#776 – Dick Bernard: A letter to the Audience* of the Minnesota Orchestra

NOTE: The ongoing “parking lot” for all links regarding the Minnesota Orchestra is at August 30, 2013, here.
Ongoing information from the musicians point of view is here.

Outside Orchestra Hall, Sep 6, 2013

Outside Orchestra Hall, Sep 6, 2013

On Sunday, September 8, 2013, a full page ad appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, paid for by the Minnesota Orchestra Board, headlined “Eight Days Left. But We CAN Get This Done!”
By my count, “eight days” was yesterday. It’s not yet done.
I’m simply an audience* member. Here are a few thoughts for you, my colleagues, my fellow listeners and patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra.
Yesterday I took time to review the first e-mail from the Orchestra Board announcing what began 50 weeks ago, October 1, 2012. The e-mail was dated October 1, 2012, and in relevant part says: “Today we regret to report that…[w]ith no contract in place, the Minnesota Orchestral Association has suspended salary and benefits for musicians until a new agreement can be reached…we’ve made the decision to cancel concerts through November 25 [2012]….”
The entire e-mail is here: Mn Orch Oct 1, 2012001. It is useful to print it out and read it again, while keeping in mind that it is a perfectly written advocacy document for one side, unencumbered by other facts or opinions which might differ with the official conclusion the document was intended to convey to us: “it’s their fault”. Also remember, it was sent 352 days before today.
At the demonstration outside Orchestra Hall on September 6, one speaker most aptly noted that the organism that is the Minnesota Symphony is like a “three-legged stool”.
Coming from a rural North Dakota background, it caused me to think back to Grandma and Grandpa and Uncles and Aunts sitting on three legged stools milking the family cows. It is a rich memory – we even had occasional opportunities to practice when we visited.
The long empty barn, rural North Dakota, September 20, 2013

The long empty barn, rural North Dakota, September 20, 2013

Later this week I’ll be in that very barn. It is now essentially abandoned, awaiting the fate of all old barns.
But I digress.
The speaker noted a particular problem with the three-legged stool that is our Minnesota Orchestra.
1. One leg, the Orchestral Association, is omnipotent with all the benefits of what we traditionally call “power” in this society.
2. A second leg is the Orchestra itself, which is a union, which has sacrificed all, literally, to reach an equitable settlement. And then there is the…
3. …third leg, which includes we listeners in the seats; the “farm team” in youth band programs in schools everywhere; people and little kids who come with their parents to be introduced to great music by great musicians; people who for assorted reasons cannot come to hear the Orchestra in person, but love great music, etc. etc.
This third group, in assorted ways, seems powerless, or so would go conventional wisdom. We’re along for the ride…if invited (best I know, I’ve been dropped from the Orchestral Associations e- and mail list. Stay tuned….)
My ancestors, attempting to sit on a stool of our current model, while milking a cow, would encounter some difficulties. Maybe that powerless leg would fall off; or that dominant leg would demand all the attention…. It just wouldn’t work. Three legs are three equal legs.
So, here we are, Audience*. What to do?
We Audience members are basically invisible (or so it seems).
When I hear talk about the Audience*, the talk is not about those of us in the seats, but the empty seats. There could be an entire essay about this topic: where was the marketing to fill those seats? The point is, those of us in the seats don’t seem to much matter. Someday, they’ll open the doors, and we will come back….
We are, those of us who make up the Third Leg of the stool, far more powerful than we give ourselves credit for being. All we lack is the resolve to empower ourselves.
For myself, and I speak only for myself, I have resolved never to darken the door of Orchestra Hall again, until the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have ratified an Agreement on all terms and conditions. (This doesn’t count an interim “kick the can down the road” agreement – we know how those work in our Congress in Washington D.C.)
And I choose to be outspoken.
For you? Your choice.
But, please, refuse to be powerless.

* – Audience? Anyone who has ever attended, even a single time, a concert by the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall, or anywhere else the Orchestra has performed.
So, how do I fit in?
1. Over the years, at bare minimum, we’ve been to 75 concerts by the Orchestra at Orchestra Hall, almost all in Row Four Center. Maybe we qualify as “average” – I don’t know. We saw some memorable ‘side’ events, live, from those seats in Orchestra Hall; the roses on the chair of a violinist who had recently died; Itzhak Perlman’s fall; Eije Oue conducting the Star Spangled banner at the beginning of the program in September, 2001.
2. We have attended other concerts of various kinds at various times, including during Sommerfest, and occasional public events in parks, including Sep 15 at Lake Harriet.
3. We came for the music, not for the Lobby, or the Cookies (though the caterers were certainly good!), or the coffee.
4. Of course, we parked, we ate downtown (usually at the Hilton). Orchestra day for us was usually at least six hours.
5. We supported the minstrel of the evening in the skyway; we occasionally bought tickets for others, including for one program which was cancelled.
6. As my wife would attest, I used intermission to wander around, to just see who was in those seats, out in the lobby. We were certainly not a cookie cutter bunch.
7. The list could go on. What are your memories? Your tradition? Your stand?
Dick Bernard Sep 12, 2013

Dick Bernard Sep 12, 2013

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