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With the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians approaching the one year mark, and with Music Director Osmo Vänskä threatening to resign if the lockout is not ended by early September, audience and community opposition to the lockout is building like a prairie wildfire. This week started with a Community Forum sponsored by Orchestrate Excellence that attracted some 600 people. Nearly contemporaneously, a new organization has formed under the name Save Our Symphony Minnesota that has launched a web site and a Facebook page that has generated over 4,500 followers in only four days. (Over 200 added during the writing of this article!) Meanwhile, talented young musician Emily Hogstad from nearby Eau Claire, WI, writing in her blog Song of the Lark broke an amazing story about how the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) snapped up 13 domain names containing variants of "save our minnesota orchestra" months before the lockout began, obviously preparing for an onslaught of community opposition. [More under the break.]

At the Community Forum, Dr. Alan Fletcher, CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School gave the keynote address. He gave a balanced talk (transcript and video), speaking of what both sides must do to resolve the dispute as well as what the community must do to support the orchestra. However, one statement early in his presentation was thunderously applauded by the audience:

I will go so far as to be definite about one thing: the current lock-out of musicians should end, and end unconditionally.
He also critiqued the orchestra management's reasoning behind continuing the lockout:
I have recently read the point of view that the lock-out can only end as part of a larger bargain, because the Association must have the leverage of this tactic. Even the word “leverage” in this context signals that the plan has failed. That plan should now be abandoned.

Because one of the things that must happen is that all sides speak to each other. I know that an important point of view is that the musicians refused to make a counter-offer and thus, in effect, refused to talk. But the lock-out, if it is seen as a resulting fact, is not symmetrical. Only the musicians are living without salaries, without a means of supporting their families, without access to the hall that is their home.

To sit around a table arguing, negotiating, searching for viable solutions is to be, potentially, partners in creating a future. To be locked out is not.

As if to disprove the tiresome mantra that "young people don't care about classical music," the amazingly talented Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM) performed various solos and in small ensembles in the half-hour before the Community Forum, as the crowd was entering and getting settled.

So what is YMM and why was it formed?

The Young Musicians of Minnesota united to form a completely student-run organization in May of 2013 in order to express solidarity with the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.  Each one of us has had our musical development profoundly impacted by the Musicians' artistry through concerts, private lessons, mentorship, participation in Musician-directed youth symphonies, side-by-side rehearsals, and more.

With the lockout, however, our musical growth has been halted: The concerts, so vital to our learning, have fallen silent; our irreplaceable private teachers announce their departures every month; our directors undertake lengthy gigs with orchestras across the country to make a living; and those people who have inspired us to do what we do have been put out of work.

Therefore, we have made it our mission to do everything in our power to help the Musicians make music again while receiving fair compensation for their invaluable services.  Our efforts include writing letters to the Board, Management, elected officials and Musicians, creating video projects, forming a youth orchestra, writing the press, organizing in support of the Musicians, and utilizing the social media to make our presence known.

Now that's our talented young people putting their energy to great use!

The Community Forum and related activity has kicked off a real firestorm in town. In a press release issued today, Save Our Symphony MN stated:


Community Responds Voicing Desire For Lockout To End

Minneapolis, MN, Thursday, August 22 – A group of locked-out patrons and donors of the Minnesota Orchestra whose input, advice, and questions have been ignored by the board and management of the Minnesota Orchestral Association announces their launch of “Save Our Symphony Minnesota” (SOSMN). The new organization launched its website, and companion Facebook page on Tuesday, August 20. In the first 48 hours, the Facebook page has generated over 3700 “likes,” evidence that there is a large community of individuals looking for ways to end the lockout and provide a resolution to save the Minnesota Orchestra as a cultural institution. The website and Facebook page  have sparked national and international attention, with views and responses in the thousands and  references from highly regarded industry journalists.

SOSMN seeks to serve as the vehicle for concrete community action to end the lockout, bring back world-class symphonic live music, and demand accountability of the Board and Management of The Minnesota Orchestral Association.

Through its Facebook page, SOSMN will keep the community informed about the latest news and offer a platform for feedback and reaction. Through its website, the group will provide resources and detailed information about the Minnesota Orchestral Association and its lockout of its musicians, and provide ideas for individual action, links to news stories, samples of letters to officials and media, and opportunities for group action.

SOSMN is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota but is collaborating with audiences and donors of other orchestras across the United States and around the world.

The lockout of Minnesota Orchestra musicians and the absence of concerts by the world-famous Minnesota Orchestra have been underway for more than 10 months. The situation has reached a crisis level. Action is required now.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hogstad in Song of the Lark published an amazing story that has left many in town and in the music field with sore jaw bones from hitting the table if not the floor. The story actually explains how the name "Save Our Symphony Minnesota" was chosen. It turns out the domain name "" was already taken:
Why Well, I found out the next day that in the spring of 2012, Michael Henson took a jaunt to Detroit to discuss shared challenges with the management team there. One of the shared challenges? An uppity audience. The rabble-rousing done by members of [Detroit's] Save Our Symphony [organization] rubbed their management team the wrong way, and it seems the Detroit management might have had a word with Mr. Henson to be on the lookout for a sister organization forming over here. I have a hard time imagining that the Detroit trip and this domain name shopping spree were unconnected.

So. While you were attending the last show in the old Orchestra Hall – earnestly cutting checks for the Building for the Future campaign – flipping through your shiny brochures for the 2012-13 season – the Minnesota Orchestra was spending money (presumably, your money) in a concerted attempt to buy a domain name relating to “saving the orchestra.” (Implication: they knew a big persuasive chunk of people in the future would view their actions as destructive, and they knew they had to guard against those people.)

But it wasn't enough for MOA to buy just that one domain name:
Oh, but wait, you say. Yes, this sounds awful, initially, but maybe the MOA wanted to keep the name on hand for a fundraising effort!

Nope. Wasn’t done for a fundraising effort. Want to know why I know?


MOA's response? "We purchased domains that we thought we might use to share messages or to protect the Orchestra name, based on counsel from others who had been in similar situations."

Wait, what? The MOA purchased "" and a dozen other domain names because they "might use [them] to share messages"? Seriously, do they think we were born yesterday?

And they bought them "to protect the Orchestra name"? Now, if MOA had any intention of protecting the outstanding name and reputation of the Minnesota Orchestra, the last thing they needed to do was to buy those domain names.

The first thing they needed to do was not lockout the musicians!

Oh and by the way, MOA and the musicians' union recently agreed to bring in former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to serve as mediator. That's right, Senator Mitchell, who negotiated a peace deal in Northern Ireland. Do you think he can handle these parties?

Because, you see, it did not take long before MOA rejected Sen. Mitchell's proposal on how the orchestra could resume playing while the parties negotiated a resolution, a proposal the musicians' union accepted even though it involved significant sacrifices and risk to them.

And in other very sad and troubling news . . . more than a dozen musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have left, including some who left before and some after the lockout. [More have left since this article was published; keep reading.]

MOA, in response to the above article, lamely argued that some of those who left don't really count, and the number who left after the start of the lockout (as if that is some kind of magic date that starts the only time period relevant to musicians leaving in droves . . .) was just a handful and barely more than an "average" year.

MOA"s response leaked like a sieve, however. A subsequent review in even more detail showed that 24 positions have been vacated, including 12 musicians who left after the lockout began on October 1, 2012. An update to the same article reflects that additional musicians have left bringing the total to 14, using MOA's own restricted date standard.

"Typical concert season"? Not quite.

Incidentally, this is not a number's game! Those who have left include some of the top musicians in the orchestra including, for example, Principal Second Violin, Principal Viola, Principal Clarinet, Principal Horn, the Associate Concertmaster and the Assistant Concertmaster. (These departures are mentioned because of their leadership roles in the orchestra; all of the musicians who have left, regardless of position or rank, are extraordinary musicians whose loss is a huge blow to the orchestra.)

Let's just hope the community stays fired up and increases the heat on the management and board of MOA so the lockout ends before even more top talent leaves the orchestra as well as before Maestro Vänskä leaves. If either or (shudder) both of those happen, the Minnesota Orchestra will be left in total devastation. If may take decades to rebuild the orchestra to where it was last year, if that can even be done in our lifetimes.

"Protect the Orchestra name" indeed!

Originally posted to FactsNotFiction on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 07:24 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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