Category Archives: Chatter

Detroit in the Crosshairs

by Haden Mckay, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Click here to see the article on the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians Website

On April 9, 2011 the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra returned to the stage of Orchestra Hall for the first of two triumphant concerts. Just one day earlier, a vote to ratify the DSO’s new four-year contract had brought an official end to one of the longest strikes in North American orchestra history. Readers of Senza Sordino and visitors to the website are already well aware of the past year’s events in the Motor City. The six-month work stoppage took a painful toll on the members of the orchestra and their families as well as Detroit’s music lovers, and the future of the venerable institution is far from assured. At the same time, the members of the DSO hope that their struggle will have done more than just help one orchestra survive a crisis. Ideally, symphony boards and managements everywhere seeking to tame deficits will draw valuable lessons from Detroit about what not to do.

While blessed with an outstanding concert hall and proud musical traditions, the Detroit Symphony had historically faced financial challenges as it maintained top-ten status in the United States. When the world financial crisis hit in 2008, the DSO was already weakened by a narrowing of its donor base, declining ticket revenue and the burden of real estate debt from its 2003 hall expansion. Management asked to reopen the orchestra’s contract during 2009, but discussions broke down when management refused to consider an agreement with any extension in term or even partial recovery of givebacks. The stage was set for a confrontation upon contract expiration in August 2010.

Given the magnitude of the economic downturn in Detroit, musicians knew that they would need to sacrifice to keep the DSO viable. The fundamental problem in what played out—and what turned a concessionary contract negotiation into a conflagration—was the decision of the DSO board and management to use the crisis to try to impose sweeping changes on the institution and working life of the musicians. At various times in the negotiations the musicians were confronted with proposals to eliminate tenure, remove the librarians from the bargaining unit, hire and retain new musicians at sharply lower wages, remove orchestra representatives from board committees, freeze the orchestra’s pension plan while withdrawing from theAFM-DPF plan, perform unlimited free media services, and institute an extreme version of service conversion (developed without any musician input although a comprehensive strategic plan had just been jointly written and adopted) up to and including assignment to non-musical duties for weekly scale.

Predictably, DSO members were unified in their opposition to such tactics. They saw a threat not only to their own institution and working lives, but to professional musicians everywhere. Once the strike began on October 4, 2010, the musicians attracted public attention and support from Detroit and far beyond. Most observers seemed to realize that too-drastic cuts, especially combined with harmful changes which didn’t even address the money problems, would make it impossible to retain and attract the top musicians who would ensure the DSO‘s continued high quality. With the help of generous guest conductors and soloists, the musicians organized and performed more than twenty successful concerts in and around Detroit. Local music lovers made contributions and formed a powerful audience advocacy group, Save Our Symphony, which is still very active post-settlement. Overwhelming financial contributions from fellow professional musicians, largely ICSOM, OCSM and ROPA members, made a huge difference in enabling DSO members to continue their struggle. President Gordon Stump and Secretary-Treasurer Sue Barna-Ayoub of Local 5 provided unhesitating and seamless support.

Meanwhile, the bargaining process itself was at a near standstill. Despite the expertise of Counsel Leonard Leibowitz and attempts to assist from community leaders and politicians such as Governor Jennifer Granholm and Senator Carl Levin, months passed without any progress. In the end, the involvement of business leaders Dan Gilbert and Matt Cullen seemed to break the deadlock, and a tentative agreement was reached on April 3. Of course, by then most of the season had been lost and millions of dollars in ticket revenue refunded to patrons. Several orchestra members had taken other positions. Trust within the institution had been badly damaged.

The new DSO contract is detailed in an ICSOM settlement bulletin. While it is deeply concessionary, the agreement does not contain any of the proposals from management’s grab bag listed above. It is frustrating to realize that without those unreasonable demands, the entire strike and its fallout could probably have been avoided. Essentially, the bargaining team spent the better part of a year fighting off changes that should never have been put on the table. The DSO musicians were glad to ratify the agreement and to bring their utmost professionalism back to the stage. The future will bring continued challenges. One major goal will be to bring about greater board understanding of how to preserve and enhance a great symphony orchestra.

The musicians of the DSO owe a great debt of thanks to their fellow ICSOM members and leaders, as well as the national AFM officers who provided support at key moments. We are honored to be the host orchestra of the 2011 ICSOM Conference this August and look forward to meeting many friends and colleagues.

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Detroit-Brooklyn discussion expands on NPR

Click here for the story on Model D – Detroit’s online news magazine

Is Detroit poised to become the next, gulp, Brooklyn (by that, we guess they mean a welcoming environment for creatives and cutting-edge entrepreneurs)? NPR”s Tell Me More interviewed Detroit native and 71 Pop founder Margarita Barry and new Midtown resident Scott Harrison, the director of patron engagement at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Their message to Michel Martin listeners? While Detroit’s problems are oft-covered and obvious, the quality of living in neighborhoods like Midtown is comparable, at least, to that found in any other cosmopolitan American city — at a fraction of the cost.


So, I mean, I think within a 15 to 20 minute walk of where I live, I can find just anything, whether it’s food, whether it’s culture, whether it’s entertainment, whether it’s shopping. You know, we don’t have the big box stores. If I need a Target, sure, I’ve got to get in the car and drive, but, I mean for day to day, six out of seven days of the week I’m sufficient and content just in my area.

Listen to the story here.

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Not breaking news (from Detroit)

non divisi
by Frank Almond
July 6, 2011

Click here to see the original article on

Yesterday, the Detroit News published a piece by Lawrence Johnson that examines some of the continuing problems at the Detroit Symphony, especially the ongoing trend of departing musicians. I was especially intrigued by the quotes from Tony Woodcock and DSO Executive Director Anne Parsons, who’s management style reminds me more and more of Dick Cheney. Or maybe Brownie.

For example, Ms. Parsons proclaims that the departures and resignations “are individual decisions of people who chose not to make a commitment to Detroit and to the DSO. People who don’t want to stay with it shouldn’t stay with it.” Perhaps it would be helpful for Ms. Parsons to tally up the collective years of service of the musicians that have already left, and then define the word “commitment”. Ms. Boisvert performed as concertmaster for 23 years, then made an “individual decision” to bail out before the race to the bottom was complete. It seems to me that these musicians aren’t leaving for insignificant reasons, they’re leaving because they believe the current top management is populated with incompetent jerks who don’t care if they stay or go, who publicly stated as much during the strike, and who’s behavior (and public statements) continue to reflect that attitude. Further, the musicians were presumably as astonished as everyone else when the DSO board decided to extend Ms. Parsons’ contract, thus validating the pervasive culture of non-accountability that is the hallmark of so many failed businesses.

Tony Woodcock seems to inadvertently point the finger at DSO management as well when he points out the “need to address the long-term financial health of the organization, which was not resolved at the end of the strike. In particular, the management of substantial debt, the need to grow a much depleted endowment and to build sustainable sources of income at the box office and with their major donors.” He goes on to emphasize the importance of ”rebuilding relationships within the organization — musicians, board, staff — which have been severely affected, so that some sort of alignment comes into place. This will give them the foundation for the next major strategy: their relationship with their community.”

All very true. And each issue he cites is a direct result of catastrophic management decisions over many years, culminating with the labor dispute. Those problems don’t snowball because the musicians show up every day and play really well.

During the strike the DSO management and board chair often emphasized how easy it would be to replace any departing musicians, since (to them anyway) the pool of great talent is so large. Aside from the stunning ignorance of that idea, I wonder how much of that “great talent” will be attracted to an institution that many feel has become the shining example of a “new model” to avoid.

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Lawrence B. Johnson/ Special to The Detroit News

From The Detroit News: Click here to see the article on

When Detroit Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Emmanuelle Boisvert suddenly announced her resignation in May, principal second violinist Geoffrey Applegate saw 25 years of artistic commitment go up in smoke.

“After Emmanuelle’s last performance, I went home and burst into tears,” said Applegate, a 31-year DSO veteran who became the latest in a spurt of departures from the orchestra when he announced his retirement June 21.

“It was like getting divorced or death. Emmanuelle and I played together for 25 years,” he said. “You become psychic. You could be blindfolded and know what each other was going to do. I’m not sure I want to go through all that again. We had one of the strongest string sections in the world.”

During the six-month strike and its aftermath, what had been a standard trickle of turnover for reasons other than retirement — one musician or none leaving each year between 1990 and 2007 — has become a surge.

In the first six months of this year, six musicians have resigned, and two more have retired. Musicians who left, as well as others who remain, cite a pervasive lack of trust in management, uneasiness about the debt-ridden orchestra’s future and anger at music director Leonard Slatkin for what is perceived as his sympathy with management during the strike.

Among the disaffected is violinist Lilit Danielyan, who recently resigned after 11 years with the DSO. She cited a lack of mutual trust and respect between the musicians and DSO President Anne Parsons as a primary reason for her departure.

“The atmosphere at the DSO is not optimistic or enthusiastic,” she said. “(The orchestra) is poorly managed, and I am afraid that very soon the DSO will become a community or regional orchestra. But management is acting like nothing has happened. It is heartbreaking.”

As for signs of bad management, Danielyan said: “The evidence is right in front of our eyes. The musicians are leaving. Show me any top 10 orchestra in U.S. where musicians are leaving and retiring so rapidly.”

Parsons acknowledged the tension between management and musicians and said a certain amount of upset goes with any transition. The departures, she said, “are individual decisions of people who chose not to make a commitment to Detroit and to the DSO. People who don’t want to stay with it shouldn’t stay with it.”

In recent meetings with the musicians, Parsons said, she and Slatkin “both told the orchestra how much we cared and how we wanted to move ahead together. Everyone has been through a very difficult time. Are there wounds? I know there are.

“So you work together,” she said. “You try to open communication.”

DSO board member Mel Lester, a retired Franklin physician, endorses Parsons, whose contracted recently was extended.

“She’s a devoted and competent executive who knows the business and cares about the musicians,” he said. “When you go through these rough times, someone is going to take the brunt. I’d say 20 percent of the musicians are unhappy. The unhappiest speak the loudest.”

Tony Woodcock, president of the New England Conservatory and former president of the Minnesota Orchestra, sees the spurt in departures from the DSO as an indication that “financial reality and organizational challenges facing the (DSO) undermine optimism for the future.

“Their immediate strategy needs to address the long-term financial health of the organization, which was not resolved at the end of the strike,” he said. “In particular, the management of substantial debt, the need to grow a much depleted endowment and to build sustainable sources of income at the box office and with their major donors.”

The DSO is in negotiations with a consortium of banks over a $54 million real estate bond that’s in default, while the unrestricted portion of the orchestra’s endowment has fallen to $16.6 million from $19 million in February. Endowment principal has been used to make up more than $9 million in revenue shortfalls since 2008.

Ratified in early April, the DSO’s new three-year contract saw the musicians’ base salary drop to $79,000 from $104,650 per year, the number of work weeks fall to 36 from 52 and the number of contracted musicians decrease to 81 from 96.

Woodcock underscores the importance of “rebuilding relationships within the organization — musicians, board, staff — which have been severely affected, so that some sort of alignment comes into place.

“This will give them the foundation for the next major strategy: their relationship with their community.”

Bassist Marshall Hutchinson, who remains with the DSO but expects more of his colleagues to leave, said many musicians are not convinced of the board’s commitment to preserving a top-notch orchestra. Still, he said, “There are a lot of dedicated people who care about the orchestra on the board and in the community.

“Hopefully, when the new season begins (in October), we’ll see all this stuff in the rearview mirror. This could be a very exciting time.”

Indeed, Slatkin, who recently was conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic on tour in South America, said in an email: “The best of times are ahead of us.”

He said the two key issues now are keeping the musicians who have stayed and attracting new talent. “As far as replacing those who have left, we have a schedule of auditions set,” Slatkin says.

“We will also be involved in more active recruiting of musicians from around the world. To show the commitment, I have been authorized to actually hire more musicians than specified in the contract should an audition provide us with more than one winner.”

During the strike, some musicians felt Slatkin did not speak up for them and even sided with management, and the music director has yet to regain the orchestra’s confidence, said oboist Shelley Heron, who will continue with the DSO and serves as a musicians’ representative on the DSO board.

“I think many musicians don’t really have a clear picture of where Leonard wants to take the orchestra, so we are cautious and questioning,” Heron said.

Slatkin said he recently spoke to the orchestra about his role during the strike. “It may not have satisfied everyone, but it did go a long way in clearing the air,” he said. “They know that I am not going to let the artistic quality slip away.”

Lawrence B. Johnson is a cultural writer and critic.

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Symphonies learn the score

Click here for the original article in The Australian

WHEN the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April it sent a shiver through classical music groups worldwide.

The Pennsylvania-based orchestra is considered one of the five best in the US but faced with what its chairman described as a “fantastic imbalance” of costs versus income, the board sought drastic action.

Orchestra management projected a $US14.5 million structural deficit through declining earnings from ticket sales, a drop in donations and an increase in both operational costs and pension obligations.

A fortnight earlier, in Britain, public funding for the arts was slashed by 15 per cent as part of new austerity measures, leading orchestras there to scramble for their lives.

Back in the US, the Louisville Symphony is bankrupt and the Syracuse Symphony and New Mexico Symphony have shut down.

Orchestras worldwide are having a white-knuckle ride due to shifts in the global economy and their Australian counterparts are looking on with trepidation.

A spokesman for the orchestra’s union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Howard Manley, says: “The circumstances of the Australian economy are substantially [better] than most other Western economies.”

Yet he says there’s no question “things are incredibly tight”.

Last year Adelaide Symphony Orchestra members campaigned loudly against the erosion of their playing entitlements, Orchestra Victoria is in serious financial difficulty and NSW’s Opera and Ballet Orchestra annually contributes a $1m loss to Opera Australia.

Australia’s funding system is aligned historically with that of Britain. For the state-based symphony orchestras, box-office and commercial earnings account for a significant proportion of income, but underpinning this is a mix of federal and state funds. However, in the face of those public funds remaining largely static the boards of Australian orchestras increasingly have sought to mimic the US philanthropic model to accommodate increased costs.

In common with American orchestras, audiences in Australia are declining too as they age. Increased pops programming is viewed as one way to expose new audiences to orchestral music, but the jury is out on whether pops audiences necessarily go on to take an interest in the core classical repertoire.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Symphony in particular have embraced the pop business, with recent concerts of computer-game scores, concerts by Burt Bacharach and the Beach Boys, Disney movie scores, and the tunes of ABBA. Musical comic Tim Minchin undertook a national tour supported by the bigger orchestras.

The MSO last month posted a slight surplus of $31,420 for the past calendar year, while Sydney Symphony recorded its third successive deficit, albeit a smaller one than the year before, of $236,769. For the MSO, box-office revenue is considerably down, but so is expenditure.

The MSO’s managing director, Matthew VanBesien, says it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions about his orchestra’s future from its present programming and the 2010 financial results, given the closure of its home auditorium, Hamer Hall, for renovations that began halfway through last year. He says classical programming has not been eroded in favour of pops programming: “The commercial things we do don’t replace core activities.”

But The Australian’s music critic Eamonn Kelly has called on the orchestra to speed up the process of appointing a new chief conductor, a role left vacant since the acrimonious departure 18 months ago of Oleg Caetani.

“Urgently locating an outstanding new leader is the most important artistic and administrative issue the MSO board and management face,” Kelly says.

Sydney Symphony managing director Rory Jeffes declined to discuss the challenges facing his group, which has not managed to parlay the popularity of its chief conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy into either a surplus or increased audiences, which have shown no growth for five years.

Greg Sandow, an American lecturer and author of Rebirth: The Future of Classical Music, says the crisis affecting classical music in the northern hemisphere could spread to Australia.

He says careful examination of financial reports is necessary to see if occasional small surpluses are in fact concealing actual structural decline, which is what he suspects is under way.

The last great shudder of nervousness about the decline of classical music audiences was in the 1960s, after which the industry made a strong recovery.

Sandow says since the 90s, audiences have been declining in the US for both cyclical and non-cyclical reasons. “Now that orchestras in America are starting to haemorrhage and die, they are starting to come out with numbers,” he says.

Philadelphia has had a 40 per cent decline in 20 years that has accelerated in the past five years, he says. The number of subscribers, the ticket buyers who underpin orchestra programming and funding, is declining.

“The core of the audience is people who got into it when they were young and they’re not being replaced,” Sandow says.

And he says the same people who go to the concerts are those who donate money, “so the donor pool is drying up the way the audience is drying up”.

Sandow has also observed donor fatigue, where philanthropists grow cranky about mismanagement or an orchestra’s poor performance and remove their support.

Among the orchestras that have shut their doors and dismissed players there are some groups that have survived due to radical restructuring, which is where Sandow sees the future of the industry. Columbus Orchestra, by way of example, staved off closure in 2008 and retained 53 full-time players by reducing salaries by 27 per cent. Detroit Symphony Orchestra is engaged in similar talks with players.

Sandow argues that players in America’s top orchestras have traditionally been well paid, with salaries above $100,000, and the cuts are having an invigorating effect. “It’s interesting to talk to young musicians about this; they don’t see it as a problem, they’d consider themselves lucky to get any of these positions,” he says.

Historically, however, because of the status and the good pay, few of them could secure such jobs.

Sandow says that if the Philadelphia Orchestra were to suddenly discharge all its musicians and replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizazz.

“I wonder if that wouldn’t be more exciting to hear,” he says. “It might really surprise people.”

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Unions, Classical Music, and All o’ That

A couple of weeks ago, Greg Sandow was quoted in The Australian as follows:

Sandow says that if the Philadelphia Orchestra were to suddenly discharge all its musicians and replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizazz.

“I wonder if that wouldn’t be more exciting to hear,” he says. “It might really surprise people.”

Sigh. I wish people would stop and think before they say things like that. He’d just throw out an enormous body of accumulated knowledge and playing experience to reduce costs and possibly gain “pizzazz.”

Is there any evidence that the Philadelphia Orchestra lacks, um, pizzazz or excitement? Has Greg heard the orchestra play in the last few years? Does he understand what goes into orchestra building?

But getting back to the idea that a reasonable way to reduce costs is to break unions (as, perhaps, NYCO is about to try) or to talk the musicians into taking enormous cuts or to generally blame union and musician wages for the financial difficulties faced by some arts organizations today (see Detroit, see Philadelphia, see NYCO, see the quiet threats emanating from David Gockley’s office at San Francisco Opera).

First, let’s remember the division of labor at opera companies and symphonies:

  • The musicians and singers are paid to put on concerts and operas.
  • The nonmusician union members are paid to make costumes and sets and wigs and move stuff around the stage.
  • The administrators are paid to raise enough money to pay for putting on concerts and operas, and to perform myriad administrative tasks with some degree of smarts.

If an opera company or symphony orchestra finds itself in financial trouble, it’s rarely because the musicians can’t play and the costumers have forgotten how to sew. (If you know of such a case, please provide details in the comments.) It’s invariably because the administration has failed in some way or there has been a major economic downturn. They haven’t raised enough money, there’s been some kind of major leadership failure, they have incurred new costs for some reason – and so on. And it’s important to keep in mind that the administrators were involved in union negotiations, and signed the contracts with their eyes open.

We are currently in a serious economic downturn, and coming out of it very slowly – read Paul Krugman’s column and blog at the NY Times, if you need more information about that. Or keep an eye on the unemployment numbers. This has affected every arts organization in the country.

NYCO and the Philadelphia Orchestra are poster children for weak or incompetent administration. At NYCO, the board made at least two terrible mistakes: the appointment of Gerard Mortier, evidently without due diligence about what kind of budget he would want, and the renovation of the NY State Theater at Mortier’s request, which left the company with their usual bills to pay, no place to perform, and no income. Mortier skedaddled without ever coming to NY or staging a production, leaving the board scrambling to find a new director. They wound up with George Steel, who had about as much experience running an opera company as do: several months at Dallas, which was preceded by great success as the concert presenter at the Miller Theater. Maybe Steel is the third big mistake; hard to say at this point. He’s in a terrible position, where he’ll get blamed for mistakes other people made. Honestly, you’d have to be a miracle worker to pull them out of the current skid.

Oh, I forgot about the way NYCO has run through its endowment. Once valued at $55 million, presumably at the height of the boom, the endowment is down to $9 million. That’s the fourth terrible mistake. They’ve also got an inexperienced board president, appointed just a few months ago, who says things about not disclosing their finances. As a non-profit, hello, you are legally required to release financial information to the public. Don’t talk about keeping things under your hat. It only makes you look bad. So, let’s call this the fifth mistake.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has been having various problems since the 1990s, when they stopped contributing to the musicians’ pension plan. I’d call that a long-term governance issue. They’ve had music director issues, with Christoph Eschenbach coming and going rather quickly; a successor has been found, but he is not in place yet. So there’s been weak, or no, musical leadership. I understand there have been problems with the administrative leadership as well, with Alison Vulgamore appointed after a chaotic period with no general director. (Oh…and it is not good that she is taking a big pay raise when the orchestra has just declared bankruptcy.)

Guess what? The Philadelphia Orchestra could try to lower its costs by firing all its musicians, and it would still have the higher costs of the Kimmel Center over the Academy of Music, the low ticket sales, the problems in their administrative leadership. And they would have a gigantic public relations failure on their hands too. I bet most of their audience would flip out if the orchestra replaced 100% of its musicians with recent conservatory graduates. The loss of good will would be immense. I myself would never set foot in their hall or give a penny to an organization that had done such a thing, and I know that I am not alone in that.

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Failure Begins a the Top – Adaptistration

by Drew McManus,

Click here to see the article on

Today’s headline is an excerpt from a piece by San Francisco Chronicle music critic, Joshua Kosman, in an article that was published on 6/19/2011. Kosman’s article is the latest in a growing chorus of voices within the extended field that are taking a much harder look at the root of problems among performing arts organizations since the economic downturn…

"Failure Begins At The Top"Kosman’s piece begins by examining one of the more dire situations at New York City Opera and then touches on everyone’s favorite anti-crisis, the Philadelphia Orchestra. But mid way through his piece Kosman acknowledges the real elephant in the room by looking inward.

How did these venerable, well-established institutions come to such a sorry pass? The same way Lehman Bros. and Bear Stearns did: through poor – and specifically shortsighted – leadership. And just like on Wall Street, the people making these decisions aren’t really the ones whose livelihoods are on the line.

In the article’s penultimate section, Kosman drills down into some specific examples of failed leadership.

No, the truth is that just like in the corporate and financial world, these failures began at the top, and go back a long way.

The history of weak management in Philadelphia is decades old, and includes mishandled decisions about recording contracts, embarrassing struggles to settle on a music director and the construction of a concert hall, Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, that is widely regarded as overpriced and acoustically poor.

And just to make sure he’s covering all of the bases, Kosman also acknowledges the very real cash flow and audience development problems faced by most groups. But he goes the extra mile by acknowledging the mutually exclusive nature of this reality as compared to a history of bad management.

And it’s just as easy to make vague protestations about prevailing financial conditions and the shifting patterns of culture consumption. Those observations are accurate as far as they go – money really is tight nowadays, and the role of orchestras and opera companies in American life really is changing – but they don’t account for all the arts organizations that are doing OK.

If you’re looking for more examples of Kosman’s perspective, stop by The Iron Tongue Of Midnight where author Lisa Hirsch points out a few more scantily clad Emperor’s. If that’s not enough, she includes a handy list of related opinions from around the culture blogging community and traditional media outlets.

PR Backlash

Does this mean we should drag all executive boards and CEOs out and put them up against the wall? Of course not.

But the reality is that business practices and poor leadership are just as much to blame as the economic downturn for some of the larger powder kegs that have blown up since the economic downturn.

But that’s not how League of American Orchestras president Jesse Rosen sees it. Rosen took issue with one of the more poignant articles in recent weeks written by John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts president Michael Kaiser.

On 6/6/2011 Kaiser posted an article at his Huffington Post column that takes issue with the blame game when it comes to artist stakeholders and instead, encourages organizations to look inward before laying down a beat on the drums of labor war.

It is impossible to blame unions for the lack of revenue for arts organizations when so many are doing such a poor job of managing themselves.

Rosen to Kaiser: How Dare You!Rosen to Kaiser: How Dare You! 

Rosen’s video response (0:22 – 1:00) was to deny the value of accountability and openly scold Kaiser for even mentioning the notion.

Ultimately, any group experiencing extreme difficulties will have an enormously difficult time improving their situation if they fail to investigate whether or not the problems are the result of bad business decisions and a lack of accountability. Unfortunately, the League has yet to adopt measures to help members do exactly that and as any good doctor, engineer, investigator, or IT professional will tell you, willful shortcuts in the diagnostic process is an invitation to misery and disaster.

To that end, what’s missing in this business are processes those other professions have relied on to implement meaningful oversight. In the medical field, they call them autopsies and given the uptick in institutional corpses right now, it would make sense to examine those cases with an eye toward identifying items suitable for inclusion in institutional oversight processes throughout the field.

Anything less is an invitation to make things worse before they can get better.

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2010-11 Season Giving Levels and Donor Benefits

Overture: $100-249

• Recognition once annually in a DSO Honor Roll
• Personalized DSO Donor card
• 10% off all purchases at the Shop @ The Max
• Invitation to DSO Open Rehearsals

Serenade: $250-499

• All previous benefits, plus:
• An invitation for two to attend the annual
Donor Appreciation Event
• Opportunity to purchase single tickets during Ticket
Priority Week, one week before the general public

Concerto: $500-999

• All previous benefits, plus:
• Two complimentary tickets to a Detroit Symphony Civic Youth Ensembles concert

Encore: $1,000-2,499

• All previous benefits, plus:
• Invitation to a backstage tour
• Season listing in Performance magazine

Symphony Society

Donors celebrated at $2,500, $5,000, $7,500, and $10,000+

• All previous benefits, plus:
• DSO Concierge – priority access to DSO concerts and events
• An invitation for four to attend the annual Donor Appreciation Event
• Two single-use valet parking passes
• Two complimentary passes (admit 2 each) to the Herman & Sharon Frankel Donor Lounge
• Listing on the Annual Fund donor wall
• Invitation to travel with the DSO on national and international Patron Tours

*The opportunity to be nominated as a Governing Member, including an invitation to attend and vote at the DSO Annual Meeting with a donation of $2,500
* Membership to the Herman & Sharon Frankel Donor Lounge with a donation of $3,000
* Complimentary unlimited valet parking at Orchestra Hall with a donation of $7,500

Donors celebrated at the $15,000, $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000+

• All previous benefits, plus:
• Personalized, signed DSO recording
• Opportunity to sit on-stage during a DSO rehearsal
• Invitation to the Annual Maestro’s Circle dinner
• Opportunity to dedicate a concert in your name or in honor/memory of a friend or family member


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Pittsburgh Symphony agrees to new contract with musicians

Staff Blogs – Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Sunday, 12 June 2011 14:56
Written by Andrew Druckenbrod

Pittsburgh Symphony, Inc. and orchestra members of Local 60-471 of the American Federation of Musicians have reached an agreement for a new three-year contract nearly three months ahead of schedule.

The current three-year pact was set to expire Sept. 4 and the new contract, ratified Saturday night, takes effect Sept. 5 and runs through Sept. 1, 2014.

The agreement calls for a 9.7 percent wage cut in musicians base salary the first year: in 2011-12 the annual base salary will be $100,110, down from $110,764 in this season. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s fiscal year runs from September to August.

The musician’s base salary will remain the same in the second year of the contract. The final year will be a “wage-opener,” for which PSO musicians and management will examine the possibility of an increase in salary. The musicians also agreed to contribute $100,000 to the orchestra’s annual fund in the first and second years of the new contract.

In the past 18 months, several major American orchestras have faced financial turmoil. In April, the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra ended a bitter six-month strike. In January of 2010, Cleveland Orchestra musicians staged a one-day strike.

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Anne Parsons signs new contract

Anne Parsons signs new contract, will remain CEO of Detroit Symphony through 2014

Crain’s Detroit Business

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has renewed the contract of President and CEO Anne Parsons through 2014.

Parsons, 52, agreed to continue at her current pay rate, which reflected compensation and benefits adjustments made to her contract in early 2009 as part of cost-cutting efforts, the DSO said in a release.

According to its tax filing, in 2009 the DSO paid Parsons $299,679 in base pay, after a 10 percent cut, and total compensation of $414,541 with benefits. One of those reported benefits is living in a Grosse Pointe home owned by the DSO.

Parsons joined the DSO in April 2004 as president and executive director. She was named president and CEO last year. Before that, she held general manager and orchestra manager positions with the New York City Ballet, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and worked for two years with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

In 2008, Parsons led the search for a new music director, bringing Leonard Slatkin to Detroit.

During Parsons’ tenure at the DSO, the organization has raised more than $74 million, attracting new or increased support from many donors. During that same period, donations from the board of directors have tripled, the DSO said.

As the DSO’s top executive, Parsons became a polarizing figure during the DSO musicians’ recent strike.

She became the face of mismanagement alleged by the striking musicians and of DSO management’s efforts to permanently restructure the fixed costs of one of the top orchestras in the world. Throughout the six-month strike, however, the DSO board supported Parsons.

“Anne has everything the DSO needs at this critical point in its history, and we are honored that she has decided to continue to lead the organization toward its collective pursuit of a viable and successful future,” DSO Chairman Stanley Frankel said in a release.

“Not only is she an industry veteran of 30-plus years with proven expertise in navigating challenging economic climates, she (is) a crusader for the arts with deep connections within the national funding community.”

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Reactions to Anne Parson’s new three year contract.

Recently several columns have been published that are strongly critical of the DSO Board of Director’s decision to extend Anne Parsons’ contract for 3 years. These columns are from outsiders with no connection to the organization.  The first is from John Guinn, a longtime arts critic in Detroit, the next is from David Zoltan who writes about arts management from an insiders view, and the last is by Shannon Jones who writes for the World Socialist Web Site.

Our members from around the metro area and around the continent have contacted us with questions about the issues raised in these columns, so in the interest of transparency and open communication, we are posting them here and invite comments and input from all interested parties.


On the Contract Extension of DSO President Anne Parsons
by johnrockneguinn – June 10, 2011

The apparently blue skies that opened up with the ending of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike turned grey and stormy with the recent revelation that the orchestra’s board had offered DSO President Anne Parsons a three-year extension of her contract.

In March, shortly before the orchestra’s nearly six-month strike ended, the board approved the extension of Parson’s lucrative contract. That wrong-headed decision, preceded by the sad news that Emmanuelle Boisvert, the orchestra’s longtime concertmaster, was departing to join the Dallas Symphony, makes the DSO’s weather forecast gloomy indeed.

Clearly, Parsons’ contract extension is a collective slap in the orchestra’s face, an arrogant confirmation by the board that her campaign to severely alter the orchestra’s artistic purpose and vision will continue.

But it is vital to remember that the blame for the ongoing struggle for our orchestra’s future lies not with the inept Parsons but with the board and its autocratic chair, Stanley Frankel, who issued a lavish statement supporting her.

As long as Frankel and those misguided DSO board members who agree with him continue to exert power within the organization, the future of the orchestra as a viable  artistic force remains in serious jeopardy.

So the storm clouds continue to gather. Don’t expect to hear any thunder, though. The entire DSO percussion section has already departed for more secure artistic futures.


Internal loyalty
by David Zoltan

Anne Parsons is the kind of arts manager that gives the rest of us a bad name. The president of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has been in the news quite a bit over the past year. The latest news to feature her is perhaps one of the most telling, however.

In March, while the fight was still raging between Parsons and the musicians over a 23% pay cut for the musicians as well as some other issues surrounding outreach and community involvement, Parsons got her contract extension with the DSO board wrapped up and then kept under wraps, waiting until after breaking the strike and the spring concert series to announce her contract extension. And who could blame her considering that announcing the fact that she was being brought back for exactly the same pay would have given the musicians even more resolve to wait out Parsons and the board?

Parsons reportedly makes close to $300,000 per year along with a long list of fringe benefits, not the least of which is the house she lives in. I haven’t looked deeply into top-tier orchestra management salaries of late, but that doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, for better or worse. So by pure market value of experienced top-level management, I’m sure that it’s reasonable for the level of management talent we’re discussing. Of course, the argument that Detroit would lose its status as a first class orchestra if it made such drastic cuts was summarily dismissed by management, so why would the market for management talent be different? But this isn’t purely a factor of economics.

Parsons already has an image as a union-breaker given her role in the strike and her intransigence in negotiating, even when top politicians and mediators came in to try to help put an end to the long dispute. The loss of Emmanuelle Boisvert, the long-time concertmaster of the DSO, to Dallas where she will be willingly taking a demotion to associate concertmaster, as well as the loss of other musicians towards the end of the strike, showed the lack of trust and confidence already prevalent among the musicians.

So now, how can these musicians that finally bowed to time and accepted that huge 23% cut in pay possibly feel to this latest slap in the face that Parsons will force them to take hugely painful cuts without bothering to take any of her own?

Would $69,000 make everything at the DSO better? Of course not. But one of the constant refrains before and throughout the strike from Parsons was the need for more outreach and community programming, a fact I strongly supported. $69,000 would certainly make an impact on expanding such programs. I could still think of many interesting things to do with $69,000 that would help reach out to new audiences.

More important though is the sense of shared sacrifice that was asked of the musicians that Parsons abandons completely here. After all, if the average musician was making just over $100,000 (about a third of what Parsons makes), each individual musician’s share of about $23,000 that they sacrificed won’t make or break the orchestra either. It’s the shared sacrifice together that makes it possible for the orchestra to realign itself, but it’s not one that Parsons contributes to in any real sense.

This is why artists rail against arts management so often. This is where the accusations that we’re exploiting their work to make money for ourselves comes from. Parsons shows with such a simple misstep that she doesn’t believe in supporting artists, just institutions. This makes it just a little bit harder on the rest of us that are working to ensure that starving artists are a thing of the past to earn the trust of the artists we work so hard to support.

This comes down to my favorite topic on this blog, loyalty. This move shows a complete lack of leadership on Parsons’ part, and in the aftermath of the strike, she needs to be rebuilding loyalty if the rest of her programming has a real chance to help rebuild the audience base and expand into new audiences. She needs willing and enthusiastic collaboration with the musicians that decide to stick it out.

Let’s assume for a moment that her salary is deserved for those “deep connections within the national funding community” among other things. Fundraising is going to be a critical part of rebuilding the orchestra’s position in Detroit and the world stage. There’s still a chance for her to lead here, to make a very substantial commmitment to the orchestra and its musicians.

So I call on Parsons to donate 23% of her salary back to the orchestra as long as the musicians also must sacrifice for the health of the organization. Parsons is already a donor, as I’d hope all arts managers would be to the organizations they love and support, but at a more modest 3-7% level according to the article.

This is a chance for her to make a powerful statement to the musicians, to donors spooked by the strike, to those national funders to which she has deep connections that she believes in the orchestra, in the city, and in the long-term strength of the organization and its mission. This would allow her to match action to her words. And as it would be a voluntary effort, it may even mean more, in the end, than had the DSO board done its fiduciary and moral responsibility and reduced her salary through negotiations.


Detroit Symphony renews contract of Anne Parsons
By Shannon Jones – 7 June 2011

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra board of directors has agreed to a three-year contract extension for DSO President and CEO Anne Parsons. Parsons oversaw the imposition of drastic concessions on musicians in the agreement ending the recently concluded six-month strike.

Parson’s contract renewal was agreed to late last March, but management delayed making public its decision until the conclusion of the strike-shortened 2010-2011 concert season and the announcement of the 2011-2012 season.

The decision to retain Parsons is an expression of the contempt of orchestra management for DSO musicians and the broader musical community in Detroit, as it continues its plan to impose a for-profit business model at the expense of artistic excellence.

Parsons received $299,679 base salary in 2009 and $93,000 in “other compensation,” including a house, pension, health care and a car allowance. For their part, DSO musicians took a more than 23 percent cut in pay under terms of the agreement ratified in April at the conclusion of the strike. The cuts dropped the DSO, long considered one of the best orchestras in the United States, out of the top 10 in terms of pay.

Linton Bodwin, a DSO bassist and chairman of the orchestra committee, told the WSWS that the decision by management to retain Parsons was “puzzling based on what has happened over the last five years, that she would be rewarded. We had hoped for a clean start at the top. It wasn’t a great surprise, but it wasn’t great news. It boils down to a few people making a decision to continue carrying out their philosophy.”

Musicians struck on October 4 last year against concession demands, including a more than 30 percent pay cut and changes in work rules that would turn orchestra members into little more than servants at the beck and call of management. Musicians turned out to the community, organizing well-attended support concerts that kept the dispute in the public eye.

As important as the economic issues were in the strike, perhaps more significant was the determination of the musicians to defend the DSO as one of the greatest orchestras in the world. However, the efforts of the musicians could not overcome the impact of the isolation from the official labor movement, which refused to organize any serious support for the strike in the Detroit area. In April, musicians were finally forced to agree to a contract with deep pay cuts.

The DSO strike drew national attention as orchestras across the United States struggled with declining corporate donations and ticket sales in the wake of the financial crash. The end of the DSO strike was followed within days by an announcement from the Philadelphia Orchestra that it was declaring bankruptcy and would seek to abrogate its contract with musicians.

Since the end of the strike, the orchestra has lost several of its most talented musicians, including Emmanuelle Boisvert, DSO concertmaster for the past 23 years. Boisvert joined the DSO at the age of 25, the first female to win the concertmaster position at a major US orchestra. Her departure is an implicit rebuke to DSO management. She is leaving to take a lesser associate concertmaster position with the Dallas Symphony. On previous occasions Boisvert had indicated her intention to remain with the DSO until the end of her musical career.

The DSO has suffered other major losses, including Philip Dikeman, acting principal flute since 2010; violinist Lilit Danielyan, an 11-year DSO veteran; and the entire percussion section.

Concerning the departure of Boisvert, Bodwin indicated that the highly talented violinist had been the target of personal attacks on the DSO Inc. Facebook page during the strike, which at least in part influenced her decision to leave for Dallas. He added, “We are sorry to see her go. I hope she will be better off where she is going. It is a gamble, because she is leaving some of her family behind.”

Reflecting on the mood of orchestra members, Bodwin added, “It is still an unsettled situation. I think the musicians are unified as a group and are not prone to letting themselves be divided. Unfortunately, we still have to be in a reactive position.

“I have to say that the reception we have been getting at concerts is like we are heroes. I think the public is standing with the musicians.”

DSO musicians gave thanks to supporters of their strike, including the World Socialist Web Site, at a post-concert party held backstage at Orchestra Hall on June 4. Musicians expressed their appreciation to this reporter for the honest coverage and analysis of the strike, which stood in sharp contrast to that provided by the corporate media. Many musicians indicated that they felt their struggle was part of a broader defense of art and culture and expressed determination to continue to oppose the agenda of DSO management.


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Ballet Renaissance, musings by Phil

Dear SOS friends,

On Sunday, Hanna and I enjoyed a performance by Ballet Renaissance (see students and instructors, “Ballet with Bach,” at the Detroit Institute of Arts auditorium. With at least three DSO musicians leaving Detroit to join the Dallas Symphony, it may be of interest to you to know that a gifted ballerina and ballet teacher, Brianna Furnish, came from Dallas to study (at Wayne State) and live and work in Detroit some years ago, and she has put down roots here; fourteen years ago she founded Ballet Renaissance, a non-profit organization “committed to establishing quality, affordable professional ballet training and performance opportunities in the heart of Detroit” (from the group’s mission statement). In 2006, a Polish-born professional ballet dancer named Radoslaw (Radek) Kokoszka, joined Brianna as Co-Director of Ballet Ren. I learned about Brianna and her organization from her father, a good friend and college classmate of mine (at Cornell College of Iowa) whom I have kept in touch with over the decades; he is a retired professor (of theology) at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. (He and his wife came up from Dallas last weekend to visit briefly, and to attend this performance, and we had the pleasure of lunch with them at the DIA Cafe beforehand.)

What is special about Ballet Renaissance, and about Sunday’s performance? (1) Brianna and Radek teach students of all ages, girls and boys (although there are many more girls), all economic and racial backgrounds, from the ages of four on up to adults, and they all get a chance to perform at least a couple of times a year. They now hold many of their classes at the Detroit Opera House. (2) At the end of a performance, all the groups who have participated are invited back to the stage, and each child or young person or adult is identified by name and presented with a red rose. The parents who work back stage are also recognized. Love, support, safety and appreciation characterize the whole process. This time, parents of both co-directors also came to the stage and were introduced and acknowledged. (3) The fact that the music of Bach was choreographed for this performance seemed to me to be both daring and appropriate; it was very satisfying, both musically and visually. (4) While much of the musical “accompaniment” was recorded, Nadine Deleury, principal cellist with the Michigan Opera Theater Orchestra, provided exquisite cello accompaniment (from Bach suites for unaccompanied cello) for certain of the dances, and a young woman named Klara Eikoff–just finishing her freshman year in high school–sang a beautiful Bach aria for another. (5) Two other groups, the Madame Cadillac Dance Theatre of Detroit, which has been celebrating Detroit’s French roots since 1981, and a group of guest dancers from the Detroit High School for Fine and Performing Arts, also performed and added to the interest of the afternoon’s program.

I mainly wanted to alert you to the fact that, with several DSO musicians abandoning Detroit for Dallas, at least one gifted artist from Dallas has established herself in Detroit and adds importantly to the cultural and educational life here. Not only do Hanna and I support our DSO musicians, but we are pleased to support Ballet Renaissance and the important–and not well enough known–work this organization is doing.


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Civic Alumni Subs with DSO

I am thrilled to be performing this week as principal flute in the DSO with two amazing substitute musicians sitting in the flute section:

Amy Taylor, piccoloist from MIlwaukee (frequent piccolo sub with Chicago Symphony) and Josh Romatowski, former DSO Civic Member, my former student who is currently a Masters Student at the San Francisco Conservatory.

Don’t miss these concerts featuring music from Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters including “James Bond”, “Jaws”, “Superman” and “Star Wars.” This will be your last chance to hear the DSO in Orchestra Hall until October.

Jeffery Zook, DSO Piccolo/Flute

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Join the SOS Core Group at the Following Concerts!

The SOS Core Group will be attending the following DSO concerts. Please consider joining us, we are eager to meet you face to face!

We will gather before the concerts, during intermission and afterward to meet with you have some fun and discuss ways in which SOS can support classical music in Detroit!

Added bonus – DSO Musicians tend to hang around us!

Get your tickets soon, these concerts are filling up quickly. Follow the links to purchase your tickets online, or call the DSO Box Office at 313-576-5111

Hollywood Blockbusters
Friday June 3, 8:00 PM
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Spring Season at Orchestra Hall comes to a spectacular conclusion as Jeff Tyzik leads music from Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters! Five decades of hits! “James Bond”, “Jaws”, “Superman” and “Star Wars”. The best musical moments from Hollywood’s hottest hits!

19th Annual Salute to America
June 30 – July 1,2,3 – 6:00 pm
Celebrate America with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Greenfield Village for an evening of music under the stars. Bring your picnic and hear musical Americana, topped off with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and a fireworks finale! DSO subscribers and members of The Henry Ford receive discount admission.

DSO at the Ford House
July 8,9 – 8:30 pm
The DSO performs at the historic Ford House – join us for two magical evenings of music on the lakeside lawn, with the backdrop of the magnificent Ford House literally setting the stage. Each performance will be followed by a thrilling fireworks finale.

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Hyla versicolor vs Detroit Symphony Orchestra!

A few summers ago, one of the DSO evening concerts Hanna and I attended at Meadow Brook lingers in my memory because of an unusual event. My memory of this concert is selective. I recall that Thomas Wilkins conducted, and that the weather was problematic. We had purchased lawn tickets. The rainstorm held off during most of the first half of the concert, which as I recall featured a piano soloist (who, or what he played, I can’t remember). Then the thunder and lightning and rain came, and many of us scurried as quickly as we could from the lawn to seats inside the pavilion–there were plenty of unoccupied seats there–where, with a roof over our heads, we stayed relatively dry. By the time intermission ended, the worst of the storm had passed. Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, which deserves more performances than it usually gets, was scheduled for the second half. Shortly after the first movement began, the very loud trill of a tree frog (the frog is quite small, but it has a very loud voice), up in the rafters of the pavilion, began accompanying the music of Dvorak coming from the orchestra! After the first movement ended, Maestro Wilkins turned to the audience and remarked: “And he didn’t even buy a ticket!” Laughter and applause. The frog eventually lost interest, apparently, and maybe moved on, but the delightful music of Dvorak continued. I like to think that Dvorak himself, had he been present, would have enjoyed the spectacle of having his 8th Symphony accompanied by a frog!

That’s not quite all of the story. A generally favorable review of the concert, by Mark Stryker, appeared in the Detroit Free Press a couple of days later. But what I (as a biologist) knew to be a gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor*, I think; there is a closely related species that it can be confused with) was, to Mr. Stryker’s ears, “a pigeon.” His great knowledge and love of classical music was not accompanied by an equal knowledge of the music of the natural world. I was sufficiently exercised by the error that I wrote a letter to the Free Press to point it out. Sadly, they never printed my letter. Most of those who heard the concert probably believe, to this day–if they read the review and didn’t know better–that the creature who joined in with the music of Dvorak that night at Meadow Brook was a pigeon. Now all of you who read this will know the TRUTH!


* Try Google to learn more about the gray tree frog, Hyla versicolor.

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Karl Paulnack Welcome address

Below is an excerpt from a welcome address given to parents of incoming students at the Boston Conservatory on September 1, 2004, by Dr. Karl Paulnack, director of Music Division.

One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school—she said, “you’re wasting your SAT scores!” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they loved music: they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works…

Click HERE for a link to the entire article on The Boston

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And another thing!

And another thing:  I live in Birmingham. It takes me 20 minutes to zip down 696/75 to sail on the beautiful Detroit River. I’ve been known to make it to my son’s home in Cork Town in 12 minutes if I’m late for a gathering! What’s all this” too far away” stuff?

I’ve been known to take 45 minutes traveling to Commerce Township and other places out in “pick-a-lake” Michigan (Waterford and beyond), and no one complains about that!

My son-in-law is a 15 year veteran of the Detroit Police Force and he worries about my safety more in the burbs than in The D! I LOVE DETROIT! More on this later!

~ Judy

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Steinway Piano Gallery Concert

I spent a lovely evening at Steinway Piano gallery of Detroit in Commerce Township last night, listening to four Fab DSO musicians and four Fab friends of theirs play a concert, and as usual I sat right up close!

I met several DSO supporters for some good chats as well as a few of those “Orchestra Hall is too far away” folks that I was able prod into getting tickets for this weeks event at The Hall!

Boy will they be glad they went! Too far – huh? Cleveland is too far which is why we are soooo happy to have OUR orchestra back in OUR Orchestra Hall!

Scott Harrison from DSO management was also on hand, with his casual easy manner, to promote upcoming DSO concerts!

There’s just nothing like the music when played by the best. Nothing. And Cleveland is “too far”!

~ Judy

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SOS Volunteers step up to help at Will Call

SOS members Bev, Barry and Sophia helping out at the DSO Will Call table at Sunday’s concert.

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