Musicians Behaving Badly, Part One

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Recently I have seen news of the situation in Dallas with their music director and it has been distressing to hear. I know several of the musicians in that ensemble. I’ve also heard of the recent start of the series “Mozart in the Jungle” relating to Blair Tindall’s excellent book about the seamy underbelly of the classical music world. Some people might think this book was an exaggeration. Having known some of the characters in the book, I tend to believe what she has written.

I have witnessed conductors throwing things at musicians. I have seen what the climate of fear can do to people and their self-esteem. I can recall one music director actually threatening physical violence towards a musician, and as far as I know, the union never did a thing about it. I have also seen what a conductor with absolute dictatorial control can do in damaging a distinguished career, if they just don’t like you.

I have also seen how cruel we can be with our colleagues, including everything from condescension, out right belittlement, and even harassment. I’m not talking about a disagreement, or an argument. Sometimes that can be valuable to clear the air, provided people are adult about it. Some people do have a hard time getting along, and this can be difficult. Safe to say, not everyone behaves “professionally”.

Another issue I have is with teachers, I have heard of all sorts of behavior including sexual harassment. Some teacher’s tactics in instruction can actually be very destructive. It has never been a good idea to berate anyone, and certainly never as a young adult. Tabateau apparently was very hard on his students, because he believed then they were prepared for the worst a conductor could throw at them. Teachers supposedly are creating artists, not trained monkeys.

In my view none of these behaviors are acceptable under any circumstances, no matter how dire the situation. We operate best in a climate free from fear, or harm, or loss of income or station. If we are to encourage the best that humankind can do then we ought to behave accordingly. In my next post I will be offering some real life environments that encourage this kind of behavior. We owe it to ourselves to do no less.

2 Replies to “Musicians Behaving Badly, Part One”

  1. John Madden

    You absolutely will not remember me. I was in the Langley concert band/wind ensemble from ’67-’71. I was reviewing some music for Christmas midnight mass today (I’m just an old church choir member) and thought about Langley’s choir and then the band and wind ensemble, and remembered how listening to you, and several others like Chuck Appleby, was such a delight. On a whim, I googled you and found your site. After college I sang one concert with the Oratorio Society of Washington along with the National Symphony directed by Antal Dorati. Your blog on musicians behaving badly reminded me of watching his anger at a violinist during the performance. Whatever happened, Dorati continued conducting while glaring at the musician for quite awhile. Even after 41 years I can see him. It left an impression.

    I have a copy of Mass and saw in the notes you were the bassoonist. I never saw a performance but listened to the records. It must have been an experience. Hope you are well.

    John Madden

    • Vincent Ellin Post author

      Hi John, I have to apologize for not replying sooner. The Digital age is a new learning curve for me and I should of responded sooner. I’m so glad you got to work with Dorati, even with the nasty experience. You probably were performing with my old bassoon teacher!!! It was a pleasure working with Bernstein, one of my first Mahler 9ths was with him….he had his bad days too, but was always nice to me so I can’t complain. Thanks for the kind reply!!


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