Detroit’s Brave New World

Slipped Disc just posted Resmusica’s wonderful interview with Leonard Slatkin, musical director of the DSO.

Detroit, more than any city in the U.S., has charted a bold and resolute pathway to artistic recovery  ‘… putting all the resources of the new people coming into the city, merging with the different artistic factions that are there, and really making this a vibrant scene for visual, aural, whatever kinds of arts there are.’

Change doesn’t come without passionate belief in the artistic purpose. That’s what the DSO has; without a penny extra to spend, it promoted strategic initiatives to add value for the people on the receiving end. This is ‘generosity’ in action … an organization that thinks beyond its cubicles and corridors to ask ‘who needs to come hear these fabulous concerts?’ … And ‘how do we get them here?’

It is our hope that ASO management and WAC can glean some gold from Detroit’s model of building relationships with other city artists and reaching new audiences outside the inner city, despite ‘horrific economic peril’ — a condition not even applicable to Atlanta — which makes the DSO’s transformation close to miraculous.

Detroit succeeded by doing things in unexpected ways, and perhaps it’s time — way past time — for the ASO to chart some new paths. To mirror DSO’s results, an organization must bring the same creative solutions to building audiences. I think part of the solution is to ‘telescope’ the distance between stage and audience  … Perhaps by creating a dialog between musicians and audience … listen to what the players are saying.  Listen to what the audiences are saying.  Be a willing enabler to the fascinating conversations that could take place … outside Symphony Hall.

Reading about the DSO is very gratifying.  The SOSA movement here owes much to our great friends from Detroit, who worked with us during the lockout, helping mentor, shape and build Atlanta’s Save Our Symphony organization, and ‘SOS’ organizations across the U.S.

Read Slipped Disc’s article, and the full Resmusica interview with Leonard Slatkin here:

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Fine-tuning Technology Can Transform The ASO

There’s no singular action that will save the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Bringing the orchestra back to a full complement and securing its financial and artistic future are a large part of the ASO’s immediate mission.  But saving a symphony is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Yes, a whole lot of money would help, but it comes down to how wisely the ASO (and the Woodruff Arts Center) spends the money.

The WAC recently announced a $100 million Transformation Campaign, which will designate a portion of donations for ‘technology improvements’; a second phase could include a renovation of Symphony Hall. It is to be hoped that the improvements are not simply bringing the ASO’s technology up to 2015, but are positioning the organization for the future. What is clear is that the ASO needs to make bolder, more visionary strides in the ways in which it connects with audiences, with technology that is vastly improved from what exists today.

If the WAC needs inspiration for technology expenditures for the ASO, they only need to browse around to see what other orchestras are doing. For example, many orchestras have embraced online streaming. The Boston Symphony Orchestra has its own 24-hour streaming channel on WCRB, a Boston public radio station. Live Streaming classical music was the topic of a recent Time magazine article, which featured the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  In comparison, the ASO’s minimal streaming efforts are behind the times, which is hard to understand, when the organization has some of the greatest artistic resources in the country:  knowledgeable lecturers, charismatic chamber performers, articulate world-class conductors.  At the very least, why not have an interactive space where a ticket buyer, searching for program information, could log on for a digital sample of what is to be played at the concert (video clip of a dress-rehearsal, say).  Yes, there should be an app for that.  And this is just the tip of the digital iceberg.

Orchestras are also looking at how to expand on social media to interact with the audience in various ways. The Minnesota Orchestra is experimenting; encouraging people to turn on their phones during certain performances for an enhanced experience. It would seem that the ASO currently doesn’t have anything comparable.  ASO’s social media is used only sparingly and conventionally. Hopefully, the ASO CEO Selection Committee will look at candidates’ experience in forming a forward-looking digital strategy, since technology will play an expanding role for orchestras in the future. The vision, and the dollars, have to be there.

As much as new technology should be explored, existing technology, such as a website, should not be overlooked. Some are offering more than just concert dates and ticket sales. The New York Philharmonic Kidzone website is an incredible (and fun!) resource for parents, teachers, and most importantly, children. As wonderful as this site is, wouldn’t it be better if children in the greater Atlanta area had a similar ASO site to visit?   The ASO has much room for improvement in its web efforts.

Our hope for the ASO is a vibrant, fully functional website and a comprehensive digital strategy to help the organization reach larger audiences. If the Transformation Campaign can help the ASO achieve technological excellence on par with its artistic excellence, that would be money well spent.

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ASO CEO Search Update

It seems an age since there was anything to report on Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s CEO search. Finally, there seems to be some progress and, more importantly, some transparency. In the last several weeks, several SOSA members have been able to participate in various meetings with the CEO Selection Committee (more about that later). We also had a chance to speak with Tom Wardell, Chair of the Selection Committee, about the CEO search.

The search for the new CEO actually started back in December 2014 with the assembly of the Selection Committee.  The committee began looking at recruiting firms in January 2015.  There are eighteen members on the Selection Committee, most of whom are ASO Board members, but there are also four musicians.

Tom Wardell, an ASO board member since 2010, was appointed Chair of the Selection Committee by the ASO Board.  He views the CEO search as more than just finding the next CEO for the ASO.  For Mr. Wardell, the whole process is about “re-knitting the fabric of the ASO.”

As the Selection Committee began defining this process, the members realized there had been a profound breakdown in communication with many of the ASO constituencies: players, chorus, staff, and volunteers.  Some other constituencies were lost altogether, according to Mr. Wardell.  From the outset, the Selection Committee made the deliberate decision to be as inclusive and as transparent as possible in hopes of bringing these groups back and working toward a common goal.

In January, the Selection Committee began working on what input they wanted and needed, and formed a plan to get that input.  The month of March was spent gathering information through a series of meetings with the various ASO constituencies:  ASO musicians, ASO Chorus, ASO staff, Atlanta Symphony Associates, and others.

The meetings varied in size.  ASO Chorus had 70 or so participants; ASA had less than a dozen.  A moderator kept the meetings focused on the future, not on rehashing the past.  Participants were asked to consider the following: “What do we want our ASO to be in 5 years – in 10 years – and what kind of leader do we need to get us there?”

In our conversation with Mr. Wardell, he said he was “struck by the amount of consistency in the feedback.”  The combined input has been helpful to the Selection Committee and the recruiting firm ultimately retained by the Committee, The Catherine French Group.  When asked what was the most consistent theme, Mr. Wardell said the desire for a CEO with “strong management skills and an understanding of orchestras and how they operate, and has what it takes to bring that all together.”

Earlier this week, the ASO sent out a survey to all its databases in order to gather as much public input as possible.  If you didn’t receive an email, you can click on the following link to the survey:  As a SOSA subscriber, we would like you to participate in the survey, so please complete it by the ASO’s deadline of April 10th.

This is your chance to speak up on the future of the ASO. Offer specific suggestions if you have them. The Selection Committee is taking survey results seriously. The window for responses is brief, but the Committee does want public response, which is why we are sharing the survey here, and is why we hope you will add your voice to the hundreds of others who have participated.

Mr. Wardell said that, starting mid-April, the Search Committee would “go silent.”  He explained that as the Committee starts meeting with candidates, they need to do so quietly and confidentially as possible, since most of the desired candidates will be “presently doing a job and doing it well.”  The Committee hopes to have a new CEO in place by the start of next season, but a timeline is not as important as the process.  Mr. Wardell said everyone from the ASO Board to Robert Spano to the ASO musicians have emphasized “the need to get it right” over meeting a deadline.

Once a final candidate is selected, that candidate will be presented to and approved by the ASO Board.  The ASO Board has the full authority to approve the final candidate; an additional WAC Board approval is not needed.  As part of the interview process, candidates will meet with WAC Board members.  Virginia Hepner is a member of the Selection Committee, and represents the WAC in the overall process.

As the input phase comes to a close and the active search begins, what has been the best suggestion or feedback received thus far?  According to Tom Wardell, it’s more about the process: “A lot of good suggestions – as much input as we are getting, what has come back over and over again is people are pleased that they were included.”

Save Our Symphony Atlanta concurs – the process has been pleasing up to this point. We are pleased with the effort put forth by the Search Committee and its goal to be as inclusive as possible.  We are pleased that the ASO Board is showing leadership.  We are pleased that the goal of re-knitting the ASO ‘fabric’ is shared by those who will have the most influence on events.

This is the progress to date; there are still many phases left in the process.  If it means the ASO gets the right CEO, we can be patient, because the right CEO is worth the wait. At least, it seems, we are heading down the right path.

Please take the time to complete the survey at  The Selection Committee does want to hear from SOSA subscribers so take this opportunity to share your thoughts.

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Call to Action from ASO Chorus Blogspot

There is a lot of work to be done if we are to help secure our beloved orchestra’s future in Symphony Hall.  The lockout may be over but what has changed about the environment which lead to WAC’s decisions?  There are many unanswered questions … check a few of them out in the following article, posted today on the ASO Chorus blogspot.

If you are wondering how you can help, please rest assured that you are needed!  SOSA is a citizens advocacy group … so, citizens, let’s get activated:  doing research, spreading the word, talking to groups, adding to our knowledge of what makes a great arts institution, agitating for improvements, holding accountable those who have made promises.


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An Open Letter to the ASO Board

To: Mr. Terry Neal, Interim President

and Board of Directors, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

From: Save Our Symphony Atlanta

Dear Mr. Neal and Board,

Our readers (your constituents) are growing frustrated. Your marketing messages are untimely, incomplete, grammatically incorrect, and sloppy. Your website is convoluted and does not work well. You don’t take full advantage of social media.   SOSA supporters tell us that they find better, more timely information from us than the ASO.

On December 4, 2014, SOSA posted A Vote of “No Confidence” expressing our concerns regarding marketing at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. We began looking for improvements starting December 5th, hoping Mr. Petroccione, then head of your marketing department, would have read our post and taken the message to heart. It’s been almost two months and sadly, there has been no progress and we note that Mr. Petroccione has moved to Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and System Improvements. (Really? really?) Maybe we weren’t succinct enough, so let us simply state our position:

ASO Marketing is failing and tickets sales are suffering as a result.

Maybe we weren’t detailed enough, so let us clearly explain the issues:

First and foremost, you need to hire someone who proofreads everything you post online. We understand that the marketing department is short staffed, but virtually everything we see posted has typographical errors. Consistent errors reflect on the professionalism and reputation of the organization.

ASO Website

Error messages, outdated information, and misspellings continue to plague the website. The following is just a sample of what we have found:

  • To the Board – You might want to note that Stanley Romanstein’s picture is still on the ASO website on your Newsroom page, under Leadership Biographies. His biography has been removed but his picture is still used for the Biography tab and featured on the Biographies page. How long has Mr. Neal been interim president? His bio is on the Woodruff website. Why is it not on the ASO newsroom page?
  • Under the Plan Your Visit section, the Restaurants, Bars & Lounges, and Hotel are still not functional and bring up an ugly yellow page of code. Wouldn’t it be nice for people who take advantage of your Valentine’s Day concerts with a couples’ getaway – dinner, concert and an overnight away from the kids? They can’t get there from your site.
  • Teen Night at the ASO? It was held this last Saturday; however, the FAQ tells the teen that they can pick up their tickets the day of the concert, November 22nd.
  • We’ll let you see if you can find the error under American Roots Music.
  • Your rotating ASO players under your calendar? Keith Buncke has a blank picture and no biography. Will he be gone before you ever get this fixed?

The number of errors is, in fact, pretty astounding. Your website is the first impression many people have of the ASO and our musicians. From our experience, it’s a bad one. We understand that the software you’re using is old and clunky, (Stanley’s last bonus could have purchased one heck of a platform) but that doesn’t weigh in very heavily when the mistakes are mostly grammatical.

ASO Facebook Page

Someone in your organization needs to understand the nature of social media and learn how to leverage it for the organization. Social media is, by design, interactive. It is meant to be a way for you to connect in a one-on-one level with your audience and with those you want to attract. Good social media interaction seeks dialog between business and customer.

Since December 5th, the ASO has posted 32 times to their Facebook page. That’s not a lot in the social media world. Eleven of the 32 posts have had comments deleted, a total of 29 comments. Many Facebook users understand how comments work. If the post shows six comments, there should be six comments; otherwise, we know that someone in the ASO office is deleting them.

Great companies respond to questions and comments, even negative ones. They know that many eyes read that negative post and wait to see how that company will respond. What we see is either disdain or the inability to answer the comments. Is that the reputation that you want?

The posts are not timely. If you are not going to post events in time for people to attend them, why post at all?

  • The first post promoting the Marin Alsop series didn’t appear until four days prior to the first concert – far too late except for last-minute buyers.
  • Information on the Midtown pop-up concerts that occurred in December appeared on FB minutes before the first concert.
  • The first and only announcement for the concert at the Capitol was posted 22 hours before the event.

The purpose of using the web should be to inform your current subscribers and attract new ones. You can’t do that if you don’t promote your product.

ASO Twitter

The ASO Twitter feed has the same timeliness issue as the ASO Facebook page but provides even less information than the Facebook page. Most of the tweets are poorly written and vague. Some of the latest tweets:

  • Need last minute plans? Hear pianist Inon Barnatan’s “sensitive and insightful” tonight and Sunday!
  • A thrilling wknd: pianist Inon Barnatan is returns for a weekend of Wagner, Beethoven, and Mozart. See Evan’s take… (Our note – That’s Evans’ take, not Evan’s)
  • eNotes this week: A Birthday Romance, an Epic Organ and our Artist-in-Residence!
  • On this weekend’s list: Violin Superstar and Leading Conductor Inspire! More from the ASO.


 ASO Marketing is not promoting some of the ticket deals they currently have.

  • There is a great family concert on Valentine’s Day. Most tickets are $20 with none over $40.00. Families today plan weeks in advance. Why are these concerts not being promoted?
  • Atlanta Magazine Concierge also offers dinner and a concert deals but it hasn’t been mentioned in any ASO social media or on the website until today, four days before the start of the Cameron Carpenter series. If people ordered a package today, they probably wouldn’t receive the tickets and gift card in time, if they were mailed.
  • ArtsVibe, a teen program created by the WAC, offers free tickets to students grades 6-12 for certain concerts. For both the December and January concerts, this promotion was never mentioned by the ASO.
  • The website mentions the Music for the Military program (under Community Ticketing Program) and offers free tickets to military families, but doesn’t provide any links or information on how to get tickets.

Again, the list goes on ad nauseum. Every one of these special deals has the ability to attract a new and younger (and maybe slightly less well-heeled) audience. You cannot say that classical music is dead and is not of interest to a younger audience if you do nothing to attract that audience.

The reason for writing this letter should, by now, be clear. We see empty seats in Symphony Hall and we know they could be filled.

We understand the importance of ticket sales as a revenue source and empty seats hurt the bottom line. We also understand the importance of community and educational concerts in attracting new audiences, which leads to increased ticket sales. Most importantly, we understand the correlation between ticket sales and donations, both individual and corporate.

Professional, attentive marketing is the key to increased tickets sales and ASO marketing is not selling tickets.

If the ASO marketing department were held to the same standards as some of the companies with whom some of you were and are affiliated, we are certain we would not have these issues. In a corporate world, investors and stockholders would demand immediate and effective change. Marketing is essential to the success of any organization, profit or nonprofit.

The time for excuses is over.

Great performances deserve great marketing and great marketing requires great leadership.

There are 47 concerts left in this year’s season and our musicians are doing their part in providing outstanding music. We are asking you to demonstrate your leadership as trustees of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Failures of this magnitude shouldn’t be blamed on lower-level employees. They are overworked and underpaid. They are in need of vision, direction, planning, and good management. We note that you have a job listing for a Vice President of Marketing and Communications, but your attention is needed now.

We look forward to a response, but we most look forward to seeing real changes being made.

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New Year, New President?

What do the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have in common, other than Doug Hertz? They’re both in the market for new leadership. The Falcon’s rather dismal showing and the ASO lockout of its musicians were both signs that all was not well in the leadership department. While we have no advice for the owners of the Falcons, we do have a few words to say about the next ASO President/CEO.

The ASO is in a rather unenviable position. They have just gone through a thoroughly embarrassing lockout of the musicians – the second in as many years. They have reported that they have been losing money steadily for 12 years. They are in a state that ranks at the bottom, nationally, in arts funding. The WAC corporate structure (and therefore, the ASO Board structure) is convoluted and in our opinion, detrimental to the best interests of the orchestra. Whomever the ASO hires must be able to answer to not one but two boards, whose priorities and goals may conflict.

Hiring a new ASO President/CEO will be a formidable task.  What the ASO needs is a leader. That leader will need to be fully informed about the difficulties he or she faces.

With those facts in mind, we have a few questions.

First Question – How will the executive search committee be selected?

Word is that the ASO Executive Search Committee has either already been formed or is in the process of being formed. We would hope that the committee is not limited to WAC and ASO board members and a few top level managers, but will include all representatives from all the stakeholders – including musicians, volunteers and community members.

 Executive search firms (which we assume the committee will use) have their place, but it will be up to the executive search committee to do their own due diligence. Candidates will a need to be thoroughly vetted by the recruiting firm that the search committee uses, and outrageous as it may seem, by committee members themselves. Make the offer contingent on reference checks, but during that process, perform informal reference checks of your own. A few personal phone calls to donors, subscribers, volunteers and influential community members in the city where the candidate works can often reveal much.

Second Question – What executive search firm are you planning to use as you search for a new president?

We sincerely hope that you’ll consider one other than the firm you used the last time around or hold them to a very high standard.

 Spencer Stuart is an executive search firm. Based in Chicago and founded in 1956, they bill themselves as “one of the world’s leading global executive search and leadership consulting firms”.

In December 2009, Spencer Stuart was hired by the WAC Board to conduct a search for a replacement for the recently departed CEO, Allison Vulgamore, Incidentally, they were also the search firm that worked with the Minnesota Orchestra when they hired Michael Henson. Two orchestra presidents, both of whom locked out their orchestras two years ago (and in the case of Romanstein, did it again this year) then “stepped down” from their position with their orchestras, leaving a wake of disastrous leadership decisions behind them.

The world of recruiting, especially for executives for symphony orchestras, is relatively small. Recruiting firms frequently shuffle known individuals between their clients. We would suggest that this time, the ASO Executive Search Committee insist that the recruiting firm, whomever it may be, think outside the box and outside their known pool of candidates.

Spencer Stuart’s 2003 job description for the President/CEO of the Cincinnati Orchestra is, word for word, almost identical to the 2009 job description for the President/CEO of the ASO. While that is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, it shows a certain degree of laziness on the part of the recruiting firm. Job descriptions should be new, fresh and tailored very specifically for the client’s needs.

In our opinion, Spencer Stuart has a lot to prove if they are used again

Third Question – What qualifications will you seek in a new President/CEO?

A bit of advice – a wise committee will seek input from a wide range of resources. They will talk to the boards, but they will also talk to everyone from the volunteers to the lower level employees. One can often learn more useful information there than anywhere else.

We recently obtained a copy of the Position and Candidate Specification that was prepared for the ASO President/CEO opening in 2009. The six-page document reads like a cross between a solicitation for Wonder Boy and a shift manager at Best Buy (with our apologies to Best Buy, for the comparison). What it is not is a specification for a leader.

Consider the 2009 qualifications listed for the ideal candidate:

  • Prior senior management and leadership experience in the symphony orchestra business.
  • Knowledge of classical music and the basic repertory.
  • A fundamental understanding of the business model and financial aspects of symphony orchestra management coupled with strong financial management and analysis skills.
  • A track record of recruiting, developing, retaining and managing a talented team.
  • Experience building partnerships among diverse stakeholders.
  • Enthusiasm for and a commitment to fundraising with measurable and successful results.
  • Successful track record as an effective communicator.
  • Substantial understanding of new media initiatives and the use of emerging technologies.
  • Undergraduate or advanced degree in Business, Arts Management, Music or related field.

Those are fine qualifications if you’re hiring a general manager but not adequate if the search committee hopes to hire a far-sighted leader for the ASO presidency.

Here are a few of the qualifications the next ASO President that we’d like to see:

  • A record of proven visionary leadership; is capable of leading with innovation, creativity, passion and follow-through.
  • Ability to analyze complex situations quickly; uses available data, new ideas and personal wisdom to generate successful outcomes.
  • Lifelong passion for classical music that is inclusive of new and groundbreaking compositions; ability to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to develop and implement the ASO’s artistic vision.
  • Substantial understanding of and appreciation for the history and tradition of the ASO. Understands the need to ensure that the ASO maintains its world-class reputation within its community and on the broader world stage.
  • Proven ability in designing an innovative and successful strategic plan, including the development of long-term goals, short-term objectives and a thorough evaluation process.
  • The ability to inspire confidence in and support of the ASO mission and vision throughout the organization and across a diverse community.
  • Experience building, and growing motivated, high performance teams; holds people accountable, mentors the next generation of leaders; ensures open, informed, communication between all divisions.
  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively with an engaged Board of Directors; provides a collaborative conduit between multiple boards with an eye on mission-critical business and financial objectives.
  • Performs financial responsibility for planning, management and reporting with integrity and openness. Understands the non-profit business model and can clearly articulate it to all constituencies.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of the position as the public face of the ASO; generates donor and subscriber confidence through immediate credibility and excellent interpersonal skills.

The Atlanta Falcons don’t need a new team; they need a true leader with a positive, can-do attitude, a clear, innovative vision and a plan for getting there. They need someone who can inspire confidence, motivate and build the team. They need someone who can work collaboratively with owners, assistant coaches, and staff and enthuse potential sponsors with a superb product.

A strong organization does not fear hiring a strong leader. It embraces the possibilities for innovation and growth that a strong leader brings.

We hope that the ASO Executive Search Committee realizes that they don’t need a new orchestra; they need much the same as their local NFL team .We trust that they will not settle for yet another mediocre candidate. Otherwise, we’ll be looking at another losing season.

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Christmas Wish Comes True

A couple of weeks ago, ASO musicians, performing as the Franklin Pond Quartet, played at Crossroads Community Ministries’ Clyde’s Kitchen.  You can find the link to that story here. Read the rest of the story and be sure to see the video at the end of the post that Marshall Peterson of Wave Guide Studios shot that day. Thank you, Marshall!

An old Wurlitzer piano sat in a home in the Morningside neighborhood of Atlanta. The piano was faded and one front leg was weak – not the prettiest piano in the world, but it still had plenty of music in it. It once held life and joy, but the two children who had played the piano had grown up and moved away, so it sat silent and in need of a loving hand. After much thought, the owner had decided to donate it to a charitable organization where it could start its next life.

Not many miles away, the people in charge of Clyde’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen that is part of Crossroads Community Ministries, had a wish. It was a long-held wish, but one that was now going to come true. The leaders and volunteers of Clyde’s Kitchen had longed for a piano so their guests could have live music regularly and this Christmas, their wish was going to come true.

A few weeks ago, Meghan McCloskey, a dedicated Save Our Symphony Atlanta volunteer, had gone to cover the story of the ASO musicians, performing as the Franklin Pond Quartet, who volunteered their time and talent to play at the kitchen. She saw the effect that the music had on those eating there. She had talked to Wayne Vason, the Clyde’s Kitchen board chairman, and learned of their desire to have a simple piano; but thus far, no piano had been found.

About the same time she found out about Crossroads’ desire for a piano, she also learned that a neighbor had one that needed a new home. She thought it was serendipitous and as crazy as it seemed, she decided to see if she could somehow get the piano to Crossroads as a Christmas gift. She realized that she needed a professional piano mover; after all, she had no way to get the piano to the kitchen. She contacted Paul Murphy, ASO musician and Franklin Pond member, to see if he could put her in touch with one who could move the piano within a week. What she wanted was for the piano to arrive by Christmas.

Paul never hesitated. He agreed with her that the piano needed to be moved to Crossroads. She didn’t really need to explain why she so strongly wanted to get a piano for them. He knew why – the gift of music is one of the best gifts you can give. How appropriate it would be, she thought, at this time of carols and time-honored classics, for music to fill the soup kitchen.

Phone calls were made and days ticked by. They hoped someone would come along and take care of the problem for them – some generous benefactor who would donate the time and services to move the piano. Maybe if they had been willing to wait until after Christmas, they would have found someone to do this. However, by the afternoon of December 23rd, Meghan and Paul knew that if they truly wanted to move the piano by Christmas, they would have to do it themselves.

Christmas is a time of faith and to get the job done, Paul and Meghan had to have faith in each other. He needed to trust that Meghan had a plan for the delivering the piano. She needed to trust that Paul really knew how to drive a moving truck. But in reality, neither of them had any business trying to move a piano. Paul never found the hazard lights on the truck and was a little too excited about the possibility of the truck going up on two wheels when rounding a corner. And to be honest, Meghan’s moving plan had more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

Christmas Eve dawned cold and rainy. Most of the piano owner’s family were still asleep when Paul, Meghan, Meghan’s friend and the friend’s son arrived at 8:30 a.m to load the piano. It had been raining for three days. The front yard looked like the La Brea Tar Pits. Sidewalks were flooded. The four motley movers were no real match for leaden skies and flooded yards. At that point, Paul and Meghan could have either turned on each other or just have walked away. They didn’t because they were determined to move this piano. They had to get this piano to Crossroads.

The piano would have to be carried across the lawn, but cross it they did. The donor’s family were awakened by the clatter and came out to help. No one could figure out how to work the straps that had been bought to secure the piano. Laurel and Hardy did a better job moving a piano than they were doing, but it finally worked. They had simply laughed their way through the disasters that came up, kept moving forward, and hoped for the best.

In the end, that was the plan that worked and got the piano to Clyde’s Kitchen in time for Christmas. The joy on Clyde’s face when the piano was delivered was worth all of the stress, all of the worry, and all of the labor. A Christmas wish was fulfilled. People who had no music of their own would now have music.

So on Christmas Eve morning, the piano was moved from the house to the soup kitchen. Everyone at Crossroads is thrilled. It’s a nice story but the one I really want to share is that of the faith in the mission and the faith between Meghan and Paul, of the teamwork despite the obstacles, and of the resultant potential for beautiful music; that’s the one that is relevant to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Maybe an old Wurlitzer piano is a good metaphor for the ASO. It might be a little banged up at the moment, but it still makes beautiful music. It just needs the right environment so it can be fully appreciated. However, the journey of the piano is also a metaphor. If musicians and supporters work together toward a shared goal, there will be success. More importantly, by working together, there will definitely be music.

Moving a piano is a lot like saving a symphony; there’s plenty of heavy lifting involved. Paul and Meghan didn’t get a savior, someone to do all the hard work for them. Rather, they had to lift and carry the piano themselves and figure out how to do it together. They had help, often appearing when they needed it most and least expected it, but it was mostly the musician and the supporter that did all the work.

The piano’s journey is over but the journey to save our symphony is beginning. There’s still plenty of heavy lifting to do. If one musician and one supporter can figure out how to lift up a piano, all the ASO musicians and their supporters can figure out how to lift up the ASO.   It may seem impossible at times – but trust me, it can be done.



















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A Time to Build

The lockout is over. Our ASO musicians are back where they belong – on stage at Symphony Hall. Now, our work begins.

The lockout left those of us who love our symphony musicians with conflicting emotions. Some of us questioned the wisdom of accepting the collective bargaining agreement that in its final form, did not give the musicians all that they had hoped to achieve. The contract did not guarantee that the musician’s salaries would be returned to pre-2011 levels, nor would they be at that level by the end new contract. Health insurance would be costlier than it was in previous contracts. In order to reach agreement, a number of other concessions were made. However, in return for a firm commitment from the WAC Board to grow the complement to its near -2011 level (95 musicians) the players ratified a new 4-year contract. It was their decision, and their livelihood, and their decision should be honored.

Others felt that there were still too many questions about the WAC finances that had not been answered. There was speculation of malfeasance on the part of the WAC, condemnation for the building of the Verizon Amphitheater, concerns that donations earmarked for the ASO had been diverted to other WAC entities and calls for an audit of the WAC finances.

Transparency was non-existent. Due to the rather convoluted relationship with the various entities under the WAC umbrella, it has been virtually impossible to ferret out the true state of the ASO finances, leaving many donors with a huge sense of mistrust toward the WAC Governing Board.

We understand and share that frustration. Rest assured that from here forward, SOSATL will hold WAC accountable for donations to the ASO. Should any solid evidence of misappropriation, current or past arise, you will read about it here and we will ask you for action.

Still others simply knew nothing of the conflict, didn’t understand the issues or refused to get entangled in the fray. They just rejoiced when their beloved orchestra was playing again.

We understand and share the mixed feelings that are evident in many comments on our Save Our Symphony Facebook page. Careless statements made by people in charge of the outcome of the lockout were taken at face value, instantly causing hundreds of people to hate the sources of the comments, because its easy and somewhat thrilling to hate people that you don’t know in an online forum.

Experiencing the fallout of this past season – two lockouts in as many years, bitter and acrimonious exchanges and a seemingly intransigent WAC Board – now competes with the strong desire of many to see the ASO on a solid financial footing. The conflict colors the sentiments of patrons, friends, donors and supporters alike. We understand this as well.

However, despite our understanding of the effect of what has happened on our listening public, SOSATL is issuing a call to action. We are calling you to be the new guardians of our beloved orchestra. It is time for the anger to end. It profits us nothing and breeds resentment in the very institution that we wish to preserve. It is time to remember, as the musicians have done, that ultimately, it must be about the music.

We have recently posted on our Facebook page links to other orchestras who have accomplished remarkable turnarounds. We asked our readers what all of the posts had in common. Sadly, there was only one correct answer. In each case, following a period of great turmoil, symphony patrons returned to their concert halls in great numbers and donations soared.

While some of this may be attributable to new programming or ticket pricing, the major reason for the upsurge was a determination by the listening public that they would support the orchestra that they nearly lost. Let us repeat:

The listening public determined that, despite what they and their musicians had experienced, they would support, though ticket purchases and donations, the orchestra that they nearly lost.

Their supporters have turned out by the hundreds, they have rallied around their orchestra and all of its sectors, they have put the acrimony of the past aside for the love of classical music.

Are we willing to do the same for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra?

To a large extent, her future is in your hands.

To every thing there is a season. There is a time for tearing down and a time for building up.

SOSATL served its purpose as a loud and effective voice of the public and we believe it  substantially influenced the direction of lockout negotiations. We also believe that continued WAC-bashing will serve no good purpose and will do much to damage any rebuilding effort. What is important now is to build a very solid base of public support that will help move the ASO to financial security as well as serve as a primary supporter of the musicians.

If we do that and you join us in this effort, then in four years, WAC will know that it has a formidable group of citizens who are solidly behind the musicians – that our focus is on helping the ASO provide a world-class musical experience for all Georgians, whether it be through concerts, and education,  or as an economic boost to the city, as the cultural gem of Georgia.

It is time to lay down what is behind us and lend our support to OUR Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The Symphony desperately needs increased and enthusiastic attendance, donations to help support operations as well as the endowed chairs and a general positive perspective built on trust and mutual respect. It may not be easy and may not always be pleasant, but it must be done for the sake of the musicians – for the sake of the music.

The musicians have, for better or worse chosen to sign their contract. They are moving forward not as separate entities, not as us and them, but as the ASO. We need to join them in that forward motion.

That will mean helping to influence, in a positive way, what we expect in a new CEO/President of the ASO. It will mean strengthening and supporting the ASO Board. It will mean encouraging the WAC/ASO marketing team to do a better job of getting information out to the public about everything from concerts to educational opportunities. It will mean finding new and innovative ways to get new audiences into Symphony Hall. It will mean stronger interaction between the musicians and their public through free concerts and appearances, sometimes in unexpected places.

This is where we need to put our energy. We cannot tear down and build up at the same time. Now is the time to re-build. For the good of the ASO, we must put anger and suspicion aside and move forward.

We are here to preserve the music for generations to come. That must be our focus. That must be our mission.

We need your help. If you are willing to join us, if you wish to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra become the vibrant, financially healthy cultural leader it should be, please notify us via email at and we will add you to our mailing list.









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Good Will Towards Men

Christmas with the ASO is here but it’s not only at Atlanta Symphony Hall. Many of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians are performing free concerts around the city to celebrate the holidays and give the gift of music to the public. One group of ASO musicians, the Franklin Pond Quartet, recently performed at Clyde’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen for the homeless that is part of Crossroad Community Ministries in Midtown Atlanta.

The Franklin Pond Quartet is comprised of four long-term ASO musicians: Jun-Ching Lin, 1st violinist; Carolyn Hancock, 2nd violinist; Paul Murphy, viola; and Danny Laufer, cello. The particular quartet has more than 100 years of service to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and more than 10 years together as a group.

As many ASO musicians do, the Franklin Pond Quartet performs for free at unexpected places around Atlanta. Following their concert at Crossroads, they were also headed that day to the Decatur Library, for one more concert. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra pays for these concerts through its Musicians in Communities program.

In addition to making community appearances, the quartet also teaches at the Franklin Pond Chamber Music, a program for older children that focuses on teaching them how to be a part of an ensemble, including conflict resolution. It is obvious the quartet practices what it preaches because you can see their synergy when they perform. In between pieces, there is laughter and light banter between them.

The quartet performs about six times a year together, each requiring hours of practice, according to Paul Murphy. When asked about his favorite community events, Murphy said, “For me it’s this one, hands down. The guests and the staff are always so appreciative and we are so appreciative of what Crossroads provides for some of the less fortunate in our community.”

The performance is exceptional, as you would expect, mostly familiar holiday pieces, but also some Gershwin and a piece written by a former student of Danny Laufer. Over the years, the quartet has recognized what pieces the audience best appreciates. It is part of a “sixth sense” Murphy said the quartet has developed from years of playing together both with the ASO and as a quartet.

One older guest was eager to talk about music they selected. He grew up in a musical family and he said his instrument was his voice. He worked in theater for a while, even performed in The Geisha, his only appearance in an opera. He made sure he had a good seat to see the musicians and asked if the lockout was over (he was pleased to hear it was). Most guests don’t stay the full hour Clyde’s Kitchen is open but this gentleman lingered the entire time, smiling as he ate.

As one younger gentleman left, he said, with a big smile on his face, that he loved classical music . He likes Für Elise, he said, because he is deaf in his left ear, and often relies on vibrations to “hear” the music, just like Beethoven. He wanted to stay a little bit longer but he had to find his friend. He wanted to get his friend who was homeless into the Crossroads program too, but his friend didn’t show up, which worried him. “At least I got to hear the music,” he sighed.

Most of the guests at Clyde’s Kitchen looked tired and wary. The overnight shelters push them out at 5 AM so by the time brunch is served at 10 AM, they have been out in the 36-degree weather for hours. Some came in wrapped in blankets instead of coats, or wearing slippers for shoes. Strollers with babies, some only a few months old, were parked around the family tables. A large Christmas tree is set up by the main door but it doesn’t have any lights or decorations.

Being background music in this environment is not daunting to the musicians. They have been performing here twice a year for six years, as part of the ASO community outreach program. This particular audience is important to the quartet, according to Danny Laufer, “because music can ease your soul when you are going through hard times.”

There was some applause during the performance but it was sparse. This is not unexpected, according to Stan Dawson, executive director of Crossroads. When the quartet first appeared at Clyde’s Kitchen, he was very nervous. Most of the guests are not familiar with classical music and when they arrive at the shelter for the meal, many are not “in the best mood,” Dawson explains. The calm, quiet environment during the quartet’s performance is unusual for a typical meal, but it is welcome. For all the wonderful services Crossroads provides, they can’t provide the soothing peace the quartet does. “It’s an emotional lift that we can’t fabricate,” said Dawson.

Wayne Vason, chairman of the board of Crossroads heartily agrees. He hopes to add a piano to the dining room so guests can enjoy live music more frequently. He particularly enjoys watching the children react to the musicians. According to the Crossroads website, about 21% of the 3900 people Crossroads assists each year are women and children. Vason describes his favorite memory of the quartet as when a volunteer last year coaxed some children to approach the musicians. As they watched the musicians in awe, Vason figured they had never seen musicians playing instruments. He wonders about what impact that one brief moment of seeing musicians playing live will have on them.

The quartet understands the importance of those small moments. Being able to connect with the audience in a different way is something each musician expressed as a reason for doing the community events. Jun-Ching Lin says community events don’t have “the theater of the concert. It’s not about the visual experience, it’s all about the music.” The quartet agrees that wearing less formal attire than when they appear at Symphony Hall makes them more approachable to the audience.

The hard reality is that few people who receive services from Crossroads will ever be able to purchase a ticket to see the ASO at Symphony Hall. Seeing the Franklin Pond Quartet may be as close as they come. Laufer knows some community events help attract new audiences but the overall goal is to “share the gift of music and getting in touch with the audience by going to them.”

Carolyn Hancock says being seen in public carrying her violin case to and from events inspires people to ask questions and that connection is important as well. Although she did say that one night after a concert, one person followed her around Kroger  curious if her 200-year old Vuillaume was a machine gun. Hancock particularly lights up when she talks about teaching, which she believes is another important aspect of giving back to the community. Her generous nature goes beyond sharing music. When Dawson greeted Hancock before the Crossroads’ performance, she quietly pressed a check into his hand.

The guests of Crossroads won’t receive many gifts this year. But thanks to four dedicated musicians, they did receive the gift of music. We also commend the other ASO musicians who are sharing their talents with the community this holiday season, many of their events for those less fortunate. It’s the real Christmas with the ASO.


Marshall Peterson, an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus member, is creating a video on the Franklin Pond Quartet’s appearance at Crossroads. Please stay tuned to Save Our Symphony Atlanta for the release of this special video.

For more information on the ASO’s community programs, please visit:

For more information on the Franklin Pond Quartet and the Franklin Pond Chamber Music program, please visit:

For more information on Crossroads Community Ministries, please visit:







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Our Christmas Wish

Dear Virginia,

Yes, there is a Santa Claus. And it’s you.

You, Virginia, can bring peace and joy to ASO supporters this holiday season. Our list is not long. In fact, we only have one item on it. What we really, really want for Christmas is a strong and effective CEO for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

We need a CEO that believes the ASO can sell out concerts and then puts a marketing team in place that does that. We need a CEO that works with the musicians, not against them. We need a CEO that can rouse the ASO board out of its slumber. We need a CEO that loves the ASO as much as we do.

We are not asking for a miracle. That would mean the ASO is beyond hope and requires divine intervention. We aren’t there yet. But another lackluster CEO could put us there by next Christmas.

The Woodruff Foundation might have just expressed their confidence in you, but ASO supporters sadly don’t share that confidence. If you want to earn our trust and respect, you can start by giving the ASO the leadership it needs with an exceptional CEO. We won’t accept a lump of coal with a pretty bow on it.

Being Santa Claus is not just listening to wishes but also delivering them. The hiring of the next ASO CEO ultimately comes down to you, Virginia; so it’s time for you to deliver.

We know that a CEO won’t be in our stocking for Christmas because it does take time to hire the best candidate. As you conduct this search, take into consideration the notion of seeking as much input as possible from the musicians, chorus members, and ASO supporters, and give us the CEO we deserve.

We can’t just forgive and forget what has happened over the past few years. However, we do believe that wounds can heal if wrongs are made right. More importantly, we believe, and we always will, in our beloved Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Now just give us a reason to believe in you, Virginia.


Save Our Symphony Atlanta

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