Why I love the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout.

This sucks.  Let’s just be honest.

But it’s not all doom and gloom around here.  There are things that are actually really wonderful about what’s happening, even though it’s a tough pill to swallow.

To catch us all up in case there are some gaps to fill, here’s a very brief rundown of the situation:

  • The Minnesota Orchestra Musicians are 28 days shy of a full year of lockout: no pay, no benefits, nada.
  • In the meantime, the board is touting their brand new, $50 million Orchestra Hall as a destination space for music.
  • Neither side is talking. There’s a good bit of mudslinging.
  • It looks like the Board wanted the lockout to happen in order to force musicians out and break the union, keeping salary costs down.  // here’s some incredible sleuthing that needs to be read.
  • If an agreement isn’t reached by the 15th of this month, the orchestra’s acclaimed music director will resign and the orchestra’s Carnegie concerts in October will be cancelled.
  • There’s more? Yep.  See the end of this article for more links.

So, now that we are sort of on the same page, here are my thoughts.

This is great.  It’s great for us because it’s become such a galvanizing year.  We’re seeing a huge outpouring of letters (some of which you can read on SOSMN) from people in all walks of life, from Symphony directors, Union officials, school teachers, concerned citizens and the like.

Let every orchestra board take note of what happens when the bottom line becomes more important than the product.  People will be pissed off.  There will be letters, there will be strikes, you’re not going to get off easy, and you will be held accountable by everyone in the musical community.

The fact that the board has so obviously hijacked the orchestra for a quick buck is disgusting and everyone knows it.  I’d be willing to say that the orchestra and its patrons won’t be supporting the symphony until Michael Henson and his gang of thieves has been stricken from any further involvement in orchestra affairs.

If we’re being realistic here, and we’re going to pay world-class musicians a world-class paycheck (that makes sense.. right? I’m not crazy?), you’re going to have to spend a little bit of money to make money on the incredible product.  But, I guess as Henson seems to think, you can just get anyone to become a world-class orchestra (assuming they are even remotely interested in the ‘world-class’ part of that phrase).  What they are also failing to realize is that all over the world, musicians will refuse to take auditions at that orchestra to fill out its depleted ranks.  The Louisville Orchestra is suffering the same fate.  After some terrible negotiations, the Orchestra is putting out announcements for cattle-call auditions in October.  Good luck making that work, when all over the internet musicians are making it known that the treatment of musicians in Louisville was poor enough to merit an ‘audition boycott’, essentially.

All of this to say that, we are standing together against this long, protracted attack against the value of musicians in their own concert halls.  Their incredible artistic output built that hall, not Michael Henson’s cronyism, and everyone knows it.  So, while Michael Henson still collects his $360,283 paycheck and his employees are out on the street fighting for the existence and value of their entire life’s work, the rest of the world will stand by the incredible recordings and concerts of the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, and we will find a way around this.

Like I said, this lockout (and the others like it) are always tough pills to swallow, but it warms my heart to know that there are so many out there who so deeply care about music in this country.  Sure, we may have to make some lemonade when things get bad, but music is an unstoppable juggernaut, especially in this country. Consumption of live music in the country is on the rise, the economy is coming back to life, people still love music.  In the end, we’re going to come out on the other side better than we’ve ever been, and we will be just fine.

Further reading //







  1. Tell me if I’m being dumb and completely misunderstanding, but the way I read that, you said the Louisville Orchestra is currently on strike and looking for replacements? Because that happened last year… (The date on that article is even from 2012.) Not that that makes it any better! It’s still a great object lesson for all the arts administrators out there who don’t yet get that musicians are not just interchangeable parts in a machine. This incident from Louisville was particularly illuminating/embarrassing for the board: http://insiderlouisville.com/news/2011/11/22/we-miss-them-terribly-opera-going-public-siding-with-louisville-orchestra-musicians-in-labor-dispute/

    • Daniel Kozlowski says:

      Oh you’re not dumb! I probably just wrote that poorly. I knew the strike had been over for some time and now they are trying to hire new musicians without much luck. Detroit is having the same issue–finding good musicians to play after scorched-earth contract negotiations is not as easy as management thinks!

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Thanks for your words of encouragement… I think many here are feeling pretty burned, if not burned out by all of this. It helps to have the reminder of why the fight is necessary and important!

  3. I never thought I’d see someone find the positive in this situation, but you are correct. We are seeing an amazing coming together within the community and actively responding to what the MOA Board has done. Thanks for pointing this out and reminding us that what we’re doing is important!

    • Daniel Kozlowski says:

      I guess it’s easy for me to have this perspective since I’m not one of the many musicians in Minneapolis in a limbo of glorified unemployment, but I saw so many damning posts about board members (and I did my fair share of finger-pointing) that I felt really compelled to find something positive to glean from this debacle, even before it’s over.

      I love seeing people get heated, angry, and passionate about this, because it means music still matters!

      Thanks for posting!

  4. A few amplifications to this excellent post. First, it doesn’t seem that the Board wants the renovated hall to be “a destination place for music” – just a destination, period. And seeing that two of the groups who have already hired the Edifice for private events are the Center For the American Experiment (or CAE, basically the local arm of ALEC) and the Univ. of Phoenix for graduation ceremonies (a big player in the for-profit education business), it’s pretty obvious what is going on here. Second, $14 million of state funds – i.e. taxpayer money – went into the Hall, and I’m hoping there can be some sort of nonprofit accountability for that. And third, the “two sides” may not be talking, but the audience and community members are out there screaming!! And blogging . . .

    • Daniel Kozlowski says:

      Absolutely! The transition of the ‘Symphony Hall’ into ‘Multi-use space’ has, I think, diluted the original mission of many orchestra administrations. With pops, jazz, fashion shows, finger painting, dog shows, and whatever else happens in orchestra halls, paying musicians gradually seems like less of a necessity–especially when the ‘cost’ of great musicians gets in the way of the money that could be made by shuffling lots of different groups through the hall during the year.

      It’s wonderful to hear the musical community-at-large build up such a massive tidal wave of energy behind the orchestra. Hopefully we can ride this wave into renewed faith and cooperation between musicians and management in every orchestra.

      Thanks for posting!

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