The music world bates its breath this month, with the nail-biting reality show that is the Minnesota Orchestra debacle scheduled to come to some sort of conclusion. Shout out to the ever-entertaining and vital Song of the Lark for revelatory discoveries and for fomenting the proletariat to action. But as a devoted member of the fundraising profession (or at least gainfully employed), I must rise to my colleagues’ defense.
I can only imagine what it’s been like to work in the development department during this lock-out year. And yes, their summer appeal letter is pretty thin reading. But surely the poor shlubs getting the letters out the door want to keep their jobs next year, and for that to happen, more money has to appear from somewhere.
Yes, as SotL tells us, the board and management have been about as responsive to the public as a sequestered jury, but at least in terms of fundraising protocol, a bit of head in the sand is part of best practices. I once worked for an institution during an extremely long, scary, and embarrassing stretch of PR. Believe me, my appeal letters and proposals talked about anything but.
When leadership makes a mess, it’s the working stiffs – administrative or artistic – that get stuck forging a way forward. Fundraising is going to be one of the ways back, led by staffers who get to negotiate the already complicated ballet of donor relations. Unfortunately, there are no “innovative fundraising methods” (as the Lark would prefer) that can raise a significant amount of dollars and is strikingly different than doing what that letter did – appealing to a personal connection with the project and hoping for the best.
Orchestra troubles are frequently in the press, usually cited as emblematic of American’s increasing indifference to classical music. That is certainly a factor. But so often the causes of financial demise come back to poor managerial decisions. Philip Kennicott mentions the effect of misguided lay leaders in his eloquent summary of the troubles of American orchestras in the latest New Republic.
I join the Lark, Alex Ross, and much of the rest of the musical world in dismay and bafflement over the cavalier attitude the Minnesota Orchestra board and management appear to have toward the real risk of smashing one of America’s musical gems. And worst of all, it’s the musicians who will have to suffer through steep compromises to keep the show going on. Finances don’t lie.
In light of the quagmire, the music of the lonesome Finn Sibelius makes for poignant listening. Sibelius, the countryman of the orchestra’s star conductor, Osmo Vänskä, who over ten years turned what could have been another struggling regional orchestra into a close-knit ensemble of international renown. Sibelius, whose spacious music surely must speak to the large number of Minnesotans with Finnish heritage. Sibelius would have felt at home in Minnesota.
It’s time for everyone to strike a note of conciliation – however bitter that feels – and get this great orchestra back on track.
Here’s the complete 6th symphony with Vänskä conducting his orchestra. Begin at 18:33 for the last movement and some signature Sibelius: gestures that take their time appearing, are gone much too soon, and make you miss them the instant they disappear.
(Really, really, sorry about those ads.)