The Art of Complaining About the Arts, Part 2


Last month included a self test to help us think before complaining and consider a more constructive approach rather than complaining for the sake of complaining. This month I wanted to bring forward the merits of a good complaint and where complaints come from in the first place.

There will always be a need to keep some complaints in the general view for all to see. This is how we can try to get change for the positive in the classical music world. While complaining can look negative, healthy complaining and voicing concerns gently forces an important view or point to encourage positive change or understanding.

As of late, most complaints in the classical music world seem to be centered on not only pay cuts and job security, but long term stability and confidence. When a musician accepts work and signs a contract with an organization, there is a sense of promise and security. However when organizations begin to look at severe debts and possible bankruptcy, musicians are often asked repeatedly for pay cuts and give backs. This is where good complaints are necessary.

Complaining about pay cuts and give backs gets tricky as soon as the media gets a hold of it. It is almost predictable what comments will follow a press release about musicians fighting to keep pay or other benefits intact. The comment section of any newspaper story is a breeding ground for hostility and emotional outbursts that actually will hurt a valid complaint.

For the orchestral world, the last thing needed is to look bitter or angry. Unfortunately, an overly emotional comment defending a musician’s position can be construed as whinny and any rational point quickly becomes lost.

So is there a way to get a view, complaint or argument understood while keeping a respectful tone? Yes, but anymore it has become a real marketing campaign for musicians and arts groups. How complaints are voiced is more important than the actual complaint since the manner will set the tone.

An angry complaint will quickly get defensive responses, where a careful and respectful complaint will open more doors. Once the careful and respectful complaint is brought forward, it should still be expected that there may be replies that are not favorable. Here is where it is even more important to have another well thought out and calm response ready. Many times, the action of having a cool and collected reply will earn more respect and actually gain an audience for the valid complaint.

There are many productive and respectful ways to complain. While I have just briefly touched on this, I’d like to hear more ideas and methods and get a general dialog going.

It should be noted that when complaints made the right way aren’t being responded to in kind, it can be expected that nothing good will come from this approach and it only encourages negative complaints in the future.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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1 thought on “The Art of Complaining About the Arts, Part 2”

  1. You’re right, complaining in public is very rarely going to achieve the desired result. When it comes to worsening pay and conditions, as is happening all over the world at the moment, I think it’s really important to have player representatives that have good relations with the board, as they can be instrumental in trying to get new donors to help the bank balance. If the board hate the idea of cutting the pay of their friends, it’s less likely to happen.


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