Rootless Directors and Ungrateful Musicians

One commenter on my post Today's Dispatch Article is worth quoting, not so much for his comment, but for the passionate response from Cameron Kopf, a "professional horn player throughout Northern California", in his own words. Both are long comments, but I think they are worth your time.

Here is the comment from Steve S:

I appreciate you pointing out that Mr. Beadle is probably not the best person to have stated what he stated about Mr. Hirokami. That being said, I think there is a lot of truth to his statements. The music director does need to be a face, and does need to understand the way an American symphony orchestra works. Hirokami’s incredibly negative comments about his employer showed that lack of understanding. In the end, there is no way to know who’s really not doing their “job,” but what Hirokami did was just plain stupid. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t work in American for a very long time because of this.

You imply in your last sentence that the board is dysfunctional. I would like to hear an explanation of that allegation other than you not getting the paycheck amount you desire. I’m sure we would also love to hear how you would react if the tables were turned, if a board member told an orchestra musician that they were incompetent. You’re an expert fundraiser? Who is exactly? You get paid because some people out there think what you do is important. No one is taking advantage of you, no one is earning a profit. A board is all-volunteer, and your salaries are paid because they beg people to give you their money with absolutely no return on their investment.

All this finger-pointing is what is running your orchestra to the ground, not any one person or group of people. Orchestral musicians are LUCKY to have the jobs they have, and sometimes that luck just runs out. When you place your livelihood in the hands of the good-will of people, then shame on you for placing expectations on anyone to provide anything for you. Playing an instrument entitles you to nothing, no matter how good at it you might be.

And here is Cameron Kopf's response:

Steve S., who are you? What are your qualifications to make such negative judgements about musicians and their profession?

It is easy to cast such aspersions when you do not include your full name.

You write: “The music director does need to be a face, and does need to understand the way an American symphony orchestra works.”

Please enlighten us how an American symphony orchestra works.

As a professional horn player for thirty-two years, who has held contracts with the Nashville Symphony, Sacramento Symphony, San Jose Symphony and have performed with many other musical ensembles, I have seen various living situations of conductors. Some are full-time residents, others maintain part-time residences, while others fly in from their home cities to attend to the business at hand in their orchestra.

This is an increasingly global society. It is no longer necessary for a conductor to maintain a residence in the same city as the orchestra is located. This is understood by many top-tier orchestra managements; they do not require the conductors to live in town.

Please refer to the following blog, by a noted conductor in Canada, for more on this topic: Pull up the roots...

You write: “Hirokami’s incredibly negative comments about his employer showed that lack of understanding. In the end, there is no way to know who’s really not doing their “job,” but what Hirokami did was just plain stupid.”

Perhaps the conductor did not exercise his best judgment by making such statements, but the fact still stands: the Columbus Symphony is in serious trouble and what can be done to save it?

As a long-time member of both Orchestra and Negotiating committees in the now-defunct Sacramento Symphony, and witness to other California orchestras which have gone under, placing the blame on the musicians is a common, misguided tactic. It serves no constructive purpose and is in fact destructive; it distracts attention away from the most critical issues, which are the orchestra management and Board’s responsibility.

You write: “You imply in your last sentence that the board is dysfunctional. I would like to hear an explanation of that allegation other than you not getting the paycheck amount you desire.”

Perhaps you have not done your homework or researched this situation on your own. Have you spoken with any musicians about it? Have you read their press releases? I am not referring to the Columbus Dispatch’s curiously negative bias on the situation.

You write: “You’re an expert fundraiser? Who is exactly? You get paid because some people out there think what you do is important. No one is taking advantage of you, no one is earning a profit. A board is all-volunteer, and your salaries are paid because they beg people to give you their money with absolutely no return on their investment.”

Symphony orchestras provide what is known as the “arts multiplier factor” which generates revenue for businesses related to the entertainment industry, such as restaurants, parking garages, stores, among others. To lose the Columbus Symphony would curtail spending downtown.

It is not the job of musicians to fund-raise. We are trained professionals who have spent countless hours (and dollars) at our craft. OUR job is to provide the best musical product possible on the concert stage. This is a full-time occupation, requiring many hours of practice to maintain the highest artistic standards. Ultimately it is the management and board’s responsibility to ensure that the organization is healthy, and represents the community in which the orchestra performs.

Musicians are glad to help in any way they can, EXCEPT for cutting their own throats. They should not have to do this in order to save the organization; it is not the musicians’ responsibility.

Musicians do indeed understand and appreciate that the Board consists of volunteers, and we sincerely seek CONSTRUCTIVE solutions to problems. This does not excuse the board members from less-than successful methods of maintaining and building an orchestra. When problems arise, it is vitally important to address them in a way that does not diminish the music product that they are “selling”. Clearly, the current offer to the musicians would result in a serious degradation of the artistic standard of the Columbus Symphony, and less people would be willing to support it.

It is important to approach the situation with constructive, positive solutions rather than laying the blame on the musicians for not accepting drastic cuts — which would be a DEstructive solution indeed.

The fact is, cutting musicians and their salaries does not create a healthier organization. Quite the opposite. It would be the beginning of a downward spiral ultimately resulting in the organization’s demise.

Your final statement is furthest off the mark: “Orchestral musicians are LUCKY to have the jobs they have, and sometimes that luck just runs out. When you place your livelihood in the hands of the good-will of people, then shame on you for placing expectations on anyone to provide anything for you. Playing an instrument entitles you to nothing, no matter how good at it you might be.”

It is a shame that many people do not understand what it takes to be a musician. Yes, we are lucky to have jobs. You are lucky to have the job YOU have. Those of us who are employed are lucky in general, aren’t we?

You say, “sometimes that luck just runs out”. Would you say that to a doctor or lawyer? Musicians spend just as much time on their profession as those people. Providing art to a community is every bit as valuable as providing medical care or legal counsel.

Your most telling statement “Playing an instrument entitles you to nothing, no matter how good at it you might be”.

This attitude says it all. I sincerely hope that you are NOT on the Columbus Symphony’s board. If you are, you are seriously misguided, and have no business being on it.

The musicians of the Columbus Symphony have been MORE than willing to try to reach a constructive solution with the management and board. The latter has not been willing to do the same. So perhaps they are not truly interested in maintaining the organization or fostering its growth.

It would be a shame to lose the Columbus Symphony because of this lack of cooperation and vision. Judging from the recent accolades by the audience of the recent outdoor concert given by the Columbus Symphony musicians, they would be greatly disappointed indeed.

Sincerely,
Cameron Kopf
professional horn player throughout Northern California

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