Thoughts on life and music.

Cultural Differences (Type A Personality in a Laid-Back Culture)

I wrote this up on the bus back from Banja Luka last week, and forgot to post it: I learned that switching seats on the way home from a runout concert is not ok in this orchestra. Chihiro wasn't feeling well, and wanted to sit up front instead of in the back like she had on the way to Banja Luka. So Rebecca, Chihiro and I arrived at the bus early to get seats up front for the three of us. As soon as some of the string players arrived (5 minutes before departure) things got complicated. They apparently strictly adhere to the seating chart of the departing bus on the way back. I explained Chihiro didn't feel well and wanted to sit in front, and there was little sympathy to be found. Instead of adapting and shifting back one set of seats most of the women were adamant about getting their original departing seat. I don't even know how they remembered the exact seat they were in. It became a matter of principal for me so I probably was more stubborn than necessary, but I couldn't believe how insistent they were on getting the EXACT arrangement we had yesterday. One violist in particular whose seat I was apparently in would not let it go, and I realized it was just because she didn't want to sit with anyone, despite everyone else either sharing or sitting with instruments that were too big to put overhead. So she sat alone stretched out comfortably while everyone else shared the seats. The fluctuation between kindness and selfishness here is really confusing sometimes. Three teenagers will jump off the bus to help the guy in Otes who's in a wheelchair, but if you don't push through and cut people off you won't get anywhere on public transportation. Chihiro has a swollen cheek from a problem tooth, and is clearly not well, but this girl couldn't let go of "her" seat and just sit somewhere else. I haven't been able to decide if it's just an urban dweller attitude, or if it's an actual cross-cultural thing.

I found this rant in my Notes app, and it got me thinking about some of the other major differences in the way people operate here in Bosnia compared to America. I think the biggest difference is the way people approach work. Americans have a more inherent entrepreneurial spirit, and it seems like Americans would be more inclined to create something when they couldn't find work rather than sit back and accept their fate (I'm working in over-simplified generalizations here). Administration is always a nightmare when you have more than one person who has to approve what's going on, but administration here is particularly terrible. We went almost two months without a paycheck last winter, and I had to threaten to leave in order to get the point across to the minister of finance. I was going home to visit my dad, and I told the orchestra management that if I didn't have a paycheck in my bank account before I left I wouldn't come back. Miraculously, I had both paychecks in my account two days later. I hated having to resort to that kind of tactic, but at that point I was eating an awful lot of rice and only had 60 Pfennings left.

Another aspect of management here that is completely different is scheduling. I'm playing a gig in Virginia when I get back, and I had the schedule for rehearsals and performances back in December. I told one of the Bosnian violinists about this, and she was flabbergasted, "How could they possibly know the schedule already?" I'm fairly certain this is a cultural difference rather than just poor management, based on her reaction and the general feeling I get of how things work around here. Part of the reason our schedule is constantly in flux is from last-minute changes in the opera and ballet departments, so the orchestra management is not the only office having trouble making the schedule. We also have to wait for approval from the minister of culture when the budget is tight, because sometimes the cost of putting on a concert outweighs the benefits. When there were cash flow issues this winter and early spring, some of our concerts were cancelled because there was no money to print programs or hire ushers (as far as I understand it).

Regardless, there is an attitude of procrastination when it comes to planning things. I don't think we've ever gotten the next month's schedule before the 25th, and there's a clause in the by-laws of the Filharmonija that management reserves the right to change the schedule at any time with 24 hours notice. So we could have a "free day" on a Tuesday and get an email Sunday night that we have rehearsal. I think that's a bit absurd, because it makes planning any kind of travel next to impossible. All of the traveling I've been able to do has been scheduled last minute. When Rebecca and I went to Hungary, we had gone to rehearsal that morning and seen there were only two horn books on the opera we were playing for the next two weeks... So out of nowhere I had two weeks off. I immediately went to the train station and booked a ticket to Budapest for the next morning. It's worked out okay so far, but my plans of having lessons with horn players in Europe didn't pan out at all because of it. It's difficult enough to find an opening in a busy player's schedule, never mind coordinating two orchestra schedules and the traveling I would have done to get there. But when you add in a constantly changing schedule that you never see more than a few weeks in advance, it becomes impossible.

Even now, I have a June schedule that says we are free June 26-30, and we want to plan a trip during those days. I asked the office about a particular concert that the orchestra usually plays on July 1, since the rehearsals would have fallen during those days, and she asked me to wait a week after we got the June schedule just in case we ended up playing that concert. So I waited, didn't hear back and asked again if we were expecting to play July 1 with rehearsals during those free days. She emailed back "100% we are not playing July 1." We started planning a trip, and then a week later she notified me that we may end up playing on July 1 with rehearsals June 26-30, and not to make any reservations. Luckily we've been here long enough to know better than to book anything that far out, so we didn't make any reservations. But we could have easily bought tickets or hostel bookings and ended up with a big problem.

The point of this convoluted story is that being proactive and planning ahead is not valued and almost doesn't exist in this culture. The orchestra is used to these issues, and players rarely try to do anything outside of the Sarajevska Filharmonija. I don't understand how some of the orchestra members are enrolled in master's degrees, I have no idea how they coordinate their schedules with school and work. Our work schedule is constantly changing, and rehearsal times are never consistent. The syndicate, a European version of the union, is working to remove the by-law allowing them to make last minute changes. The syndicate is also trying to improve working conditions, but as with everything it will take a lot of time. The orchestra is used to being treated poorly by management, so I'm not sure many players realize they deserve better treatment. The other problem is that Bosnia has a 48% unemployment rate, which makes America's job crisis look like a hangnail. No one wants to lose their nice government job in the orchestra because they're running their mouths too much.

The problems here are quite complicated, but hopefully the syndicate and the younger/foreign players will bring a set of expectations that will force everyone to reevaluate the way things are done. This orchestra has the potential to become better and better, and I hope it will.

Double Concert with Ning Feng and Dvorak 8

Finally... a SYMPHONY!