Letter from Shelley Rouse-Freitag
Dear DSO Board and Executive Director Parsons,
Finally, something elicited a response from management, although I am very disappointed that you made the very same caustic and stone throwing statement that you have accused the musicians of doing. (re: A Message to Subscribers, Donors, Sponsors, Attendees, Students, Parents and Educators, sent 1/12/11) The tactics that you have thus displayed have been truly shameful up to this point. I hope that both sides will tone down the rhetoric and work together.
I am writing to voice my extreme frustration with the strike situation. I have thus far kept my voice silent, in hopes that there was going to be action taken, but this has gone too far. I think there is much more than money at stake here. You, the board and executive director have laid your positions and careers on the line to ‘transform’ the orchestra. What needs to be ‘transformed’ is the structure of your administrative organization. I have talked with people that have worked in your offices, and the reports have been that there is a severe lack of morale, disorganization, and a stream of hired and fired workers. This cannot lead to a successful organization, nor is the solution to turn your musicians into office assistants. That is disrespectful, and not an effective use of their talents.
I was once a subscriber, but four or five years ago, became disenchanted with the programming and found the presentation of subscription information to be confusing and limiting. I decided to instead buy individual tickets for the occasional program that was just one of the standard warhorses. I just now confirmed that this was about the same time as Ms. Parsons took over the reins, but I had not paid attention at the time. Interesting.
Here are a few aspects that concern me in these negotiations that never seem to be mentioned:
Musicians spend hours practicing and honing their art. Ms. Parsons, as a musician, it is shameful that you of all people would not convey this fact to the board when discussing their ‘limited’ work hours. These hours must be factored in when discussing salaries. The musicians work at least a 40 hour week, and weekends and evenings are included. These are professionals, not manual laborers. The musicians need time to practice, study scores, and take care of themselves, or they end up with injuries, which is also very expensive to the orchestra.
If it is true that you are trying to remove tenure, it is understandable that the orchestra would not be able to accept your proposal, regardless of the money involved. There is a process to remove musicians that are not performing up to expectations, and if management were to effectively do their jobs and not just want an easy way out, this could be implemented and tenure could still work. With the revolving door in management/administration, it’s understandable that the musicians would not even consider another approach since the appearance is that people are fired at a whim. Music is not black and white. There are just too many differing tastes and opinions involved for one person to be able to pick and choose who stays and goes without due process.
Please do not try to build Rome in a day, because you are destroying the amazing group that is the Musicians of the Detroit Symphony. Gutting the very thing that makes this group special is not going to create a renaissance, but a shallow shell of what we once had. Instead, reinvent your management style to support these musicians and work together to build a successful and energetic ensemble that wants to share their talents together before it’s too late. I do hope that negotiations and a prompt resolution are soon to come.