Protesting or Praising, Classical Music Fans Become Activists Online

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Internet activism (Shutterstock)

Before the Minnesota Orchestra locked out its musicians in a season-long labor dispute, the orchestra's administration had already locked down a large number of domain names – buying up at least a dozen website addresses that were variations on "Save Our Minnesota Orchestra."

The bulk purchase was uncovered by Emily Hogstad, a Wisconsin-based blogger who was trying to set up a website to rally support for locked-out musicians. She quickly discovered that many of the obvious URLs had already been taken — several months before the lockout began, by the orchestra itself. (She eventually found one, which launched this week.)

The incident is the latest example of political-style web advocacy that's moved into the realm of classical music and the arts. In this podcast, we get three views on the trend, including that of Hogstad, who writes the blog Song of the Lark.

A Minnesota Orchestra spokesperson told NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas that the organization reserved the URLs to protect the orchestra's name, knowing well that the labor talks would be contentious. Such purchases are a standard business practice, although they're usually masked by a third-party buyer so that it's not quite so obvious what's taking place. Even so, the revelation drew a wave of negative commentary and the orchestra had to acknowledge Hogstad's blog, which she said it had previously ignored.

Tsioulcas believes the rise of "save our symphony" advocacy websites signifies a new level of audience empowerment, giving fans "a foot in the discussion," as she put it. "It used to be that for a ticket buyer, a fan, really the only agency they had was: would they buy tickets or not?" She further notes that the musicians themselves had bought up their own domain name two years earlier.

Ryan J. Davis is a vice president of the new-media start up Vocativ, and has worked on social media at Blue State Digital and the 2004 Howard Dean campaign. He notes that arts organizations have been generally slow to understand social media. However, he said, "we're seeing this shift from the power of institutions to dictate policy and the top-down way they’ve been doing for generations for an ability for people to using social media to express their opinions and filter information up."

Another recent example of fan-driven advocacy involves an online petition aimed at pressuring the Metropolitan Opera to dedicate its opening night gala to the gay community. The gala features the two stars – Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev – who are supporters of Vladimir Putin, who recently passed anti-gay legislation in Russia. Davis believes that whether or not the petition can influence Met policy, it has succeeded in stimulating a conversation about the issue of gay rights. "It's just another piece of bad P.R. for Russia," he said.

Arts organizations must also learn better ways to harness social media, and not only from a defensive stance, said Tsioulcas. Two years ago, it was enough to stage a flashmob and that would spawn a viral YouTube video. "That’s not quite enough," Tsioulcas said. "They really have to spend the time and effort and learn how to spread them.

"It's a multi-way conversation. It's not there as a megaphone to broadcast your next press release."

Weigh in: How can the Internet give fans a greater voice in performing arts companies? Listen to the full discussion above and share your thoughts below.


Brian Wise


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Comments [4]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Our nation has a large number of professional musicians and talented enthusiastic young musicians yearning while training to become orchestra members of symphonies an opera and ballet companies. We need to encourage their efforts by subsidizing our cultural organizations, including the fine arts museums which more and more are becoming the venues for presentations from chamber music to symphonies to operatic productions. In the status of singing and specifically of singing artists there is a dramatic drop in the numbers and quality of obtainable talent. The troubles that tear asunder the prospect of REAL "echt" talent in opera singers generally and specifically those big voices required for WAGNERIAN PERFORMANCES are primarily based on the total lack of singers with squillo, ping, ringing "juicy', not dry secco , delivery, WAGNERIAN BARKING rather than legato full-throated singing, strained, forced and flat singing, unsupported, undersized and underpowered singing, WITHOUT impressive carrying power and with throaty or nasal ugly voice production. Today's news deals with deficits and declining support for the arts. Tandem to this predicament for the talented is the perception that the current situation will continue for a long time to come. Speaking specifically how this precludes the motivation for young operatic singers who must early on choosing their life's work, many have turned to Broadway or the business world. Nowadays Broadway musicals are out for show-stopping sensationalism with laser distractions, monster sets, acrobatic feats and space age technical projections and featuring dancing over singing. So, for the real thing opera singer, Broadway musicals, outside of Phantom of the Opera and an occasional Les Miserables there is little prospect of a sustainable career . The Wagner oeuvre has suffered the most. Husky physiques, witness the iconic John McCormack, do not offer similar size singing voices in power or stamina. Heroic voices like Melchior, Tamagno, Ruffo and the mature Caruso are nowhere on today's world class stages. Instead we suffer to hear miniscule, non-charismatic, non-distinctively memor able singing voices essaying roles far beyond their underpowered, thin not orotund, singing potentialities. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer [SHAKESPEARE and THE POLITICAL SHAKESPEARE] and director of The Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where all the Wagner and all the Shakespeare roles are taught as well as vocal technque for singing and declamation.

Aug. 31 2013 12:56 PM
Rachael HD from Minneapolis

I would like to point out that the president of the Minnesota Orchestra board is a vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo. I think Wells Fargo must have a very odd idea of what community relations are, if they think that destroying our Orchestra is going to make us love them. Indeed, more than half of the board members are officers or management level employees of the largest companies in Minnesota. Perhaps it is time for the fans of the Orchestra to remind those companies that we do not appreciate their participation in the destruction of our Orchestra. I have severed all of my ties with Wells Fargo and will no longer purchase from General Mills or Haskel's or any of the other companies represented on the board until our musicians are made whole and the conflict is resolved to the satisfaction of our community. I would encourage all other Minnesotans in support of the Orchestra to do the same.

Aug. 29 2013 06:12 PM
John Kim Munholland from Paris, France

There are organizations, including Save Our Orchestra and Orchestrate Excellence who are actively raising money to supporrt the Minnesota Orchestra, preserving its quality and holding onto the Music Director, Osmö Vänskä, who is very much responsible for carrying the Minnesota Orchestra to the preeminence that it has achieved and recognized nationally (see the support from 32 Orchestras) and internationally. These organizations are going forward in the direction that your commentators suggested was essential to accomplish the goals of any protest movement, in this case preserving a cultural treasure by compelling all parties involved to feel the pressure of those subscribers who feel not only left out, but are offering their own financial resources, at what ever level, to preserve an institution that is valued by the community.

Aug. 29 2013 05:31 PM
Rolf Erdahl from Minnesota

There are substantial differences in timing and approach to the domain name purchases made by the Minnesota Orchestra players and MOA management. There has been a growing trend across the nation for players organizations in many orchestras to have their own websites and facebook pages, separate from the official orchestral sites, run by management teams. These are set up both to give the players a more personal interface with audiences on a regular basis, and to provide a platform for airing their views and positions to answer or counter statements posed by the management's official sites in the event of a labor dispute.

The purpose of the musicians' domain name purchase (of just one domain?) was to give people a voice. It's not clear this had anything to do with planning for a lockout, other than as an insurance policy. In contrast, it appears the purpose of the MOA's purchase of at least 13 domain names was to make it harder for people to be heard, in anticipation of actions the MOA was planning to take to lock out their musicians and audiences, well in advance of any "negotiations."

Aug. 29 2013 01:04 PM

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