No Crystal Ball, but . . .

For the past four days I’ve been in San Diego, CA where the Eastman School’s Institute for Music Leadership, of which I am Director, presented a pre-meeting workshop at the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) annual meeting. The title of the workshop was, “The Entrepreneurial Music School in a Challenging Economy.”

Since it’s always challenging times for music schools and orchestras, and one of the things entrepreneurial leaders must try to do is to envision the future, we decided to engage as our principal speaker and facilitator, Bob Johanson. Bob is a Distinguished Fellow and former President of The Institute for the Future. IFTF is a think tank that forecasts what the world will look like in the future—usually ten years out. It consults to companies, the military and also to not-for-profits.

So, for two days we talked about the year 2020 and how trends that are already in motion today will be firmly in place in another decade. We talked about big things like, technology, health, medicine, population, and government, then with the stage set for 2020, we discussed music’s place in this future world.

We videotaped the sessions and as soon as we get them formatted for the web, I’ll be putting up some of them for Polyphonic readers. Too bad none of us have a crystal ball or the cell phone number of a reliable fortune teller. But if you are a musician with 10-50 years ahead of you in the profession, thinking about, and envisioning, the future might be a good thing for you to consider.

Do you think symphony orchestras will be thriving? Better yet, do you think you will be able to make a comfortable living playing in an orchestra? How do you think technology will affect orchestras? Is their business model sustainable? You’ve heard about Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the restructuring of companies like General Motors. Do you think similar scenarios are possible for orchestras—even big ones? Are current musician’s salaries and season lengths sustainable? What are the growth areas in music? Are there any in symphonic, chamber and jazz? Is my career path sustainable?

If you are young and just getting a foothold in music, it can get a little scary thinking about these topics. But my advice is to remain well-rounded, flexible, have some options, get connected with technology and recognize that your career today will probably be different than the one you will find yourself in twenty years from now. Don’t find yourself making buggy whips in an age of hydrogen or solar vehicles. More on Bob Johanson will follow in the coming days.

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Ramon Ricker

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