Issue No. 1: October, 1995

Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
The Symphony Orchestra Institute – Precepts and Direction by Paul R. Judy
The Uniqueness and Commonality of American Symphony Orchestra Organizations by Paul R. Judy
Symphony Orchestra Organizations: Development of the Literature Since 1960 by Erin V. Lehman
About the Cover . . . by Phillip Huscher
Topical Areas of Interest
Research Program

Welcome to Harmony: Forum of the Symphony Orchestra Institute!

The basic conception of a research and education program directed to the organizational issues within symphony orchestra organizations took form in late 1993. During the next few months, the original ideas were further developed and the Symphony Orchestra Institute was incorporated in May 1994. During the next 12 months, based on extensive field interviews, the role of Harmony emerged: a forum for the exchange of ideas and insights about symphony orchestra organizations. Thus, Harmony is born, the first child of a very young mother!

This introductory issue features a statement of the precepts and direction of the Institute which details the framework through which the Institute will be addressing symphony orchestra organization issues; defines our mission; states some of the key tenets and objectives; and outlines plans and programs. We are excited about our future and invite your enthusiasm and support—and your critique of our concepts, definitions, and tenets. Please let us know your impressions.

On page 11, you will find an essay presenting the views of a practitioner as to the uniqueness and commonality of symphony orchestra organizations. We hope this essay will provoke reflection and response, either in the form of letters or manuscripts. Send us your thoughts.
A summary of the literature about symphony orchestra organizations written since 1960 begins on page 37. Participants in symphony orchestra organizations will find this survey of interest, but for scholars wishing to become acquainted with the field, it is a must. We hope that this survey will be an invaluable bibliographical base for future research and writing about symphony orchestra organizational matters.

For the reader with limited time, or for those who seek a briefing in advance of later, more careful reading, a short digest precedes each feature.

This will be a regular policy of Harmony.

We hope you were intrigued by the score fragment on the front cover! Have you identified it? Its significance? On page 55, these secrets are unlocked. You can expect a similarly amusing and educational challenge on the cover of future issues of Harmony.

Harmony is a forum for practitioners and scholars to exchange views about the dynamics of symphony orchestra organizations. So we need your penmanship as well as your readership. Guidelines for Contributors on page 57 tells you how to submit written material. On page 59, to excite your creativity, is a long list of topics about which you may have thoughtful views. And for scholars who have been or can become observers of these organizations, please let us have your insights, especially if you can bring experience and analysis from the observation of other types of organizations.

And, of course, each future issue of Harmony will have a readers’ response section, so let’s hear from you.

Research is a central component of the mission of the Institute. Our initial plans in this direction are summarized on page 65. If you have an interest in this area, let us know. We will keep our readers regularly informed as to the progress of this program. The Institute expects to publish the findings of sponsored research in separate documents.

Last, but not least, the Institute’s Subscription Plan is described on page 66. To be successful in its mission, the Institute should reach a wide audience of Affiliated Subscribers. To do this, we need the support of a large number of symphony orchestra organizations as Supporting Organization Subscribers. In addition, we seek wide readership in the academic, philanthropic, government, professional, and media communities through Individual and Group Subscriptions. We hope you will circulate this complimentary introductory issue to colleagues. At the back of this issue, you will find Subscription Forms for 1996; if you need additional forms, let us know. We invite your interest and support.

Good reading!



The Symphony Orchestra Institute – Precepts and Direction

The Symphony Orchestra Institute is an independent foundation formed to help orchestra musicians, staff employees, volunteers, and conductors better understand and address the complex issues and dynamics which exist within symphony orchestra organizations.
The mission of the Institute is to improve the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations, to enhance the value they provide to their communities, and to help assure their preservation as unique and valuable cultural institutions.

Guiding Assumptions

To implement this mission and guide the development of programs, research, and publications, the Institute has adopted a statement of precepts and direction. This statement is based upon a series of assumptions. Among them:

Some of the world’s best symphony orchestras make their homes in North
Many musicians, staff employees, and volunteers are unsure of their own
organizations’ abilities to address a future which includes rapid societal and
technological change, steady internal and external inflation, and uncertain funding.
Within many symphony orchestra organizations, there are ill-informed cross-
perceptions of the lives, work, and motives of the individuals and groups that make
up the total organization.
Constituents who provide sustained support to symphony orchestra organizations—
be they ticket purchasers, charitable contributors, active volunteers, or a combination of these categories—expect information, accountability, and assurance about the use of human and financial resources by the organizations.
Both commercial and not-for-profit organizations provide greater value to their customers and financial stakeholders by becoming more “effective.”
Practitioners and scholars can each make meaningful contributions to the dialogue which the Institute hopes to establish.

An Integrated Program

Over time, the Institute intends to develop an integrated program of research, publica- tions, forums, and education, and to serve as a catalyst by bringing organizational issues into the open for review and discussion; stimulating organizational introspection, self-assessment, and resolve; and advocating for positive long-range change.

The Institute does not intend to provide “school” solutions for any single organization, nor does it intend to provide organizational consulting services.

Response Invited

The Institute invites response to and critique of its work. It welcomes readers’ reactions to the stated precepts and direction, including the concepts and definitions of constitu- ency, value, and effectiveness, and the central tenets it has adopted. To engage in the dialogue, read on!

The Symphony Orchestra Institute – Precepts and Direction

Some of the best symphony orchestras in the world make their homes in North America. Their artistry is supreme. They play the most challenging symphonic music confidently and beautifully under a range of conductors. They serve enthusiastic audiences in a number of major metropolitan areas. Other American and Canadian orchestras are also first class; they are excellent ensembles with extensive repertoires. Orchestras in smaller communities throughout North America are the pride of their cities and towns, providing fine music and enjoyment to their audiences.

Yet, despite the geographical breadth of this recognized artistry and general enthusiasm, many musicians, staff employees, and volunteers are anxious about the future. They are unsure of their organizations’ ability to cope successfully with a range of encircling forces, including rapid societal and technological change, steady internal and external inflation, and uncertain funding.
Is there enough determination within these organizations, and are their structures and processes sufficiently flexible and responsive, to deal with these challenges?

The Symphony Orchestra Institute is an independent foundation devoted to helping participants better understand and address the complex issues and dynamics within symphony orchestra organizations. This statement outlines the precepts and direction of the Institute.


Constituency, Value, and Effectiveness

A symphony orchestra organization is a group of musicians, staff employees, and working volunteers, assembled primarily to maintain an orchestra principally performing a symphonic repertoire.

The Symphony Orchestra Institute wishes to stimulate greater insight into the human resources of symphony orchestra organizations, their structures and processes, and the associated artistic and economic implications. Through its programs, the Institute wishes to foster steady positive change in the way such organizations operate, toward the achievement of increased “effectiveness” and greater community “value” in the judgment of each organization’s “constituency.”


The constituency of a symphony orchestra organization consists of those individuals and institutions that provide sustained support to the organization and assure its continued existence. This constituency includes:

  • a listening and observing audience. Some orchestras have an important but secondary constituency which listens to and, in some cases observes, the orchestra via electronic means. Most orchestras, however, depend on a foundation audience of concert-attending “customers” who reside in a base community.
  • charitable contributors, many of whom are customers, acting individually or on behalf of an institution and providing both annual and endowment funding.
  • active volunteers who are usually both customers and contributors, but who also provide time and know-how in governance, fundraising, direct service, and other necessary work.

A wide range of constituents support symphony orchestra organizations for reasons other than, simply, the direct benefits received. Most are customers and do directly enjoy and benefit from performances they attend. But many constituents support their organizations (through ticket purchases, personal or institutional charitable giving, volunteer service, and goodwill propagation) because they strongly believe in the role of cultural institutions in their communities.

However, as agent and fiduciary for the community, each constituent must ask whether the local symphony orchestra organization is providing adequate “value” to the community.


Within most communities, overlapping and competing constituencies of a number of social, cultural, educational, and other not-for-profit organizations vie with each other. Volunteer service opportunities abound; the mail overflows with requests for charitable contributions and planned-giving support. For-profit musical, entertainment, and leisure presentations are widely available in local venues and through home electronics and attract large and growing constituencies, including customers of symphony orchestra and other performing arts organizations.
With all these choices, and with limits on time and money, constituents of not-for-profit organizations are comparing the output that various organizations deliver to the community against the input of resources they know or feel such organizations are consuming. Costs/inputs are fairly measurable. Benefits/ outputs are more difficult to measure, being more qualitative, subjective, and judgmental. Even so, however imperfectly and unsentimentally, cost/benefit evaluations are being made.

Judgments are swift and simple if constituents perceive such obvious internal problems as poor artistry, staff turnover, adversarial relationships within the institution, or questionable leadership.

But even when enthusiasts describe their orchestra as “wonderful,” thoughtful critics applaud its artistry, and the organization’s budget is in balance, concerns still remain.

Throughout society, constituencies expect to be more deeply informed about the institutions they support. Constituents are less tolerant of perceived bureaucracy and inflexibility. They seek openness and a greater sense of dialogue about institutional direction. And they want greater accountability and more assurance regarding productive use of human and financial resources within these institutions.
Constituencies of symphony orchestra organizations want to increase the community value which their organizations are providing, and they want this value to grow over time.


Both commercial and not-for-profit organizations provide greater value to their customers and financial stakeholders by becoming more “effective.”

The Institute believes a symphony orchestra organization is effective if it:

  • achieves, in all significant respects and on a sustained basis, the organizational performance expectations of an involved and well informed constituency; and,
  • engages and challenges its musicians, staff, and working volunteers with opportunities for personal and professional growth.

The Institute proposes that certain conditions particularly contribute to the effectiveness of a symphony orchestra organization. These include:

  • A clearly stated mission and goals with supporting objectives and main strategies which are:

• generally understood and agreed upon by most employees and key volunteers, but particularly leadership musicians as well as professional management, key volunteers, and the music director;
• shared by key individuals and institutional representatives who make up the core of the orchestra’s financial support and reflect the sense of the community; and,
• inspirational, taking into account the organization’s and community’s artistic, cultural, economic, and philanthropic potentials, but which are also solidly rooted in the organization’s and community’s human and financial resources.

  • Organizational processes and systems which: • emphasize teamwork throughout the organization and use team structures wherever possible;

• enhance personal and professional growth and learning of all employees and key volunteers;
• include reward and recognition systems and practices that support excellent team and total organizational performance;
• expand the involvement, knowledge, and contribution of all staff, musicians, and key volunteers through information sharing, extensive interpersonal communication, creative suggestion stimulation, and other such practices, to the maximum reasonable extent; and
• encourage regular innovation and improvement in the organization’s processes and systems.

  • Leadership throughout the organization that maintains direction, fosters attitudes of interdependence and trust, establishes structure and conditions for excellent team and total organizational performance, and assembles necessary supporting resources.



Through programs of research, publications, forums, and education, the mission of the Symphony Orchestra Institute is to:

  • improve the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations;
  • enhance the value they provide to their communities; and
  • help assure the preservation of such organizations as unique and valuable cultural institutions.

Central Tenets and Basic Objectives

A central tenet of the Institute is that there are generic patterns in the structure and processes of symphony orchestra organizations, especially when grouped by size and complexity. The Institute wishes to foster detached evaluation of these patterns: how they have developed, how they impact effectiveness, and how they might be positively changed.

At the same time, each symphony orchestra organization has its own unique history, community, human resources, and existing level of effectiveness. Change and improvement programs must be suited to the size, scope, dynamics, traditions, present status, and resources of each organization, and to the character
of its primary community. The Institute does not expect that its efforts will result in school solutions for any one organization, nor does the Institute intend to provide organizational consulting services.

The Institute aims to be catalytic by:

  • bringing organizational issues out in the open for review and discussion;
  • stimulating organizational introspection, self-assessment, and resolve; and
  • presenting views as to possible directions for positive longer range change.

The Institute holds that leadership in most contemporary symphony orchestra organizations—until other models are developed and tested—must be provided by a combination of individuals in professional management, the board of trustees, direct service support groups, and the orchestra, together with the music director. Team commitment is vital. The organization’s effectiveness— indeed its very life in many cases—depends on the coalescence and success of this leadership alliance.

Within many symphony orchestra organizations, there are ill-informed cross- perceptions of the lives, work, and motives of the individuals and groups that make up the total organization. Narrowly based cross-perceptions between musicians and trustees are particularly stereotypic. Other misperceptions, such as between staff and volunteers, are common and unhealthy. Too often such attitudes contribute to misunderstandings and mistrust and reduce organizational effectiveness. One of the Institute’s objectives is to foster more informed and authentic interpersonal relations and communications within symphony orchestra organizations.
Data relating to a symphony orchestra organization’s operations, basic economics, financial condition and support, and plans and expectations are, too often, not shared broadly and in a timely fashion within the organization or with the community. Another Institute objective is to address this situation.

Finally, through its various programs, the Institute wants to help symphony orchestra organizations become more open and accept greater scrutiny by thoughtful people within and outside the organizations, becoming thereby less insular. In this way, the Institute would hope more symphony organization participants will speak up, raise questions, express and discuss views, and learn.

The Institute hopes to stimulate inquiry into symphony orchestra organizations from the academic community, especially by organizational scientists familiar with advanced human resource practices in industry. Innovations and “best practices” within industrial organizations merit exposure and evaluation.

Operational Programs

Over time, the Institute intends to develop an integrated program of research, publications, forums, and education related to the human resources of symphony orchestra organizations. Some main lines of inquiry follow.

  • What are the key roles in the typical symphony orchestra organization, and how might these roles—the work involved, abilities required, performance expected, and related issues—be better understood?
  • How are human resources typically organized and structured? How might they be?
  • Through what processes are these human resources integrated to carry out the work of the organization? What other processes might be considered?
  • What are the artistic and economic implications of these arrangements and their alternatives?
  • What changes, innovations, and experimental approaches are being tried, with what success?
  • What are the primary organizational issues facing most symphony orchestra organizations, especially those of medium and larger scale?
  • How might advanced human resource practices in industry be fitted to symphony orchestra organizations?


The Institute intends to organize and sponsor, directly or in conjunction with others, research into critical generic issues facing symphony orchestra organizations. It is hoped that practitioners as well as academics will become involved. A listing of topics of particular research focus will be published from time to time. The Institute’s objective is to launch at least two research projects in its first year of operation.


The Institute intends to publish a range of material relating to human resource issues within symphony orchestra organizations, with the goal that these publications become a forum for the exchange of knowledge and ideas among practitioners, scholars, and other observers.
A journal-type publication will be issued two to three times per year which will combine new writings about orchestral organizations with previously published material, the latter in reprint, extract, or abstracted form. The Institute also intends to republish selected writings on general organizational topics.

As to newly written material, the Institute plans to publish a range of points of view in the form of essays, commentary, critiques, reviews, surveys, and reader responses. Authors will include active, prospective, or former employees and volunteers in symphony orchestra organizations, conductors and artists, and external organizational observers. Other forms of original expression may include interviews and transcripts of group discussion.

From time to time, the Institute will publish a list of topics and questions of special interest to stimulate creative expression.
The Institute will also publish findings of research it has sponsored. Special writings of larger scope may also be separately published.


The Institute plans to convene forums involving leaders from all sectors of symphony orchestra organizations, along with scholars, to discuss topical writings, issues, and ideas of central interest. These meetings will be held in venues and under conditions which support the most creative and authentic exchange of views. As a matter of course, these discussions will be transcribed and the proceedings published. Some meetings might be organized on an off- the-record basis.


In due course, the Institute hopes to sponsor educational programs serving leadership trustees, other volunteers, staff, and musicians, along with conductors and music directors. Central to such programs will be discussions of existing and innovative leadership practices within symphony orchestra organizations and comparative practices in other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Educational programs might use the case method, drawing on a strong and regularly maintained foundation of cases describing specific issues within actual symphony orchestra organizations. (Such cases would need development since very few exist.) It is expected that participants will come from diverse backgrounds, locales, and organizational roles. Variously, programs might also target persons in homogeneous roles in different organizations, or the leadership teams of a few organizations.

The Institute’s Audience

The Institute wants to reflect the hopes and concerns and champion the interests of all persons who have supported, are supporting, or will support symphony orchestra organizations, as listeners, viewers, volunteers, and sustaining givers and endowers, whether personally or through an institution.

On behalf of these clients, the Institute hopes to influence present and future leadership teams in symphony orchestra organizations, because it is through leadership that improvements in organizational effectiveness will take place.

More broadly, the Institute wants its programs—particularly its publications —to reach and inform a larger audience interested in the operation of symphony orchestra organizations. A broad base of informed and interested parties will buttress organizational leadership teams with the support so necessary to effect change. Such persons include:

  • musicians and staff employees;
  • governance, fund raising, and direct service volunteers in symphony orchestra organizations;
  • individual and family charitable givers who contribute annual and endowment funding;
  • representatives of philanthropic institutions and government agencies supporting performing arts organizations;
  • participants in various trade and union organization activities in symphony orchestra and related fields;
  • faculty and graduate students in various academic disciplines relating to the organizational sciences;
  • administrators, faculty, and students of music schools and conservatories;
  • attorneys, accountants, consultants, and other professionals whose clientele includes symphony orchestra organizations; and
  • music critics and others in the media who wish to better understand the challenges and struggles of symphony orchestra organizations.

Future Directions

In time, the Institute envisions two possible extensions of its activities.


Initially, the Institute will focus on the situation, needs, and opportunities of symphony orchestra organizations in the U.S. and Canada.

However, there is much to learn from a study of the structure and operation of symphony orchestra organizations outside North America. Over time, the Institute hopes to encourage an international exchange of views and information about symphony orchestra organizations.


In industry, advances in electronic information technology are substantially impacting organizational structures and processes. As yet, the internal operations of symphony orchestra organizations do not appear much affected by these developments. How continued advances will influence the internal arrangements and functioning of symphony orchestra organizations, and how these changes will vary according to size, character, location, and other factors, is only beginning to be imagined. As the Institute moves forward, the organizational effects and opportunities of such technological change will be of increasing interest.

Cooperation, Critique, and Review

The Institute looks forward to cooperating with all individuals, organizations, and associations that wish to foster positive change in the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations.

As is the case for all its published material, the Institute welcomes a critique of its precepts and direction, including the concepts and definitions of constituency, value, and effectiveness, and the central tenets it has adopted, all as previously described.
This statement communicates initial objectives and plans, and will guide the Institute’s early development. After a suitable period of operation and response, the Institute will revisit this statement, confirming or changing it, as a guide to further Institute development.



The Uniqueness and Commonality of American Symphony Orchestra Organizations

As the following essay unfolds, Paul Judy shares with readers the contemplations which resulted in the formation of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.

Within Symphony Orchestra Organizations

In a fascinating recital, the essay leads readers through a series of exercises which explore the “unique” or “common” nature of symphony orchestra organizations. After outlining the organizational characteristics of a symphony orchestra, the author concludes that comparisons are difficult, rejecting several which are frequently drawn and suggesting such comparatives as an air traffic control room or a major fire fighting effort!

Because the Institute was formed to investigate the organizational behavior of symphony orchestra organizations, with a stated goal of improving “effectiveness,” the reader is introduced to such concepts as homophyly and propinquity, and step- by-step, is asked to consider the various roles which people play in American symphony orchestra organizations. Examining each individual or group of symphony orchestra organization participants, the essay poses a long list of questions for thought and research.

An External View

Following the review of the complex leadership and management roles found in most symphony orchestra organizations, the author steps back to offer a view of these organizations as they exist in a larger context, and again asks if symphony orchestra organizations are “common” or “unique.”

This larger context includes many dimensions. The essay describes symphony orchestra organizations as local, service institutions which are affected by a range of economic and market forces, feel the impact of competition and stratification, and suffer unfavorably from boosterism and celebritism. This section of the essay encourages the reader to reach beyond familiar answers, and issues a challenge to agree or disagree with each conclusion.

Months of preparation were invested before this essay saw the light of day. It was critiqued, rethought, revised—quite literally put through the mill. The author (and Institute’s founder) is a tough-minded, albeit retired, senior corporate executive. He expects a great deal of himself, but truly welcomes response. We have purposely kept this digest brief to encourage you to read, reflect, and respond.

The Uniqueness and Commonality of American Symphony Orchestra Organizations


Millions of people love classical music performed by symphony orch- estras. Many thousands of these people have occupations requiring knowledge of organizational behavior; and this group must include individuals who are directly involved with symphony orchestra organizations. It is therefore curious that so little has been written about the organizational dynamics of these fascinating and unique institutions.

The primary purpose of this essay is to put forth views about and analyze the uniqueness of symphony orchestra organizations as compared with other organizations and organizational systems. At the same time, I will examine what these organizations have in common with the rest of the organizational world, and how they must cope with and compete in that world. Finally, I will point up the need and various opportunities for research into the dynamics of symphony orchestra organizations.

A second purpose of this essay is to encourage thought and written expression by participants in these organizations: musicians, staff, volunteers, and music directors and conductors. If we love and wish to preserve beautifully performed symphonic music, we need strong and forward-looking orchestral organizations. We need to think, write, read, and learn more about them. What human resources are required? How are these resources integrated through structure and process? How effectively and valuably? With what artistic and economic implications? Despite our individual biases and limited points of view, engaging in thought, expression, and dialogue will result in deeper insights, reflection, and a basis for steady improvement in organizational effectiveness.

In addition to the insights and experience of participants, we can also learn from scholarly observation. Thus, a third purpose of this essay is to acquaint the academic reader with the uniqueness of these organizations, in this author’s view, and to provoke scholarly curiosity. I believe these institutions merit more attention and study, with resultant insights reported, especially if filtered through the lens of modern organizational theory and practice. I hope the Symphony Orchestra Institute can help in this endeavor.

Basic Architecture: A Business Organization

On first impression, the internal structure of the typical symphony orchestra organization mirrors the form of many business organizations.

  • A group of employees makes a product (as with a manufacturing company) or directly provides defined services to customers (as with a service company).
  • Another group of employees assists the product- or service-generating employees by providing:

• direct support (setting up the work area, providing supplies, and assisting directly in various ways); and
• indirect support (maintaining the general environment and facilities in which the work takes place).

  •  Both groups of employees are assisted and supported by a central staff engaged in product/service programming and delivery, work scheduling, external service contracting, and a range of marketing, control, financing, and administrative functions.
  • These three groups and their activities are directed by general management.
  • A board of directors oversees general management, operating results, and financial condition, directly or through committees.

Voluntary Service Organization Overlay

As nonprofit service organizations, symphony orchestra organizations actively involve volunteers. This results in a major departure from a business organization in terms of both structure and process.

  • Direct service volunteers, in various capacities, perform work employees would do in a business.
  • Volunteers make up the board of directors; thus, volunteers carry out overall governance responsibility.
  • Many board members and direct-service volunteers are personally involved in raising funds to finance the organization. In corporate terms, these board members and other volunteers combine the work of internal treasury office employees and external investment bankers.

All volunteer services are provided without compensation. The market value of such services is significant relative to the staff expense of a symphony orchestra organization. In most symphony orchestra organizations, active volunteers outnumber paid staff, substantially so in smaller budget organizations.

Thus far, symphony orchestra organizations appear to be structured and to operate about the same as a wide range of nonprofit service organizations in the United States. As broadly recognized, the existence and role of voluntary associations in America is unique in the world, and their organizational patterns are well established. The basic architecture of these voluntary associations has tended to follow that of profit-making corporations, modified to integrate and depend upon volunteers for governance, fundraising, and some direct service.

As one looks more closely into most symphony orchestra organizations, however, some rather unique features emerge.

The Orchestra

The orchestra is the core group of employees who together with the conductor produce the primary work output and achieve the central purpose of a symphony orchestra organization. In almost all such organizations, the orchestra comprises a majority of the total employment. Although most chamber orchestras range from 25 to 40 musicians, North American symphony orchestras have between 60 to approximately 100 musicians. In industrial terms, this employee group is made up of a number of smaller and larger teams, each with specialized training, skills, and tools.

  • Individuals in the larger teams (the five string sections) usually perform their tasks simultaneously and in unison, and on similar instruments. Further, reasonably similar training and skills are involved.
  • Individuals in the smaller teams (other sections), due to the distinctiveness of their instruments, perform tasks which are quite different from those of the larger teams, and quite different from each other. Furthermore, individuals in the smaller teams usually perform discretely and only occasionally in unison with each other.

In the total universe of organizations, a large, relatively distinct group of employees working in variously composed teams within a somewhat larger total organization, and together producing that organization’s services to customers, is somewhat out of the ordinary. However, “professional” or “technical service” organizations exist in the commercial world, and could be similarly described. Such organizations would include many architectural, law, accounting, consulting, and some specialized financial service firms.

However, on closer examination and within the framework of a professional/ technical services organizational format, the truly unique structure and functioning of an orchestra as an employee group emerges.

  • At least in medium to larger scale orchestras, player configurations within the large and small teams frequently change within the same program of music.
  • Everyone follows a detailed script (score).
  • Work is accomplished and the product generated by close and contemporaneous physical and intellectual effort toward the goal of an intensively unified presentation.
  • Individual and team performance is expected to be both perfect and aesthetic.
  • One person directly and visibly leads the whole group. This person is responsible for the rhythmic, dynamic, and aesthetic interpretation of the script, and the attainment of a cohesive and balanced sound.

Further, this relatively large group of employees and its leader

  • Prepare a final work product through repeated rehearsal, also in close physical and intellectual proximity, toward the time when
  • the final product is consumed as produced—in real-time—by an immediate group of listening and observing customers.

Comparative Observations

Orchestral musicians begin vocational training at a very early age, starting down a long road of physical, emotional, and intellectual development. In contrast, most persons in professional and technical service occupations do not begin vocational preparation until much later in life, and the preparation is singularly intellectual. Most all professionals continue to advance their skills and competence throughout their working careers. But professional musicians, given the physical aspects of their work, must practice regularly and intensively just to maintain skills, and to the extent possible, to advance them. Ultimately, physical decline takes place. Some of these factors may contribute to patterns of human behavior within symphony orchestras; research into these areas would be instructive.

It is difficult to identify other occupational groups which have the structural and work patterns of a symphony orchestra. Of course, other performing musical groups have similar patterns:

  • Opera orchestras, as we know from a number of examples, can stage a fine symphony orchestra. But overall, opera organizations have a different purpose from that of symphony orchestra organizations. The orchestras within opera organizations are not central and singular to that purpose as is the case with symphony organizations’ orchestras. Symbolically, opera orchestras are not so prominent, either aurally or visually, in their organizations’ presentations.
  • Ballet orchestras perform fine classical music, but their primary mission is to support another performance art, and they are not central and singular to their organizations.
  • Chamber orchestras are often central to their organizations and many can perform an important portion of the symphony orchestra repertoire. The dynamics of independent chamber music organizations containing larger, conducted ensembles are probably quite similar to those of symphony orchestra organizations. For smaller ensembles, the performing groups’ lesser size and the pressure on individual performance begins to change organizational dynamics. For conductorless ensembles (which of necessity must be small), shifting responsibilities, more heightened performance pressure, and player ownership further alter organizational dynamics. Independent chamber orchestra organizations, however, have much in common with symphony orchestra organizations, the differences stemming primarily from the size of the orchestras they encompass.

In light of the similarities, but especially because of the differences, research into the dynamics of opera, ballet, and especially chamber orchestra organizations as compared with symphony orchestra organizations could prove to be very fruitful.
Somewhat more broadly, one might compare symphony orchestras as work groups to performing employee groups within theater, dance, and other performing arts organizations. Orchestra and most theater and dance presentations are similar in that each is based on precise instructions that a creative person (composer/author/choreographer) gives to performers in a special language and style. And, observing, listening customers consume the final product even as it is produced. But beyond these similarities, there are obvious differences in the nature of language and performance skills; the contemporaneousness of individual performance; the nature of interpretative leadership; and the size and structure of performing groups.

Can organizational issues in the radio, television, and film industries teach us anything about symphony orchestra organization dynamics? Some activities in these fields are nonprofit in nature and are high-arts. As in the case of opera and ballet, some activities incorporate symphony orchestras, but not usually in a primary role. Most all presentations in these fields are scripted. Many are live performances which, like symphony orchestra presentations, are expected to be perfect.

But it is hard to identify in these fields a performing employee group as central and significant as the symphony orchestra is within its overall organization. Other organizational features do not compare, as well.

Some observers suggest that symphony orchestra and university organizations have features in common. The heart of the university is its faculty, a core of which is tenured. A management and staff support system backs the faculty. Quite often, a volunteer governance structure oversees the institution. But the comparison stops rather abruptly. Among other differences, the faculty does not operate as a cohesive group presenting a scripted performance with a direct leader (far from it!). Audiences are only slightly similar to student bodies. And the financial constituency and direct service volunteer component of most universities and colleges is not as local and community-centered as that of symphony orchestra organizations.

Some have compared symphony orchestras with professional sports teams. Teamwork certainly applies to both. Musicians must have physical stamina and dexterity, and they encounter physical and intellectual stress, just like athletes. But the physical demands on most professional athletes’ bodies substantially shorten the productive life of athletes as compared with musicians. Fielded athletic teams are generally much smaller than orchestras. Improvisation within patterns describes the work task of a team athlete versus the orchestra musician’s task of perfectly and repeatedly performing scripted directions. In this sense, professional athletes are more like jazz musicians, and teams are more like combos! Overall, the comparison is titillating and perhaps merits research, but I do not think the findings would be very illuminating.

Are there other types of organizations, or even networks of small groups that function like an organization, which we might compare with symphony orchestra organizations? In searching, one might look for organizations or networks with the following characteristics:

  • A relatively large number of individuals and teams are engaged in intense, physical, rapidly evolving, and coordinated work.
  • Work occurs at one location under on-site direction.
  • A lot is at stake: top performance and near perfection are required; stress abounds.
  • The group’s progress is being closely followed by nonparticipants.
  • Participants and observers feel exhilaration upon project completion.
  • Performers are part of a broader organizational system; their intense work takes place periodically within a more regular flow of total organizational activity.

With these organizational system criteria, what comes to mind? The following occurred to me:

  • A naval ship (perhaps a submarine?) during battle;
  • A large-scale surgical operation which is being televised;
  • An air traffic control room in communication with a number of cockpit crews, particularly during bad weather or emergency conditions;
  • A manned satellite control room during launch or difficulty; or
  • A major fire-fighting effort.

Despite important and obvious differences between these organizational operations and those which take place in symphony orchestra organizations, it may be instructive to think about the similarities. Research into these activities and the organizational issues they raise might have useful application to symphony orchestra organizations and advance insights into their behavioral dynamics.


All through the years, volunteers, staff, musicians, musical leadership, and core audiences of symphony orchestra organizations have shared a deep devotion to classical music, and more particularly, symphonic music. They have created institutions which support, perform, and preserve this music. In the parlance of sociologists, symphony orchestra organizations are “homophylic”; they consist of a group of people with strongly similar interests and beliefs who initiate and perpetuate an association. In symphony orchestra organizations, a deep associative bond develops, the force of which alone keeps some entities alive and minimally functioning, despite tremendous adversity. Ironically, the same devotion, enhanced by a basic, generous feeling for arts and artists, has also perhaps lessened attention to structures and practices which limit organizational effectiveness.


Homophylic groups are not unique in American society. A common, binding forces energizes many nonprofit associations and most all nonprofit cultural arts organizations. However, looking within symphony orchestra organizations, especially those of medium to larger size, another force becomes apparent—a natural kinship of musicians intensified by continuous, close working relationships and conditions. I would like to label this phenomenon the “propinquity” of the orchestra.

In a symphony orchestra we find a large, core group of permanent employees who almost always perform their organizational work jointly and simultaneously, reading from a unifying score, under unifying leadership, producing a unified sound, and executing all this athletic and intellectual work repeatedly, in close physical proximity, in rehearsals and performances.

Organizational scientists have observed that special social relations and communications develop among employees who work in close proximity, and that they exert special influence on each other. A symphony orchestra is a prime example of such an employee group, given the intense intellectual, emotional, and physical togetherness of their work and work place, buttressed by a commonality of training. It would also seem that the natural communication attraction among musicians within an orchestra would almost inevitably create a natural communication gap (or barrier) between them and other participants in the overall organization, offset somewhat by the homophylic dedication of everyone. This is an interesting area for research, and findings might illuminate these communication patterns.

Shared Stressful Experience

Periodically, symphony orchestras prepare and perform especially demanding, fast-moving, and complex scores, filled with potential pitfalls. The score might be a well established but particularly difficult composition, with a range of instrumental solos, or a challenging new composition. It may be that, over time, successful completion of such intensive performances has some of the same group-binding effects on orchestral musicians as are observed in survivors of dangerous and stressful events. These occasional phenomena would strengthen the natural kinship of orchestra musicians.

Separate and Distinct Work Spaces

In most symphony orchestra organizations, the natural communication gap between orchestra members and all other members of the overall organization is reinforced by physical separation of work spaces—the stage and locker area for the orchestra, and administrative offices for other organizational participants. This separation is not unusual in a manufacturing company; the fabricating floor and the general offices are typically separate. But it is unusual for the work spaces of most professional service organizations.

This separatism carries a hint of social stratification, at least in some symphony orchestra organizations. It is further symbolized, in many cases, by the orchestra working at ground level in cramped stage and support facilities, while the balance of the organization operates in more finished, sunlit floor space, usually in upper floors. Musician and staff lounges are typically separate, thereby reducing informal, employee interaction. Interestingly and not surprisingly, musicians are often very friendly and in good communication with stage and house crews.
The configuration of work spaces, as with basic orchestra propinquity, is inherent in symphony orchestra organization activities. But, to my knowledge, little thought has been given to the attitudes and group behavior which might be expected to result, or to practices which could alter or mitigate such attitudes and behavior and increase organizational interaction.


Unionization of the orchestra, with the segregation of the economic interests of its membership from those of the balance of the organization, further exacerbates the separateness of the orchestra and widens the communication gap so prevalent in many symphony orchestra organizations.


The symphony orchestra is a unique work group which defies comparison with most all other work groups or systems. It is the core component of a symphony orchestra organization, and fulfills the organization’s main purpose. But, by its scope and propinquitous nature, the orchestra creates particularly challenging dynamics within the symphony orchestra organization as a whole. These dynamics are heightened by normal physical space arrangements, unionization, and, as will be later described, management, leadership, and attitudinal issues.

Organizational Leadership and Management

The basic organizational structure of America’s larger symphony orchestra institutions was established from the middle 1800s through the early 1900s. The organizational structure reflected an integration of the dominant role of the maestro, as developed in Europe, with a mix of American business and social service organizational patterns.

General organization philosophies during this period emphasized clear hierarchal structure, command and control management, and work step specialization and measurement. Then existing patterns for the management of nonprofit social or other cultural organizations, including the duty of board members to be providers and raisers of funds, were carried over into symphony orchestra organizations. A top civic, social, or business person became the nominal leader of the symphony orchestra organization, chaired the board meetings, and became the person to whom the maestro could look for confirmation of musical plans and financial assurances. A business manager supervised the organization’s small staff, responsible for administrative and financial affairs.

The typical structure of top management and leadership roles in today’s medium- to larger-sized symphony orchestra organizations has evolved since the turn of the century but still reflects a unique amalgam of titles, roles, and responsibilities.

The Board Chairperson

The member of the board of directors (or trustees) who is elected “chairman of the board” (or sometimes, “president”) often has the additional title, “chief executive officer.” This is also common in business. Since few nonprofit organizations have descriptions of the responsibilities of each officer, it is commonly assumed that the responsibility of a chief executive officer is the same as in a business organization: final decision-making authority on all matters not considered to be board (or board committee) matters.

In business, granting final decision-making authority to an individual as chief executive is a significant corporate decision. The qualifications for the job are demanding; compensation is substantial. Years of step-by-step preparation are not unusual. Acceptance obligates the recipient to stay highly informed about the industry and socioeconomic environment in which the organization operates; key personnel and their development; and a wide range of operating matters. The chief executive must regularly display, even daily, excellent judgment, fairness, and leadership. Often, persons who fulfill this role in the corporate world do so for periods of seven to ten years, sometimes longer.

In contrast, board chairs and chief executive officers of symphony orchestra organizations often serve for a term or two, at most for four to six years at a time. Preparation for the clearly part-time job typically is not extensive, the selectee usually being otherwise employed and service to the orchestra being a civic duty. The role is demanding and stressful. Devotion to community and classical music helps, but the position is too often a labor of love from which many an occupant has happily exited. Needless to say, the position is uncompensated.

The person selected for chairperson may not have extensive leadership skills or management experience. Even with these attributes and extensive board service, the candidate is unlikely to have the same deep knowledge of the symphony orchestra organization’s activities that a prospective corporate chief executive would have about his or her organization’s affairs. Then, by the time the recently elected chief executive is beginning to understand the intricacies of the symphony business, the term of office expires.

The Executive Director

In symphony orchestra organizations, the senior compensated staff officer, who quite often has the title “executive director,” generally has the apparent duties associated with the title in business of “chief operating officer.” All employees report directly or indirectly to this office and all operations are under its direction.

However, it is my view that the typical orchestral executive director makes many decisions and recommendations for board decision that in business organizations would be made by the chief executive officer. This is a matter of necessity, and is understandable in light of the earlier discussed role and tenure of the typical symphony chairperson. In most cases, undoubtedly the executive director reviews plans and decisions with the chairperson, and does obtain advice, but does not ask for or obtain substantive direction. In most cases, we can thank executive directors for taking the initiative and forging ahead. But accountability for results is therefore unclear.

The executive director, occupying a central position between the board and the rest of the organization, is a gatekeeper for the flow of communications between these groups. Some executive directors foster many channels for such communications; others are more limiting. This range is similar to what one finds in business organizations. But, as a rule, board members are fundamentally knowledgeable about the activities of corporations they govern and have many ways to become informed in detail. In recent years, corporate directors have insisted on greater organizational involvement and knowledge. I am not so confident about the breadth and depth of symphony orchestra board members’ knowledge of their organizations’ affairs. Given all the circumstances, the
communications philosophy of the orchestral executive director is key to how well informed the board is and therefore how able to carry out its oversight.

The Music Director

I am not familiar with the first use of the title “music director” in American orchestral organizations, nor with the duties then associated with the title. Perhaps someone has researched and documented this progression. The title and role may have been used in Europe before the first American orchestras were formed, and may have derived there from the title and role of “maestro.” Or perhaps this took place in America, when the duties of early maestros or “conductors” expanded to a level where a new, broader title was appropriate. Perhaps it had to do with the growing nonresidency of the maestro/conductor and the increased use of visiting (guest) conductors.

Today, the music director is often described as responsible for the overall musical development and artistry of the organization. This responsibility includes being the principal conductor and musical inspirer of the orchestra, along with having final authority or substantial influence over musicians’ employment: original engagement, retention after a period of probation, and termination in the event of musical incompetency. The music director’s duties include making repertoire selections, choosing soloists and guest conductors, planning longer- range repertoire development, and setting artistic policy. Quite often a music director’s contract and contacts with particular recording companies introduce those companies’ services and interests into organizational plans.

As with other roles in many symphony orchestra organizations, the music director’s duties are not always described in detail in corporate records, or even in the music director’s employment contract. Authority and powers with respect to musicians’ employment are usually expressly defined in the union contract, but the broader artistic role of the music director is left to tradition and to the working out of details through experience, especially through the music director’s relationship with the executive director.

After a search process that may well involve a collective of staff, musicians, and volunteers, music directors typically are “retained” by and thereafter “report” to the board of directors. It usually is unclear exactly what this means. Music directors of medium- to larger-sized organizations most often are retained in multi-year contracts for year-round service. However, they usually are physically present and resident in the community, and available to their top management associates and the board of directors, and their musician colleagues, for only one-third to one-fourth of the year. In smaller organizations, a year-round, resident conductor may provide top artistic leadership, but even inthese organizations, two or three orchestras often share part-time services of the same person.

There is little question that many music directors profoundly and positively impact the artistic development of the orchestras with which they are affiliated, and provide great conducting and inspiration. However, in the total universe of organizations, it is rare to find a person with the substantial personnel responsibilities of the typical music director—so vital to the quality output and careers of a large group of central employees—to be physically present and working with those employees only one-fourth to one-half of their working year.

Direct Service Volunteer Leadership

As noted earlier, the women’s association or guild or league of the typical symphony orchestra organization is quite often a large, important, and semi- independent group of volunteers. This group represents a sample of the organization’s constituency and is usually active in fundraising, special events, and music education. The group usually elects its own leaders, and they quite often serve exofficio on the overall governing board. Although the position is very demanding, time-consuming, and requires professional staff support, the top leader usually only serves for a one- or two-year term, part-time.


The top governance/professional/musical/volunteer leadership of medium to large symphony orchestra organizations typically is shared by one full-time and three part-time people. One part-time person, quite often the organization’s chief executive, is resident, chairs the board, and principally oversees the decisions and leadership of the executive director. The executive director, full time and resident, is in effect the chief executive of the organization, but often without title, ultimate authority, or accountability. The music director usually is hired by and reports to the board, and thus nominally to the board chairperson, but in fact works most closely with the executive director. Although perhaps year- round in touch with the organization’s executive office, the role can only be characterized as part-time, with the music director usually visiting the community for weeks, not months, at a time. The direct service volunteer chief motivates and supervises a semi-independent ancillary organization and usually works most closely with the staff of the executive director.

Based upon many interviews, it appears that the above group of persons seldom assemble around a table—even occasionally and for just a few hours— to discuss the activities, performance, and direction of the organization, despite their key roles. In almost any other organizational setting involving similar roles, this would be most unusual.

Mention was earlier made of opera organizations and how they might compare with symphony orchestra organizations. Some observers have pointed out that some opera organizations have a management structure which is distinctively different from that traditionally found in symphony orchestra organizations. This is a further reason for comparative research of these organizations.

Orchestra Leadership and Administration

As earlier discussed, the orchestra is a unique group of employees within a symphony orchestra organization. Similarly, the leadership and administration of this employee group has unique aspects.

In most organizations, a group of employees clearly working together has a supervisor (the “boss”) acknowledged as such by each group member and usually appointed to that role by senior management. A group of such supervisors in turn has a senior supervisor.

In a 60- to 100-person orchestra, if you ask the routine question, “Who is your boss?” you typically receive uncertain if not conflicting answers. These confused answers are justified since each of a number of persons in a variety of roles has something important to do with the employment, retention, inspiration, general and specific direction, scheduling, evaluation, compensation, career development, and termination of musicians in an orchestra.

Conductors Other Than the Music Director

If the earlier question was changed to, “To whom do you look for leadership?” musicians would likely interpret it in musical terms and the answer would be “the music director” or “the conductor,” meaning “in general” or “the current conductor.” Then, depending on the musician’s personal opinion of the music director or current conductor, the musician might add a positive or negative bias. But at least the uncertainty created by the earlier question would be reduced.

As noted earlier, the music director’s responsibilities are broad, directional, developmental, and inspirational, but also include very specific and significant player personnel responsibilities. In addition, the music director actually conducts the orchestra typically in substantially more programs than any other conductor, but still, in medium to larger orchestras, less than perhaps 40 percent of all programs.

Other conductors handle the balance of the season; their titles incorporate various adjectives, including principal guest, associate, assistant, resident, etc. This means many orchestra musicians have to relate to from 10 to 15 conductors on the podium per season.
This pattern of regularly changing the “boss” of a major, central, service- producing employee group points to further uniqueness of symphony orchestra organizations. Perhaps someone can suggest an analogy?

I don’t want to suggest that the pattern of having many conductors of a symphony orchestra over a season is good or bad. Perhaps conductor diversity is the spice of an orchestral musician’s life. But the practice merits thought and perhaps research as to its implications for organizational behavior, especially in conjunction with other unique aspects of symphony orchestra organizations.

The Personnel Manager

In medium to large symphony orchestras, the role of personnel manager adds a further dimension to musician leadership and administration.
Most persons familiar with for-profit companies would associate personnel managers with personnel recruitment, compensation and benefits administration, records, etc. In the usual symphony orchestra organization, however, the personnel manager is primarily responsible for fair administration of the agreement with the musicians’ union. These duties include determining which musicians play which performances, arranging substitutes, coordinating auditions, determining payroll inputs, and making other recommendations or decisions that relate to mutual compliance with the trade agreement.

The personnel manager works closely with the current conductor, since it is the personnel manager who knows and can influence exactly which musicians will be available for performances, or whether the conductor’s rehearsal plans comply with the musicians’ contract.

The personnel manager is the main conduit for direct administrative relationships between management and each musician and/or the orchestra committee. He is the first line arbitrator/mediator of disagreements or disputes between a musician, or, in due course, the orchestra committee or the local union office, and the management/employer, and, in due course, the operations or general manager, or the executive director.

The personnel manager is essentially the paymaster of the musicians, with an office quite often near the locker rooms or stage entrance: visible and easily accessible to musicians. As such, and because the position was (and still is in many cases) filled by a musician or former musician, the personnel manager often is a “confessor” figure to many musicians, the person in management who has the most understanding of the work and life of the orchestral musician.

The genesis of the personnel manager role goes back to the day when musicians’ services were “contracted” by a union officer known as a “contractor.” In due course, the contractor’s role was subsumed into the orchestra; a musician took on the added role of “personnel manager” and received double pay. Through the years, the role evolved from being the extra duty of a musician to being a separate staff position. Even more recently, persons who were not formerly orchestral musicians have become personnel managers.

In summary, it is fair to say that, in most medium to large symphony orchestra organizations, the personnel manager has the strongest, most regular contact and relationships with orchestra musicians. As such, the person in this role can substantially influence attitudes of musicians towards their work, management, and the organization as a whole, as well as the attitudes which management and conductors have toward the orchestra and individual musicians.

The Section Principal

Historically, a section principal was responsible for the overall professional development and performance of section players. In modern times, however, it seems the typical section principal’s only leadership duties are in solo performance example and musical interpretation and secondarily, general behavioral example. Although considered in some situations, orchestral experience, leadership skills, and personal maturity have not generally been factors in principal chair selections. Although there are surely exceptions, principals shy away from responsibilities other than artistic interpretation, under the guidance of the conductor.

The Orchestra Committee

Finally, in the unionized orchestras, there is an elected orchestra committee, which oversees the union contract and may negotiate it, although some orchestras have separate negotiating committees. If there is no orchestra union, the committee function is quite often fulfilled by the nearest office of the American Federation of Musicians. Musicians’ basic wages are established through collective bargaining as are a range of work conditions and procedures. The week-to-week operations of an orchestra quite often run up against such conditions and procedures, or specific personnel issues arise out of them. Usually, these matters can only be resolved by involvement of the chair of the orchestra committee, if not the whole committee. This adds another dimension to administrative processes which impact a musician’s work and attitudes.

Performance Appraisal, Rewards, and Recognition

Musicians receive day-to-day rehearsal commentary from conductors, directed to individuals but heard by all colleagues. Depending in part on the conductor, there tends to be—by the nature of rehearsals—more negative than positive commentary. Music directors sometimes have private consultations with musicians, but they are infrequent.

To my knowledge, there is no tradition and little practice within the symphony orchestra world for periodic performance reviews with musicians, not only regarding their musicianship, but also more broadly regarding general employ- ment expectations and performance. Without such reviews, musicians miss a chance to express views and ask questions about how they are doing in their work; how their section, the orchestra, or the overall organization is progressing; and how the operation of the orchestra and organization could be improved. Managements miss the opportunity to review expectations, convey goals, discuss the musician’s performance, and provide motivation. Such a periodic dialogue would be normal in a well-run commercial enterprise, especially with employees as central as are musicians in a symphony orchestra organization.

Performance reviews in industry are usually linked with compensation discussions. Employees are motivated and satisfied in their work for various reasons, but rewards and recognition, including compensation, certainly play an important part. I do not think that most musicians are an exception. Although unionization has essentially leveled the compensation of many orchestral musicians, more than one-half of the musicians (all principals and most all non-string section players) in many orchestras receive overscale compensation.

Even though the music director is empowered to hire, retain, and discharge musicians subject to procedures and limits in the musician trade agreement and organizational policy, the executive director is usually the decision maker with respect to overscale compensation. The music director may be consulted with respect to proposed individual changes, and may in fact initiate the consideration of some changes. But music directors are not generally involved in reviewing the complement of musicians and their compensation and thinking about and participating in decisions regarding levels, structure, and equity.

Even so, it would appear that overscale compensation adjustment discussions would provide a logical opportunity for the executive director and the musicians involved to have the performance review dialogue above described, but this is apparently not the practice in symphony orchestra organizations.


Symphony orchestra musicians look to a wide range of leadership and administrative roles for inspiration, direction, compensation, praise or critique, and administrative decisions. These roles include the music director; this week’s (or program’s) conductor (if not the music director); the executive director; the personnel manager; the section principal (to some degree); and, the orchestra committee and/or its chair. As part of his or her weekly routine, a musician must establish or maintain a relationship with many bosses.

This diversity of people with whom musicians must relate and respond as part of their jobs may serve to enhance their performance both as musicians and employees; it may add spice to their lives. On the other hand, in most professional service organizations, this array of leadership and administrative relationships impacting on the central core of professionals would be considered unusual and confusing. Some professional service organizations employ a sophisticated and complex “matrix” form of organization which does permit multidimensional reporting and communication patterns, but I am doubtful this approach addresses the needs of symphony orchestra organizations.
Despite the wide range of administrative contacts with musicians, the practice of regular, personal, musician-by-musician, two-way communication, expressing expectations, evaluations, and feedback, is not generally used in symphony orchestra organizations.

Musician Involvement, Engagement, and Commitment

Musician Involvement and Engagement

Much is written in today’s organizational science journals and management magazines about employee empowerment, engagement and involvement, self- governance, learning organizations, etc.—just to name a few topics. As one of its main objectives, the Symphony Orchestra Institute wishes to bring information about these theories and commercial practices to the attention of symphony organization leaders and participants.

I would like to summarize briefly some impressions I have about the ways employees of symphony orchestra organizations, in particular musicians, are becoming involved in processes that influence the direction of their organizations as well as impact their own destinies. I will look at typical circumstances of this involvement, and how these practices compare with industrial organizations.

First, musicians are joining in significant organizational discussion and process through membership on committees, be it a task committee, an ongoing non- board operating committee, a board committee, or the board itself. Involvement of musicians in such group processes has resulted primarily from union request and negotiation, especially when the organization has faced difficult financial conditions. When there is no request and no immediate financial crisis, there is little evidence of an independent, positive move by management or the board to invite and expect musicians to participate in substantive, long-term organizational decision making.

Such a pattern is understandable. Board members and managements have traditionally taken the view that it is their task to govern and manage; staff employees are to assist and support; and musicians are to play music. Many trustees and managements feel that musicians do not want to be involved in institutional issues and direction; “musicians want to be left alone” so they can concentrate on music making. In addition, it is not clear under union and personal employment contracts how such involvements would be characterized.
For various reasons, a number of musicians do not wish to be involved in organizational activity other than instrumental performance. But others want and welcome involvement, have good insights and ideas, and feel frustrated because they are not invited to participate, or when they do, that their views are not taken seriously.

Musician union leaders have been generally ambivalent about musician involvement. When and if an organization is failing financially, heavy involvement is okay, if not necessary, right up through substantial board membership. But such participation is not viewed as personal, but as representing the union. For this reason, there is a conflict which all practices recognize. Can musicians maintain a duty of loyalty and care to the institution and at the same time serve union interests?

On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few American examples of self- governing orchestras, where orchestra members have majority legal control over the institution and are active or lead in many or all phases of direction and operations. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra rose out of the ashes of a defunct predecessor and, in a sense, is the ultimate example of employee involvement after a financial crisis. Other examples include chamber orchestras founded and always operated as self-governing “cooperative” institutions.

There are to my knowledge very few, if any, symphony orchestra organizations of any scale which are pursuing musician involvement programs as a basic long-term organizational policy. This too is understandable, in that employee involvement concepts, even in industry, are relatively new. There is a lack of clarity or even discussion among board members, managements, music directors, and musicians as to why greater involvement should be considered, what kinds of involvement might be fruitful, and how to go about such a new direction.

A further concern about employee involvement arises out of my observation of successful industry programs and practices. Most successful employee involvement programs (broadly defined) are comprehensive and total-culture in character; employees become “engaged” as well as “involved.” The effort is not fulfilled by placing a few line employees on each operating or project committee as a matter of form, or even when the program is serious and substantial. There is greater breadth in the successful industrial programs; there is a noticeable change in the top management mind-set. How symphony orchestra organizations might adopt this more comprehensive approach should be a matter of thoughtful research and careful experimentation.

Musician Commitment

Closely akin to the issue of employee involvement and engagement is the issue of musicians’ commitment to their employing organizations, in terms of both time and intellect.

Board members of orchestra organizations sometimes comment how orchestra musicians only work 20 hours a week, have six or so vacation weeks, and are often not on stage for the entire program or week. They mention that many musicians pursue other performance work and instrumental or classroom teaching during the other half of a normal work week, gaining additional income, and devoting time and energy to pursuits other than those of their main employer.

It would be useful to research the preparation, skills, and practice needed, musical and other diversity required, stress and other health factors faced, amount and nature of time devoted, and instrument investment involved in being an orchestral musician, as well as the amount and nature of compensation, benefits, and other rewards received, for a range of musicians, in many sections, organizations, and communities. Such research would better inform all of us as to the life and economics of the orchestral musician.

At the same time, perhaps musicians should be more conscious of the questions orchestral constituencies are asking about the musicians’ work, productivity, and job definition. Constituencies are also questioning musicians’ commitment to their organizations. Is low commitment the flipside of low engagement and involvement? Are times changing so that it is reasonable to ask and expect more and more varied work from musicians?

Such questions are not particularly unique to symphony orchestra organizations. Throughout industry and other sectors of society, smarter, more varied, and more involved—if not greater—work effort by all is the trend. And in many instances, employees become substantially more productive, engaged, self-directed, and happier as a result of organizational redefinition.

Perhaps this can happen in the symphony orchestra world, in spite of its uniqueness.

Staff and Volunteers

Administrative structure and processes in orchestra organizations are substantially the same as in other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. The structure and processes involving volunteers are also comparable to other nonprofit organizations, noting however the unusually significant role played by a women’s volunteer group associated with almost every symphony orchestra organization. Among cultural arts organizations, the scale and involvement of women volunteers in direct service and fundraising for symphony orchestra organizations is probably unique.

Supervisory staff employees are generally intimately involved in setting the direction of their organization. Depending on the degree to which an executive director delegates, staff supervisors can be active decision makers in many areas. More broadly, they often provide support for more than one board committee and are active participants and observers in committee meetings. Usually junior employees help prepare materials and ideas for these meetings; greater involvement and engagement of these employees would probably benefit many organizations.
All in all, the administrative patterns of symphony orchestra organizations are not much different from those of many nonprofit organizations. Staff and volunteers are generally substantially more involved than musicians in the overall direction of most organizations.


The structure of top leadership and management within a symphony orchestra organization is reasonably complex. Accountability is not clear. In some ways, the relationships among the board chair, executive director, and music director appear similar to the “office of the chairman” in industry. This arrangement presumes close daily or weekly communication and coordination by a small group of executives working together as a central management team, typically with well defined roles and rules. The team meets relatively often. Personal working relationships often go back for years. The arrangement is often adopted during a limited period of management transition. The typical symphony orchestra organization management situation doesn’t have these characteristics.

Leadership and management of the orchestra as a whole and of musicians as individual employees is multichanneled. This diversity and complexity overlays the propinquity of the orchestra which is heightened by unionization and often by physical separatism. These complicated patterns affect the flow of interpersonal communications within a symphony orchestra organization. It is likely that these patterns impact organizational effectiveness and measures that would improve such effectiveness. All these matters merit systematic research by organizational scientists working in collaboration with forward-thinking practitioners.

The unique patterns of symphony orchestra organization structure and process have a historical basis related to the nature and development of symphonic music and extended by tradition. Hopefully, research and writings can better acquaint us with the evolution of these patterns and help pinpoint the time and circumstances under which they emerged. We could then question whether the same circumstances prevail or whether alternative approaches might be valuable. In particular, both increased involvement of the musician in organizational direction and a correlative review of the musician’s job description merit fresh examination.

An External View

Having intently looked inside symphony orchestra organizations, I will now stand back and view these institutions as members of a community of organizations operating in a local, national, and world society and economy. How unique or common are they from this point of view?

Small, Local Organizations

From a basic perspective, these organizations are composed of individual human beings whose behavior is some amalgam of individual self-direction, group participation and norms, and leadership response. In the total scheme of organizations, almost all symphony orchestra organizations are relatively small, with fewer than 200 employees and fewer than 300 total active participants, including volunteers. Many are even smaller. In most orchestral organizations, the majority of musicians, staff, and volunteers live in the same town and work together in the same physical structure.

Characteristics often ascribed to small organizations are informality, adaptability, flexibility, and capacity to change “on-a-dime.” America is replete with relatively small, local businesses which have some organizational complexity. Many of these organizations have achieved high levels of organizational effectiveness providing excellent value to their customers and owners. Leadership is visible, right there on the scene; everyone knows everyone else on a first-name basis. Competitive challenges, new directions, expectations, performance, etc., are discussed and assessed, quickly, face-to-face. Action is immediate and concerted.

From this perspective, notwithstanding the unique and historically based patterns in symphony orchestra organizations, they should be able to realize the benefits of smallness and localness. Increased effectiveness should not be hard to achieve. If there is a will, there should be a way.

Service Organizations

In an industrial classification system, symphony orchestra organizations would be categorized as consumer service organizations, providing a range of services (musical, artistic, educational) to consumers in their communities and sometimes to broader society. An evolving body of theory and practice addresses design of organizational structure and process in service organizations to achieve greater effectiveness and customer value. Symphony orchestra organizations might benefit from these insights. How to apply them to the business of symphony orchestra organizations would require thought, but at least a basic framework does not have to be created.

Economic and Financial Entities

Even though society views symphony orchestra organizations as, primarily, “cultural” or “arts” organizations, they are also clearly “economic” entities operating in a number of markets. They own tangible and financial assets, and have valuable goodwill. They incur expenses and liabilities; they receive operating revenues, contributed funds, and investment income. They realize financial surpluses or deficits; their net worths grow or decline. They provide employment; business cycles affect them. Small businesses in the broadest sense, they are nonetheless significant economic entities within their communities, especially in terms of the charitable dollars absorbed.

Increasingly they compete for customers with other local and nearby performing arts and educational organizations, with for-profit entertainment enterprises, and with a proliferation of home entertainment products and services.

Perhaps even more significantly, they compete intensively for individual and institutional charitable support with a wide range of other nonprofit entities. In many communities, the charitable support base is broad and public, and, contrary to days of old, few symphony orchestra organizations can depend on a few individuals, families, businesses, or foundations for sustenance.

As economic entities, these organizations compete for funds in various marketplaces and are expected to be increasingly accountable to those who support them: ticket-buying audiences, charitable contributors, and volunteers who contribute valuable time and know-how and on whom the organization depends for the flow of charitable funding and the propagation of goodwill. Just as businesses must be increasingly competitive, the mood is that orchestral organizations must be increasingly effective.

Market Position

Despite the various forms of competition, symphony orchestra organizations hold a special market position in their communities. Usually there is only one central symphony orchestra organization in a single community. This institution has had a relatively long existence and is supported and maintained in its singular, relatively secure, and mature position by tacit agreement among the community’s cultural, philanthropic, business, and civic leadership. Unionization of the orchestra, under law, buttresses the organization’s local near monopoly. There is no “ease of entry” into the symphony business in most communities; this is true even in major metropolitan centers. In fact, the market position of most central symphony organizations is so widely recognized that smaller symphony orchestra organizations don’t even think about making a challenge.

Of course, market boundaries change, and alternative and substitute services and products emerge, giving new competition to symphony orchestra organizations. Greater competition for charitable funding has also eroded the long-held market share of symphony orchestra organizations in many com- munities. Some symphony organizations have suffered from the complacency and false sense of security that a near-monopoly mentality engendered.

Boosterism, Rivalry, and Real Competition

As discussed earlier, the business of most symphony orchestra organizations is very localized. Most customers and contributors, and employees and volunteers, live in the community. There is no head office, or a branch, or a facility in another community. The symphony orchestra is a hometown team, just like a local high school, college, or professional sports team. The orchestra is one of the prides of the community and helps lift the community’s self-esteem. The boosterism of the orchestra helps maintain a flow of financial support.

Though they are regional, national and international touring orchestras act as goodwill ambassadors. They are export products of their home cities. City leaders feel the orchestra enhances the image of their community—even their state—as a place to visit and do business. This may be so, and such touring may also boost the artistic level of the orchestra. But these activities take the orchestra away from its supporting community. In addition, such touring often subtracts from rather than adds to the financial condition of the orchestral organization.

Orchestra organizations in some cities have rivalries with organizations in other cities as to musical reputation. However, only a few such rival organizations actually compete head-to-head for customers and contributors, and only to a limited degree, for employees, including musicians. Competition for key principals exists, but the tenure system and the natural desire to settle down decrease musician mobility after a certain age, even among prominent principals. For most classically oriented musicians, employment in the local symphony orchestra is quite often the best full- or base-time work available in the community.

Professional staff positions are filled by persons with more general administrative skills, and turnover in these positions is probably more like that in small businesses. However, the executive director of a symphony orchestra organization is not often considered for employment in other types of organizations in the community. The career path for an executive director tends to be up through symphony orchestra organizations in various communities.

Well-run business organizations are very analytical and realistic in their competitive assessments. It strikes me that symphony orchestra organizations are not. I wonder at the sense of competition that exists in many symphony orchestra organizations, especially the larger ones. Trustees, managers, and musicians all tend to think and talk competitively about other symphony organizations, when, in fact, that is not the direction from which real competition is coming.

Might someday symphony orchestra organizations compete and rival each other with respect to their effectiveness as organizations, the satisfaction of their constituencies, and the value provided to their communities?


Some observers have noted the stratification that exists among North American symphony orchestras, if not the world over. In the artistic realm, this stratification (with competitive overtones) is reflected in such phrases as “world” or “international” or “national” or “regional” class.

In more economic terms, this stratification is the basis for grouping orchestras by quantitative measures such as revenues, expenses, number of full-time, full- season musicians, and overall employment. It would be interesting to note to what degree the stratification profile in the symphony orchestra industry parallels that of other selected professional service organizations or selected nonprofit organizations, such as museums. Do the content and degree of organizational issues vary by strata?

The combination of community pride, competitive urge, and stratification issues perhaps inhibits more serious consideration of sectional and regional orchestras, or some combination of local and sectional/regional organizations. Many observers dismiss these possibilities out of hand. Others are interested in thinking through the problems and the potentials. There are some examples which could form the basis for study.

In some professional service organization industries, various theories posit the inherent difficulties of medium-sized organizations surviving competitively, versus remaining small, or moving ahead concertedly to a larger scale. Some of this thinking might apply to possibilities of regional orchestra organizations. In this regard, something might also be learned from the field of commercial joint venture theory and practice. Research in these directions might prove valuable.


At the recent conference of symphony orchestra organizations, I looked through a large display of programming and other marketing materials from all over North America. I was struck by the creativity and attractiveness of many of these brochures. Were I not already a symphony devotee, I would clearly have been attracted to a concert hall by a number of these inviting handouts.

However, almost without exception, roughly even space was given to the name of the music director as compared with that of the orchestra. In some materials, the music director’s name and picture were more prominent. I was definitely being sold on “him”—and “her” in a few cases. It was clear that this orchestra was “his” or “hers” as much as it was the community’s.

Of course, visiting artists were prominently displayed in these materials, with pictures and raves. In a sense, the heavy promotion of the music director was in order, as he or she is in a way, per earlier discussion, a visiting artist.

My point here is that symphony orchestra organizations, for whatever reason, are rather unique in the promotion of a single person—the music director—in a way that overshadows the organization itself. We see this phenomenon in other performing arts, but not in the cultural arts in general. We don’t see it in the university field. We see it a bit here and there in the business world, but most thoughtful business leaders frown on it as an ego trip and an ineffective use of corporate funds. Even a driving entrepreneur who has created a successful business from scratch quite often insists on staying in the shadows and pushing forward the team which helped make it all possible.

Celebritism is clearly the pattern in show business, and some would say, debatably, that is the business of symphony orchestra organizations. The pattern of artist celebrities is also followed in professional sports, but relatively speaking, neither general managers nor coaches get much publicity.

Heavy promotion of the music director and personalization of the institution are practices which probably stem from some historical root. Managements probably feel that celebritism helps sell tickets, fill concert halls, gain recording contracts, sell recordings, and heighten the image of the orchestra. It is a practice which, on balance, music critics foster more than deplore. And it is a practice which some musicians, perhaps reluctantly, perhaps proudly, support by highlighting in their resumes the music directors who have employed them.

It is a practice to which I am sure many music directors have become accustomed, so that they would feel slighted if it changed. But I am equally sure that some music directors are not comfortable with all the hype, although their agents may well be. Finally, it is a practice for which, perhaps, we are all to blame, reflecting our American orientation to glorify our heroes and personalize our central institutions.
From an organizational point of view, celebritism does not necessarily contribute to teamwork and effectiveness. If it did, I think more businesses would utilize it rather than frown on it. In my judgment, not only many musicians, but also many board members and other volunteers are not very happy or confident about it. When it is pursued heavily, these key organizational participants begin to have the uncomfortable feeling that the direction of the institution is too much at the beck and call, and being operated to the personal benefit, of one person. This practice causes general uneasiness in the hearts of many people who are keenly involved in symphony orchestra organizations.
Perhaps someone someday will undertake a thoughtful analysis of this practice, and its overall cost/benefit relationships. It is certainly an interesting and unique aspect of symphony orchestra organizations.


Most symphony orchestra organizations are relatively small, local enterprises, operating in a central facility, with employees, volunteers, and a constituency all living in the same community. They are service organizations, principally with local customers. They are also economic and financial entities buffeted generally by market forces, both local and national. Symphony orchestra organizations share these commonalities with a wide range of other organizations.

Symphony orchestra organizations do hold unique central market positions in their communities—monopolies of sorts—but substitute and alternative services and products are impacting this position and charitable funding is more competitive. By their nature, orchestral organizations have little head-to-head, real competition with other similar organizations for customers, contributors, or employees. Even so, they engage in reputational and intellectual rivalry, spurred on by community boosterism, some of which has a positive impact, but much of which is misguided and unwise. There should be more rivalry and community pride based on organizational effectiveness, constituency satisfaction, and community value.

The symphony orchestra world is stratified, and organizational issues by strata probably differ, as in industry. Middle-strata organizations may have some of the same challenges faced by middle-strata professional service organizations.
Finally, the personalization of orchestra organizations through heavy identification with particular music directors is unique but questionable. A traditional practice, it merits research as to organizational costs and benefits.


The performance, advancement, and preservation of classical symphonic music in America depends upon a broad and growing audience base and the existence of many healthy symphony orchestra organizations providing orchestral performances accessible to many communities. To ensure this scenario, we need to be concerned about the unique human makeup of these organizations, and how they are structured and functioning. We need to be concerned about their effectiveness and the value they are providing to the communities they serve.
To this end, we need to study these interesting organizational systems, starting with the orchestra itself, which is a unique employee group. This uniqueness may help explain, in part, some of the organizational behavior which is observable in symphony orchestra organizations. Further thought and study might lead to changes which take into account and adapt to such uniqueness, resulting in improved communication and effectiveness.

The management and leadership structure of our symphony orchestra organizations is also unique and probably has depended too much on history and tradition. The leadership and administration provided to individual musicians and the orchestra as a whole is complex and confusing. Musicians should be more involved in and engaged by the direction of their organizations, including a definition of their own roles.
From an external point of view, symphony orchestra organizations have much in common with many other nonprofit and profit-making organizations in American society, but display some unique differences. Symphony orchestra organizations would benefit from a more realistic assessment of the socioeconomic environment in which they operate and a review of practices which do not have good cost/benefit relationships.

The small, local nature of symphony orchestra organizations, and the intense devotion which all participants have to them, provide a solid foundation for positive change. It is my hope that research and dialogue will give greater impetus to such change.

Paul R. Judy is a retired investment banking executive. He is a Life Trustee and former President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Judy holds A.B. and M.B.A. degrees from Harvard University.



Symphony Orchestra Organizations: Development of the Literature Since 1960

At the publisher’s request, this essay’s author waded “hip-deep in the card catalog” through existing writings about symphony orchestra organizations. Following months of research, she extricated herself and set a demarcation line of the 1960s, which she describes as the “Big Bang” in the arts world. She argues that it was at this time that arts organizations grew larger and more complex, inviting examination and analysis.

Practitioners and Academics

The essay first guides the reader through orchestra case studies, industry analyses, and trade journal articles. We learn that practitioners and observers have often expressed their thoughts about the world of the symphony orchestra and its participants.

The literature review then progresses from the work of practitioners to that of academics. In a discipline-by-discipline summary, we discover that symphony orchestra organizations are the focus of many academic lenses: economics, nonprofit management, organizational behavior, human resource management, political science and public policy, sociology, and social psychology. The author explains not only what has been written, but also why the cited references merit our attention.

A Personal Moment

As a final thought, author Erin Lehman explains the research with which she has been involved since 1989, and outlines some of the conclusions reached by the Harvard University cross-national study of “Leadership and Mobility in Symphony Orchestras,” for which she was the lead field researcher in the United States and the United Kingdom.

What follows gives scholars and practitioners a common platform from which to view the dynamics of current and future symphony orchestra organizations. Whether or not readers elect to ferret out each reference, they will share an understanding of the writings and research which have preceded the Institute’s current undertakings.

Symphony Orchestra Organizations: Development of the Literature Since 1960

At base, symphony orchestras are as much about people as they are about music. As cultural institutions, symphony orchestras preserve and promote the musical heritage of past, present, and future composers. As performing arts organizations, symphony orchestras’ raison d’etre is to perform for live audiences. As social enterprises, orchestra organizations depend on the people who work in them and who support them.
Precisely because they fall into so many categories of definition, symphony orchestra organizations are discussed in the literature of a wide range of disciplines. As complex organizations in the performing arts, orchestras have become a focus of interest; they have been analyzed through the lenses of economists, public policy analysts, sociologists, psychologists, and nonprofit management experts, as well as musicologists.

A look across the years and across various disciplines reveals a variegated pattern of writings on the symphony orchestra organization, with particular growth in the literature since 1960. In this essay, I describe that pattern in order to bring the reader up to date on the state of research as of 1995. In so doing, I hope to shed light on what remains to be explored in this field of inquiry.

1960 to the Present

Indeed, in my preliminary search for information—studies, books, articles, and/ or musings about these unique cultural institutions—I discovered a great deal. With literally centuries’ worth of history and criticism, it comes as no surprise that there are volumes on musicological topics—composers, repertoire, conductors, the social evolution of the orchestra. By contrast, however, much less has been written on the organizational dynamics of such workplaces. In a sort of informal hierarchy, one finds a plethora of writings on the history of music and musical organizations; followed by an enormous literature on philanthropy in and funding of the arts (including debate about public policy, the corporation as art patron, and audience development); a newer and growing interest in the literature of nonprofit management; and lastly, the sociological exploration into the symphony orchestra as organization.

If we look at the literature another way, its growth can be seen as a function of the leadership and resources guiding the arts in general in America. As such, the literature’s developmental vortex was the 1950s, when the public debate about legitimizing the arts through national recognition and funding began. Before that, of course, two very important institutions had already been established: the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), dating back to 1896, and the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL), founded in 1945. I have chosen 1960 as this survey’s demarcation line, however, because in my view the years from 1960 forward were pivotal; they forged a “Big Bang” in the arts world—and, thus, in the literature as well. In addition to the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965, the Rockefeller Foundation released its assessment, The Performing Arts: Problems and Prospects (1965). The following year, the Ford Foundation announced its grant program “to help symphony orchestras build large endowments in order to thrive,” based on its report about the challenges facing these organizations. Also noteworthy at this time was the release of William Baumol and William Bowen’s seminal work, Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma (1967), which suggested that endowment investment income would never be enough to satisfy the rampant inflationary costs in the performing arts—thereby exposing the ultimate challenge to the American symphony orchestra as an institution.

These critical “events,” together with the fact that arts organizations from this point forward were growing larger and more complex, spawned what happened in the next decades. As both the internal operations and the external environment grew increasingly difficult to coordinate, professional management of the arts became essential (DiMaggio, 1987). And this complexity begged fur- ther examination and analysis. The desire to understand how these organizations functioned and interacted with their environment created a cascade of studies and discussion.

The Literature by Author and/or Type

Until Henry Swoboda compiled his 1967 work, The American Symphony Orchestra, there was, as he put it, “no contemporary handbook available describing the unusual evolution of symphonic life in America within the recent past.” Swoboda hoped to provide a candid assessment of the orchestral scene through an overview of achievements, shortcomings, and trends, as well as a consideration of the cultural and financial aspects of symphonic life. In so doing, he enlisted the perspectives of leading practitioners of the day, including Maurice Abravanel, Erich Leinsdorf, Helen Thompson, and Paul Hume.

Other candid assessments followed. Because arts organizations are multifaceted and complex, a steadily growing number of social scientists have attempted to apply their particular disciplines to the questions that confront these organizations, and have contributed greatly to the literature. But the reflective practitioner is also represented in this survey of research, writings, and musings. In fact, a collation of the thoughtful opinion and analysis of practitioners and informed observers over the past 35 years would result in a well-documented “industry history.” In lieu of that, I present a brief exposition of the gamut of thoughtful opinion and analysis from practitioners to academics.

Practitioners and Industry Experts

By practitioners, I mean musicians, managers, board members, volunteers, and staff—the constituents who make up a symphony orchestra organization. Their perspectives and analysis constitute a large part of the existing literature. So do the perspectives of industry experts and informed onlookers: music historians, music critics, and philanthropists, as well as individuals from the musicians’ union, and even governmental arts agencies. These practitioners and experts have helped to paint a complete picture of the inner workings of the symphony orchestra and the world that impacts and shapes it.

Orchestra Case Studies

One genre of research and writings prevalent in the literature is the orchestra profile or case study. For example, Robert Craven (1986) provides us with selected orchestra profiles in the United States (and around the world, 1987), as does the American Record Guide series, “State of the Orchestras” (in each issue since November/December 1992). But case study analysis is best characterized by Edward Arian’s book about the Philadelphia Orchestra, Bach, Beethoven, and Bureaucracy (1971), which exposed the problems and processes that constitute a symphony orchestra. This orchestra profile by a former Philadelphia musician- turned-academic is still current and considered “must reading” for new orchestra recruits.

Compared with the work by Arian, other “orchestra biographies” that followed in the 1970s and 1980s may be less direct in what they have to teach us, but each presents issues of life and work in a symphony orchestra. There is Howard Shanet’s magnum opus, Philharmonic: A History of New York’s Orchestra (1975). Three other works in which an author-as-outside-observer follows the orchestra for a substantial period of time (often a year) in order to relay to us that “a symphony orchestra is not only beautiful music,” but also about “the fears, doubts, angers, and vaulting ambitions of the people who make it up” include: William Furlong’s Season with Solti: A Year in the Life of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1974), Herbert Kupferberg’s Those Fabulous Philadelphians (1969), and Carl Vigeland’s In Concert (1989) about the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Examples of this genre for a British orchestra include Adam Galinsky’s and my 1994 case study of the London Symphony Orchestra and Linda Blandford’s work, The LSO: Scenes from Orchestra Life (1984).

Industry Analyses

It was Philip Hart, however, who went one giant leap forward from the case studies of specific orchestras with the 1973 release of his monumental book Orpheus in the New World. In it, he provided a painstakingly thorough review of the world of the symphony orchestra, from repertoire to conductors to the musicians’ union and audiences. This work, combined with the Rockefeller Foundation report (1965), the Wolf Report (1992), the ASOL task force report (1993), and John Robinson’s 1993 look at adult participation in the arts, provides a firm foundation for the analysis of this industry. Complementing these works in ways that head us toward the future are analyses which compare trends in different countries (Galinksy & Lehman, 1995) and across different art forms (Zolberg, 1980; Heilbrun, 1993).

Trade Journal Articles

Trade journals represent the main medium for discussion of this topic, and articles written by practitioners and industry observers reveal the complex and complicated nature of managing symphony orchestras. Articles in such publications as Symphony, International Musician, Senza Sordino, International Arts Manager, and the American Record Guide allow us to glimpse the Rubik’s Cube of issues facing the symphony orchestra organization.

Key writings include articles by Debra Borda, Ernest Fleischmann, Henry Fogel, and Thomas Morris, executive directors of the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra respectively. Each of these authors has contributed to the debate about the viability of symphony orchestras as they are currently structured. Equally important are the writings of musicians and conductors such as Robert Levine of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, whose informal treatise about stress and musicians provides powerful insight into that critical subject; Joe Robinson, principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic, whose 1987 article “Players and Proselytes,” details trustee-musician relationships; and Michael Morgan, music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, whose recent piece, “The Music Is Multicultural,” published in Symphony magazine, details yet another facet of symphony orchestra organizations.

Steve Young, newly elected president of the AFM, has also contributed to the literature with an unpublished work, “Are Music Schools Preparing Performers for Real Life?,” coauthored with Howard Garniss. And, Lew Waldeck, former head of the Symphonic Services Department of the AFM, contributed to an AFM publication about cooperative orchestras, “When Musicians Call Democracy’s Tune.”
Clearly, a wealth of intelligently written articles provides readers with insight into the wide-ranging debate among practitioners and industry experts through an ongoing print discussion.

Other Lenses Through Which to See

Academics add other perspectives to the literature. The discussion in this section is not exclusively about the literature on symphony orchestra organizations, ratheritextendsour“depthoffield”toculturalpolicyandartsresearch. Through a review of arts literature from the standpoint of various disciplines, I suggest the use of a broader framework for interdisciplinary research on symphony orchestra organizations. My concern is not just with the advancement of a particular discipline that can inform us about the symphony orchestra, but also with increasing the opportunity to see these organizations through new lenses and encouraging the cross-fertilization of ideas from one field to the other.


Despite what has been described as a virtual economic boom for the arts during the 1970s and early 1980s2, symphony orchestras and other cultural institutions have increasingly needed to understand the economics of their particular art forms. The literature in this area emerged out of the “eagerness of economists to apply their tools to hitherto untried areas and the recognition of arts administrators of the increasing economic pressures on the arts” (Blaug, 1976). At base, the question is, how can symphony orchestras and other performing arts organizations cope with economic pressures which constitute a “permanent crisis”?

Many economists have and continue to examine the economic aspects of the arts, beginning with Baumol and Bowen’s pioneering work in 1967 and, more recently, with that of James Heilbrun and Charles Gray (1993). The development of the field of cultural economics over the past 28 years has been aided by the Association for Cultural Economics, which was established in 1973 to launch a formal discourse on the subject. This association, now an international network (ACEI), continues to expand its reach, focusing not only on economic analysis of different cultural organizations and the perennial issue of public support for the arts, but also on such topics as the economic aspects of careers in the arts.

In its journal, ACEI has published such pieces as, “Cost Functions for Symphony Orchestras” (1985) by Mark Lange et al., and Mark Lange and William Luksetich’s “The Cost of Producing Symphony Orchestra Services” (1993), which discuss the difficulty of using average cost curves to analyze symphony orchestra costs. Instead, they suggest that orchestras should be viewed as “multiproduct nonprofit enterprises” with entirely different utility functions from those of profit- maximizing, for-profit firms. We also find Samuel Schwarz’s “Long-term Trends in Performing Arts Expenditures” (1984), one of several articles he has published on such symphony orchestra economic issues as the income gap (see also Schwarz, 1983). For comparative analysis, Jean-Pierre Guillard, in “The Symphony as a Public Service: The Orchestra of Paris” (1985), discusses the French government’s subsidization of a “symphony orchestra network” versus the funding structure of American, British, and other European orchestras. More recently, Marianne Felton (1994) brings us up to date with her comparative analysis, “Historical Funding Patterns in Symphony Orchestras, Dance, and Opera Companies, 1972-1992.”

In addition to journal articles, a wealth of books (actually, edited collections of papers) illuminate cultural economics—the problems and the possibilities, both domestic and foreign. Another work by William Baumol (with Hilda Baumol, 1984), Inflation and the Performing Arts, is one example. The ACEI has produced annual volumes from its yearly conferences since 1979 (see Hendon et al., 1980; Towse & Khakee, 1992; Peacock and Rizzo, 1994). But it was Mark Blaug, of the University of London, who first introduced this type of compendium in 1976 with The Economics of the Arts. The articles assembled in that work capture what economists can say about “so noneconomic a subject as the Arts.” Blaug recognized that “we have only begun to scratch the surface of what may one day prove to be one of the most rewarding branches of applied economics” (Blaug, 1976).

Indeed, the field of cultural economics is comparatively young. We have not seen its full impact on cultural policy, let alone on arts organizations or their management. And, although each work listed above contributes to our knowledge of the economics of the symphony orchestra, there is clearly room for more comprehensive analysis.

Nonprofit Management, Organizational Behavior, and Human Resource Management

At one point in history, symphony orchestras were organized along for-profit lines. In fact, the New York Philharmonic started out as a cooperative enterprise in which musicians shared the profits among themselves. That was a long time ago. Today, symphony orchestras are nonprofit organizations which require sophisticated and professional management. As a result, there is a growing exchange of information and ideas between traditional management theory and the nonprofit sector. Organizational practices in the for-profit sector have contributed to this exchange, especially in the areas of leadership, organizational behavior, and human resource management. This dialogue has fostered growth in the literature specifically tailored to the unique characteristics of nonprofit organizations. The nonprofit management literature helps us understand this sector: What is a nonprofit organization? Why do so many nonprofits exist? How do they function? (DiMaggio, 1986; Powell, 1987). The analysis of nonprofit symphony orchestra organizations contributes to this field.

Traditional management theory also benefits from closer inspection of the nonprofit world. In fact, leading management scholars enjoy using symphony orchestra and other music-organization analogies to describe the complex function of management in today’s for-profit businesses (Kanter, 1989; Drucker, 1988; Weick, 1990). Of particular note is the article by renowned management scholar Peter Drucker, who suggests:

The typical large business 20 years hence will have fewer than half the levels of management of its counterpart today, and no more than a third the managers. In its structure, it will bear little resemblance to the typical manufacturing company, circa 1950, which our textbooks still consider the norm. Instead it is far more likely to resemble organizations that neither the practicing manager nor the management scholar pays much attention to today: the hospital, the university, the symphony orchestra (Drucker, 1988).

What Drucker’s provocative essay fails to capture, however, is the leadership paradox posed by, and the leadership potential of, the conductor’s role in a symphony orchestra—the potential to influence and motivate subordinates, not just to coordinate and manage them as independent units. Kevin Murnighan and Donald Conlon (1991) do look at the paradox of leadership versus democracy, although admittedly their study focuses on string quartets, not symphony orchestras. Yaakov Atik (1994) explores the inspirational aspects of different leadership styles in, “The Conductor and the Orchestra: Interactive Aspects of the Leadership Process.”

More generally, important articles in this area include: “From Impresario to Arts Administrator: Formal Accountability in Nonprofit Cultural Organizations” by Richard Peterson (1986); “Nonprofit Enterprise in the Performing Arts” by Henry Hansmann (1986); “Executive Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations” by Dennis Young (1987); “Nonprofit Boards of Directors: Beyond the Governance Function” by Melissa Middleton (1987); and “Doing Well by Doing Good: Dilemmas of Performance Measurement in Nonprofit Organizations and the Need for a Multiple-constituency Approach” by Rosabeth Kanter and David Summers (1987).

Clearly, the for-profit and nonprofit sectors have much to learn from one another about management practices, and this aspect of the literature on symphony orchestras continues to expand. Adding to the exchange is doctoral research such as Robert Jones’ 1991 D.B.A. thesis, “Human Resources Management of the Arts: A Descriptive Analysis of the Professional Orchestra Manager’s Operational Role in the Major American Symphony.” Jones models Paul DiMaggio’s (1987) survey of senior arts administrators, and adds to it an important discussion of leadership challenges facing nonprofit management in the 1990s. A 1994 dissertation by Joan Griffing, “Audition Procedures and Advice from Concertmasters of American Orchestras,” deals with human resource management. Although it is not a definitive guide, the author “found a tremendous need for discussion and advice on orchestra auditions” among young violinists, and argued that the concertmaster is “the most influential and untapped source of information.” In many ways, these studies fill gaps in the literature on critical questions of leadership and personnel management. Other topics have yet to be explored, however, including employee involvement and the impact of governance structures on organizational performance.

Political Science and Public Policy

Another growing segment of the field of cultural research lies with political scientists, urban planners, and public policy analysts. These scholars contribute to discussion about the broader contextual issues and their implications, not by focusing on the symphony orchestra itself, but rather through analysis of the environment in which symphony orchestras operate and navigate. Milton Cummings, Jr. and Richard Katz (1986), for example, provide an in-depth look at cultural support in various countries, including the United States. Other important works in this sphere include the writings of Kevin Mulcahy (1991) and Margaret Wsyzomirski (1987). They are political scientists who analyze government’s role in support of the arts. Their writings inform us about factors impacting the orchestra as a cultural institution in this country, and help us understand how that context is evolving over time.

Also worth noting is the work of Mark Schuster of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Urban Studies and Planning Department. Schuster forces us to rethink how we analyze cultural policy and cross-national comparisons. Who’s to Pay for the Arts? (1989), for example, shows us pitfalls to avoid when analyzing and drawing conclusions in our comparative studies of countries’ cultural goals, policies, and tax incentive systems. Likewise, in “The Performance of Performance Indicators (in the Arts)” (1992), Schuster warns us about the use of quantitative indicators in the cultural sector and points out how design and measurement of various programs often affect behavior and performance in unintended ways. More recently, he analyzes the trend to fund arts and culture through dedicated state lotteries (Schuster, 1994 a,b).

In my view, the Research Division of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), provides a bridge between public policy experts and other social scientists through its program of research publications which analyze “matters of interest to the arts community.” For example, the NEA has sponsored national surveys of public participation in the arts (administered in 1982, 1985, and 1992 through the Bureau of the Census) and commissioned analysis of the surveys, including Paul DiMaggio and Francie Ostrower’s report #25, Race, Ethnicity, and Participation in the Arts, and John Robinson’s report #27, Arts Participation in America: 1982- 1992. These reports provide important data points in documenting the ongoing history of such core art forms as classical music. The analyses add greatly to our cultural database and the literature.


Of all the social sciences, sociology has been at the forefront of research on arts organizations. Since an orchestra is a fascinating laboratory of human relationships, it is not surprising that sociologists have given us the most insight into the social organization of artistic work.

This is precisely what Jack Kamerman and Rosanne Martorella have done in Performers & Performances: The Social Organization of Artistic Work (1983). Chapters of particular relevance to the symphony orchestra organization include Robert Faulkner’s “Orchestra Interaction: Communication and Authority in an Artistic Organization,” in which he describes one of the central sources of organizational conflict—the relationship between music director and musicians. Other chapter titles convey the range of sociologists’ interests from “Symphony Conducting as an Occupation” (Kamerman) to “Rationality in the Artistic Management of Performing Arts Organizations” (Martorella), and “Patronage and Organizational Structure in Symphony Orchestras in London and New York” (Couch). Stephen Couch’s chapter explains why the cooperative form of organization failed to take root in the United States. And he summarizes why sociologists are so intrigued by the arts:

The sociological study of the arts has been receiving increased attention in the U.S. in recent years. A fair number of scholars have been realizing that by studying the interdependent influences of social structure and artistic style, we can learn much about the more general question of how the patterned organization of social life influences, and is influenced by, the values and meanings attached to life by persons and groups, and the artifacts that embody them.

From sociologists we learn about the unique nature of performing arts organizations as social systems, and why certain organizational structures have come to be and have persisted over time.

Other important works in this field help us understand the demographic composition of symphony orchestras. These include Gilda Greenberg’s (1981) study of why women are in the minority in major symphony orchestras, Phyllis Lehmann’s “Women in Orchestras: The Promise and the Problems” (1982), and more recently, Jutta Allmendinger and J. Richard Hackman’s “The More the Better? On the Inclusion of Women in Professional Organizations” (1993). Another interesting sociological perspective is contributed by Pamela Willcox-Blau’s (1990) article on the career development of black musicians including those in symphony orchestras. Also noteworthy along the same line of demographic inquiry is Everette Freeman and Neil Bania’s (1993) examination of African- American attendance at performances of the Cleveland Orchestra.
Why and how musicians pursue orchestral careers, what is required, and what occupational hazards exist, are other topics of inquiry. Karen Kleeh-Tolley (1988) begins to address these questions. In her dissertation, “Investigation Into the Aspects of the Process of Becoming a Professional Performing Artist: The Case of Symphony Musicians and Ballet Dancers,” she points out that:

Unlike many other occupations, training in high culture arts and their performance requires an early commitment and continued opportunity to develop necessary skills. The purpose of [my thesis] is to identify and describe social origins, processes, and routes by which those with the talent to be considered artists in both high culture music and dance obtain the opportunity to realize their potential.

Saroj Parasuraman and Sidney Nachman also focus on commitment to the music profession in their study, “Correlates of Organizational and Professional Commitment” (1984). The authors found that “love of music and commitment to music as a profession are not sufficient to promote the intention to remain with a given orchestra. Rather, it is the job experiences of musicians in orchestras that influence the desire for continued membership in [them] through their effect on organizational commitment” (p. 299). The authors offer suggestions as to how orchestras might simultaneously reduce musicians’ stress and increase commitment by focusing, among other things, on job attitude, job performance, and leadership dynamics.

The issue of musicians’ occupational or work-related physical and mental stress is not restricted to American orchestras. It is explored in fascinating detail in an edited work by Maximillian Piperek (1981) commissioned by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. In it, the investigators “provide a comprehensive and scientifically sound job profile for the symphony orchestra musician” through analysis of a range of factors, including the effect of working climate, authority and discipline, tension among orchestra members, criticism, and psychophysiological aspects of stress. That was 1981. In 1995, medical researchers in America are exploring the brains of musicians. Through the use of advanced magnetic resonance imaging, a recent study reveals that musicians’ brains are structured differently from other people’s and may, therefore, process particular information differently (Knox, 1995).

Social Psychology

Whether or not musicians have different information processing capacity, many of the issues concerning life and work in American symphony orchestras remain the same as they have been for decades. Like Parasuraman and Nachman, we are still concerned with job attitude, job performance, and leadership dynamics. These issues fall within the domain of social psychology, which provides a framework for understanding social and organizational influences on human behavior. It is here, at the junction of sociology and psychology, that this story comes full circle, as social psychology is the discipline in which my research on symphony orchestras lies.

Between 1989 and 1994, our group of social scientists at Harvard University and the Max Planck Institut fuer Bildungsforchung in Berlin jointly conducted a cross-national study of “Leadership and Mobility in Symphony Orchestras.” In this study, we sought to understand how professional symphony orchestras are structured, supported, and led, and how musicians make their careers in them. Our data set was a stratified random sample of 78 major and regional symphony orchestras in four countries: the United States, United Kingdom, the former East Germany, and West Germany. Papers generated from this study elucidate contemporary life, work, and prevailing issues in symphony orchestras as reported by organization members themselves (players, managers, and board members), and as observed by the research team (see reports by Allmendinger, et al.).

Ours is not the first study to focus on American professional orchestral musicians or symphony orchestras. David Westby wrote about the career prospects of symphony musicians in 1961. Robert Faulkner published his in- depth investigation of the Hollywood studio musician in 1971, and later surveyed the career expectations of orchestral musicians (1973 a, b). And certainly, ours is not the only study to detail the organizational structure and range of issues confronting the American symphony orchestra. Books have been written on the subject, including Daniel Mason’s Dilemma of American Music, and Other Essays (1928); John Mueller’s American Symphony Orchestra: A Social History of Musical Taste (1951); and George Seltzer’s compendium, The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States (1975) (and on the American Federation of Musicians (1989)). More current is the American Symphony Orchestra League’s own assessment summarized in the 1993 task force report: Americanizing the American Orchestra.

What our study does reveal, however, is that perhaps even more than financial pressures, the challenges to symphony orchestra organizations today revolve around people issues: how to encourage player involvement and foster job satisfaction; how to provide formal leadership through “the triad” (music director, managing director, and board chair) and in critical functions (Hackman, 1986); and, of equal importance, how to attain the full potential of a musical ensemble. Meeting any of these challenges, let alone all of them, is certainly far from simple in a time of great economic uncertainty and competition, and, arguably, when great misunderstandings exist among constituencies within symphony orchestra organizations. What these challenges suggest to me is that further research, debate, and discussion would be beneficial to the institutions themselves, to those who work in symphony orchestras, and to those who appreciate them.

Future Research on the Symphony Orchestra Organization

Looking to areas of future research on symphony orchestra organizations, several enlightened individuals not only provide guideposts, but also urge us to rethink reality. Howard Klein (1990), for one, calls for a loosening of “the rigid system under which orchestras and musicians work” and suggests “that a conscientious discussion of free-flowing ideas is essential.” Ernest Fleischmann (1989) would agree, since he has been the most vocal champion of a “community of musicians” instead of the traditional orchestra organization. Tod Machover (1986), on the other hand, has examined the contributions of new technologies and new techniques to the orchestra, suggesting that the future orchestra may well be a combination of electronic and traditional instruments—or maybe not, if conservatism prevails. The possibility of labor substitution reminds me of James Kraft (1994) and Kristin Wever (1994): Kraft investigates the impact of “talking” movies on thousands of instrumentalists in the 1920s and 1930s, and Wever describes the unparalleled decline of American unions in recent decades. Taken as a whole, if the typical symphony orchestra organization fails to increase its perceived value and efficiency, is it so farfetched to think that the orchestral musician of the 21st century might indeed go the way of the pit musician?

Organizational research can provide a platform for the kind of discussion that needs to take place in the symphony orchestra industry as it approaches the future. The gaps in the literature as discussed here reflect gaps in our own understanding, not so much in the realm of one discipline or another, but more generally. It is my view that we need to come to grips with the advantages and considerable disadvantages of the present structures, roles, and processes of symphony orchestra organizations. We need to explore how these unique organizations might evolve to make better use of their substantial resources.


1 A quick perusal of the library catalogue reveals more than 9,999 listings under the general topic of music; 7,432 items on the arts, of which 921 are specifically related to the performing arts; 1,292 on musicians (all types); and just 32 citations under the subject header “symphony orchestra.” Clearly this does not tell us all.

2 According to Balfe and Meyerson (1995), “The NEA budget increased by 10 times between 1970 and 1985; those of state and local arts agencies tripled. Corporate and foundation funding increased in like amounts, as did the number of people employed, directly or indirectly, in the arts.” See also Cherbo (1992) for another source documenting the increases.

3 “Because of the unrelenting and cumulative rise in their relative costs, the live performing arts can be expected to find themselves in permanent crisis.” Blaug (1976), p. 2.


Did you recognize the opening bars of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No.104 in D major (the so-called London Symphony)? We chose this score because it is the final symphony by the man known as the father of the form—the last word in the most prolific symphonic career ever known. Written 200 years ago, this symphony stands at the pinnacle of that first great period of orchestral music. Like all towering masterworks, it provides an unusual vantage point: one can glance back over the complicated, somewhat obsure, and difficult birth of the form—it was the Italian opera overture, or sinfonia, that gave us our word “symphony”—and simultane-ously look forward a mere five years to Beethoven’s first effort in the form he would make his own.

During his long life (particularly by 18th-century standards) and rich career, Haydn witnessed the amazing transformation of the orchestra from a private court jewel to an institution dedicated to a large paying public. In his early years as Kepellmeister to the Esterházy family, Haydn served as conductor, music director, artistic administrator, personnel manager, librarian, and resident composer all rolled into one. But by the 1790s, when Haydn traveled to London at the invitation of the great impresario Johann Peter Salomon, an ambitious concert-organizer and true businessman, the world had changed.

Symphony No. 104 was performed for the first time in May 1795, at a special benefit concert that was the big event of the London season. The orchestra was 60 strong, a luxury Haydn particularly enjoyed after years of working with small provincial ensembles. He rejoiced over the box-office receipts (the concert was unusually lucrative), and delighted in reading a review of the concert—which, of course, proclaimed his genius—in the Morning Chronicle.

Although Haydn has come down to us as “Papa Haydn” and as the “Father of the Symphony,” he cannot honestly be credited with inventing the symphony. More than any other composer, though, he laid the foundation for symphonic music as we know it today. He inherited a relatively lightweight form and transformed it into one of the most expressive, flexible, and important forms in Western art. In his last symphonies, he began to write for the modern orchestra—pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, plus timpani and strings. His symphonic career, more than 30 years long, changed the face of music.

Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


Topical Areas of Interest


In its publications program, the Symphony Orchestra Institute seeks to foster a better understanding of the complex dynamics of symphony orchestra organizations. To this end, the Institute wishes to publish thoughtful insights
and opinion by knowledgeable and experienced participants in and observers of these organizations. In addition to being thought-provoking and encouraging an exchange of views, it is hoped that such published opinion will suggest areas which would benefit from organizational research.

The following list of topical areas is presented to stimulate the thinking of potential authors. Some areas are larger in scale, perhaps more suitable to formal and lengthy analysis. Others are smaller and quite susceptible to shorter, experience-based commentary. Many topics fall in between.

The Institute welcomes manuscripts on these or similar topics, pursuant to its Guidelines for Contributors.

Organizational Roles and Resources


❏ How might the key roles in the typical symphony orchestra organization be better understood, in terms of the work involved, the abilities required, the performance expected, and related issues?

❏ What is the profile of education, experience, work, rewards, and career path of the orchestral musician? Of the executive director and other professional staff positions?

❏ What is the profile of motivations, expectations, work, experience, and rewards of the chief trustee? Of other trustees, and the board as a whole? The chief direct service volunteer? Other key volunteers?

❏ What is involved in becoming and being the music director and principal conductor?

❏ Are cross-perceptions of roles in symphony orchestra organizations less authentic and fact-based than in other organizations, and if so, why, how, and to what effect?


❏ What, if any, are the similarities or differences in the roles and tasks of various sections and players and what are the organizational effects?

❏ What are musician’s attitudes about repertoire and programming, and how programming decisions are made? How do these matters affect the organizational attitudes of musicians?

❏ What physical and mental stress does an orchestral musician undergo and how does it compare with stress in other occupations?

❏ Does the regular performance of popular music dilute the musical competence of a symphony orchestra musician?

❏ Is the musician’s job changing, and if so, what is the effect and how should the job be redesigned?

❏ What are the issues and practices involved in musician peer evaluations, such as in auditions, the granting of tenure, and the determination of musical incompetency?

❏ What are the issues involved in the tenure system?

❏ What are the organizational and leadership responsibilities of a section


❏ What are the various tasks and skills involved in staff positions in symphony orchestra organizations?

❏ What staff roles particularly impact organizational effectiveness?

❏ What staff training takes place in orchestral organizations?

❏ How do staff roles in symphony orchestra organizations compare with similar roles in for-profit organizations?


❏ Are the profiles of volunteers—board members and others—who provide service to symphony orchestra organizations changing, and if so, why and how?

❏ How knowledgeable about and involved in organizational operations and relationships should board members become?

❏ How do symphony orchestra organizations determine the work which volunteers will perform, and how are these people recruited, trained, structured, and integrated with employees?

Organizational Structure and Process

Music Direction

❏ How is the role of music director defined, and has it changed historically?

❏ What is involved in the overall musical and artistic direction? Who does what; how is it organized?

❏ What is involved in being an “excellent” conductor? ❏ If a music director becomes a celebrity, what, if any, are the organizational effects?

❏ What are the organizational implications of music director non- residency?

❏ Should musician opinion surveys of conductors be broadly available? Organizational Structure and Process


❏ What are the overall organizational structures, and group and role responsibilities, in the typical symphony orchestra organization?

❏ What are typical governance and management structures and responsibilities, and what is their history?

❏ Do the structures and processes of symphony orchestra organizations tend to vary by stratified patterns?

❏ Are there informal structures and networks in these organizations, and if so, what are their patterns?

❏ What structural or process innovations are being tried? ❏ What is the effect of physical and intellectual propinquity in the functioning of the typical symphony orchestra organization?


❏ How, and how well, do symphony orchestra organizations develop, express, and implement statements of mission, goals, objectives, and strategies?

❏ How clear, specific, inspiring, and sound are these statements? ❏ How deeply and broadly are these beliefs and aspirations shared throughout the organization?

❏ Have measures of prospective performance also been adopted? ❏ How are constituents involved?

Engagement and Involvement

❏ How and to what extent are musicians, staff, and active volunteers engaged and challenged by their participation in symphony orchestra organizations?

❏ How are musicians currently involved in internal organizational processes such as, or in addition to, management and music director selection; programming; touring; the audition, probation, and tenure processes? Other involvements? How engaging are these activities? How should musicians be more involved and engaged, or should they?

❏ How are board members involved in operational processes, and should and how might that involvement be extended?

❏ In the typical situation, who is sharing in what operational information and when? Why is this the arrangement?

❏ What are the typical interpersonal communication patterns in symphony orchestra organizations?

❏ How are smaller teams of various forms being used throughout the organization?

❏ How changeable over time are organizational processes and systems, and how do these changes come about?

❏ What advanced human resource management practices in industry might be used in symphony orchestra organizations?

Rewards and Recognition

❏ Are musicians, staff, and volunteers rewarded and recognized for excellent performance and service? What systems and practices are utilized?

❏ Do reward and recognition systems and practices support smaller- team as well as total organizational performance?

Personal and Professional Development

❏ What systems and practices are used within symphony orchestra organizations to enrich the personal and professional growth of musicians, staff employees, and volunteers?


❏ What are the leadership roles in the typical symphony orchestra organization?

❏ What do participants in symphony orchestra organizations expect of their leadership?

❏ What do constituencies and communities expect? Are these expectations stable or changing?

❏ What musician leadership roles exist in a symphony orchestra?

❏ What is and what might desirably be the participation of musicians in the overall leadership functions within a typical symphony orchestra organization?

❏ How might modern concepts and “best practices” of leadership apply to symphony orchestra organizations?

Broad Organizational Topics


❏ What fresh insights can be brought to the economics of symphony orchestra organizations?

❏ Is it possible for the internal inflation rate of symphony orchestra organizations to be less than or equal to the general inflation rate in the economy in which they operate, and if so, how?

❏ How might symphony orchestra organizations achieve greater productivity, and should that be a goal?


❏ Many for-profit corporations seek and are expected to achieve growth in the corporation’s equity value, and such growth is usually accompanied by growth in organizational and financial size, with regularly expanding personal, professional, and financial opportunities for many employees. What, if anything, are the counterparts of these phenomena in symphony orchestra organizations?


❏ Can effectiveness and conditions contributing to it be measured? ❏ What steps can (must?) a symphony orchestra organization take to
become more effective?

❏ Can symphony orchestra organizations be compared as to the level of effectiveness?


❏ Can the constituency and community value of a symphony orchestra organization, and change in such value, be measured? Constituent inputs are reasonably quantifiable, but are outputs/benefits so qualitative and subjective as to be immeasurable, and not subject to any reliable form of judgment?

❏ What do constituencies expect of the symphony orchestra organizations they sustain?


❏ How are advances in information technology impacting, or going to impact, internal structures and processes of symphony orchestra organizations?

Comparative Organizational Topics

Discontinued U.S. Organizations

❏ What organizational issues contributed to the termination of various North American symphony orchestra organizations over the last 10 years? What insights and lessons are to be learned? What factors should all parties consider when an organizational termination is a possible alternative?

U.S. Self-governing Orchestra Organizations

❏ What are self-governing orchestra organizations, and how do they function?

❏ How do their resources, structures, processes, and leadership compare with more traditional formats?

❏ What are their strengths and weaknesses? London Orchestra Organizations

❏ How are these self-governing orchestra organizations structured and functioning?

❏ How do they compare with their U.S. counterparts? ❏ What are their economics?

European Organizations

❏ How are the leading European symphony orchestra organizations structured, and how do they operate?

❏ What are their economics?

❏ What primary organizational issues do they face?

Opera Organizations

❏ How are the leading opera organizations in the U.S. and abroad structured, and how do they operate?

❏ How do these organizational formats compare with those of most North American symphony orchestra organizations?


Research Program

The Institute is pleased to announce the initiation of its research program.

While the specific focus of research to be supported is open, the Institute has special interest in the following topics as they relate to North American symphony orchestra organizations:

◆ Musician engagement and involvement;

◆ Leadership and management;

◆ Mission and goals, and organizational strategies to achieve them; and

◆ Organizational economics: are patterns changing?

Special consideration will be given to proposals that draw on multidisciplinary research and/or theory and which contemplate active collaboration between scholars and practitioners.

The Institute is currently announcing in the academic community the availability of two $10,000 Fellowships to support research by doctoral students. Inquiries by doctoral candidates, and practitioners interested in collaborative research, are welcome. The Fellowship description and application procedure will be sent upon request.

The Institute also anticipates having other funds available during 1996 for scholarly study of symphony orchestra organizations. This funding would be open to any qualified researcher. A letter briefly describing the proposed research and requesting an application is welcome.

Correspondence relating to the Institute’s research program should be sent to:

Research Program
Symphony Orchestra Institute
1618 Orrington Avenue, Suite 318
Evanston, IL 60201-5060


About the author

Allison Akins