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Mar 31 '11

NEC’s Tony Woodcock: Fair and Balanced?

Last week, I attended the NEC in NYC Town Meeting and asked New England Conservatory president Tony Woodcock about his anti-union views, as displayed on his blog. He’s been writing about the ongoing Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike, siding against the musicians of the DSO and unions in general.

At the meeting, Woodcock and others maintained that his posts were even-handed and didn’t take a pro-management stance. Let’s take a look…

In Motown Blues, NEC’s Tony Woodcock writes:

[The DSO strike] is of concern to everyone in the field, and we can only sympathize with all the parties involved. The musicians’ position is very understandable. The players comprise a fine orchestra. They recognize the financial problems of both the organization and the community as a whole and have made major salary concessions.

I think we’d all agree: this is eminently reasonable. Let’s go on…

The proposed wider definition of working practices, particularly as it relates to community engagements, is outside their experience, an unknown landscape at once threatening and alienating.

Uh, OK, a bit condescending, but never mind that, what does he say about management?

Management, on the other hand, is endeavoring to be creative in problem solving and in outlining a new role for the orchestra—a role that more successfully meets the changing needs and demands of the community.

Sounds like DSO management is Tony’s knight in shining armor! [By the way, where are the facts to back those assertions?] Tony Woodcock continues:

I have been talking recently with some major donors and leaders prominent in the orchestral world not just about Detroit but the field as a whole…  Donors are feeling fatigued by orchestras– the constant demands, the needs, the on-going and unresolved problems. 

They are questioning the role of “orchestra monoliths” whose consumption of a community’s philanthropic wealth is disproportionate to the value they produce. 
They are questioning musicians’ passivity within the symphonic organization and the community when, in fact, it is musician leadership and initiative that will be needed to make real change happen.

Let’s take a step back. By paraphrasing these “major donors and leaders prominent in the orchestral world”, Woodcock simultaneously imparted these statements with authority, while avoiding responsibility for something he wrote.

We need as a guiding principle to give musicians ownership over the great and potent possibilities that are obscured by union negotiations and ossified agreements.

(First clear expression of Tony’s thesis.)

I’ll touch briefly on his article A Way to Move Forward. In it, NEC’s Woodcock characterizes a plan to hire a non-union replacement orchestra as a “a bold and provocative move”. He also writes:

Orchestra musicians will likely be seen in the same light as members of public service unions—that is, unwilling to make the same sacrifices as workers who are not sheltered by collective bargaining agreements.

At the time of Woodcock’s writing, Wisconsin was embroiled in protests, with tens of thousands gathering daily to protest WI governor Walker’s bill stripping collective bargaining rights from public sector unions.

It’s only natural that the president of a major conservatory would to want avoid taking sides in a major labor dispute. Tony Woodcock tried to have it both ways—but as the former manager of the Minnesota Orchestra, now lauded by some as an arts guru, he may have been so eager to share his insights that he miscalculated how obvious his anti-labor bias was.

—Matt Plummer, M.M. 2007, New England Conservatory

7 notes Tags: new england conservatory nec tony woodcock woodcock president woodcock education labor detroit symphony orchestra labor unions public sector workers public sector unions DSO strike DSO strike entrepreneurship alumni NEC alumni musicians orchestra music classical music

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