An Open Letter from SOS

An Open Letter to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors, the Detroit Business and Political Communities and the Concerned Citizens of Metropolitan Detroit

Are we really willing to lose the Detroit Symphony Orchestra? Since 1887 the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has been the pride of metropolitan Detroit and the people of the State of Michigan. It is one of the oldest orchestras in the United States and has earned an enviable reputation for artistic excellence on the world stage. However, as a result of the current labor dispute:

This legacy is in great jeopardy!

Accordingly, we are pleased to announce the formation of Save Our Symphony, Inc., an independent advocacy group, to represent the DSO’s many concerned constituencies: patrons, donors, subscribers, audience members, educators, and local businesses. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is more than a group of highly skilled musicians. They are educators and community leaders; our neighbors, friends and family; our customers and patrons; our public image, and our pride. They are symbols of this great city and ambassadors to the world.

These voices must be preserved!

Save Our Symphony’s mission is to promote and support the world-class artistic excellence and stature of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. To this end we must:

Hold DSO management and its Board of Directors accountable!

As fiduciaries of the public trust known as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra they are responsible for preserving and protecting this priceless resource.

Save Our Symphony

Disputes the DSO management’s claim that this orchestra cannot survive as presently constituted. We disagree with management that the current state of the DSO is primarily caused by an onerous labor contract coupled with current market and economic conditions.

Sees that, in truth, the reason for the dismal operational and financial position of the DSO is management’s failure to perform its principal responsibilities effectively, i.e. sell tickets and raise money. To mask their failure they have characterized the current crisis as a “musicians’ pay dispute”, forcing a strike in preparation for a fundamental downgrading of the essential nature and quality of the institution. Disagrees with management that the answer to the current crisis lies in changing the essential character of the orchestra by reducing the number of musicians and number of performances, demanding radical changes in work rules and draconian cuts in compensation. These measures would fatally impact the world class stature of the organization, and, at the end of the day, leave Detroit with a stripped-down, broken institution.

Wonders which members of the board, if any, would hire and assign any significant responsibility within their own companies to the current management team? Believes there is just cause here for the “clean sweep” solution. Current leadership has shown itself to be incapable of timely crisis resolution and should be replaced.

Fears that inaction by the board at this time will produce a result that is not only detrimental to the economic, business and cultural redevelopment of the region, but is completely unthinkable to all those who are counting on the musicians’ early return to the stage of Orchestra Hall and who care so passionately about the continuing excellence of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Please join us and lend your voice to Save Our Symphony.

Respectfully,

The Board of Directors and Members of Save Our Symphony Inc.


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13 Responses to An Open Letter from SOS

  1. Woodrow Smith says:

    Great Letter

  2. Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  3. Tim Gilson says:

    Being only an occasional visitor to the DSO in the past – I have to ask if the big new facility and debt service associated with it were really the best use of money. I guess good product required a world class facility (it is beautful) but much like municpalities that spend away on buildings while under budget crunches – it makes me wonder about management of funds.

    I wish the best for a speedy resolution acceptable to all parties – so that the musicisians can get back to what they do best : play….and so that the residents of Michigan can get back to enjoying the music!

  4. Mike Bielski says:

    It is unfortunate that in this situation the musicians, who are the reason for management’s existence, have no recourse against poor performance of the board and president. Were a musician to perform their job responsibilities this poorly they would be fired immediately.

    Should this dispute be resolved with the current management team intact, what are the chances of having a positive, productive relationship between musicians and management that will surely be needed to rebuild donor rolls and the endowment? My family has donated to the musicians during the strike. I will never donate to the DSO, regardless of the resolution of the strike, as long as the current management team and executive board are in place.

    It is unconscionable that management says the problems are the result of the musicians doing anything. The musicians play concerts. Everything else is the responsibility of the management. That is THEIR job, not the musicians, and even during the strike, they continue to profit personally from the musicians’ product. It is also unconscionable that the media refuses to present these facts.

    If Anne Parsons is competent, I publicly dare her to stand up and say why.

  5. Jim says:

    BRAVO to SOS!!! This states the case precisely – fiduciary accountability.

    One thought about the Levin/Granholm proposal:
    The Board rejects the proposal because of a $2 million difference. It they were to cut Ann Parson’s salary by 50%, they would have 10% of this. It may be that several other administrators also have large enough salaries that similar amount could be gained.

    This gets us down to a $1.6 million difference. The executive board members can easily make this up with the windfall they gain from the extension of the income tax cuts just passed. By donating this money to make up the difference and restart concerts, this money would have a huge stimulus on the economy of the Detroit region. Besides directly employing the musicians and other non-executive employees of the DSO, there would be a large multiplier because they will buy groceries, drive their cars to work etc. and patrons will come to concerts, have dinners in restaurants, etc. This would multiply each dollar by something similar to that of extending unemployment insurance estimated to be $1.64 for each dollar – the equivalent of adding $3.28 million to our economy. This is compared to the $0.29 stimulus of the tax cut itself. Furthermore, because the DSO is non-profit, the donations would cost them less than the amount donated because of the additional tax deductions.

    Are they really “leaders” of the Detroit economy?

  6. Dr. David B Denniston says:

    Please allow me to express a few points which I feel ought to be self evident by now:

    1. Management agreed to the last contract.

    2. The musicians have done their job – maintained a level of artistry that has ensured the legacy of the DSO and preserved this institution’s reputation as a world class orchestra.

    3. The orchestra’s financial problems did NOT begin this fall and can not be entirely blamed on the recession.

    Having said that, let me ask: What corporation, having operated at a deficit over a period of several years, would think it prudent to fire all of it’s rank and file employees or cease operations in order to ensure it’s continued financial viability? Did I say fire? Yes. The board might just as well have fired or laid off the musicians because their draconian approach to negotiation and arbitration (with an impending deadline no less) virtually guaranteed that a work stoppage would occur. A responsible corporation when faced with such poor performance (fiscally) would fire its CEO (eventually). This sad chapter in DSO history (a history of 120+ years) reminds me somewhat of Roger Smith’s tenure at GM. He had vision, a dynamic leadership style, and an ambitious agenda for reshaping GM. Yet he ran it into the ground. Why? His burning desire to reshape GM into an autonomous entity of his own creation was coupled with a reckless lack of appreciation for the culture and the bureaucratic structure of the corporation, as well as a lack of understanding of the customers who are truly the life blood of any great corporation (i.e. putting Chevy engines in Oldsmobiles, consolidating divisions etc.). You all know how the story ends. Did he create all of the problems? No. GM was in trouble before he took the helm. But his approach – his solutions and his vision for GM – did not tackle the root causes of the problems. Indeed it exacerbated the problems. I believe the same could be said of the management of the DSO. After watching the negotiations from the sidelines since November, I have to wonder if the board of the DSO really believe that we (the public) think that they (the board) are the true heart and soul of the DSO. I can not imagine that any of them could be so arrogant. Rather, I assume that most of them are well intended and dedicated to the success of the orchestra. Sadly their stewardship has not been fruitful. Perhaps they need to be reminded that at the end of the day, it is the music and the musicians we come to Orchestra Hall to experience. Ultimately, people come to the DSO because they desire the inspiration that is born of true artistry. As far as I am concerned, it is they (the board) who have denied me that joy and that inspiration – not the musicians. They have run this organization into the ground. Yes, the recession was catastrophic BUT in my opinion the problems begin as far back as the deals that were made for the construction of the Max. It is time for the board to either: 1. Take a step back and gain some fresh perspective on the culture and history of this organization and hopefully realize that their true treasure is NOT their endowment but the artists (musicians) of this great institution. OR 2. Resign and allow fresh talent an opportunity to try a new approach – one that might involve cooperation and collaboration, and also respect for the tradition and culture of the symphony orchestra. Whatever they decide to do, I hope they do it for the sake of the orchestra – to ensure its viability. Thus far their approach has come at great expense to one of the world’s great orchestras and also to the community it serves.

  7. Helen Near says:

    Bravo! Everyone in the organization known as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has their job to do to keep things operating smoothly. The Musicians of the DSO have never delivered less than the highest quality performances wherever they perform. Clearly management cannot make the same claim regarding their fiduciary responsibilities, fund raising and ticket sales. It’s time for a change–a change in management. Let’s fix what is actually broken in the organization–the DSO needs leadership in the front office that actually cares about the state of culture in Detroit (and the nation) and has the ability to make sensible fiscal decisions.

  8. Patricia Mitchell says:

    Great letter!

  9. Meredith says:

    Keep up the good work folks! We are all behind you.

  10. Yana Staples says:

    THANK YOU!!!!
    “As fiduciaries of the public trust known as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra they are responsible for preserving and protecting this priceless resource.”
    …..and not to use/abuse this public resource as their own personal plaything!

  11. Ann Strubler says:

    Thank you, thank you for your excellent letter! Please feel 1000% support from all of us. We collectively continue to work tirelessly towards a resolution, and you have provided much clarity and honesty.
    Sincerely,
    Ann Strubler,
    ..very recently retired member of our Detroit Symphony Musicians

  12. Jack says:

    Clean sweep is exactly what’s needed. It has been shown as a positive instrument in solving otherwise “unsolvable” crisis in industry, not profits and government. Those who manage and made mistakes should not escape this via accusations of those who simply want to perform.

  13. David says:

    Excellent letter guys! Keep up the good work, we need to get the musicians back on the stage where they belong!

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