Explicit rules, Implicit Rules

“Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention which all events and facts arouse by virtue of their existence.”

Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgement

In many professional systems there are always those who are so dependent on what they perceive to be the status quo that any questioning or criticism is seen as a threat to their livelihood and very survival. These true believers are often the fiercest guardians and perpetuators of the entrenched dominant culture. The institutions they are a part of validate certain interpretations of what is right and what is wrong. When faced with a potentially negative analysis, the reaction is not one of the deep reflection or reconsideration, but rather an instant circling of the wagons, of coming up with and promulgating what at its best could be called knee-jerk defensive bromides. “They hate us for our freedom”, would be a prime example. This unexamined slogan has all the cultural power and seeming validity of an incessantly pervasive advertising campaign. Both speaker and listener immediately understand the context of the dismissal message. The status quo is protected, not through any kind of tortured detailed defense, but through the simplest of statements. The persuasive power of these catchy deflections is in fact almost always greater than the strength of actual, often times hard won truth. It is always expedient to believe the easy thing, while it is much more arduous to do the hard work of actual study and contemplation to come to ones own conclusions, even if, and especially because, they can call into question long held beliefs. This is why public relations and advertising has such a tremendous hold over most populations. Lies and innuendo are easier than detailed fact. Simpler and more obvious ideas are more likely to take hold in the cultural commons. If one tends to feel a certain way or believe he or she has a certain allegiance, a counterpoint or differing narrative can be threatening, or at least be perceived as threatening, especially to one’s usually fragile sense of self or economic situation. Yes, gossip and griping behind closed doors are tolerated and even encouraged as a way to blow off steam, but a public statement would be regarded a betrayal – thus the all too common code of silence and the visceral hatred of whistleblowers. While it is always important to question the motivations of the critic, it is also equally essential to consider their ideas. However, even this concept is too complex for most believers, because why should they take time to actually defend against a critique point by point if it isn’t necessary? A lazy reference to the most base, prurient possible motivation is usually more than sufficient. If one is so enmeshed in a system, one tends to idolize those they perceive as their superiors, and in such a situation it would be only natural to seek to one day attain such highly admired positions. If one is so invested in such a hierarchy, it is considered not beneficial to question it, if such a thing is even possible. In this way, great ideas and critiques are casually brushed aside with basic phrases, and systems continue, even in the face of imminent failure and disaster, especially for the true believers themselves.

MUSICIANS: Think about the system you currently find yourself in. Be it an educational institution, a professional symphony, or some kind of freelance gig, what are the underlying presumptions and systems that are simply taken for granted? Does it make sense that university string professors be required to recruit their own studios? What are the possible effects of such a system, positive or negative? What role does hierarchy play in professional symphonies? What are the official, explicit rules, and what are the implicit, unwritten rules? What are the consequences?

LUTHIERS: What are the public rules, if any, of the violin business? Why is critique or criticism oftentimes quickly dismissed with crude gossip or inaccurate comparisons to infamous, discredited predecessors? What are the other rules, never publicly recognized, which are so crucial to the identity of our trade? What the things that we quietly accept which should be questioned and challenged?

Support Symphony Musicians

ATLFolks may have heard the news of the recent lockout of the Atlanta Symphony musicians.  If not, please take a look at the following links:

From The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians:


From The American Federation of Musicians:


My wife just got back from playing with the Minnesota Orchestra’s Gala featuring Renee Fleming.  This incredible group of musicians stuck together though an extended lockout and won an important and I believe historic battle for all musicians who work in some of our nation’s best cultural institutions.

Recently we saw that the Met narrowly avoided a lockout.  As long as the funding for classical music in this country comes predominately from corporate support and not from the government and the people, I feel that these entities will remain at risk.  The corporate management culture that has risen under our neo-liberal economic system is bloated, greedy, and fundamentally corrupt.  One need only read the economic news to find evidence.  We all know what the laborers do in an opera or symphony:  they show up for each and every rehearsal and all performances.  They and the stagehands are hard at work for all to see.  These consummate professionals represent some of the finest in their fields.  They have worked long and hard from very early ages, and have paid huge amounts of money on education and instruments in order to reach their goals.  Few professions require such dedication and years of training.  By the time a, say 25-year-old musician wins her first major audition, she may have had  up to 22 years of musical education under her belt, the equivalent of a couple of PhDs. This is not always true of management.  What exactly are they doing and what are their qualifications?  Who is auditing their activities and expenditures?  Please let me add here that I personally know many dedicated behind the scenes management workers who are amazing at what they do and are indispensable to the functioning of an organization as large as say, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.   However, as long as certain types are allowed to run these institutions and sit on their boards, oftentimes earning huge salaries,  these labor issues will continue.  What will happen when new generations of corporate executives lose interest in our symphonies and operas?  People need to be ready to step up and support the institutions they love.

Here I wonder why there hasn’t been more support from the luthier community.  Without the business generated by the amazingly talented string musicians who make up the majority of these groups, we would be in trouble ourselves.  Why hasn’t the Violin Society of America or the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers issued statements of support or donated money?  Where are the comments from makers and shop owners on symphony musician’s Facebook pages?  If the violin business community would awake from its self-obsessed slumber and actually reach out to these musicians, who are often customers and friends after all, I know it would be deeply appreciated.  It’s important that we be on right side of history.

Not-for-profit cultural institutions like operas, symphonies, and museums serve vital functions in a society such as ours.  They exist not to turn a buck, but to enrich our lives, to educate us, and to excite our imaginations.  They also create a valid form of economy by generating a huge number of jobs and supporting a host of connected businesses such as this shop.  We need to stand with them.  Go picket with them, blog about them, write letters to the board, and donate to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra players.


There are two amazing bloggers that had been following the Minnesota lockout and have now turned their attentions to the Atlanta lockout.  Please take a look at their work:

Song of the Lark – intelligent, feisty commentary and research


Mask of the Flower Prince – well written, deeply intellectual posts


Please go to the Facebook page of the Atlanta Symphony Musicians and voice your opinions:


Atlanta Symphony Musicians website:



AFM President – Testimony on Elephant Ivory Ban


Click to access AFMTestimonyElephantIvory_Hair.pdf

The link above is written testimony by President Raymond Hair of the American Federation of Musicians, submitted to the House Committee of Natural Resources. This eight page document is by far the best case that has been made to date for an exception to the elephant ivory ban for musicians. Hats off to the folks at the AFM for the work and thought put into this testimony. Very thorough and impressive.