Too big to fail? Maybe not.

The management of the Detroit Symphony has presented a revised contract proposal in an effort to end the 4-month strike. It’s probably fair to say this is a “final” offer, given the Feb 11 deadline to respond. And if no agreement is reached based on the new proposal? I’m probably not the only one who found that ad during the Super Bowl a little ironic.

You know, this one, which is ostensibly a Chrysler commercial but is really a cheerleading spot for the city that produced both Eminem and the Detroit Symphony. And which of those two symbolizes Detroit’s actual priorities these days? I like the commercial’s reference to “the finer things in life”. Which things, exactly?

If the new proposal does not result in some sort of deal, most likely the rest of the season will be canceled, which would change the whole game. In that case, it would be extremely unlikely that the organization could survive in its current form, and Detroit will have lost yet another shining symbol of its history and civic pride. One musician recently told me they believe that at this point the orchestra simply will not be recognizable anymore as the Detroit Symphony, no matter what happens with the new contract.

Hopefully that’s not the case. I’ll be watching with guarded optimism; at least there’s some kind of dialogue happening. But a failure of this magnitude will have implications for the entire business. As some have suggested, perhaps that’s what the DSO Board and the League have in mind, but that’s for another column.

4 thoughts on “Too big to fail? Maybe not.”

  1. I am of the opinion that the DSO did this to itself. It trusted the union too much and the union thought it was smarter and stronger than it is. It is an embarrassing situation for so many outstanding musicians. Nevertheless, numbers don’t lie. If there isn’t enough money to pay the bills, it’s time to compromise. Sad to say but the DSO isn’t Wall Street – not even close. A Buffett or a Trump or a Gates could solve this in less than five minutes by simply writing a check, but they won’t. There must be a reason.

    • Thanks for your comment. By “DSO”, I assume you mean the DSO management. You bring up some of the main issues, but to be blunt I think this is an extraordinarily complex situation that cannot be reduced to blaming the musicians, the union, the economy, or any other single factor, however tempting that is. I would respectfully suggest that you start with some facts from the DSO musicians at their site Also maybe check out the coverage by Mark Stryker at the Detroit Free Press. There have also been numerous blogs with insightful views on the situation, so I’d encourage you to look there as well.
      I would also pay particular attention to how the DSO management has generally handled the dispute over these four months, and decide if you believe their strategies and public actions have been constructive to the institution or not.

  2. Perhaps I should have stated from the outset that I am a member of the AFM and have been for many years; in fact, since I was a teenager. The typical scenario while contemplating a strike is for the Local to call the National for advice. Both sides (Union and Administration) then start to bluff as best they can. During that process, personally offensive statements are sometimes made. Emotions enter into the picture and critical thinking stops. My point is that all of this dancing around the hard issue of financing could have been avoided. I never saw this as being complicated in the least. The waters got muddied and that’s all. From experience, I know that the Union has one fall-back position only and that is to STRIKE. That’s the position they took here and it was the wrong one. Now, as of 3/1/11, we know that the DSO musicians want to begin playing without a contract while a deal is arbitrated. They could have done that months ago but didn’t – they went along with the Union (supposedly to demonstrate solidarity) though that was a big mistake, an avoidable one. I offered the same opinion from the very beginning (in the Washington Post) but nobody paid attention. After all, I’m just a second violinist. (However, I am not anti-union at all, I’m just realistic.)


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