Christmas Carol Disasters

It’s that time of year again—a season filled with joy, wonder, hope… and for musicians, raw terror.

Christmastime.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Like most people I absolutely love all the joy, wonder and hope.  I love the closeness of family, the laughs of sharing memories, and finding that perfect present for my sweetie.  And I love sense of religious joy that pervades the season, as we seem more willing to let Light into our lives.

But I’m also a musician and I know the challenges December can bring.  The accumulated run of concerts, worship services, pageants, and other performances can leave you feeling more burned out than a year-old yule log.  Come Christmas Day I’m usually hiding under my bed… with a bottle of tequila.

The good/bad dichotomy is amplified when you are a professional caroler… as I was in my younger days.

In terms of the good, you personally bring the holiday spirit to people.  For example, when we were caroling through the airport, travelers would always brighten when we passed by, forgetting their delays, lost luggage, or general fatigue.  In various malls, shoppers would immediately surround us with huge smiles, sometimes joining in if the song was familiar.

Plus, we were privileged to sing some wonderful music—tunes that have survived the centuries because they are good. Years later, it’s still a point of pride for me that I can rattle off the words to most of the verses to nearly every Christmas carol the little baby Jesus has ever heard.

But over time, and uncounted hours of caroling… well, let’s just say that I’ve seen my share of Christmas-related disasters. Continue reading

Merry Christmas [sic] from the MET

Merry Christmas! What better way to celebrate the joy and wonder of the season than by… picking a mean-spirited labor fight, when everyone is reeling from the pandemic!

And that’s just what Peter Gelb is planning for the Metropolitan Opera in New York: an aggressive labor action to lock out the MET’s stagehands. In a piece in the New York Times today, Mr. Gelb lays out the plan: he seeks to lock out its stagehands at midnight after the union representing the workers balked at the company’s demands for pay cuts.   

First, I want to say that as someone who is on the Board of an important arts organization, and as someone who is a professional fundraiser, no one is more aware of the financial challenges groups are struggling with right now. The pandemic is clobbering the arts world.

But it is… grating to have the MET generally, and Mr. Gelb specifically, arguing that the only way to meet the ongoing storm is through draconian cuts. Which will conveniently come exclusively at the expense of the workers trying to make the MET a success. And just as conveniently are a carbon copy of the arguments he made to force union concessions during the last MET labor dispute in 2014.

As a counter argument, the Minnesota Orchestra, which faced a major labor dispute of its own at nearly the exact same time as the MET’s last one, has gone on in a completely different direction. In response to the pandemic and the financial challenges it has unleashed, the Orchestra has made changes, negotiated cuts in good faith, and still gone ahead with presenting arts programming and delivering it to the community. No universal furloughs at all.  Moreover, the Orchestra has worked with our local PBS station and public radio to deliver performances live, in a virtual format. And best of all, the Orchestra has completely overhauled its programming so that it is much more innovative; each performance includes works by composers of color and/or women. They have done heroic work to keep their musicians and staff engaged… and paid.

So, it can be done.

The MET, however, gone in a different direction. It has furloughed everybody, and has once again decided that it’s going to cut its way toward prosperity. To justify this, it has pulled out—in some cases literally—the exact same talking points from the last major labor dispute in 2014. The weakness of the arguments back then made it clear that Mr. Gelb was interested not in sustainability, but rather in extracting union concessions as an end goal. And it seems that that is the same plan this year, too.

A few observations.

Continue reading