Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How You Can Help Right Now

Dear ASOC Members and Friends:

When the Chief Operating Officer of our parent institution, Virginia Hepner, says -- publicly, on the air --that: "It's up to anyone to decide what's world class and what an orchestra should be." it is apparent to me that she has never heard us, never read a review, never bought a CD, or talked to another living soul about the ASO and ASOC.  

I'm appealing to chorus members -- especially new members -- to get involved with what is going on, and do what you can do to help inform your family, your friends, your professional colleagues about the crisis facing our orchestra and, by extension, the chorus. I don't care what anyone in management is saying,

ASOC Supports ATL Symphony Musicians

ASOC’s history as, arguably, one of the finest symphony choruses on the planet is the story of a partnership. Over the years, we singers have committed our talents, hearts, and a sizable chunk of our existence to this organization. And if we believe what we are constantly told -- that we are an important member of this ‘family’ -- we can no longer be

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dr. Romanstein Says Good-bye ...

The man with two mandates -- close the deficit, and fill the seats -- is gone. I remember talking to the symphony players on the search committee, who had, once upon a time, found him credible.

So how does a man of his moderately distinguished background, who was, by all accounts, eager to work with one of the nation's top orchestras, decide to put away his pride to become WAC's whipping boy?  Why did he elect to go down in history as a featured player in WAC's destructive move against Atlanta's symphony players: two years, two lockouts.  When did he decide that misrepresentation was the best way to negotiate with musicians fighting for their livelihoods, making him largely responsible for a massive generation of ill-will among all parties?

The bonuses paid to Dr. Romanstein are one answer, but I diubt that money can compensate for the deliberate choices he made, in the name of his masters, which permanently stigmatize him as a man who betrayed his orchestra for money.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

NPR: "Magnificat"

At the conclusion of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday report on the ASO lockout, the choral piece they aired was  J.S. Bach's "Magnificat"  by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Robert Shaw. Shaw used to quote the first few lines every year during our "Christmas with Robert Shaw" concerts.

Note that the Magnificat expresses a strong judgment upon the proud, the powerful, and the wealthy who have lost track of what is important in life.
Bach knew that; Shaw did, too.

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, this music is DIRECTLY APPLICABLE to the current American economic/cultural crisis of wealth and income disparity, and to this lockout of musicians by the ASO/WAC boards and management.

Here's the text from the Lutheran Service Book (2006):

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior;
For He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.
For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things to me, and holy is His name;
And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Road Map

Thank God I didn’t have to write another 6-page article. Fortunately, everything that needs to be done now, has been done before, by actual experts. Example:

[Please note that this publicly-available information is provided for illustrative purposes only and not as an endorsement of Aperio (http://www.aperio.ca/) or any other firm.]

No new trails need to be blazed, although some out-of-the-box thinking will be required to tailor a generic protocol for our specific case. But the timing for spinoff of the ASO into an independent non-profit meets at least two principal criteria for this type of divestiture: (1) the parties have come to an impasse where continued status quo coexistence will be detrimental to both; and (2) the potential spinoff “child” cannot mature further within the existing organization, due to lack of dedicated focus on the child’s mission and lack of transparency regarding its management and finances.

Surely the WAC’s founders did not intend for its component institutions to achieve a certain level of accomplishment and then indefinitely maintain that status quo. As we all know, if you are not moving forward – continuously improving and setting higher goals – you stagnate. Moving forward requires concentrated effort and money, and the WAC can no longer supply the necessary forward impetus for three separate art forms. But if the parent enables the “problem child” to leave home, I can envision the day when the High has expanded to cover the entire current campus (perhaps a Hadid building to integrate and complete the Meier and Piano structures?); when the Alliance has built out over the MARTA Arts Center station (despite the beauty of the current station, it occupies highly-desirable air space that would be far cheaper to build out for theater than for music performance); and when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has – well, a new hall. But one step at a time.

Conceptually, the process is simple. A leadership group fully vested in the future mission* of the ASO coalesces; the interested parties come to the table to agree in principle on a course of action; they retain objective professional guidance to facilitate the spinoff process; and then their functionaries begin working through the minutiae with an established timeline. Egos are checked at the door because it’s in everyone’s interests to manage the process to a win-win outcome. Rather than closing the salient in a bloodbath, the encircled troops can exit, only slightly bruised, to campaign on another front.

Meanwhile the sins of the past need to be absolved and laid to rest. The WAC’s decisions regarding budget allocation and endowment management have exacerbated the tenuous financial situation of its ASO component – but now it’s time to move on. Training all the sights on arcane details of forensic accounting is a waste of time and energy. Leave the specialists the task to follow the money and investigate, as many questions do require answers for the purposes of lessons learned documentation. But let them do that on their own time – not on the time of the locked-out musicians, who will shortly be losing their healthcare benefits and dipping into retirement savings to pay mortgages and other routine expenses. Time is of the essence, not only for them, but because a protracted lockout combined with a tedious mediation process will produce a level of negative PR surrounding the arts that this city can’t stand. Work needs to resume under a “play-and-talk” scenario, guaranteed by ongoing restructuring negotiations.

We have many assets in this initiative. We have world-class musicians who are willing to get back on stage and give their all to put their case for excellence directly before the community. We have a music director who speaks on behalf of the cause with both passion and intellect, in words that resonate at a national and international level. We have a volunteer ethos in this city second to none. We have the money – it’s out there. We have leaders that are emerging from the community as well as from the shadow of the WAC who can leverage their financial and experiential resources to form the core of a new organization. And we have a mission*.

We have the ingredients, the recipe exists. Rise up, Atlanta, and make it so.

*(e.g., “to enable the continued development of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra into a world-class institution, internationally recognized for artistic, educational, and administrative excellence”)

Friday, September 26, 2014

ASO: A Public-Relations Black Hole

I posted a status on Facebook yesterday asking why there was so little outrage about the lock-out from the citizens of Atlanta.  I compared the apparent apathy we are seeing now to the headline-grabbing announcement about the Braves moving to Cobb County, when everyone and their sister had an opinion about the news.  I have since gotten lots of comments that echo my questions.  

But one friend, partly in jest and partly serious, intimated that “regular folks” aren't emotionally invested in the symphony.  He said, “It's that high-brow, elitist classical music. Can't drink beer and eat a hot dog at a symphony show.”

This comment had me stewing all day, because, I had to admit, there is some truth in his assertion.  I regularly encounter people who don’t even know that we have a symphony orchestra, much less that we have one of world-class caliber.  If people do know something about the ASO, they often express the feeling that it has little to interest them because they 'know nothing about classical music'.  When I tell them that the ASO has won over twice as many Grammy's as Elvis and the Beatles combined, they are amazed that they have never heard this fact. 

Everywhere in our city, those of us who are working to Save Our Symphony are seeing evidence of the public relations 'black hole' which surrounds the ASO.  One professional musician friend, whose music-loving mother lives in Atlanta, reported that his mother wasn't even aware of the lock-out.  How many thousands/millions of other Atlantans have no idea about what is going on?

The orchestra musicians are not to blame for Atlanta’s lack of knowledge about what they do and why they are important.  I don’t know why the local media is so silent about the lockout, but I did discover that the ASO lists the following media sponsors on their website:  The Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper; both Georgia Public Broadcasting and WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station; B 98.5 and WSB radio; and WSB-TV Action News.  Perhaps these media groups have conflicts of interests and don’t want to make waves, but in their absence in covering this important issue, it is up to us to keep the news in the public eye.  

The best way we can convince citizens that they should care is to point out how the ASO contributes to the quality of life in Atlanta.  I suggest that we all take a look at a detailed list of facts and figures about the ASO musicians.  Once complete, this can be made into a document of speaking points, which we can post on social media, send to the media, and hand out to everyone we know. 

I have started the list here, and ask others to contribute to the list through the comment section.  As details are added, I’ll combine them into a single document and we can get other ASO and ASOC members to edit the list until it provides a clear picture of the ASO's involvement, relevance, and importance to the people of the city of Atlanta.
If you have definitive answers to the questions posed below, please respond.  Let’s let Atlanta know the cultural jewel they have right here.  Unfortunately, it's one of the best kept secrets of the city.

A Year in the Life of the ASO

  • Classical concerts (How many in a year? What big name stars in recent years?)
  • Pops concerts with such stars as Steven Spielberg and John Williams (How many, and with what other stars in recent years?)
  • Holiday concerts with ASOCC, ASOC, Gospel Christmas – any others?
  • MLK Celebration Concert (Important details?)
  • Family concerts, both by the ASO and ASYO (How many in a year?  We should also share info about the Halloween concerts with orchestra members in fantastic costumes)
  • Concerts for Young People, separate programs for grades PK-2, 3-8, and 6-12 (How many in a year? How many children reached?)
  • Outreach programs in local schools (How many musicians take part?  How many hours of service in how many schools?)
  • Outreach programs in libraries and community centers ((How many musicians take part?  How many hours of service in how many locations?)
  • Outreach concerts in cities beyond Atlanta (How many and to which cities?)
  • Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra coaching sessions/side by side concerts (How many service hours per year?)
  • Talent Development Program lessons and coaching sessions (How many service hours per year?)
  • Chastain Concerts
  • Verizon Amphitheater Concerts
  • Free Parks Concerts

This list is based on what I can recall from the days when I worked for the ASO Education Department.  I realize that the cuts two years ago may have had a negative impact on some of these programs, and there are probably new programs that I don’t know about.  

If you feel this effort is worth fleshing out and you have details to share about the day-to-day activities of the orchestra members, please share your insights.  This is a real exercise in proving to Atlanta, as well as to ourselves, the depth and commitment the ASO musicians have always had to the city of Atlanta.

Brenda Pruitt
ASOC #304

Thursday, September 25, 2014

'ASO Lockout is Enforced Silence'

Here's an article from Alan Fletcher at the Huffington Post: