We report, you obey

It appears that the press black-out agreed to by Columbus Symphony
management and musicians didn’t last very long. From an editorial in
yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch:

The management of the symphony says the budget reduction, to $9.5
million or less from the current $12 million, is nonnegotiable. But how
the orchestra gets there should be open for debate.

The symphony board has proposed that the orchestra cut the number of full-time musicians from 53 to 31, filling in with part-time musicians where the performance calls for them. Also, the number of performance weeks would be cut back from 46 to 34. Musicians are paid by the week.

The musicians argue that reducing their number so dramatically will destroy the quality that the symphony has developed over the years, and that once the quality drops, so will public interest.

The musicians also say that the symphony’s marketing and fundraising efforts have been lacking.

But at this point, it doesn’t make much difference how the symphony reached its perilous state. If the organization is to survive, it must take the steps necessary to rebuild confidence that it can operate in a sustainable way.

It is entirely possible that this story wasn’t planted directly in yesterday’s paper by the orchestra’s board or management. Telling the world that their demands were “nonnegotiable” after agreeing to a press blackout would be very, very stupid. It could have been a rogue board member, or some of the local funders. It could even have been the paper’s editorial board deciding, completely on their own, that real negotiations weren’t a good thing.

“The fog of war” is a phrase that applies equally well to bad orchestra negotiations. It becomes progressively harder for each side to read the actions of the other side accurately, as fear and anger overcome rationality. That’s dangerous at any time, but doubly so when the plug is so lightly connected to the bottom of the bathtub as it is in Columbus.

I know what my reaction would be to reading in the local paper that management’s demands were “nonnegotiable” – or to reading that “it doesn’t make much difference” that management and the board screwed things up so badly. But I agree that they need to “take steps necessary to rebuild confidence.” They could start by trying to convince the musicians that they intend to negotiate in good faith to retain a quality orchestra in Columbus.


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