Letter from Philip Clampitt, Ph.D.

January 11, 2011

Dear Mr. Frankel and Members of the Board of the DSO:

I am writing with a plea:  I urge you to do all you can, as members of the Board of the DSO, to help end the strike at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and to bring those talented, dedicated, marvelous, world-class DSO musicians back to Orchestra Hall to resume their wonderful performances.

My wife and I have been enthusiastic subscribers to the DSO for many years.  We have been repeatedly thrilled to hear the music of this world-class orchestra, and we don’t want to lose it.  We believe all of you care as much as we do about maintaining the artistic excellence of the DSO.  They are the life-blood of the DSO organization, and without them the DSO is nothing.  Yet the DSO Management refuses to bargain with the DSO musicians in good faith.   This is despite Management’s arguing in the headline of a recent press release (01-07-11):  “DSO Players’ Union Unwilling to Negotiate or Return to Bargaining Table.”  Both parts of this statement are false.  The musicians are willing and eager to return to the bargaining table to resume real, good-faith negotiations.  It has been Management’s inflexible positions that have been the main stumbling block.  Management continues to seek to impose drastic cuts in pay and working conditions they know the musicians will not accept.  The DSO musicians welcomed the Levin-Granholm compromise proposal (12-16-10) as a framework for reaching an agreement, and ending the strike, even though it would involve further cuts in salary for them.  Management, aided by those of you on the DSO Board’s Executive Committee, rejected that proposal.  We tried during the fall of 2010 to influence the DSO Management to become more flexible, but without success.  We have tried to say to them that if we lose these wonderful musicians, the DSO will lose us as subscribers.  We ask them, is this any way to run a business?  We suggest to them that you don’t improve a business by offering an inferior product.  But the DSO Management is apparently not interested in our views.

Ultimately, you as members of the DSO Board of Directors are accountable for the future of the DSO as a non-profit organization.  You are responsible for whether or not the DSO lives or dies.  I’m sure you take this responsibility very seriously.  Why, then, did we read (what was to us) disturbing news in the “Open Letter to the Communities of Metro Detroit” signed by members of the DSO Executive Committee (12-9-10).  On the one hand, lip service is given in the Letter to the great love DSO Board and Management have for the traditions, character, music and musicians (“especially the music and the musicians”) of the DSO.  On the other, the DSO Board “unanimously” supports Anne Parsons and her Management team’s leadership in their negotiations – or lack of negotiations – with the DSO musicians.  A former member of the Board of the DSO who cares deeply about classical music and the DSO and considers the DSO musicians as “family,” and who has been a long-term subscriber and generous donor for many years to the DSO, was snubbed by you, Mr. Frankel (from reports we’ve heard), when she wished to make a statement at the DSO Annual Meeting (of 12-9-10), and was only allowed to make her very moving, passionate statement after the meeting had been officially adjourned and you and Ms. Parsons had left the room.  Is this any way to treat a long-term subscriber and donor to the DSO?  We do not think so.

My wife and I, and many others in the Detroit Metro community (see, for example, the website www.saveoursymphony.org) have come to the very sad, but firm, conclusion that the DSO Management has utterly failed in its two main functions – raising sufficient funds to support our world-class DSO (for example, why did they allow the DSO donor base to plummet from 25,000 to 5,000 in about a dozen years?) and selling enough tickets to DSO concerts at Orchestra Hall to fill that acoustically marvelous facility (how can any tickets be sold if there are no DSO concerts to attend?).  If they had negotiated in good faith, the now more than 14-week long strike could have been avoided; at worst, it could have been settled early in the fall.  Management’s attitude toward the musicians has been demeaning and punitive, rather than collaborative as it would be in any well-managed organization.  Many of us wonder which members of the Board, if any, would hire and assign any significant responsibility within their own companies to the current management team?  We believe that there is now just cause for a “clean sweep” of senior DSO Management personnel.  If they cannot successfully negotiate a contract agreement with the DSO musicians, it’s time to dismiss them and to bring in a team who can.  The DSO Board of which you are members is charged, as your fiduciary responsibility to the DSO and the public, with bringing in that new team.

The musicians, for their part, have shown great flexibility in their willingness to take a 22% reduction this year in salary and benefits (right now they are living on strike pay), and readily agreed to a framework for compromise – and further cuts – suggested in the Levin-Granholm proposal.  A group of prominent Michigan citizens also welcomed the Levin-Granholm proposal.  Why has the DSO Board rejected this proposal (as implied, if not explicitly expressed, in a statement by you, Mr. Frankel, 12-16-10), practically guaranteeing that the musicians’ strike will continue for weeks, if not for the entire 2010-2011 season?  And why, if it was so important to settle this strike as soon as possible, did the President and CEO of the DSO (Ms. Parsons) choose to take a recent two-week vacation to Europe?  Does she really care about ending this long and bitter strike?  Her actions suggest otherwise.

What am I asking you to do?  I am asking you to take time out from your busy schedules to use whatever influence you have with your fellow DSO Board members to acknowledge you’ve made a serious mistake and to reverse course.  I am asking the DSO Board to fire the senior DSO Management team, and to bring in a new team who can settle this long and increasingly bitter strike.  I want you to help bring back these wonderful DSO musicians to Orchestra Hall, so that our community can again be inspired by their marvelous music-making in that acoustically superb concert hall.  I see this as your responsibility as DSO Board members, to the musicians of the DSO, to us who are subscribers, to the city of Detroit, to the broader cultural community, and to the state of Michigan.  We cannot afford NOT to keep in Detroit the world-class gem of an orchestra that the DSO has become over many decades.  We cannot afford to have it replaced with the second-class orchestra the current DSO Management envisions.

I recommend that you visit the DSO Musicians’ website at detroitsymphonymusicians.org to learn more from their perspective.  I believe it is your duty, as conscientious DSO Board members, to know what the musicians are thinking and saying, and not to depend entirely on the current DSO Management (or any future DSO Management) for all your information.

I very much appreciate the attention you have given to this long and passionate plea.  If any of you wish to contact me further, please feel free to do so.  I would be honored.


Philip T. Clampitt, Ph.D. Auburn Hills


Comments: 2

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  • James A. Waring

    Dear Mr.Clampitt,

    Thank you deeply for your letter of truth about our DSO and the scandal perpetrated on the musucians by the management, headed by Ms. Ann Parsons.
    You are a significant voice of all the DSO loving people who care passionatly anout our great orchestra.
    The musicians have paid dearly with their minds, souls, and pockets… now lets get back to work making fabulous music at Orchestra Hall.

    Thank you, James A Waring

  • Richard DeLisle

    Mr. (Dr.) Clampitt articulates quite welll the sentiments of many of the subscribers and supporters of the Musicians and the heritage which they represent. DSO, Inc. is experiencing a crisis in governance which the Executive Board appears either unable or unwilling to recognize or address. Your predecessor expended considerable effort to idenitfy and and induce Ms. Parsons to assume her current position in 2004. It is more than time to recognize that what may have seemed good judgement at the time has not ultimately proved to be the case. This is a business matter not a popularity contest. Neither Mr. Nicholson nor you would accept such discord and inadequate performance within your respective business operations. It is simply poor governance to sanction activities which undermine your business plan and bottom line. The unexpected discharge of the AMD CEO yesterday by its Board of Directors is but one example (and its CEO was well respected in the industry). We ask only that you fulfill your obligation as one of the principal stewards of this 501c3 for which you have fiduciary responsibility.

    Richard L. DeLisle – 40 year Saturday A series Subscriber to and supporter/contributer to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Musicians

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