Letter from Melissa McBrien, MD


Dear Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Board of Trustees,

I am writing to you as a long term patron, donor, and friend of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I  attended DSO performances as a child at Ford Auditorium and witnessed the renaissance of Orchestra Hall as a young adult. After completing my medical training in Chicago, I returned to Detroit with my husband, and we have been subscribers ever since and donors for the last several years. Our daughters grew up hearing the DSO both at Childrens’ concerts and regular DSO performances. Given my long relationship with the DSO I am appalled and disappointed by the current state of affairs regarding the musicians.
I have chosen to put the word “musicians” in bold type here for a particular reason. I note that Ms. Parsons and her management team have taken to referring to them as “players”. As intelligent and well-educated individuals, I think you all understand that words have power. The power of this particular choice is to devalue and denigrate the musicians’ roles and accomplishments.  This is emblematic of an antiquated construct that views musicians as servants, rather than professionals. It is the equivalent of describing a surgeon as an operator, a physician as a prescription writer, an attorney as a talker or a writer, and an accountant as an adder or subtractor. The musicians at the DSO are highly trained and practiced individuals who, as such, are professionals, not tradesmen.
As such, I think that they deserve better treatment from the management of the DSO then they are currently receiving. I believe that the Board of Trustees also deserves a clearer picture of what is being done to an invaluable institution in an already depressed and struggling city. In her October 6 press conference, Ms. Parsons refers to the many consultants who sounded the alarm over the DSO’s financial status. As an individual with a background in finance and experience in orchestra management, was this truly a surprise to her and her team? Did they have no idea that this was an issue when they brokered Maestro Slatkin’s huge contract? Is it possible that she and her team were unaware that receipts were falling and the donor base was shrinking? Rather than bring in consultant after consultant, would it not have made more sense to have a coherent fund-raising and market-growing strategy, rather than four development officers in under five years? I have attended a number of the musicians’ performances at venues throughout the Detroit area, and it is clear that they have a substantial base of support which is not being tapped by individuals who do not understand the Detroit metro area market. Precious ad campaigns such as “How do you DSO?” are not nearly as effective a tool for growth as performances at Meadowbrook or Greenfield Village, where families can be introduced to the DSO in a less formal environment. These opportunities have been lost or underused in the current management’s tenure.
I would ask the Board to look past Ms. Parson’s condescending attitude toward the musicians and see the sacrifices that they have clearly indicated that they are willing to make. This is not just about money. This is about the preservation of an extraordinary orchestral ensemble that is truly more than the sum of its’ parts. The musicians and the Detroit community need you to consider the reality of the destruction of the DSO, not the fantasy of Bruce Coppock’s 2019 press release! The idea that an institution can foster excellence while being flung here and there to play at the whims of management is absurd on its face.
The current positions of the musicians and management are not that far apart. Please move  past the hard line that Ms. Parsons and her team are standing on, and preserve this institution as a beacon of excellence for future generations.
With best regards,
Melissa McBrien, MD
Vice Chief, Department of Otolaryngology
William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan
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