Letter from Laura Ross


My entire life I have been proud to tell people I grew up in Michigan because I was blessed to be able to take advantage of an incredible variety of musical opportunities. One of those was the opportunity to study with a wonderful and beloved teacher, Emily Mutter Austin, who was a member of the Detroit Symphony, and that the DSO’s performances gave me some of the great experiences of my life.

Much as I’d love to chastise you all I will, instead, ask that you to urge your negotiators to bargain in good faith with the musicians; that’s all they’ve ever asked for. If they do not, you should remove them and replace them.

Your only proposal to the DSO musicians moved nowhere but down – that’s not negotiating. When things didn’t go the way you wanted, you made threats and imposed an even worse contract on the musicians, giving them no choice but to go on strike. You could have averted the strike by bargaining honestly, talking to the musicians instead of dictating, and trying to reach some sort of middle ground.

Then you refused to even consider the Governor’s and Senator’s plan. Finally, weeks later, you changed your mind while, at the same time, Anne Parsons tried to lay blame on the musicians.

There’s no disputing, you look bad, so do yourselves a favor and find a way to work with the musicians of the DSO. The Detroit Symphony is a public trust and I’m sorry to say you haven’t been very good trustees.  You now have the chance to turn that around by insisting your negotiators bargain honestly and be willing to make concessions, as the musicians will.

You must also look to your staff and begin looking hard at their actions.

In my orchestra, the Nashville Symphony, the first thing our President/CEO and Music Director did was announce that, if musicians were expected to accept wage cuts, their cuts would double the amount of salary and benefit cuts of the musicians and staff. They led by example.

I’m sorry to say Ms. Parsons has not. Why would musicians accept massive cuts when the folks at the top who can most afford to set the example, refuse to do so (and moving money from one category to another but still totaling a more than $400,000 salary doesn’t even come close.) Additionally, your engagement of Bruce Coppock and his misguided ideas is not the direction you should be looking for help and inspiration. Rather you should be looking to some of the successful leaders of your past – Deborah Borda and Mark Volpe – who went on to great success in their current positions. They, like many other successful orchestras these days, recognized that depending upon a small pool of donors is a hazard. You must expand your base and look for the $10 and $25 donors as well. It’s been amazing to see how the pool and donor amounts have increased over time.

The DSO is a treasure and should always be treated as such. Even after a deal is struck there will be a long road to recovery. The musicians have lost respect for you and for the staff following some of the actions you have taken these past few months – cutting off their insurance even when they were willing to pay for it, imposing that horrible contract, and the inclusion of some of your proposals that undermine industry standards like tenure and job description, to name a few. You also have a hard road ahead to rebuild your credibility with the public, who no doubt feel quite betrayed by your actions these past 3 months. There are many more donors out there who have been ignored or dismissed in such a way that you will have to work to gain their trust again. I believe it will also require some changes in your leadership if you have any plans to heal what has come so close to destruction.

I call on those of you who truly love this orchestra to work toward a settlement and to heal the bitterness your actions have caused. Make me proud again to point to the orchestra that trained me to become a professional symphonic musician.

I’m counting on you to do the right and responsible thing.

Laura Ross

Nashville Symphony violinist and former resident of Royal Oak, MI

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