Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mixed Emotions

I just received word this morning that a former musician colleague of mine was killed in a motorcycle accident on Tuesday night.

He was riding his motorcycle down a two-lane highway and hit someone in a pickup truck turning into the roadway. Mark was immediately killed while the lone occupant of the truck was uninjured.

How tragic. Mark leaves a wife and three teenaged children behind.

I feel a combination of sadness and guilt. The first is totally understandable. The second is a bit more difficult to process.

You see, Mark was not well-liked in one of the orchestras I played in. He was Personnel Manager for a number of years and did some things which were definitely not supportive of the musicians, whom he was supposed to represent.

He was also a bridge between musicians and orchestra Management. This is a very difficult position for someone who was also a member of the orchestra. One foot in each camp, so to speak. Which way was the wind going to blow?

I think that it's best to hire a Personnel Manager who's not a musician in the orchestra, but this does not often happen.

Some orchestra personnel managers lean more towards the musicians, while others favor Management. The former sometimes lose or quit their jobs, so it is no wonder that the latter wants to "play it safe".

In late 1990, Mark went out of his way to disenfranchise one of the musicians in the orchestra.

The musician in question took one sick day a year, during the run of Nutcracker ballets in December. He took off for a matinee and was back in time to play the evening performance. It was sort of a long-standing "tradition", understood by musicians and even the conductor that this person would take off in order to go skiing. A sub was always notified in advance.

This was no big deal, although it wasn't strictly "kosher". This particular musician did not abuse sick-leave at any other time during the nine-month orchestra season, unlike many of his colleagues (including Mark).

But Mark and another musician who had a bone to pick with this person, decided to take matters into their own hands.

They followed the "sick" musician up to the ski resort in the Sierras with a video-camera, and documented his activities away from the orchestra.

This resulted in a suspension of the musician for an entire month. No pay.

You can see why I have mixed emotions about this. One can say that Mark was just doing his job. But most members of the orchestra were horrified at this Gestapo-like behavior, going to such lengths to discredit this musician.

Also, this event came at the worst possible moment, because the musicians were then embroiled in contract negotiations with Management. (I was on the Orchestra Committee, in the thick of all this.)

The organization had just hired a new Executive Director, who needed to flex his muscles and show the musicians "who was boss".

Mark chose to align himself with the Executive Director rather than with the musicians, who were fighting pay cuts and new restrictive work rules proposed by Management. Together, they undermined the musicians' position.

This video-taping event ripped the orchestra apart. It was the beginning of a very long, agonizing, lingering demise of the organization. It wasn't the cause of its eventual death in 1996, but it was the first nail in the coffin.

There were many hard feelings. The other musician who had participated in the videotaping made a public apology, but was never quite forgiven over the next six years of the orchestra's existence.

Mark held fast to his beliefs that the "sick" musician was in the wrong.

Technically Mark was correct. But the lengths he went to to discredit this musician seemed overly harsh, especially at such a vulnerable time for the musicians at the bargaining table. It had devastating effects on the orchestra, and ultimately on the entire community when the organization declared bankruptcy six years later.

A few months following this incident, Mark stepped down as Personnel Manager. Shortly thereafter, he resigned from the orchestra.

Sigh. I do feel sad that Mark was killed. It is very tragic, and my heart goes out to his wife, children, family and friends who have lost him so suddenly.

I had not intended to go on so long about this, or even write about it at all. But I do feel that I've released something in the process.

Rest in peace, Mark.


  1. This is a sad story all round.

    But one thing for sure, when working with people you have to be flexible and understanding to get the best out of them. One cannot always go by the book - especially in a creative industry.

    It was sad that he could not see the other side of the coin.

    Also one reason that I am not allowed to buy a motorbike!

  2. Thank you so very much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. It means a lot!!

    Your story is a sad one. Anyone dying during this season is the worst for the family.

    It must have been quite difficult during that time in the orchestra.

    I noticed that Linda posted a comment here as well (Hi, Linda!!). She is an AWESOME lady and her writing is phenomenal!!

    Please visit again soon. You have a great blog. I have enjoyed reading it.

    I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas and New Years!

  3. An orchestra is such a fragile ecosystem that it's a wonder that any survive the vissicitudes of the economy and internecine power struggles at all.