Let’s say you’re a good-hearted animal lover without a whole lot of money. You go down to the local shelter and offer to volunteer to do some work for them, and they say, sorry, in order for you to volunteer, you’ll have to make a cash gift.
Sound dumb? Well, replace “animal” with “music” and “shelter” with “Tanglewood,” and you’ll get the gist of this story from the Berkshire Eagle, which reports the Boston Symphony Orchestra telling its summer volunteers that they’ll have to pony up at least seventy-five bucks for the BSO’s Annual Fund before they’ll be allowed to work. Huh? Let me read that again. Nope, my bafflement still stands. Huh?
The BSO administration is crying poor, saying that Tanglewood loses money every year. So, of course, the people you take that out on are the ones already working for free. Oh, they’re also cracking down on the free passes that volunteers are entitled to in return for their efforts. Used to be, you’d agree to work eight hours, and you’d get a pass (that’s for a lawn seat, by the way). Now, no pass until you’ve already worked the eight hours, which kind of stinks if you’re only out there for a weekend or two. They’re also restricting the transferability of said passes.
At the informational meeting, which was held Monday at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, a BSO executive referred to the “egregious abuses” of the companion passes in past seasons, and told of one former volunteer who was surreptitiously leading friends through the gate “nine times an hour.”
I realize that most of the Tanglewood volunteers aren’t starving students—they’re retirees and vacationers looking for a good deal. And it is a pretty good deal: put on a name tag, point a few patrons in a few directions, hand out programs, and get to hear the concert for free. But, come on, they’re volunteers. The BSO may need new revenue streams, but the people who have spent years giving you free labor is probably not the best place to go looking for one, not from a morale standpoint, not from a staffing standpoint, certainly not from a PR standpoint. BSO development operations director Mia Shultz called the changes “a new definition of commitment.” It’s also an old definition of foolish.
Update (4/13): Geoff Edgers has lots more information, including a BSO assertion that Tanglewood loses $3 million every summer.