The Perilous Analysis of Symphony Orchestra Finances
The Flanagan Report has recently been resurrected by its author, Robert Flanagan of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, as a book, recently published and currently being promoted by the Yale University Press. The promotion has not yet paid off in reviews outside our field, but is beginning to cause reactions from industry groups. The first in print appears to be a review of the book by ICSOM Chairman Bruce Ridge in the most recent edition of ICSOM’s newsletter Senza Sordino. ICSOM has kindly allowed us to run the review as an article on this website as well.
Bruce’s review could well be described as “dismissive”:
No one is going to read this book.
Well, perhaps I exaggerate. A handful of people will read this book, and maybe a few will actually make it all the way to the end. Such brave souls will earn my admiration, because reading this book is like shaving with a cheese grater.
Many people, though, will claim to have read it. It will sit on prominent display in the offices of executive directors, and they will reach for it whenever they need to point to a chart or graph, probably out of context, to support some negative claim about the future of classical music in America. Some will even engage in some “marginalia,” but others, I suppose, will follow the lead of The Great Gatsby, a character who at least knew enough not to cut the pages in the unread books that merely decorated the library in his East Egg Mansion.
My initial instinct was to ignore the book, but I decided that I had to write a review. Since virtually no one will actually make it to the end (or beyond the first five pages, really), reviews will become what the book is about, and there will most certainly be reviews written.
Bruce goes on to identify his fundamental objection to Flanagan’s analysis:
…this book seems to be written by someone who simply doesn’t understand his subject. It analyzes the state of symphony orchestras in America, but the tale is told in the unauthoritative voice of someone who sounds like he might never have been backstage at a symphonic rehearsal.
I was reading it backstage at one of my orchestra’s concerts, and when I went onstage to perform with my colleagues, I felt disoriented. Nothing I had been reading in this book seemed to have any relationship to the music I was playing–nor to the nearly sold-out audience of young and old music lovers listening to the innovative program we were presenting.
The whole thing is worth reading (and it’s a lot shorter – and better written – than the book itself), so go read it.
Having said that, though, I think that Bruce’s review (in common, I suspect, with others in the pipeline) misses what’s fundamentally wrong with Flanagan’s analysis. But I’ll save my criticism of the book for tomorrow.
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[…] there’s been some public discussion about the Flanagan book, as I mentioned here, there’s been almost none about its genesis, with one exception that I’ll discuss below. This […]