Thursday, September 9, 2010

The symphony: How democratic should it be? (Phone lines are open)

By Barry Johnson

One of the channelers to the Arts Dispatch post on the Detroit Symphony strike vote is Drew McManus  through his Adaptistraton blog, which linked to our original post yesterday, according to our o-so-advanced analytic system. (Thanks for the link!)

When we clicked through to Adaptistration (which we have bookmarked in any case -- McManus follows issues related to American orchestras closely and writes about them provocatively), McManus said that he didn't have time at the moment to comment on the Detroit case, but he did referred his readers to a previous essay he wrote way back in 2004. It's called "The Money Drug," and it's worth a read because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

"The Money Drug" starts with a study that revealed the unhappy condition and job dissatisfaction of symphony musicians -- compared to almost anyone else.  The study, which was published in 1994, says that "a lack of control in the musician’s workplace, both artistic and not" is "the primary source for this problem," in McManus's words. McManus then hypothesizes that the drive for ever higher salaries by musicians is directly related to the stress and lack of control they feel in their workplace. In other words, happier musicians would demand less financial compensation.

That makes sense as far it goes, I suppose. But I'm interested in the mechanics of "control": how does McManus envision the orchestra with the musicians "in control" (or at least feeling that way)? How democratic a system does he imagine? Because I believe that our ability to operate in democratic systems has been diminished by our lack of practice in them, I'm curious about what exactly McManus has in mind.

But maybe we don't have to wait, dear readers! Is McManus's diagnosis correct? If so, how would you go about fixing the problem? The comment thread is open...

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