored above those of us who have already been here, the entire experiment is doomed. However, if the new musicians coming in are of a world class caliber and the new Artistic Director is as well ; if an amazing and delicate balance of utopian equality is achieved – perhaps it could end well. In the spirit of this email, I would like to report that I am certain my viewpoint is the minority one. It is certainly the opinion of the majority of the orchestra that this new model is ridiculous in every way.
Finally, it is worth considering Henry’s observations about the relevance and popularity of Classical music. In my opinion, whatever the merits may or may not be of this new model, it is not the solution to the rejuvenation of Classical music in America. Perhaps we can all look forward to new ways that actually will make Classical music more available and relevant to more people so they can experience all the richness it has to offer.
Thanks for all of your continued help.