Minnesota Orchestral Association Aims to Broaden it’s Reach

The lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians is continuing through the end of the season. The work stoppage in Minnesota has all of the hallmarks that we’ve come to expect from labor disputes in the orchestral industry – management is reporting significant losses in recent years and asking musicians to agree to pay cuts that will turn the red ink into black. This makes the musicians feel like they’re being asked to shoulder the blame for something which they feel isn’t their fault, and confusion ensues as both sides fight a numbers war, trying to discern exactly what the financial situation is.

I won’t discuss the lockout in depth here; I don’t want for this blog to get involved in a fight about which I know as much as the next person. There’s been an unusual development that I’d like to highlight. In the middle of this lockout, the Minnesota Orchestra has changed it’s mission statement. You can find a side-by-side comparison of both mission statements on the website for the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. Here’s the new mission statement.

The Minnesota Orchestral Association inspires, educates and serves our community through internationally recognized performances of exceptional music delivered within a sustainable financial structure.

You might notice, as one Minnesota columnist did with an air of mild outrage, that there appears to be something missing – there’s no mention of an orchestra anywhere in that statement, only an “Orchestral Association.” For those of you unfamiliar with orchestral labor systems, the unionized musicians are referred to as a “players association,” “musicians association,” or in this specific case, the “Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.” The term “Orchestral Association” generally refers not to the musicians themselves, but to the CEO and administrative staff that runs the day-to-day operations of the orchestra.

One might wonder if this new mission statement is the beginning of drastic changes – is it possible that management foresees a future without an orchestra? Hmm. Let’s see if we can discern what this mission statement might mean by taking a look at what other industries take as their mission statements. Take a look at some mission statements from these large companies, and see if you can figure out what the company does just by looking at it’s mission statement.

At *******, we are aware that the ever-growing environmental concerns facing us today will have profound effects on the lives of our children and grandchildren. There are no simple solutions to these challenges. Still, we all have a responsibility to be aware and be accountable. We promise to take steps to protect our world for future generations—it’s part of our commitment to make a difference in every community we serve. Join us on this journey. As our company learns new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle our resources, we’ll share our discoveries with you. Taking steps—even little steps—together can make a difference.

If you guessed that that statement was issued by a green energy company, or by an eco-fuel centered car company, you would be 0-1 in this mini-quiz.. That was from Wegman’s, a major grocery store in the Northeast. If you were to ask anyone in Syracuse, NY what Wegman’s does, they would tell you that they sell food. Huh. They could have fooled me, based on the mission statement. Here’s another one.

These are the eight “Winning Together Principles” that are the mission for ********* employees today:

Associates – We value, develop and reward the contributions and talents of all associates.
Integrity – We act only with the highest ethical standards.
Performance – We provide coaching and feedback to perform at the highest level.
Recognition – We celebrate the achievements of others.
Teamwork – We win together through leadership, collaboration, open and honest communication, and respect.
Quality – We strive for excellence in our work, products, and services.
Innovation – We encourage creative thinking and intelligent risk taking.
Community – We care about and are involved in our communities.

This one was from JC Penney – I’m pretty sure that most of you know that they sell clothes. If I had to take a guess though, I would guess that this was the mission statement for a team-building conference and retreat center. One more…

****** will lead the way to the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of the moving people. Through our commitment to quality, constant innovation and respect for the planet, we aim to exceed expectations and be rewarded with a smile. We will meet our challenging goals by engaging the talent and passion of people, who believe there is always a better way.

OK, this one at least narrows down your options somewhat – it’s gotta be some sort of transportation company. And we’re right – this is the mission statement of Toyota. Still though, no mention of cars, trucks, or anything else that we immediately think of when the word Toyota gets brought up. My big sister recently bought a Toyota, and I’d be lying if I told you that my first thought was “oh good! Thanks to Toyota’s commitment to quality, constant innovation and respect to the planet, my sister’s life will be enriched with the safest and most responsible way of moving!”

Now let’s take a look at a few mission statements from some of the most prominent orchestras in America.

The mission of the New York Philharmonic is to support, maintain, and operate an internationally pre-eminent symphony orchestra in New York; to maintain and foster an interest in and enjoyment of music; to encourage the composition of symphonic music; and to instill in its community, and the nation at large, an interest in symphonic music by providing local concerts, domestic and international tours, education programs, media broadcasts, and recordings.

The Philadelphia Orchestra, recognizing that music brings personal joy and profound meaning into the lives of its listeners, is committed to bringing the world’s greatest music to diverse audiences in the Philadelphia region and around the world, through its dedication to, and support of, the world’s most renowned symphony orchestra.

The Mission of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association is to perform, present, and promote music in its many varied forms at the highest level of excellence to a large and diverse audience.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is dedicated to the very highest quality of music performance and education programs, through the operation of an orchestra and concert hall among the best in the world.

No doubt about it, these are all symphony orchestras, dedicated to playing their music. What’s surprising though, is the degree to which these mission statements are self-serving. While some of them are couched in terms of the public good, the general attitude appears to be one of “we’re happy to help society and create something… So long as we can do so on our terms.”

To be clear here, I am a huge fan of each of these orchestras. I grew up admiring these ensembles, modeling my playing after them, and have even had the privilege of having learned from, and worked with members of each of these orchestras. They’re great institutions. But their mission statements don’t come off nearly as universal as those of other industries. “Come give us a call if you want a symphony orchestra,” they say. Compare that with the mission statements from the non-musical companies. They give the patron – and more importantly, the employee – the idea that if there’s some way that the company can help the public good, or please a customer that they haven’t heard of yet, they’d love to give it a try. I understand the fears of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, especially with the cancellation of an entire season. But I also wonder if the Minnesota Orchestral Association, in looking at the business world around them, is trying to alter the mindset of the orchestra, and hoping that the product will evolve organically to a healthier organization.
So if you had a mission statement, what would it say? How would you tailor your life, or organization, to any particular mindset, what would it be?

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