Think Twice About the Youth Symphony

So here’s the whole story of how the Youth Symphony managed to insult both me and my children. Think of it as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about encouraging their child to audition.

Normally, when the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony wants to disseminate information, they do it with a vengeance. You will get emails, follow-up emails, and reminder emails. You can rarely say that you weren’t warned, no matter what the subject. Tours, rehearsals, raffle tickets, auditions…you can hardly open your email program without a slew of emails from the Youth Symphony.

Except when they don’t.

In January, a youth symphony from another state visited, and there was a combined concert scheduled. We got approximately seven or eight thousand emails about hosting the visiting musicians and the potluck that would happen the night before the concert. I happily made two pans of green chile cheddar potatoes and sent them to the potluck with my daughters.

That was Friday night. On Saturday morning, we realized we didn’t have any concert details, except start time. So my daughter and I went through our emails. The inbox, the trash, the spam folder. If email could be sent there, we opened it up and scoured through it. Nothing.

So the girls packed their uniforms and drove off to the rehearsal. I told Thing 1 to call me and let me know the deal about lunch–was she coming home, going out, it was provided or whatever the case turned out to be.

Things 1 and 2 are 17 and 15, respectively. While neither one is going to perish if they miss a meal, it’s not a good idea to expect teenagers of any sort to go for several hours without eating.

The phone rang. It was Thing 1. On the verge of tears. Which is not USUAL for a dress rehearsal.

What, I inquired, was the problem?

They’d been yelled at for being late. OK, fair enough, the rehearsal was in a new space in a part of town she wasn’t familiar with. We both thought she had left in plenty of time, but apparently not.

But she’d also been reprimanded for not knowing the plan for the day and for not packing a sack lunch.

Not kidding. A supposed “adult” thought that ridicule and sarcasm was the best way to teach these girls a lesson about not reading their email. Never mind that they never got it.

So I said, “Is there someone in charge nearby that I can talk to? You’ve got my car, I can give my permission for you to run out and grab some lunch.”

Remember the reason I asked to speak to someone. To solve the very minor issue of lunch.

The person who my daughter handed the phone to is the Executive Director of the Youth Symphony.

One would suspect that title would mean someone who is accustomed to representing her organization in a professional and thoughtful manner. Perhaps someone who has been dealing with parents for a number of years, and knows how to put their mind at ease in a polite and efficient manner.

One would be wrong.

I rank that phone conversation as probably the single rudest, most insulting phone call of my adult life.

The woman proceeded to talk over me. As in, I was not allowed to finish a single sentence. I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions, either.

I got a bile-filled earful of how thoughtless the Youth Symphony parents are, not to mention lazy, and it’s not her fault that we’re too negligent to read the email we were sent. I believe that time I got out, “But we didn’t get–” before she was off and running again. She told me we DID get it. It was sent on X day by Y person and she told me what it was titled.

While she wasn’t exactly yelling, none of this was in a calm, normal speaking voice, either.

Then she started in on my children, and how irresponsible they are not to read THEIR email, and it’s not her fault that they, too, are lazy and careless.

Dude. WTF doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I’m not generally considered either timid or tongue-tied, but I am not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t get a word in. My husband was at his desk next to me and heard the whole conversation. Because I was holding the phone away from my ear and he COULD hear the conversation.

This woman had been inundated (her word) with emails and phone calls on Friday from other parents just like me, who were too lazy to read their own email and were calling her for the details about Saturday. I needed to quit bothering her and search through my email. I believe at this point she suggested that my email program or my server was at fault. It devolved into her shouting, “You want me to feed your children? Fine, I’m sure we can scrounge together something for them to eat.”

My ears rang from the verbal bitch-slap.

By the way, while the girls were in rehearsal? Two of their directors commented on the fact that so many members didn’t even appear to know there WAS a concert that day.

Immediately after it happened, I contacted the Music Director and told him my husband would like to speak to him.

Because this wasn’t the first time the Youth Symphony had gone out of their way to make me feel like a second class citizen who couldn’t possibly understand the very, very important work they do that ignorant me just writes the very large checks for. When I hung up the phone, I was finished. I’m not washing uniforms, I’m not reminding anyone about important dates, I’m not baking cookies, I’m not writing checks. I’m done. Anything they want from my family, they can now go through my husband.

To his credit, the Music Director called my husband to inquire about what happened.

In response to his request, I wrote him a very polite letter detailing what happened, how I felt, and how it changed the way I see the entire Youth Symphony organization. Because “inspiring leadership” and a “professional environment” are supposed to be major components of the CSYSA’s mission. When a key volunteer’s first response to a question from a musician is to respond sarcastically in a loud and angry tone, they have larger problems than losing one parent supporter. But when shrieking at a parent is an acceptable response? Whoa.

The incident I described here took place two weeks ago. The response I’ve gotten to my letter? I was told I was very clear about expressing how I felt.

And that’s it.

No apology. Not even “We’re sorry there’s been a misunderstanding.” Absolute zero. They know they pissed me off and insulted me. It appears the organization is too large and too important to care about something as insignificant as a member of their board insulting the parent of one of their musicians.

Coincidentally, I sit on the board of another local nonprofit, although not nearly so large as the Youth Symphony. I would be mortified if another board member, or any member representing our organization, thought so little of our supporters or was so incredibly rude.

I understand how hard it is to run a volunteer organization. I understand the frustration of trying to provide information to a lot of different people in as many ways as possible. I’ve made mistakes, others in my organization have made mistakes, but we acknowledge them, we apologize for them, we learn from them and we try to make things right.

I hope I’m never involved with any organization which is too large and too self-important to offer an individual a simple apology.

After all, if you stepped on someone’s toes in a crowded room, would you apologize or would you yell at them for getting in your way? Because it’s pretty clear that the Youth Symphony believes we’re all in their way.


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