It’s that time of year, when good little boys and girls eagerly await the next installment from Middle Earth. I can’t wait for 25 years from now when at Christmas time I will take my grandkids to see Peter Jackson’s 29th installment from Tolkien’s universe – The Children of Hurin: Revenge of Mȋm. If you don’t get the reference don’t worry about it. That story also involves a dragon, and a desolation….
Astounding, once you think of it, how much in common the Minnesota Orchestra lockout and The Hobbit have in common:
Erebor = Minnesota?
Dwarves driven from the Lonely Mountain = Musicians locked out of Orchestra Hall?
The Company of Thorin Oakenshield = The Musician’s Negotiation Committee?
Arne Carlson = Beorn?
SOSMN = The hardy people of Dale?
Henson/Davis/Campbell, AKA HeDaCam = Smaug?
Ok, one could obviously get a little carried away with this analogy. None-the-less, at one vital point the comparison is spot on: Smaug, like his predecessors Glaurung and Ancalagon the Black, and his contemporary HeDaCam, is a self-centered narcissist. Confronted by our hero, Bilbo, Smaug cannot even begin to entertain the possibility that what he has done – the destruction of the great Dwarf kingdom of Erebor, etc. – could in any way be morally wrong. How could it? He is just fine.
That, in essence, is the message from the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s Annual Meeting of yesterday. The message is the exact same one that Smaug himself would have released through his PR department – “I’m fine, so obviously everything around me is fine. The fact that there is no actual life in this desolation is completely irrelevant, and (this is important) Not My Fault!”
At this point the Gandalfian level of reprobation flung at the M.O Triumvirate of Henson/Davis/Campbell should have given the rest of the Board at least a little pause. Despite the self-aggrandizing trumpeting of their PR drivel the rest of (Middle-)Earth has united in disdain for the current Board “strategy.” Former Music Directors, conductors, soloists, writers, composers, other business execs, politicians (good God, people, even the politicians!), community groups, and just about everyone else have turned their backs on HeDaCam and the desolation that has been wrought. But like Smaug, HeDaCam is a narcissist, and will go to his death proclaiming that “the business model is broken,” AKA “I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I am King under the Mountain!”
Unfortunately for these great worms their greatest strength, their narcissism, is also their greatest weakness. Bilbo notices the bare patch in Smaug’s mighty armor which via a convoluted route is used by Bard to destroy the great worm. HeDaCam can flail about and trumpet all he wants but in the end he cannot make music! And it is the music that the rest of Minnesota/Erebor will follow.
Far over the frozen lakes so cold
through snowdrifts deep and windchill bold
We must away, at end of day
To hear musicians play their Gold!
Enough. I’m going to get sued by the Tolkien estate, and with good reason.
One last thing – this has been bothering me for some months now. The question remains – why did the Board embark on this trail of tears? Who in their right minds would do this? It occurs to me that they simply do not know how hard it is to play in a really great orchestra. To overuse another sports analogy, I’ve sat really close to the plate when a Cy Young winner is on his game. I know that with some of my colleagues it is fashionable to heap disdain on the money showered on professional sports in this country. And yes, I agree, it frequently is taken to utterly ridiculous levels.
That having been said, in my book anyone who can consistently swing a piece of wood at that damn little white ball coming at them at 95 MPH with all the action of some devilish split-fingered something-or-other definitely deserves to make very, very, very good money. I’m entertained by it. Millions (if not billions) of people are entertained by it, and from a basic athletic POV it is astounding that these people do what they do. Don’t believe me? Go to a batting cage, pop in a quarter, and put it on 75 MPH. I guarantee you that the first ball whizzing by your head will have you backing out of the box in a hurry, and that’s at 75. Think about it.
The exact same can be said for any musician in a great orchestra. Actually, when it comes to sheer concentration, playing in a great orchestra is much harder than coming to the plate 4 times a day. If the M.O. Board only realized what they had built, if they knew the true level of competence at which this orchestra played, there is no possible way they would have chosen this path. No. Way. At some point what you have built becomes more important than money.
Thorin Oakenshield learned that the hard way. Is the Board of the M.O. going to wait until we have our own Battle of the Five Armies to learn that lesson?
God, I’m a nerd.