League Conference: Musicians' Session
On Thursday we had a musicians’ session, with Bob Wagner moderating. Bob is the principal bassoon of the New Jersey Symphony, a board member of the League, and former ICSOM rep and Orchestra Committee chair of the NJSO.
There were perhaps 15 of us: we talked about a lot of things:
- I asked about the League’s R/Evolution website –and it’s relevance to musicians. The breakdown was pretty much generational – I didn’t like it at all, but younger folks did.
- One musician talked about the online comments she reads on her local papers about a concert review, some of which are just awful. Another musician said that every member of an orchestra has a responsibility to respond if there are negative comments out there.
- The Charleston Symphony (in deep trouble) is on Facebook – they do roundtables in the community.
- At one of the tables at the opening session, a music critic complained about hearing comments from the stage, yet the musicians were concerned about American audiences who don’t know much about classical music, who need some help in understanding it. Technology can indeed help with audience participation, yet how to appease the educated audience?
- Relevance vs. ownership. Boards take ownership of the orchestra, but musicians need to do so as well. We need to educate our boards about their role in governing and managing the orchestra. We need to assist in board development – get our boards to listen.
- Europe vs. the States – is there a different attitude towards live concerts in Europe? We don’t really know why people go to concerts. Why do people go to baseball games?
- Michael Kaiser (CEO of the Kennedy Center) is good at putting together great programs. (See an article I put up recently about his advice as he tours the country.) What is a good concert? Why do people come? Michael just says, “Put something together” and they will come. His model doesn’t work so well for symphonies where we only have a few repeats of the same program.
- St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s new model of lowering all ticket prices to $10 and $25 – would this model work for a small orchestra that only presents 6 to 8 Masterworks concerts a year?
- Should we use the public radio model and present our concerts for free? We could then do donor drives. Winston-Salem is thinking about presenting their education concerts for free, to bring the parents in and get them interested.
- We don’t use the data in front of us to make decisions.
- Where is the creative thinking in our organizations? The repertoire is out there, but the talent of putting it together isn’t. Why are orchestras still putting on bad holiday concerts? There’s no point in re-inventing the wheel – just use a concert format that has worked elsewhere. Perhaps we need a Gold Book of programming [similar to the League’s Gold Book of volunteer projects]. It could contain canned programming in specialty areas.
- One musician attending was from Honduras – they no longer have a symphony. A bad administration caused it to fold. His town has a small string chamber orchestra and their concerts are always full. He was in Venezuela [home of El Sistema] recently, and a guy selling oranges in a park knew all about an upcoming concert while the violinist he was visiting hadn’t heard about it. What does that tell us?
- Most orchestras are experiencing a reduction in services – what does the future hold? More ensemble / community engagement services?
- Are audiences with a deep love of music going away? Will the orchestras of the future be able to provide full-time employment for their musicians?
Well, not all gloom and doom, but a sobering conversation.
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