Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
Research Study and Organizational Consultation
Raising the Demand Curve for Symphony Orchestras
Are Three Legs Appropriate? Or Even Sufficient? by Henry Fogel
The Toledo Symphony: Players as Staff Members by Joel Mandelbaum
The American Composers Orchestra by Joel Mandebaum
Orchestras That Educate by Mitchell Korn
In each issue of Harmony, our goal is to create a bouillabaisse of insights and ideas which are informational, but which particularly challenge traditional, conventional thinking and practices existing within North American symphony orchestra organizations. After you have finished reading this issue, I hope you will conclude that we have closely approached, if not reached, our objective.
The first two authors who will greet you are widely known employees in two major American symphony organizations—one a player and the other a manager—and both men have engaged in prominent activities outside their organizations.
Joseph Robinson has been principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic since 1978. He is widely known for his marvelous tone and ability as an instrumentalist, both in orchestral and chamber music. Except among his closest friends, Joe is less well known for many other accomplishments and interests, including the founding of a North Carolina-based oboe school, membership on the Knight Foundation’s “Magic of Music” panel, and membership on the boards of directors of the Grand Teton Music Festival and the Union Theological Seminary. Joe is an entrepreneur and “free thinker”—some would say an iconoclast—when it comes to how orchestra organizations might better function, and the new behaviors and directions these organizations should pursue if they are to retain, if not expand, their place in contemporary society. Some months back, my ears perked up when Joe mentioned that he had “some ideas about competition between symphony orchestras.” I encouraged him to share these ideas with the Harmony audience; starting on page 1, in his inimical style, Joe does just that.
Henry Fogel became the general manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association in 1985 and has carried the title of president since 1996. He entered the orchestra world in 1978, and for some 20 years has been an observer and student of industry and organizational history, policies, and practices. He has had a long interest in radio as a medium to reach, educate, and cultivate a classical music audience. Henry conceived and developed the radio marathon, a fundraising technique which has been used by hundreds of symphony organizations. Even today, he finds the time to produce a nationally syndicated radio program reviewing records and artists. Henry has been a pro bono consultant to a number of symphony organizations and is active with the American Symphony Orchestra League. Henry became an Institute director in 1997, and in the course of our friendship and work together, we have had many discussions about symphony organizations. I encouraged Henry, when he was
ready, to share his views about symphony organizational practices. The time for that personal expression has come, and I think you will find Henry’s insights and his call for organizational change to be of keen interest.
Regular readers of Harmony know that we try in each issue to convey a “story” or two about symphony organizational developments, roles, or issues as discussed by people who are directly involved. Shortly after the Institute was founded, I had the good fortune to visit Bob Bell, the general manager of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra (TSO) organization, along with various members of his administrative and conducting staffs, board, and orchestra, and to hear a performance of the orchestra. As my inquiry progressed, it was clear that something special and positive was going on in this organization. The Institute then sponsored an Organizational Development-in-Residency program with the TSO organization, the results of which further contributed to our knowledge and regard for it, and helped to advance the organization’s own self-knowledge. In the course of our acquaintance with this organization, we have noted some rather unique human resource philosophies and practices, one of which is the focus of the TSO roundtable starting on page 35.
The final two essays are by authors who are not participants in professional symphony organizations, but who are devoted observers of long standing, and who—each in his own way—have provided personal services to the field.
Joel Mandelbaum has recently retired as a full-time professor of music at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College (City University of New York), having spent some 24 years with that institution as teacher and administrator, and as a composer and scholar. In my introduction to Joel’s essay on page 47, I outline in more detail how a chance contact led to his excellent report about the American Composers Orchestra (ACO) organization, which is a unique symphony organization. The ACO is one of a number of “special purpose orchestras” which contribute so incomparably to the classical music culture of New York City and, indirectly, to that of North America and the world as a whole. Joel is a master storyteller and I think readers will share his enthusiastic judgment that the ACO organization is a very special community.
Mitchell Korn is a leading consultant to arts, educational, government, and grantmaking organizations seeking to build and strengthen community life through the arts. Over the past 15 years, Mitchell has assisted a wide range of symphony organizations as they have redefined their participation in and provided new energy to the musical and cultural lives of their communities. Out of this work, Mitchell and his associates have created a framework for thinking about the community educational role of symphony orchestra institutions and the organizational implications which follow. We are pleased to present these well-conceived views starting on page 57.
As noted on page xv, we were pleased to publish, in December 1999, our second research study, and to advance our organizational consultation program with the election of Frederick Zenone as the Institute’s vice chairman.
The Institute has been blessed with the support and interest of an expanding circle of persons who have been willing to serve on our board of advisors for terms usually of one to two years. At the beginning of the year, with the completion of terms of all advisors, we thanked nine advisors for their service, welcomed nine replacements, and asked seven to serve renewed terms of 18 months. The new composition of the board of advisors, along with a brief biographical summary of each new and reappointed member, is presented starting on page viii.
If the Institute is to continue to assist symphony organizations through a period of rapid change, we need to develop our staff and volunteer resources. To this end, we are exploring various profiles and configurations of employees and volunteers, both for work in our Evanston office and, as may be appropriate, in other locations. Also, we need to identify, orient, and qualify organization change consultants for work with symphony organizations in accordance with our principles, who will contribute to a growing methodology for such work. I hope that any reader who is especially attracted to the Institute’s mission and might therefore be interested in employment, volunteer service, or consulting work will note the opportunities summarized on page vii and described in more detail on the Institute’s Web site at <www.soi.org>.
We have enjoyed particularly robust early 2000 support from the symphony community, as listed on page 73. Warmest thanks to all those involved in these decisions to “boost on” our efforts.
Although we regularly receive communications from readers, we have not reported them for many issues. However, we recently received three letters whose content we felt our readers would find especially motivational (page xvi).
Last but not least, has Phillip Huscher once again stumped most readers of Harmony with the symphonic score fragment appearing on the front cover, and the important bit of orchestral organization history which goes with it? Find out on page 69!
Let us know if we reached our objective of challenging traditional, conventional thinking and practices!
Research Study and Organizational Consultation
In December 1999, the Institute was pleased to publish and distribute, as Research Study Series No. 2, the report, Stress and Job Satisfaction among Symphony Musicians, co-authored by Dr. John Breda and Dr. Patrick Kulesa. This study originated with a doctoral research grant to Dr. Breda in 1996, and reported the findings from a questionnaire sent to a large sample of players in ICSOM orchestras dealing with job satisfaction and stress. Dr. Breda received and tabulated responses from some 700 players. From late 1998 into 1999, Dr. Kulesa, an expert in the interpretation of attitudinal expression, assisted Dr. Breda in the analysis of the responses and the drafting of the published report. Copies of this research report are posted on the Institute’s Web site at <www.soi.org>.
Work continues on the Institute’s analysis of conductor evaluation data collected from ICSOM orchestra players for the decade1987-1997. The Institute plans to complete and publish its overall findings later in 2000.
Following the beliefs and principles of the Institute as to symphony organizational consultations (<www.soi.org/home/OSC.htm>), work with the Philadelphia Orchestra organization has entered its second year. As with all such organization change and improvement programs, progress is measurable more in qualitative than in quantitative terms, and by these measures, there have been advances. Increasing effort is being placed on specific organizational issues. Meanwhile, the Institute is exploring consultation relationships with other symphony organizations, toward its goal of developing methodologies and possible models for symphony organizational improvement which can be drawn on by orchestral institutions and their process consultants.
Also, as announced in late 1999, Fred Zenone has joined the Institute as vice chairman, and is especially devoting his time and knowledge to the further development of the Institute’s organizational consultation program.
Raising the Demand Curve for Symphony Orchestras
Joseph Robinson has been an active participant and keen observer of the worldwide orchestral scene for more than a quarter-century. He admits to coming of age during the “culture boom” of the 1960s, and has been principal
oboe of the New York Philharmonic since 1978. He has given a great deal of thought to what it might take to rekindle strong interest in symphonic music. His ideas may surprise you.
The Attack on Classical
The essay opens with the question, “Who cares about our orchestra?” Joe’s answer: “Not that many people.” Robinson leads readers through a discussion of supply- and demand-side views of American orchestras and suggests that “classical anything” is currently under attack. Following an explication of the ways in which orchestras present conflicting impressions to the public, he suggests a rather novel approach to the situation.
Positing that the resounding success of the “Three Tenors” concerts should be attributed to the inherent competition among the soloists, Robinson offers the suggestion that well-organized performance competitions between orchestras would help rejuvenate interest in classical music performance. Joe elaborates on this basic idea in a number of ways, but we shouldn’t tip his hand. So please read on.
Raising the Demand Curve for Symphony Orchestras
Icame of age with the “culture boom” in America, a time when the arts were a bipartisan bandwagon for politicians, the Ford Foundation seemed to promise self-reliance to every symphony orchestra, and Title III of the 1965 Education Act provided $75 million for arts enrichment in the public schools. The resounding affirmation of the Rockefeller Panel Report of the same year was that the performing arts belonged at the center and not the periphery of society, and that they should be for the many and not just the privileged few. The arts were declared to be such a good thing that if one could provide sufficient access and education, millions of new converts would arise for visual-art exhibits, dance, drama, and musical performances. Many of us thought that consensus was not only correct, but here to stay.
Forty years later, arts marketers and public relations practitioners can attest to the failure of the “culture boom.” Instead of increased support and growing demand, arts administrators have watched government funding shrink to almost nothing and audiences age and dwindle around them. With the exception of opera companies, whose market was expanded by super- and subtitles, there are few performing arts institutions that are not threatened by a waning of public interest. As one executive told me from behind his West Coast desk, following a work stoppage that forced cutbacks across the board in his orchestra, “The real problem is: who gives a damn!” His perplexity echoes a decades-old refrain in the American arts community: “We simply do not know who composes the public for art, nor its exact size, nor the degree of its commitment, nor the factors that have created present day interest in the arts.”1
In the orchestra field, instrumentalists and conductors who invested their youth and their parents’ money to achieve careers in music certainly do give a damn, as do managers and staff members whose employment is at stake. Subscribers who form the chief consumer group, and music students whose role models are often members of the ensemble, care deeply about orchestras. And, in the tradition of the Medicis who adorned themselves in the arts, wealthy patrons today also contribute time and money to sustain the groups they love. But since market
estimates of classical symphony orchestra concert ticket-buyers fall historically in the range of 10 to 15 percentofthepopulation,2 theanswertothequestion “Who cares about our orchestra?”—even in the best of times—has always been, “Not that many people!” A generation ago, symphony loyalists would subscribe for an entire season—20 or 30 weeks in a row—while today’s marketing aims at selling “trios” to nail down concert commitments. Sometimes those who give a damn about orchestras are not represented in decisions that affect their futures. For instance, does anyone really speak for the conservatories whose graduates are desperate for employment when local symphony boards vote their organizations out of business? Does the American Symphony Orchestra League sufficiently reflect the national stake in local governance when a Sacramento or New Orleans orchestra is allowed to fold? Our cultural ecosystem can be adversely affected at any time by a handful of local volunteers who are empowered to declare their orchestra extinct.
Products of Demand or Supply?
One view has it that symphony orchestras arose in their communities in the first place in response to public demand for them, however meager the market, making them subject to the same constraints as other enterprises in a free economy. If there were enough concertgoers, orchestras would survive and might even grow for a while. If ticket receipts and gifts did not keep pace with expenses, the inevitable choices were to cut production by shortening the concert season, compromise performance standards by reducing the number and quality of players, or “dumb down” the programming to appeal to a larger, less sophisticated audience, thereby increasing earned income. Historically, the first two options have been protected by iron-clad union contracts, so it is the third that has been most promising within the musical marketplace. Just play pops until the deficit disappears! Mark Volpe, executive director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, told me this past summer it is the Pops and not Tanglewood that is the “cash cow” for his organization.
A contrasting view is that orchestras came into being because resident musicians wanted to play in them, or because evangelical turn-of-the-century maestros such as Theodore Thomas wanted to conduct them. As recently as last summer, ads ran in the local newspapers in Jackson, Wyoming, for instance, inviting interested instrumentalists to join the newly formed Jackson Symphony, the only requirement being “an ability to read music”! According to this supply- side scenario, musicians are the instigators and chief proponents of their own passion, persuading friends, family members, and neighbors to support them by attending concerts and contributing at the door. Musicians have invaded every welcoming venue through such means as teaching students, enlisting volunteers, and eventually writing contracts to guarantee the terms of their employment. They exhort community leaders to support “high culture” as evidence of their own and their communities’ class and maturity. They proclaim music a vehicle of moral instruction as important as churches, schools, and libraries, whether the public understands their artistry or not. And they do all of this precisely not to have to play pops concerts to survive!
From the demand side, Tom Wolf, of Wolf, Keens & Co., insists the most compelling impetus to buy tickets for classical concerts is the actual experience of playing a musical instrument. Gretchen Serrie, executive director of the Florida West Coast Symphony, confirms this, noting that 80 percent of her orchestra’s subscribers play or played musical instruments or sang in a choir.3 People who really “get the message” are the ones who have spoken a musical language themselves. If this is the case, it is no surprise that the drastic reduction of instrumental training in the public schools since 1960 has so negatively affected the size and subtlety of audiences’ symphonic appetites. Only a determined rebuilding of the education programs that were extant in the 1950s and 1960s will reverse this “Mr. Holland’s Opus” syndrome and begin to replenish audiences. But will we be able to keep orchestras as we have known them alive until then? One major orchestra manager recently predicted that only three or four large orchestras will be functional in America 50 years from now. In the meantime, wouldn’t it make sense to fill empty seats with the best young instrumentalists currently enrolled in band and orchestra programs?
From the supply side, we should remember that not all musicians are equally well nourished by life in an orchestra. Many string players dream of solo and chamber music careers at early ages and never imagine they will have to sacrifice their creativity and identity within symphonic tutti sections. I have said for years that major orchestras such as mine are filled with the “best of the failures”— virtuoso players who didn’t quite make it on the soloists’ circuit or join prestigious string quartets—who “settled” for $100,000-a-year orchestra jobs! As an example, a violinist who was about to retire from a major East Coast orchestra told me he could now appreciate how Nelson Mandela felt when he learned he was going to be released from prison! This same player had fought through the years to strengthen union protections for a job he seemed to hate. Yet, as Erich Leinsdorf so often said, one would need only to scratch just below the crusty surface of this old player to discover a 17-year-old still passionately in love with serious music. A recent Symphony Orchestra Institute study (Breda and Kulesa, 1999) reconfirms the fact that American orchestra members continue to be challenged and gratified by the art of music itself, but are still mistrustful of management, dissatisfied with their voice in orchestra matters, and unhappy with the music directors who lead their activity.4 It is organizational disenfranchisement and anonymity (and perhaps too many pops concerts) that make so many of them unhappy with their jobs.
The American Attack on “Classical”
We live in a time when “classical” anything is under attack by groups intent upon repudiating the Eurocentric, male-dominated canon once assumed to underpin all liberal learning. World music, which is now widely disseminated, poses as classical, and symphony orchestra programmers are told to acknowledge the legitimacy of music submitted from almost every direction within society. They serve up works reflecting their communities’ ethnic character whether audiences like them or not, and orchestras are routinely denounced as mausoleums by composers who blame everyone but themselves for new music that does not communicate. By contrast, Marcel Tabuteau, who played principal oboe in the Philadelphia Orchestra for 39 years and was one of the most admired instrumentalists of the 20th century, used to say he gave his whole life for a few good notes—the ones that are still ringing! The cornerstone of the interpretive art as he saw it is the conviction that how one performs is just as important as what. In the same way that sports fans do not require the constant invention of new games to fill their arenas, but thrill to endless variations of skill by athletes who play the games fans already know and love, listeners who really understand the interpretive art of music can savor different performances of a Brahms symphony for a lifetime.
As I have toured with the New York Philharmonic over the years, I have been struck by the universal appeal of the music we play. In 1984, when the Philharmonic visited Thailand for the first time, we were all invited to high tea to meet our Bangkok counterparts. The four who performed expertly for us that afternoon chose a string quartet by Edward Elgar, the musical high priest of British imperialism! Three years later, following a free concert of Berlioz, Mozart, and Ravel in a public park in São Paulo, Brazil, throngs of ecstatic listeners surrounded our buses with tears in their eyes, waving flowers, blocking our exit, and holding up their children. Recent tour concerts have closed to wild acclaim when we play encores by a new “classicist,” Duke Ellington! And every year in March, the Manhattan School of Music sets a new record for applications from eager students, evidence that there is no waning of enthusiasm around the world for traditional conservatory education. Despite defectors and detractors, therefore, I continue to believe the classical music we play is one of the greatest and most universal achievements of Western civilization.
Why then do I attend orchestra concerts all over the country that have halls half-filled with audiences that are half-dead? Looking around at the indictment of so many empty seats, I wonder why the people who are there would ever choose to attend. (One friend in Atlanta used to say it was to get the best sleep of the week!) Whatever the reason, my four years of discussions about audience motivation as a member of the “Magic of Music” panel for the Knight Foundation have convinced me we still have much to learn about the real reasons people buy concert tickets. For one thing, orchestras present conflicting impressions to the public. One such impression is the confusion of the elitism of aesthetic judgement with the elitism of social status. The first is a proper byproduct of clear perception of and broad experience with symphonic music, while the second discourages people who feel they are not wealthy enough to fit in at the concert hall. In addition, the sanctity of concerts, with protocols enforcing solemnity and silence, protects the listening experience for those who cherish every nuance, but frustrates those who have the urge to cough, dance in the aisles, or applaud between movements!
There are also points of conflict between performers and audiences. Musicians prefer intimate acoustics, while audiences (and orchestra managers with ticket- sales quotas to meet) prefer grand spaces for symphonic music. This explains why so many American orchestras are indentured to art deco movie theaters that possess resplendent marble lobbies and horrible acoustics. When the New Jersey Symphony began playing concerts in the new Performing Arts Center in Newark two years ago, players could finally hear each other and the audience could perceive the full rich sound of their orchestra for the first time. Subscriptions doubled in one year. (Music, after all, is a listening art.)
Hyping guest soloists to attract audiences is another way to demoralize musicians if they feel their orchestra always plays “second fiddle” to main events featuring outsiders. In fact, many of the pre- and post-concert enhancements which the Knight Foundation has funded seem to have sugar-coated the pill, diminishing the importance of the orchestra and the music in direct proportion to their superficial appeal. One Oregon Symphony program, which presented a popular jazz performer with the orchestra, elicited complaints that the orchestra played too much, and only six percent of that audience returned for the next event in a series aimed at new concertgoers. For some in the audience, a maestro’s miming and choreography communicate the music’s meaning more effectively than the sounds they hear, but many orchestra players would rather imitate the Orpheus Ensemble and dispense with conductors altogether.
Nevertheless, the most important conflict between musicians and the public has to do, in my opinion, with repertoire. What the public wants to buy more of (e.g., pops concerts) is not what players want to perform; what the musicians would like to play more often (e.g., the Stravinsky Symphony in C) is not what the public will pay to hear. The situation compares with the traditional argument between “art for art’s sake” advocates who would insulate musicians from the marketplace with subsidies, and the “arts as entertainment” advocates who insist that performers pay their own way, and is akin to the dispute between scientists who favor more basic research and those who want only to invest in direct applications.
Two things seem clear: whatever is routine quickly becomes stale in our “fast-food entertainment” economy, and the overture-concerto-symphony menu of traditional orchestra programs may have been served up too often in desultory fashion. At Marlboro 30 years ago, Pablo Casals railed against “straight notes,” ones that do not change shape or color, which he characterized as “dead limbs on a tree,” better to be cut off and thrown away. To be alive, organisms must evolve through time. Change is the lifeblood, therefore, of everything alive and well, whether it is a musical phrase spun out through time, the array of musical events described in each new symphony season’s brochure, or the way in which an orchestra functions over time. So, that is why I want to propose something radical to attract larger audiences and enliven performances.
Introducing “Classical Competition”
Without a doubt, the most irresistible classical music concoctions in modern history have been the “Three Tenors” concerts that began on July 7, 1990. When Zubin Mehta and his famous friends agreed to come to Rome for a World Cup party and some friendly singing at the Baths of Caracalla, they did so for $80,000 each, without any idea of the explosive and extraordinary appeal their concert would have throughout the world. By the time the “Three Tenors” concept was incarnate in a stadium tour a few years later, the soloists’ fees had jumped to $1.5 million per concert and the CD and video sales were being counted in tens of millions. Nothing was ever remarkable about the programming—the concerts were predictable surveys of hit-tune tenor arias. Only the format was extraordinary in the way it presented the soloists sequentially throughout the concert. The stars put on a charming show of conviviality, but one-upmanship always lurked just beneath the surface. People I know who were enraptured by these concerts each had a favorite tenor and cheered enthusiastically for their man. I believe, therefore, that it is overt competition that was the secret in the “Three Tenors’” recipe for success, something the Greeks exploited in musical presentations thousands of years ago!
I believe it is now time to introduce competitive concerts, aimed at increasing public interest and support, within traditional orchestra seasons. We’ve had to live with elements of competition since orchestras were first created anyway. About Theodore Thomas, the saintly Johnny Appleseed of America’s orchestras, scholar Joseph Horowitz has written, “He exuded a competitiveness as fierce as any oil baron’s!”5 And when Henry Lee Higginson invested his fortune in the Boston Symphony, he blatantly challenged the venerable pit orchestras of Europe by claiming to create the first and the greatest concert-stage “symphony” orchestra in the world.6 Just as much as they fueled development of American orchestras early in the 20th century, civic pride and chauvinism would be catalysts in any new competitive formulations for the 21st century. Imagine, for instance, the excitement of a shootout between the Dallas and Houston Symphonies for Texas bragging rights, or the fun of a festival involving the Oregon, Seattle, and Vancouver Symphonies for a Pacific Northwest regional championship. Best of all, four concerts staged in Carnegie Hall every year “between” the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for New York supremacy would have partisans marching in the streets!
Forget applause meters or panels of judges to determine winners. It would be enough to juxtapose orchestras on the same stage in the same concert (just as the three tenors were juxtaposed in sequence) and let the notes fall where they may. Everybody would have an opinion and the ensuing controversies would pump new life into a moribund art form. There also would be no losers. If the consensus were that one orchestra sounded inferior to another, resources would pour in to rectify the imbalance. For instance, if the Louisiana Symphony Orchestra played a “home and away” series against the New Jersey Symphony, with New Jersey in residence in New Orleans for a week during Mardi Gras and Louisiana in residence in New York for a week in October, and if the Louisiana Symphony were embarrassed by the competition, one consequence might be that supporters of the Louisiana Symphony would go home and build the concert hall that New Orleans has needed for decades. Tanglewood would be an ideal setting for a national championship tournament every summer that could pit the top four or five orchestras against each other in a round-robin format. But competitive concerts could work for orchestras of similar standing anywhere in the country. Best of all, there would be no compromise with artistic standards and quality. The performers would play their heads off! This would be a tremendously exciting way to “raise the demand curve for symphony orchestras” without resort to pops, crossovers, or political correctness.
There is also a precedent for the idea. When the Philadelphia Orchestra was on strike three years ago, my counterpart Dick Woodhams and I proposed and helped organize a benefit concert that presented the New York Philharmonic playing Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” on the first half of the program and the Philadelphia Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony on the second half of the same program, with conductor Neeme Järvi conducting both orchestras. The event was stigmatized as a strike action, so it was not set in the best venue nor did it receive the publicity it deserved. Nevertheless, the New York Times banner for a story on November 6, 1996, proclaimed “This Band Battle Is a Real Classic,” and many fans stood in freezing cold in Camden, New Jersey, for more than an hour to buy tickets and fill the hall.
That morning, as I sat out front listening to Philadelphia rehearse Tchaikovsky, the idea struck me that this was the same Philadelphia Orchestra I had fallen in love with when I was 16 years old. I thought in a panic, “I am going home!” On the other hand, during the Philharmonic’s rehearsal break, one of the Philadelphia Orchestra violinists rushed up to me wringing her hands and exclaimed, “My God, I haven’t been this nervous since All-State!” Afterwards, I received a letter from a 22-year veteran of the trumpet section of the Philadelphia Orchestra who wrote, “I can’t fully explain the exhilaration I felt as I was swept up in the glorious sound of the New York Philharmonic! I know that my blood pressure rushed to an all-time high, as I was trembling at the end of the piece.” Commenting on the concert, one critic in Philadelphia wrote, “The audience seemed as excited as the musicians,” [and the musicians] “played with fierce passion and intensity.”7
The point is that the concert, which was conceived as a friendly expression of professional camaraderie, turned into a white-hot direct comparison between two of the greatest orchestras in the world. One would have had to be deaf not to perceive the differences of style and tradition, or of individual sections and soloists who stood out in such vivid relief, performing in tandem as they did that day. Television producer Jason Starr raved about the format’s potential for preconcert analyses, analyses like those sportscasters provide for big games, calling to the audience’s attention nuances of tone and technique that could never otherwise be so well noted. He said the competition would bring into exquisite clarity essential elements of the interpretive art—the voicing, phrasing, coloring, articulation, and rhythmic nuances that make up an orchestra’s creative realm.8
As a result, audiences could hear familiar masterpieces in the context of total commitment, as if for the first time, and thrill to many discernible distinctions among orchestras that were previously obscure.
Hearing about the competitive idea, one New York Philharmonic board member sniffed indignantly, “What would you do next, arm-wrestle?” But orchestras have always been subject to arm’s length comparisons by critics. For two years in a row, the New York Times has hailed performances by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra as the best of the season in New York, and national rankings appear every year or so that defend some new candidate for the orchestra club known as the “Big Five.” Perhaps our concerts have always been too much like practice runs by the United States bobsled team before the Olympics or practice rounds of golf by Tiger Woods prior to the Masters. These events exhibit amazing teamwork and astounding technical mastery, but how many people really want to watch sports events without the challenge of direct competition?
Zubin Mehta has presided over several orchestral events that showcased two orchestras playing singly in the first half of the concert and jointly in the second. Notable among these are recent concerts with the Berlin and Israel Philharmonics, and a 1988 concert in Gorky Park with the New York Philharmonic and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. In every case, Mehta’s purpose was to symbolize political or ideological reconciliation rather than to illuminate performance distinctions between the orchestras. What I propose would preserve the artistic integrity of music that is not well served by a doubling of symphonic forces and, at the same time, would exploit the excitement of direct competition as an end in itself. Added to civic and state pride could be nationalism (as in the Olympics), and even sponsorships that reflect corporate competition in the marketplace.
America’s symphony orchestras are the best in the world and it would be fun to prove it. The public foundations that support them, however, have been eroding for decades. Conservative self-protectionism, grasping at ethnomusical straws, force-feeding the audience new music, and selling out to pops will not save orchestras. Following the “Three Tenors” competitive formula might just do the trick!
Joseph Robinson is principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He holds his bachelor’s degree in English from Davidson College, and his master’s degree in public administration from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs of Princeton University.
Readers wishing to learn more about Mr. Robinson are invited to visit his Web site at <www.oboejoe.com>.
1 Rockefeller Foundation. 1965. The Performing Arts: Problems and Prospects. New York: McGraw-Hill Company, p. 184.
2 National Endowment for the Arts. 1998. Research Report #39. 1997 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts: Summary Report. Produced by Tom Bradshaw and prepared for the Research Division, NEA, by Jack Faucett Associates, Inc., Bethesda, MD.
3 In 1999, the Philadelphia Orchestra distributed randomly a patron service survey to concert attendees over a two-week period. Of 904 subscriber households responding, 74.4 percent answered “yes” to the question: Do you play or have you ever studied a musical instrument?
4 Breda, John, and Patrick Kulesa. 1999. Stress and Job Satisfaction among Symphony Musicians. Evanston, IL: Symphony Orchestra Institute.
5 Horowitz, Joseph. 1994. Wagner Nights: An American History. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 55.
6 For a general discussion of Henry Lee Higginson’s role in creating the Boston Symphony, see: Horowitz, Joseph. 1987. Understanding Toscanini: How He Became an American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music. New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House.
7 Baxter, Robert. 1996. N.Y., Phila. Musicians Team Up for Stirring Show. Gloucester Courier-Post, November 11.
8 From telephone conversations between the author and Jason Starr.
Are Three Legs Appropriate? Or Even Sufficient?
For more than a century, the organizational model for American symphony orchestra leadership has been the “three-legged stool.” This model places responsibility in the hands of the music director, the executive director, and the board chairman—theoretically as equals. Author Henry Fogel opens the essay that follows by tracing the genesis and evolution of the “three-legged stool.” He then poses a series of critical questions about this traditional arrangement.
Roles for Musicians
First among these is the role of musicians (or lack thereof) in the overall direction of their orchestras. Fogel suggests that both the insularity of boards and the authority demanded by conductors have been sources of adversarial relationships. He notes that the emergence, in the 1960s, of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) gave a negotiating voice to the musicians, a voice often at loggerheads with “management.”
Using several specific examples, Fogel details the relationship dynamic that exists in many orchestras, and pleads that “hostility and mistrust” cannot be healthy ways to run orchestral institutions.
Toward Healthy Institutions
Arguing that guarding “turfs” and not inviting musicians into serious roles in governance are major barriers to healthy orchestral organizations, Fogel particularly explores artistic direction as an area needing major revision in roles and responsibilities, and suggests that orchestra players could and should be significantly more involved. Overall, no one escapes Fogel’s scrutiny, and his concern for his subject is palpable.
In addition to being a knowledgeable and passionate participant in the orchestral scene, the author is quite a raconteur. His essay is laced with interesting sidebars that illustrate his points. This essay is meaty and thought provoking; we encourage your consumption.
Are Three Legs Appropriate? Or Even Sufficient?
“T hree-legged stool” is a term often applied to the authority structure of the modern American symphony orchestra. The “legs” are the music director, the volunteer board leader (sometimes called
chairman, sometimes president), and the executive director (sometimes called president, sometimes managing director). Although an organization chart would, in most instances, show the music director and the executive director reporting
to the board, or implicitly to its chairman, the idea is that the three manage the operation in some kind of partnership. If one carries this line of thought further, I suppose that the musicians report to the music director, the staff to the executive director, and the volunteers to the chairman. In one form or another, American orchestras have run on this model, with only minor variations, for more than a century and with only a few exceptions. It is worth examining the history of this structure and its structural soundness. One needs to ask: Is this the best way to organize the leadership of a symphony orchestra? Are other approaches possible? Would they make a difference? If so, would it be a positive difference? And I would note right up front that an essay such as this one, by definition, will deal in generalizations.
Philip Hart’s wonderful study of the American orchestra and its history, Orpheus in the New World, is essential reading for understanding how the structure developed,andIhavereliedonitconsiderably.1 Fromthebeginning,enlightened community leaders recognized that it was not possible to compensate an orchestra’s musicians solely from the box office. As early as 1881, Henry Higginson, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, proposed a guideline that, astonishingly enough, we still use today: 50 percent of the orchestra’s income would come from ticket sales; the rest would have to be contributed in some form. Higginson, in fact, proposed the first orchestra endowment fund, $1 million, which, at a 5-percent draw (the ideal for most of today’s endowments), would pay out $50,000, which was the deficit he was projecting at that time.
Chicago, which had been the beneficiary of Theodore Thomas’s traveling orchestras beginning in 1870, became interested in having its own orchestra,
Higginson’s orchestra in Boston was something of a one-man show. There is much documentation of tension between Higginson and conductors, and it is clear from the evidence that the Boston Symphony was Higginson’s orchestra. In fact, he actually managed the BSO for a while, and then assigned one of his corporate staff members to manage it (thus assuring his continuing control, although professional observers have noted that this staffer—Charles Ellis—was not only America’s first professional orchestra manager, but a good one as well). Higginson did not actually turn the BSO over to a board of trustees until 1918.2
and lured Thomas to the city to form one in 1891. Chicago, in some ways, served as the model for today’s orchestral structure. A group of Chicago businessmen under the leadership of Dr. Charles Fay formed an orchestral association that, according to Hart, “would not be dependent on the support of anyonemanorofferitsbackersanyprospectofprofit.”3 Recognizingthatthere
would be losses at startup, Fay secured 10 pledges of $5,000 per year for three years. He branched out to take smaller pledges as well, but probably did not realize at the time that the idea of a self-supporting orchestra was not realistic. There were few models in 1891. The New York Philharmonic and the New York Symphony were both in existence, but both were functioning more as cooperatives with relatively unpredictable work and compensation than as organizations offering anything approximating steady, reasonably salaried employment for musicians. Only the Boston Symphony was doing that, and it was still being subsidized and run by Higginson. The Chicago Symphony was to be the first orchestral “association” put together by the community, and to have a board that would make important decisions.
Through the first part of the 20th century, as more and more orchestras were formed, a few facts began to crystallize for orchestra supporters everywhere. The most significant was that the box office would never be able to support a symphony orchestra. As one looks at the financial statements of American orchestras for the first quarter of the century, and reads board-meeting minutes (where one senses a decrease in the tone of surprise that accompanies discussions of deficits as the realization sinks in), one sees the careful construction of the board undertaken in community after community.
It is clear that the formation of these boards was at least in part a matter of self-interest. The people who were providing or guaranteeing funds to fill the earned-income gap wished, rationally enough, to have a reasonable degree of control over the size of that gap. The gap could be widened by either out-of-control expenses or income shortfalls due to unpopular programming, and one sees these issues popping up in discussions between board chairs and music directors throughout the first years of the century. The balance between “popular” and “serious” programming was constantly a source of discussion, and occasionally tension, between Theodore Thomas and Chicago Symphony board leaders. On the other hand, the trustees responded to Thomas’s urging to build the CSO its own home, just as Higginson responded to a similar need in Boston, and Chicago’s business leaders rallied around the cause to build Orchestra Hall in 1904.4
It can and should be said here that Henry Higginson, who held deeply the belief that citizens must give back to their communities and that successful citizens must give back more, really established the community-based concept that underlies the structure of orchestras today. Even though he initially ran a one-man operation, he eventually saw the need to broaden the base and formed a board similar to the one already in existence in Chicago. The board in Chicago, in turn, was based to some degree on the principles that Higginson had established in Boston, except that the Chicago Symphony decided to share the burden and responsibility among many from the beginning. It was surely these two orchestras that established the model of a community-based board that “owned” the organization. In these orchestras, board members set broad policies, hired the conductors, and, later on, began hiring the managers.
In 1915, the Philadelphia Orchestra engaged Arthur Judson, who was to become a seminal figure in orchestra administration, and whose career spanned 54 years of managing two of America’s great orchestras, Philadelphia and New York—for a good deal of time simultaneously. While Judson publicly spoke about the clear separation of the three “branches” of the orchestra (conductor, manager, board), and how that separation of authority was “sacrosanct,” the truth is that a look at Judson’s own career reveals the lack of clarity in that separation. Judson often “interfered” with artistic issues, frequently mediated between boards and conductors, argued with boards over managerial and fiscal issues, and, in the end, usually exerted his own influence strongly over all the other “stakeholders.”5 It is worth noting, as was the norm in those days, the absence of even the thought that the musicians might be a “branch” of the orchestra organization.
A Consideration of Power
It is, in fact, the size and enormous variety of constituencies, “stakeholders,” that must be at the core of any examination of orchestral structure. The history of orchestral structure has been shaped by power, the power that accrues to those who have wealth and/or access to wealth, and those who have achieved positions of social or corporate power. It is community “leaders” who have generally assembled orchestral boards, usually choosing people who resembled themselves. Because the community group came together first, and then assembled the necessary professional forces (conductor, manager, musicians), more-or-less automatically the board of directors had a kind of supremacy: it came into being first, it hired the professional forces (and, by implication, could also fire them), and, of course, it had deep roots in the community.
I was present in Syracuse, New York, in 1960 and 1961 when a board of directors was assembled to form an orchestra, and so I saw (from a distance at first) the process at work. Social and corporate leaders who had borne responsibility for other major charitable undertakings in the city were brought together by a few leaders (in this case there were in particular two women, Eleanor Hancock and Carolyn Hopkins, who deeply believed that Syracuse should have a professional symphony orchestra) who galvanized the rest into meaningful action. It has always taken that leadership, whether from a Chicago business executive in 1890, or social leaders (often women married to leading businessmen or having received major inheritances) as in Syracuse, to rally other forces together to form the organizational structure.
But once an orchestra was assembled, other stakeholders began to assert themselves. It was in 1920, for instance, that the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra went on strike. This was astonishing to the conservative Brahmins who ran the symphony. It was hard for them to recognize that their highly conservative, anti-union attitude wouldn’t win the day, because as with many boards of that time, they only talked with one another, and with people who thought exactly as they did. When the musicians demanded the right to unionize, and the board resisted (music director Pierre Monteux was caught in the middle and, in the end, the Boston Symphony lost one of the century’s greatest conductors because of this conflict), the musicians rebelled and struck. Eventually the musicians won. But the point is not to examine labor history, rather to look at structure—not as it exists on paper, but as it exists in reality. The reality of the board of trustees in Boston in the first two decades of this century was an insulated group which made all decisions without consulting the outside world. They kept financial matters secret and policies were set without input from any other constituencies, either inside the organization or in the rest of the community. That insularity may have led to this early example of a labor action as board members failed to consider views other than their own.
Simultaneously with the development of the power of the board came the European-schooled conductor with little patience for the idea of orchestras as examples of shared power. Stokowski, Koussevitzky, Szell, Reiner, and many other early- and mid-century music directors of American orchestras came from an era of the dominant maestro. This trend may have begun with the emergence of Mahler and Toscanini at the Metropolitan Opera and then at the New York Philharmonic. There were no lay boards in Europe (certainly none with any
There is a story about this kind of insularity, probably apocryphal but nonetheless illustrative; it is a favorite of mine (and I actually kind of hope it is true). The story is that Harvey Firestone wanted to improve the image of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., and suggested to his advertising agency some kind of cultural radio program which Firestone would sponsor. The agency met with various network officials, and came back with a proposal from one of them for what would eventually become “The Voice of Firestone.” The suggested broadcast time was 3:00 p.m. every Sunday, and Firestone angrily rejected it. Slamming his hand on the table (so goes the story), he said, “Don’t you realize that everyone is playing polo at that time?” Whether or not this story is true, it does serve to illustrate the potential for insularity when a group of people of like mind and background form the policymaking body of an organization that is, to a large degree, a public trust, and an organization that has such a range of constituents.
authority), and these conductors were accustomed to the idea that everyone did what conductors told them to do! Musicians did not object to long rehearsals dragging into overtime because the maestro was not yet satisfied. The prevailing theory was that while an orchestra was a collective of professional musicians, musical results were only guaranteed if a single, dominant leader (the conductor) was given the power to weld these musicians into a unified whole. While there is, of course, some musical logic in that thinking, it is also fair to say that it is a short leap from that kind of power to employment and personnel policies that would make any modern-day human resources professional shudder. These conductors learned in the opera houses of Europe that the best way to exert their power was totally.
Imagine, then, these maestros’ reactions to coming to America and finding either trustees or managers— laymen, mind you—trying to tell them what to do, perhaps even advising them on programs. The result over time was an uneasy truce wherein the balance
of power was divided among the three legs of the stool, and just how it was allocated depended to some degree on the personalities involved and how they interacted. There are plenty of examples of great conductors losing battles with boards and managements. Arthur Rodzinski comes to mind. He didn’t last long as music director of a number of orchestras, Chicago being his briefest tenure (one year). He could not or would not find a way to work within this shared power system, and the result was his consistent failure as a music director despite extraordinary musical abilities. But, on the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that Dimitri Mitropoulos may have failed in New York (despite having given many wonderful performances) because he did not exercise his powers with sufficient strength. Szell would appear to have been the model for the mid-century music director. He unquestionably built a great orchestra in Cleveland, one that remains as his legacy today, some 30 years after his death, and he did so in part with the force of his own powerful personality, but in part by building a constructive partnership with his board and management.
The conductors who tried to bypass or eviscerate their boards rarely succeeded. Eventually, they found that the ultimate responsibility for making decisions—the legal and corporate responsibility—rests with that board. While most conductors, particularly through the 1950s, did exercise complete control over their musicians, they eventually figured out how to develop some type of give-and-take relationship with board and management. And that simply solidified the three-legged stool concept—a concept which had little role for the musicians.
If one goes back to that concept of the “stool,” one is actually led to ask a number of questions:
- Are important elements left out of the governance and policy setting of orchestras?
- Is it possible for an important artistic organization—one that must take risks—to exercise leadership in artistic direction with an evenly balanced structure, or does artistic leadership require that primacy is given to the artistic director?
- How, in today’s orchestra, with long absences of the music director, should responsibility and authority be allocated?
- Why has the basic organizational structure of American orchestras been unexamined and unchallenged for more than 100 years? And, more importantly, if change is desirable, how can it be brought about?
Many of these questions, it seems to me, center in particular around the role of the musicians. While there are some examples of more cooperative approaches to running orchestras, and even a few truly or hybrid cooperative orchestras such as Louisiana and Denver, in general it is fair to say that the adversarial nature of the relationship between the musicians and the administration of orchestras (whether represented by the management or the board) is still the norm. This relationship may well go back to the kind of paternalism demonstrated by boards at the beginning of the 20th century, and may have its roots in the events leading up to the 1920 strike in Boston. I would note that the separation of musicians from the governance process is very unusual in the professional world. Faculty members have a great deal of input into the policies of the universities at which they work, and hospital administrators seek input from doctors as they make major decisions.
The adversarial relationship goes back not only to insularity and paternalism of earlier boards, but also to the total authority demanded by conductors up until the middle of the 20th century. The idea of musicians as something other than anonymous cogs in the orchestral machinery ran counter to the attitude of the old-school maestros as well as old-school trustees.
Sir Georg Solti was, particularly in his later years, an extremely humane conductor who did not abuse players and in fact treated them warmly. His attitude was, however, typical of the kind of paternalism and authoritarianism of which I am speaking. He frequently referred to the Chicago Symphony members as “my children,” and when I was once passing on to him the reaction of some musicians to a guest conductor, his response was, “Who the bloody hell do they think they are telling you what they think of conductors?”
So it is not surprising, then, that no role of importance has developed for the musicians in the governance of orchestras. Add to this the managers—who already face a huge range of constituencies and probably wish to simplify their lives as much as possible—and it is not likely that pressure for change will come from the administrative quarter.
There are, of course, exceptions. Some orchestral organizations have either explored in the past or are currently exploring different kinds of organizational structures and behaviors. But this pattern is still not the norm, and it has almost always occurred as a result of crisis. The idea that an orchestra is a professional organization, perhaps closer in concept to a law firm than to a manu- facturing plant, still has a long way to go to gain acceptance, not only from management, but from musicians as well. Many musicians are more comfortable not participating in the decision-making processes. It is, after all, easier to criticize decisions that one did not participate in making, and one can comfortably avoid the difficulties of responsibility by being on the outside. But is it healthy?
I would submit that, until the 1960s, most orchestra leaders (management or board) would not have included the musicians as “stakeholders.” Prior to the development of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), and the strengthening of the role of the orchestra’s own musicians (instead of union officials) in determining the direction and outcome of negotiations, musicians were really seen as the hired help. There are many stories that illustrate the ways in which musicians were thought of and treated, and such stories are the background for some of the hostility that remains in today’s labor-management relations. Many thoughtful people dislike the term “labor-management” when applied to symphony orchestras and their musicians, and I believe they are right in their distaste. The term does tend to put musicians in the category of laborers rather than professionals, and if we’re ever going to change that we probably should start by using different language. Even “musician-employer” relationship, which might sound clumsy at first, is less filled with stereotypes and would be preferable.
today’s labor-management relations. Many thoughtful people dislike the term “labor-management” when applied to symphony orchestras and their musicians, and I believe they are right in their distaste. The term does tend to put musicians in the category of laborers rather than professionals, and if we’re ever going to change that we probably should start by using different language. Even “musician-employer” relationship, which might sound clumsy at first, is less filled with stereotypes and would be preferable.
The musicians of one orchestra in a Southern state still smart when they tell the story of one of their board members stopping a musician from walking into the main public entrance of their concert hall on a performance night, violin in hand. “You aren’t supposed to come in here. This is for the public. You have a stage door in the back.” This is a true story, not one of those urban legends that get around; other board members of this organization have confirmed it for me. This story serves to symbolize how many of those in power viewed their roles and places in society, and the place of the “hired help.” While this particular form of behavior may well have been unusual, the attitude behind it was far less so, and was usually demonstrated in more subtle ways. A more important story, because it reflects institutional rather than individual behavior, concerns the New York Philharmonic in the late 1950s. Invited to perform in the Edinburgh Festival, the Philharmonic was not at that time a 52-week contracted orchestra. The deal that the Philharmonic management negotiated with the union was that each Philharmonic musician would receive a salary for the one week in Edinburgh. For the two weeks on the ocean, traveling to and from Edinburgh, each musician would receive the trip free (including meals), but no salary. This was at a time when the Philharmonic did not pay its musicians enough to live on, so they had to take on a variety of summer jobs, including teaching (and playing in the Lewisohn Stadium Symphony Orchestra) to round out their incomes. But here was a negotiation in which their own union basically forced each member to give up two weeks of the summer, and either be separated from family or pay to take family with them, for absolutely no compensation. I don’t know what you call that; I call it indentured servitude! The trip was not voluntary; if you were a member of the Philharmonic, you accepted those terms.
Stories and situations such as those in the sidebar on this page led to the change, in the early 1960s, in the way in which orchestral musicians interacted with their organizations. The formation of ICSOM and eventually the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) and the shift of power from local union presidents to member-elected orchestra committees happened quickly, and by the mid-1960s, the norm had been established: the musicians of an orchestra would, while still in the framework of a union organization and with assistance from both the union and the conferences inside the union, determine their own contracts in direct negotiations with management.
Although orchestra administrators still talk about the importance of this shift, it doesn’t seem fully understood by those outside the profession, including board members. Board members often blame “the union” for negotiation difficulties, when, in fact, the negotiation tactics and directions are usually set by the players. Certainly there have been cases in which union leadership, at the local or national level, has galvanized and/or united an orchestra behind certain positions. But just as often, the musicians have dragged a union local kicking and screaming into a strike that the union did not want and could not easily afford. And without question, prior to the direct involvement of symphony musicians, both the threats and realities of strikes were far less frequent (though not completely unprecedented). The abilities of management to convince the local union president of financial limitations seem, in hindsight, far more developed than their abilities to convince their own musicians of those limitations.
One cannot understand the musician-employer relationship without understanding this background. Until the power shifted to the musicians acting on their own behalf, there can be no arguing with the fact that musicians were underpaid and had to accept some working conditions that most would agree were unreasonable, particularly in relationship to job security; and that they had no recourse from conductors’ abilities to schedule overtime at rehearsals or recording sessions without warning. Managers and board members would protest that they were powerless to address the problems. They were raising as much money as they could raise, there simply was no more. And, of course, they could not control conductors. No one could!
But the power did shift, and the musicians started to threaten to withhold services unless certain wage and working-condition demands were met. What is startling is how quickly the managements and boards found the solutions that they always denied were there. Fundraising, generally a private, discreet affair conducted among a few wealthy trustees, became public and aggressive throughout the 1960s and 1970s. I remember that when I went to work at the New York Philharmonic in 1978, the first development director had only recently been hired. Now the development department is the largest in most orchestra staffs, often by a significant number. It is hard to remember that as recently as 25 years ago, there was virtually no professional component to fundraising, and that this change was brought about solely by the musicians’ demands backed with the strength and unity that permitted them to threaten, credibly, to strike. Orchestras expanded their concert seasons, and undertook serious marketing and audience development, also as a result of demands for higher pay. Prior to this power shift, the position of managements and boards had been that there was little that could be done that would enlarge the size, as well as the philanthropic generosity, of the music-loving audiences. But when pushed, these same managements found the wherewithal to present perhaps twice as many concerts in the “winter season,” and summer seasons as well, and to raise much more money.
Power Conflicts and Organizational Trust
It is important to understand the relationship dynamic underneath these facts. Having been told for many years—even decades—by their managements and by their own union leaders that the orchestra organizations were providing for their musician members as well as they possibly could, the musicians found that when pushed, those managements found solutions they had previously believed, or claimed to believe, were unattainable. This is crucial because it is at the root of much of the distrust that still exists today in orchestras. “They weren’t truthful with us then, so why should we believe them now?” is an often-voiced question. Managers like to think of this as “ancient history,” because the 1950s and early 1960s is a period that predates the careers of most of today’s managers. But it doesn’t necessarily predate the tenure of the musicians in our orchestras, the majority of whom either lived directly through that period or represent the immediately succeeding generation, who came into the profession hearing the stories from those who lived through it, and also studying with teachers who lived through it. Unfortunately, the truth is that when the balance of power favored managements and boards, they took full advantage of that balance.
It has been easy, therefore, for the musicians, both within their own orchestras and through the vehicles provided by the union, ICSOM, and ROPA, to remain mistrustful, and to view any attempt to bring them into positions of governance as nothing more than “co-opting” for the sake of disempowering them. There is safety and comfort for both “sides” in continuing the appearance of hostility. Despite the fact that, intellectually, it makes no sense to view hostility and mistrust as healthy ways to run an institution, there is a certain convenience for all parties, particularly in that it gives them someone to “blame” when things aren’t going the way that they want. How many times have we heard managers blame financial shortfalls on greedy unions or players, never questioning whether, in fact, the organization under their leadership is truly reaching its potential in earned and contributed income? Conversely, how many times have we heard musicians blame managements and boards for “simply not doing enough,” when by any reasonable measure of the resources of the particular community it would appear that those resources might well have reached a peak? Just because a management was wrong in 1955 when it said “there really is no more money here to be raised,” it is not automatic that today’s management is wrong when making the same claim. Nor is it automatic that they are right. But objective analysis becomes impossible when the parties enter the discussion or exploration with completely adversarial attitudes and more determination to “win” than to examine.
Considering the history of symphony orchestra organizations in this country, it is not surprising that what has largely resulted resembles more a contest of wills than it does institutions in healthy alignment. We began the 20th century with the dominance of either boards or their leaders (such as Higginson in Boston). As the organizations grew in complexity, they needed stronger managers, and, at the same time, the strong-willed maestros came along in most of our major orchestras. The most skilled managers have been the ones who could, in fact, deal with the powerful maestro on one hand and the strong-willed board chairman on the other; often the manager was in the middle, trying to work out compromises between different parties. Then, when the orchestra musicians developed their own power—not inside the organizational structure of each orchestra, but more in opposition to it—the management again found itself in the middle.
Prior to the development of musicians’ power, managers were easily able to represent the board, particularly in labor issues. Today, managers often feel themselves to be “between” the musicians and the board, as the only ones who understand the needs, desires, and powers of both the board and the labor group. Most managers speak quite openly about having to “broker” final contract agreements, finding a line between the board’s desire to pay less and the musicians’ desire to have more. Even the use of the “labor-management” terminology, as I said earlier, helps to foster differences between parties, rather than accenting what they have in common.
Recently, I met with officials from a foundation that has been very generous to the orchestra in its community, and that also has connections to that orchestra’s board. They were considering the idea of a lead gift to a major endowment campaign, and one of the foundation officials indicated a fear that if the orchestral association became financially stable, there would automatically be a strike, as the musicians simply were likely to then make excessive demands. While, in this particular case, I don’t believe that would happen, we do have an orchestral structure that makes this kind of mistrust and lack of mutuality of interest inevitable. What we have set up is a structure in which various constituencies vie, in different ways, for power. What we have not set up are organizations that seek to empower everyone and bring all of these forces into alignment, moving forward in a way that will benefit the organization (and, at the same time, the people inside it).
With the background established, it is now appropriate to examine orchestral organizational structures more closely, and to explore whether some changes might be appropriate.
Musicians and Orchestral Governance
With a few exceptions of varying degrees, often arising out of crises, orchestras are curious organisms which omit from their inner circles of governance the approximately 70 to 100 professional musicians who are the organizations’ reasons for being. Most orchestra musicians have either token roles, or none at all, in shaping the direction of their orchestras. While, historically, the paternalistic attitudes of boards and managements may have set this tone, in recent years, orchestra musicians themselves have frequently (though not always) avoided meaningful roles. It seems, on the face of it, absurd that people who have studied the art of music, and whose lives and livelihoods depend on the direction of the orchestral organization by which they are employed, would not be seen as major institutional resources by those “in power.” And it seems equally absurd that the musicians would not demand a role of importance. But the “labor- management” dynamic has been in place for many years, and the attitudes of mutual mistrust (a mistrust of both motives and means, I might add) have grown very deep roots.
Not that many years ago, when musicians of one important Midwestern orchestra went on strike over the right to be represented on a committee that would seek the orchestra’s next music director, the board chairman stated that giving in to that request would be akin to “letting the inmates run the asylum.” (Interestingly, the strike only lasted one or two days before the board acceded to the request.) Who better than musicians would know the qualities and skills of potential music directors? Yet, the board felt such hostility toward its musicians that not only did it not see the logic of including them in this most musical of all aspects of the governance process, but its chairman actually felt comfortable publicly referring to the professionals that make up the orchestra in such a demeaning manner.
The problem is not solely one of attitudes. Not all musicians and orchestra committee members understand how to participate in a governance process. “Our advice is not taken” is a cry one hears frequently, but if one examines the facts, one usually finds that some advice is not taken some of the time. Musicians need to understand a reality that managers learned a long time ago: no one’s advice is always taken completely. The fact is that input always influences the direction of discussion, and colors the final decision, even if that decision is not in total accord with the advice. But no influence can be had if people are not involved in the process.
The idea of “team process” is frequently being fully integrated into the managements of orchestras. But one observes that, in most cases, the orchestra musicians are not on the team. Many managements have developed cross- departmental work groups and task forces that relate to different projects, and one of the things that everyone has to get used to is not getting his or her own way all the time, or even most of the time. (I always laugh when people react with astonishment after I’ve told them that there are some pieces of music I have spent more than 10 years trying to get the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to program, and so far have failed. People ask how can that be possible? Don’t I have the power to do that?) More and more, we’ve discovered that strong institutional management and leadership is not about power. It is about sharing empowerment and about consensus shaping. But this means that one doesn’t always “win.”
This is a problem for those people who feel that sharing in the governance process means getting your way all the time, or at least most of the time. I have had people say to me, “Well, there is no point in your asking for our input if you aren’t going to follow it.” Good decisions on an institutional level should reflect the best of the collected wisdom of all who participated in the process, but they may not reflect any one individual’s thinking in total, or even in large part. If the right climate has been established, everyone adapts and supports the final decision— even if they are not in complete agreement—because they understand how the decision was reached, and they know that it is necessary for the smooth functioning of the organization. Differences are discussed, thoroughly considered, weighed without emotion, and these discussions influence decisions. In orchestras which have made strong attempts to bring the musicians into the process of governance, the largest difficulties have been over this concept of what collective decision making is all about.
There is nothing close to a consensus now, among managers or musicians, about the appropriate roles of musicians in our orchestral organizations. Serious, intelligent, well-intentioned managers and musicians disagree strongly about this issue. Unfortunately, in some of the discussions in which I have participated, people seemed more determined to hold onto positions that they held when they started than they seemed willing to seriously debate and discuss an issue with minds open to being changed. It is worth noting, however, that the subject of musician involvement is being discussed, and even experimented with, more and more frequently.
I do believe that in some organizations the participants are coming to understand that they are all part of one large organization centered around a symphony orchestra, whereas in other organizations the various constituencies still view themselves as separate units with adversarial interests.6 This is most visibly true when looking at the musician-employer relationship, but can also be seen in some organizations in the relationships among the three “legs of the stool.” I have certainly known of managers who consciously minimized the flow of information to their board leadership, feeling that they (the managers) were more knowledgeable and that the more they kept the board out of their hair, the easier their lives would be. Similarly, there have certainly been struggles for control and power between managers and music directors.
It is hard to see how keeping these separate “turfs,” and excluding the professional musicians from serious roles in governance, can lead to healthy organizations. It seems evident on the face of it that involving everyone in governance in a meaningful and responsible way could only result in a more unified organizational effort, in greater institutional alignment. And the more work I do with orchestras of all sizes in America, the more I observe that lack of institutional alignment is an obstacle to progress. I know that “institutional alignment” is a favorite buzzword of organizational consultants and some foundation grant-givers. But the overuse of a term cannot be permitted to take away from its merit or value. The fact is that the various stakeholders in an organization must be in alignment if that organization is to achieve its maximum potential. In the case of orchestras, that potential can be artistic or financial (the two are inextricably intertwined anyhow), but it will surely not be fully realized as long as major misalignments exist.
I personally believe that there is no more important issue facing orchestras today. The nature of orchestras is changing faster than most of us can absorb. While some musicians may believe that there is the same potential of untapped fundraising resources that existed in the 1950s, the truth is that funding sources are far closer to being maximized, and even tapped out, than most of us want to admit. Additionally, some funding sources are pushing orchestras into change that is probably healthy, in terms of serving wider and more economically and ethnically diverse audiences. These changes are going to require a different view of the very missions of orchestras, and an examination of the job of being an orchestra musician.
I don’t think we can face these issues intelligently and with wide organizational trust if musicians, who constitute the major professional group in our organizations, and whose jobs are so affected by the outcome, are excluded from the discussion. Without such involvement, how can we expect musicians to better understand and share with staff and board people the “truth” I earlier mentioned about increasing constraints on fundraising? Generations of mutual mistrust and even outright antagonism are going to have to be put aside, and people are going to have to come together to thoroughly reexamine the historic patterns of organizational behavior. The good news is that this is beginning to happen, both at the local level with some orchestral organizations, and at the national level with organizations such as the Symphony Orchestra Institute. I have been active in the Institute from its beginning because it was specifically addressing this issue, and starting a national dialogue on the subject of orchestral organization and governance. In some way, the national dialogue that has been started needs to be heated up. At the same time, leaders of orchestral organizations need to work inside their own organizations toward the goal of full participation on the part of all constituencies. We must, at both local and national levels, shake up conventional thinking sufficiently so as to change the fundamental concepts on which managements, boards, and musicians currently base much of their behavior.
Factoring in Artistic Direction
Is it possible for an important artistic organization to exercise artistic leadership with an evenly balanced structure, or does artistic leadership require that primacy be given to the artistic director? And, in today’s larger orchestras, is it possible for these factors to be in balance, given the long absences of the music director?
This is not a new subject. Many in the orchestra field have discussed it among themselves for years. But, interestingly, for the most part our orchestra organizations behave, or appear to behave, as if nothing has changed from the days when the music director was omnipresent and all-powerful. Musicians resist having anyone but the music director make artistic decisions, and then complain that music directors are not around enough to do so. Boards look for fundraising and community speaking skills in the chief executives that they hire, saying such things as, “The conductor is there to set artistic policy; we want a manager to run the business.”
The problem is, of course, that the business is the art, and the art is the business. They are not only not separate, they are inextricably intertwined. There is no fiscal decision that doesn’t affect the artistic product, and no artistic decision that lacks fiscal implications. I may get in trouble with some of my conductor friends for some of the things I am about to say, but I believe that they need saying. Is there any other business in the world that would put major institutional responsibility and authority in the hands of a person who is not a full-time and exclusive employee of that organization? Conductors give between 35 and 50 percent of their professional time to the institution that gives them a title (the rest is spent guest conducting, or perhaps having similar authority at a second organization), and yet it is assumed that this conductor is totally responsible for institutional direction and quality. There is an unspoken truth out there, one known by managers but only articulated when they’re fairly sure no one but another manager is listening: not all conductors have the success of their institutions as their top personal goals or priorities. They actually think even more seriously about their careers than they do their institutions.
This fact has serious implications. In many American orchestras, music directors are given total authority to engage guest conductors and artists. If anyone believes that all of these music directors welcome highly successful up-and-comers to their podiums, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. The truth is that many smaller orchestras see guest conductors who “trade” invitations with their music director. The final irony of this behavior is that when one of these music directors leaves (voluntarily or otherwise), the organization is not in a good position to choose a successor, because they haven’t seen one viable candidate. In the larger orchestras, where perhaps the music directors are at more secure stages of their careers, those music directors often exercise their prerogative based on non-musical factors as well. And even if they don’t, they are certainly not in a position to make the best choices because conductors rarely take the opportunity to see other conductors work. Think about it—conductors conduct! That’s what they do. But when they are rehearsing and performing, they are not going to someone else’s concerts. The secure music director actually does understand this, and takes advice from others (in and outside of the orchestra’s management), and works with the management in arriving at decisions. But there are many conductors who will not open themselves up to the views of others, despite their own limited pools of knowledge.
I use the above example because I think it is the most blatant and easiest about which to be specific. But it is only one example of one area in which we contractually give music directors authority and responsibility that may not square with the actual natures of their jobs. We must undertake a serious examination of the role of our music directors, and our communities’ expectations of them. Historically, it has almost been a cliché of orchestra administration that the management’s job was to be sure the music director got credit for everything good that happened artistically.7 What has happened is that by carrying forward behavior and responsibilities from the time when conductors were, in fact, truly in charge of the orchestras, we now have a situation where authority and responsibility are given to a degree no longer commensurate with the actual involvement of the music director in our institutions. And, to make matters worse, we have built the institution around the public figure of the music director, so that we set up certain expectations.
I have often spoken to angry donors or potential donors who are upset that the music director doesn’t do the children’s concerts, without regard as to whether those are likely to be the best kind of children’s concerts. As orchestras take on more and more in community and education programs, we need to stop being apologetic for the fact that the music director might have nothing to do with those programs. We cannot expect music directors to be great conductors of a huge range of orchestral literature from Mozart to Boulez and everything in between, highly skilled community speakers, great fundraisers, and knowledgeable thinkers on issues of sociological importance, all while being less than full-time employees.
I am not suggesting removing the music director from the leadership role that he or she must continue to have in today’s symphony organization. But I am suggesting that it is time for a redefinition of what the job involves and what it does not—what it can be and what it cannot be. And it is time to stop pretending that it is more than it really is. It is time for a dialogue that includes musicians, trustees, managers, and conductors to reexamine the roles of all the constituencies of the orchestral organization in artistic matters. Is it not possible for management and musicians to participate in some artistic decisions, even artistic personnel decisions, instead of leaving these solely to music directors who might not be present more than half the year, and whose personal interactions with musicians might not always make then the best candidates to deal with personnel and human resource issues? Should the role of choosing guest conductors be one shared by the music director? And if so, with whom? Isn’t there a significant role for orchestra musicians in that process? It seems ironic that in the typical modern orchestra, there is virtually no responsibility and authority in the hands of the professional musicians who are there virtually year-round and probably for the rest of their professional lives, while there is excessive authority and responsibility in the hands of a half- time employee who is far more likely to leave the organization well before most musicians do.
By the way, it is equally fair to ask if managers always have the interests of the orchestral organization as their prime concern. Aren’t they also on “career paths”? Of course they are, but, in fact, music directors are generally judged by the quality of their concerts, whereas managers are judged by the successes of their orchestra organizations. Acting in the interest of the organization tends to be more in the direction of self-interest for a manager than it might be for a music director. Still, it is, of course, appropriate for the other constituencies in the organization to be certain that the manager is acting with the best interests of the organization in mind. When managers don’t perform (which, sadly, is
more frequently than one might wish), the issue is generally not whether their good will is misdirected. It is usually either a matter of technical competence or a lack of the ability to lead a group of diverse people toward consensus.
Even if we assume a greater role for musicians, there are still some fundamental questions that need to be addressed. If the central mission of our orchestras is artistic (and I think we should continue to assume that it is, despite other secondary missions), then should there not be one leader of the institution to whom the artistic matters most, and who is fully and solely employed by the organization? In the current “three-legged stool” model, the idea is that the music director is responsible for the artistic product, or result. The executive director is responsible for keeping the business going. And the board chairman presumably oversees both, and serves as the community’s “watchdog” over the public trust that is the organization. One doesn’t have to feel that this structure has failed miserably to wonder whether it could be improved.
Could the job of artistic direction be separated from that of the principal conductor? Isn’t there a basic flaw in stating, publicly and internally, that the person who bears the ultimate, final authority and responsibility for artistic quality is a person who is frequently absent from the city, and a person who rarely hears the orchestra perform under any other conductor? Should we explore the possibility of a director of artistic affairs (let’s not get hung up on the title, that’s just an example) who might even have the power to make personnel decisions, or at least recommendations, and who would be able to rule on a whole range of artistic-related issues that come up through the year? Could this be a player from the orchestra? Or could it be a directorate, made up of a group of players? Or is there, at least, a role in these matters for musicians?
Currently, these issues are sometimes handled ineffectively or inefficiently because the music director is not on the scene (in the largest orchestras), may not even have a feel for the community and the institution as a whole, and because fax, phone, and e-mail as true communications vehicles are imperfect. One cannot give full attention to a problem from across the country or across the ocean, and likewise one cannot implement artistic authority without a full- time knowledge of the institution and how it works. The skills required to conduct a great concert are not, in fact, the same skills that imply a successful manager of artistic and personnel issues. There is hardly another profession in which employees, whether professionals or laborers, do not receive performance evaluations, but no conductor with whom I have ever discussed the issue has felt willing or able to perform such appraisals of their musicians. The result? No one ever tells a musician that he or she is doing a good job (especially if that
person is not a principal player). Only when they do something wrong are they singled out. And we wonder why we have morale issues? This is but one of a number of issues a non-conducting artistic director could take responsibility for—issues that are seldom dealt with at all today.
I recognize that the ideas and thoughts outlined above need fleshing out. This is a case, though, in which I don’t believe any one person or organization can come up with the answers. What I do think has to happen is that the issues must arise for discussion, whether at managers’ meetings at various group levels, at American Symphony Orchestra League conferences, at AFM players’ conference meetings and within the Conductors’ Guild, and among local managers and the other constituencies in their orchestras. It has been somewhat “off limits” to raise these issues in a meaningful way, certainly in public forums, and the result is that the best minds with knowledge of the field and its history have yet to seriously discuss departures from the present pattern of music directors’ control of artistic matters.
The Role of the Board, and Its Relationship with
As we consider orchestral structure, what do we do about the fact that the titular head of our orchestras, the one person with the on-paper authority to actually hire and fire the other two “stool legs,” is in fact the person with the fewest professional qualifications for that power? No, I am not suggesting a revolution that would disempower the board chairman. But I am suggesting that we must have a recognition that these are complex organizations that are completely different from the corporate and/or social cultures from which most of our board leaders come, and that if they are going to exercise their leadership roles competently, they need some training. The American Symphony Orchestra League has begun to put its toes in these waters, if tenderly. But much more must be done, and the field must recognize the importance of professional development programs for board leaders. Clearly, steps can be taken on the local level too, but they will require managers of conviction and strength, and board leaders willing to examine fundamental tenets that may have been held in place for decades. It all goes back to developing an internal culture where the issue is not, “Who has the power?” but instead, “How do we all work together for the organizational good?”
Even if that training were available and utilized, we still need, in my view, a national discussion on the issues of power, authority, and responsibility in the modern orchestra. It used to be said, in simpler times, that the board raises money and sets policy, the management manages, the conductor conducts, and the musicians play. I’ve heard some people today still asserting this nice bromide. But it doesn’t work. First of all, fundraising cannot be the exclusive domain of boards, although it is still a primary responsibility for them. But orchestras have large development staffs because not all fundraising is volunteer-driven, and because even that which is needs not only staff support, but staff guidance.
Someone has to set the framework for a board, help it determine appropriate goals, and address how those goals might be attained.
Where is the line between governing and managing? Is it always so clear? And even if it is, do we really want a structure that excludes the top professional managers from setting policy? Would any for-profit corporation run that way? I have worked, in some way, with the boards and managements of well over 50 American orchestras in the past 25 years, and I can say from firsthand experience that there is very great confusion over these issues on the part of many board leaders and many management professionals. Too often, boards overstep any boundaries of good managerial sense and spend hours debating with managers whether the color of the subscription brochure should be red or blue. And managers excuse their own failures in the development area by saying “my board didn’t do its job.” Neither of these situations is acceptable, and some kind of dialogue needs to come about to clarify lines of authority and responsibility.
A Look to the Future
In recent years, reports of a state of crisis in American orchestras have circulated, and they have been wrong. The fact is that American orchestras, in the aggregate, are financially as healthy as they have been at any time in history, and one can document that with any number of statistics. Work stoppages are no more frequent now than they have been at any time over the past three decades, and in fact the recent trend toward longer contracts might indicate an even healthier situation. One might then ask, why even think about change at a time when no crisis seems at hand? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” long the rallying cry of those afraid of change, seems applicable here.
I have always looked at my own job as requiring me to catch things before they break, to prevent the breakage. Letting things break and only then fixing them seems an inefficient way to operate. Anyone who has spent time inside orchestra organizations cannot help but recognize the tensions, and the danger signs for the future. Outside pressures keep increasing for orchestras to serve wider and more diverse populations. Corporate, foundation, and government funding is getting harder to justify for organizations that seem to provide pleasure for a perceived, or real, upper class of society. And orchestras can no longer limit themselves to simply playing subscription concerts, along with a few children’s programs, in their main concert halls. This is not the place to argue the merits of these changes in direction, although I happen to believe in them. These changes are unavoidable realities, and require institutional alignment. True alignment means that all of the stakeholders believe in the same goals, recognize their roles in achieving those goals, and work toward those ends. It means the musicians, the music director, the staff, the board, and the volunteer organizations are all pulling in the same direction, recognizing that everyone makes contributions and has responsibilities. It doesn’t mean that there is never disagreement or even tension, but it does mean that there is general agreement on the big picture, and because of that, the tension and disagreements can be resolved, usually without pain.
Does the institutional structure exist in most orchestras that will allow for the most productive operation of the organization? I don’t believe that it does. Musicians too frequently see the management as the enemy; managers see musicians as obstacles to a smoothly running operation; board members want to know why the organization can’t earn a higher percentage of its budget, so there is less pressure for fundraising; volunteer groups feel that they have goals thrust upon them about which they had little to say; each party seems to feel that if only everyone thought as they did, things would be so much better and more efficient. Basic, fundamental questions don’t even get asked; assumptions don’t even get challenged. Is it true that the best-managed orchestra is one with the highest percentage of earned income? Many would answer “yes.” I would not. Not if that success was achieved at the expense of artistic quality and growth, perhaps by increasing successful pops concerts at the expense of more costly subscription classical concerts. This may ease the fundraising burden. But is easing the fundraising burden a mission-central objective? Not necessarily. Does the orchestra have the right music director for the community? Is the budget level the appropriate one? Just how big should this orchestra be? How many weeks should it play? Is the current mix of rehearsals and concerts the right mix? Is the mix of classics and pops the right mix? What kinds of community programs are appropriate? Should these be a normal part of the musicians’ job descriptions, or should they be paid as extra work? Should the job definition of being an orchestra musician be reexamined, perhaps to include such other components as education, community engagement, or even fundraising?
The purpose of the list of questions in the preceding paragraph is only to provoke thought. It is not meant to be anywhere near a complete list of questions that need to be asked. The real point is: every single one is a question I have heard raised at different orchestras with which I have worked. In virtually every case, there has been a different answer from each constituency, and no appropriate organizational structure in which those questions could be studied and answered in a way that brought the constituencies together. These questions either never get answered at all, or they get answered by the constituent group that has the power to answer them, and the rest simply go along. This does not lead to true institutional alignment, and it does not lead to the most effective and efficient operation of any organization. The amount of time orchestral organizations waste in dealing with frustration and anger is time that could surely be better spent.
It is important to remember that while I am suggesting changes in organizational structure, the question of process is equally important. To put it simply, if the board and management were simply to dictate that, starting tomorrow, the structure will change and musicians will be significantly involved in board membership and in all governance issues, the results would probably be disastrous. The process of an institution arriving at a structural change, and the change itself resulting from that process, is every bit as important as the structural change itself. I have often counseled that the process of developing a long-range strategic plan for an orchestra might be more important than the plan that resulted, if that process helps to bring various constituencies together and into real alignment. What is truly needed is for orchestras, perhaps with the aid of professionals who specialize in organizational change, to develop sets of internal processes to bring about change. The success of the resultant structural shifts will be directly related to the success of the processes.
It is time for a high-level national dialogue about the way our orchestral organizations function, and it is a dialogue that cannot take place only among representatives from orchestral organizations. The orchestral field has been remarkably insular over time, with most of its professional practitioners feeling that only they truly understood the field. Outside advice has rarely been welcome, and is usually dismissed as inapplicable. In fact, specialists in organizational behavior could probably tell us a lot about the ways in which we have been operating, and could probably help us improve our institutions. Labor and management officials from the for-profit world, and administrators (along with faculty members and doctors) from the educational and medical worlds, could probably teach us a lot, if we were willing to listen. But even here we need to recognize that orchestras are more complex organizations than any of those, and thus only some of the techniques will logically transfer to our field. We would all have to put aside assumptions on which many of us have based our careers.
I know that when I speak with many of my colleagues in this field, the subjects of stress, burn-out, and angst come up with some frequency. I am sure that these elements play a role in the lives of all executives and administrators, but after lengthy conversations with major corporate CEOs who run worldwide multibillion-dollar corporations, I am convinced that the stress levels are higher in the orchestral world, and they are higher because of the lack of true institutional alignment. These stress levels do not apply simply to managers. We know from the recent Institute study, Stress and Job Satisfaction among Symphony Musicians,8 and from other studies, that there is great room for improvement in musicians’ levels of job satisfaction. Similarly, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and other individual organizations, have done studies that show high stress levels or dissatisfaction among volunteers. It is time for those of us who care about orchestras to admit that perhaps we are not doing things in the best possible way, and to examine alternatives. Are we willing to open our minds to completely new practices and behaviors? I certainly hope so.
Henry Fogel is President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.
1 Hart, Philip. 1973. Orpheus in the New World: The Symphony Orchestra as an American Cultural Institution—Its Past, Present, and Future. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.
2 Hart, Orpheus, pp. 48-70. 3 Hart, Orpheus, p. 32. 4 Hart, Orpheus, pp. 40-44. 5 Hart, Orpheus, p. 71.
6 To show how dramatic this lack of consensus is, let me cite the following example. In recent negotiations, the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony expressed a desire that everyone in the entire organization symbolically be identified as being a part of the same team. The musicians requested that the governing and managing bodies stop referring to themselves as representing the “association” or “society” (“I’m the Chairman of the Board of the San Francisco Symphony Society.”). The musicians felt that this was a way of separating management from the musicians, and musicians from the organization. They felt that their organization would appear healthier if everyone was seen as working for or on behalf of the orchestra. Interestingly, this came after a long and painful strike. Conversely, in a negotiation at about the same time, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra demanded that management and board officials always separate themselves from the orchestra by using the word “association” when referring to themselves or their titles, or in press announcements. So, you would have a marketing director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and a marketing director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. I use this example not to praise one group or approach, or criticize another, only to point out the lack of direction and unity in thinking about this issue nationally among orchestra musicians.
7 By the way, the other parts of the cliché are that the board chair was to get credit for all good fiscal things that happened; the manager’s role was to take the blame for all things that went wrong. When I was first told this by a successful orchestra executive when I was new in the field, my response was, “That’s dumb. How can that do anything but build a lack of confidence in the management, which can hardly be in the interests of the institution?”
8 Breda, John, and Patrick Kulesa. 1999. Stress and Job Satisfaction among Symphony Musicians. Evanston, Illinois: Symphony Orchestra Institute.
The Toledo Symphony:
Players as Staff Members A roundtable discussion
T he Symphony Orchestra Institute is watchful for the road less traveled. We are always on the lookout for innovative practices in orchestra organizations. And in Toledo, Ohio, we found an orchestra in which
some players also serve as part-time staff members. Thanks to the efforts of Toledo Symphony President and CEO Bob Bell, and Executive Vice President for Development Kathy Carroll, we were able to gather a group of these player-staff members to share their story. But first, a bit of background.
As explained in a recent grant application, Toledo is a medium-size, industrial city in the Midwest. It is not a tourist area, and the landscape is flat. However, the quality of life is good because area residents understand and reward hard work. The city has its own university, and the University of Michigan, Bowling Green State University, and the Oberlin Conservatory are all within short driving distances.
Against this backdrop, the Toledo Symphony was founded just more than 55 years ago by music teachers and musicians. Throughout its history, the orchestra has worked to serve and support a broad geographic area, and the orchestra now serves many smaller communities within a three-hour radius of Toledo.
However, the Toledo Symphony finds itself in a position similar to that of many other regional American orchestras. Its musicians’ salaries are low in comparison with those of many other skilled professionals. In the early 1980s, Bob Bell had an idea, and offered percussionist Keith McWatters the opportunity to supplement his work as a player with a part-time position as sales manager for the orchestra’s ensembles. Today, McWatters holds the full-time position of orchestra manager, and plays with the orchestra.
At this point, we will ask Kathy Carroll, as moderator, seven musician-staff members, and an invited member of the board of trustees to pick up the story.
Kathy Carroll: Please introduce yourselves and share with Harmony readers a bit about your roles with the Toledo Symphony.
Patricia Budner: I am from the Cleveland area, and have been a violinist with the Toledo Symphony for 25 years. I also spend several hours each week working as an assistant to the orchestra manager. In addition to that, I have a lot of…
Bob Bell Talks about the Toledo Symphony
Bob Bell joined the Toledo Symphony as a timpanist in 1957. In the intervening years, he has also served the orchestra as personnel manager, librarian/stage manager, associate director, acting managing director, and managing director. In 1997, he was named president and CEO. Since 1984, when he became managing director, the Toledo Symphony’s income has increased more than 200 percent, ticket sales have increased more than 135 percent, and annual fund giving has increased more than 300 percent.
Bob has been an active participant in many Toledo civic endeavors, and has received the Toledo Arts Commission’s Community Impact Award, the Mayor of Toledo’s Citizen Award, and the State of Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts. We asked him to reminisce about the genesis and evolution of the Toledo Symphony’s dual-role practice for musicians. His thoughts follow.
One of the staff appointments I made during my first years as chief executive officer of the Toledo Symphony was to ask Mel Harsh, a member of the brass section, to take responsibility for writing concert program notes. This assignment quickly evolved into preconcert talks and other duties connected with program planning and concert narration. Although there was initial resistance from some staff members who questioned his (a musician’s) skills for writing and understanding office practice, Mel has become one of the dual-role orchestra members most appreciated by our audiences and staff. Increased compensation was a consideration, but it was not the primary reason for offering Mel this position, nor was it his pivotal reason for accepting. Rather, it was my belief in the value of his knowledge and intellectual insights, which I trusted would add strength to orchestra administration.
As the orchestra has evolved in the past several years, growing and attracting more resident musicians, there has been an underlying, fundamental commitment to provide as much opportunity and compensation as possible for each member of the orchestra. Whenever staff opportunities occurred, it has been the practice to look “within the family” for a mutually beneficial arrangement for musician and administration. It is not unusual for orchestras to have librarians and personnel managers who serve in both playing and non-playing roles. And it is not unreasonable to expect to find a range of other talents that can be useful and beneficial to the organization, while, at the same time, offering opportunities for musicians.
…private teaching experience, studio recording experience, and am currently interested in the healing aspects of music and sound. My bachelor’s degree is from Bowling Green State University, just south of Toledo.
Stewart Clark: I joined the orchestra in 1990 as a french horn player. In 1995, I began selling tickets once a week to make some extra money. That grew into a role as one of the salespeople for orchestral events, which, in turn, evolved into selling advertising for the program book and phone sales. On the organization chart, they call me events sales manager, so if it’s sales, I’m “it.”
Melissa Knecht: I am a violist in the orchestra, and am also director of education and outreach. Over the years, I have played in a number of orchestras, both in the U.S. and abroad. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Michigan in music, and completed a master’s degree in viola at Indiana University. While I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, I was also playing with the Toledo Symphony and became very interested in the psychology of music as it applied to professional musicians. I began to develop some ideas about education and the orchestra, and I approached Bob Bell with a proposal. He was willing to listen and that developed into my job.
Daniel Harris: I joined the orchestra as bass trombonist in 1995, and had been a substitute with the orchestra for 10 years or so before that. I’m also the trombonist in the symphony brass quintet. My educational background is not all in music, although I do hold a performance master’s from Yale and a D.M.A. from the University of Michigan. My undergraduate work was in Russian language and literature, and I also hold a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. I became grants administrator for the orchestra in July 1999, and the season before that, I was chair of the orchestra committee.
Melvin Harsh: I’ve played second trumpet in the Toledo Symphony for nearly 25 years. In addition, I’m the orchestra’s program annotator. I do the previews, and speak to audiences before many of the concerts, as well as doing speaking engagements in the area. My education includes undergraduate work at the State University of New York at Fredonia, and a master’s and D.M.A. from the University of Michigan. For a long time, I have been in an artistic advisory capacity, and now I’m officially the orchestra’s artistic administrator.
Aaron Keaster: This is my fourth year as a member of the double bass section, and as an assistant librarian. I joined the Toledo Symphony after completing a performance master’s at Indiana University. I am originally from Columbia, Missouri, and completed my bachelor’s degree at Wichita State University. I’ve played with the Wichita Symphony, the Evansville Philharmonic, the Terre Haute Symphony, and spent five months on a cruise ship with the Royal Cruise Line Orchestra.
Keith McWatters: No cruise lines for me. I’m a Toledo boy! I grew up here, earned my bachelor’s in music education at the University of Toledo, and started playing with the symphony in the late 1970s in a small role with the percussion section. I began my administrative duties, in the early 1980s, as a sales manager for the ensembles, and then in the mid-1980s became personnel manager. I am currently the orchestra manager, still fulfilling the duties of personnel manager, and am still a percussionist.
Byron West: I’m vice chairman of the Toledo Symphony board. By profession, I’m an architect. I grew up with classical music, as my mother was an accompanist for such opera musicians as Rise Stevens and Robert Merrill. Piano lessons were an unsuccessful part of my childhood, but I discovered the clarinet and the saxophone when I was about eight. Starting in my teens, I played nightclubs six nights a week, played college campuses, and toured with Bob Hope. I think I still appreciate classical music more than jazz. But I can’t play it. I play jazz.
Carroll: Thank you. The Institute has provided us with a series of questions to get our conversation started about your dual roles with the orchestra. So I would ask you to describe how you became involved as a staff member, and whether you think this practice is unusual in North American symphony orchestras?
Harsh: I was approached by a member of management and asked if I would be interested in writing previews and program notes in the capacity of artistic administrator. I knew other orchestras had these positions, and I had not really thought about whether they were filled by people outside the orchestra or by musicians. I accepted the offer because I thought it sounded interesting. It’s as simple as that.
Clark: I didn’t think that having an administrative job in addition to being a musician was unusual when I started, but I’ve come to realize that it is, of course. That’s why we’re talking about it! And I think the reason that we are able to do this is because Bob Bell is an executive director who came up through the ranks right here in Toledo, starting in the Youth Orchestra. So there is a history of the person at the top encouraging his staff to look to the orchestra as a resource when positions, and especially part-time positions, are open.
Budner: I think our audience needs to understand that many of these jobs— such as the one I had in the library some years ago—are for only a few hours a week. I can’t imagine a symphony being able to hire a person for that little bit of time and have those terms accepted. So I could certainly understand asking an orchestra member to fill the position.
McWatters: This is going to make me sound as old as Methuselah, but I was in college and taking private lessons from Bob Bell when the idea of an administrative position came up. At one of my lessons, he asked if I would be interested in doing a bit of sales. Bob’s main thrust, as Pat mentioned, is that most of these are part-time positions. In our orchestra, the wages for playing are also almost part-time. And Bob’s idea is to offer the administrative positions to “family” first as a way of getting and keeping good players for the Toledo Symphony. And I would note that not every musician who is offered an administrative position accepts the job.
Budner: I happen to be an example of that. I have said “no” to other staff position offers in years past that I felt wouldn’t suit me as well as the one I have now.
Keaster: When I joined the orchestra, I knew my musician’s job was really part- time. So I mentioned to Keith that I would be interested in doing some other work if something came up.
McWatters: And now you are working in the library. As I said, family first.
Carroll: What do you see as the benefits of your player-staff member role?
Keaster: For me, the best benefit is the flexibility of my office schedule. Who is going to be more flexible with an orchestra player’s strange schedule than the orchestra itself? Before I started here, I was working for a temporary agency to find flexible hours. This is much better than that.
Clark: I needed the money when I started at the office, and I still do. I like what I do, and I don’t think there is another organization out there that needs a part- time sales person who absolutely has to have time off between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., depending on the day. So, I would second Aaron in saying that working at the symphony is perfect.
McWatters: There is a real upside for the orchestra in having the various managers, including Bob Bell, along for the runouts and other performances that we do. If we were managers who were less involved, we might be at home relaxing while the orchestra was out working. We would have no sense of how difficult the job is. How important is it for Mel, as artistic administrator, to be on the job to see if certain musical choices work? How important is it for Stewart to be on the site of a sale? After the concert, he’s there to shake hands and meet the presenter and to work on next year’s presentation. We’re all there to experience what works and what doesn’t.
Knecht: I would add that there is a lot of work that I can do on education programs during rehearsals.
McWatters: It helps me to do both jobs better—as a player and a manager—to see both sides of what is going on. And I think those of us in this room might agree that to be able to see both sides is an enhancement to what we do.
Mellon Foundation Grant Enhances Orchestra’s Future
In 1999, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation initiated a grant program for orchestras with two stated goals:
- to help orchestras attain distinctive artistic visions, and
- to foster cultural change within individual orchestras.
The Toledo Symphony was one of seven U.S. orchestras to receive a three-year grant in the initial round of awards. In the first year, Mellon Foundation funds have been used to support five initiatives:
- Thirteen musicians applied for and have received professional development grants. Projects include research, performance, recording, and composition, as well as several that focus on intensive study or teaching.
- Orchestra members are planning a concert to be staged during the 2000-2001 season. The repertoire and a conductor have already been selected, and orchestra members are also involved in promotion of this program as a musician-designed concert.
- During the current season, the orchestra performed Shostakovich Symphony No. 4, a work of high artistic challenge, but with a cost beyond that normally provided in the artistic budget.
- Education programming efforts have been brought together in a unified department. With the support of grant funds, two staff positions—one part-time and one full-time—were established and filled.
- The orchestra’s Web site has been significantly enhanced as part of the program to expand the Toledo Symphony’s reach.
Addressing the professional development grants, Toledo Symphony president Bob Bell noted, “It’s a wonderful partnership among the Toledo Symphony trustees, staff, and musicians. The process of receiving, reviewing, and awarding these grants really reflects the spirit of the Mellon Foundation’s challenge to integrate everyone in advancing the artistic and institutional development of this organization.”
Carroll: Do you ever sense any resentment or envy from your fellow players? Or that other members of the orchestra think you have been “co-opted by management”?
Harsh: If you had asked me that question two weeks ago, I would have said no. But now there is a question as to whether we are pariahs because of our dual positions.
Clark: Let me try to explain. Last fall, one of our player-managers left Toledo to become executive director of another orchestra. Instead of replacing him with a full-time staff member, the work was divided among several of us. Dan, Melissa, and Pat were brought in, and Mel and I got more to do. That seems to have ignited discussion among some members of the orchestra who then called the American Federation of Musicians Symphonic Services Division to report that the musicians were being co-opted and bought off by management.
Harsh: And yesterday, a representative of the Symphonic Services Division paid us a visit. The concern seemed to be whether, as player-managers, we should attend orchestra meetings because we might stifle people from bringing up their concerns.
Budner: There was an orchestra meeting last night which Dan and I attended, and I related that we were surprised that people were worried about us in these roles. I, personally, don’t have any trouble being me whether I’m a manager or a player, or anything else for that matter. I’m going to be me whether I’m talking to the third percussionist or to the orchestra manager, even if that is the same person.
Clark: I’ve thought about this a lot since yesterday. There is a tradition in American orchestras that musicians are on one side and management is on the other; that it is an adversarial situation. I think a lot of musicians, if you engaged them in conversation, might say that there must be a better way, but they are actually very comfortable with the adversarial model. It’s comforting. They know that there are “good guys” and “bad guys.” With people like us straddling the fence, the situation is more gray.
Harris: Having been chair of the orchestra committee before I came to my present position, I would say that after a certain point in that role, one is not surprised by too much of anything, whether from one’s colleagues or from someone in management. Which is to say that there are always a lot more perspectives out there than one might think of on one’s own. When I made the transition, there were certainly some people who raised the question of whether I was being co- opted. That is probably still a question for some people, but not for others. So I don’t know that one can generalize about the orchestra as a whole. One of my great satisfactions in playing in this orchestra has been the rapport among those of us in the low brass section. That is a source of real professional satisfaction for me, and that has not changed one whit as a result of the position I have now.
Knecht: One of my first observations when I came to Toledo was to wonder why I didn’t feel the usual hostility between management and musicians that I had observed in some other orchestras. I wondered, were the musicians simply nicer? It was interesting for me, as a part-time player, to stand back and observe the Toledo Symphony which is an interesting model because Bob Bell is a manager who thoroughly understands the musician’s background. While I find the idea of yesterday’s meeting discouraging, I have found some positive results of the dual roles since I became director of education. A number of musicians have approached me to give me advice and direction to make positive educational changes for the good of the orchestra. They see me as similar to themselves and believe that their voices can now be heard.
Carroll: Are we building a bridge between management and the orchestra? And has your joint work improved the situation?
McWatters: I think what Melissa was getting to was that there may be a contingent who think we are spies, but there is also a contingent who see us as a conduit. They might suggest, “Hey, when you are in on Monday, will you tell Bob . . .” or “Can you get this message to Kathy?” Things move along so much more smoothly, so much faster.
Keaster: I want to backtrack a bit to what Keith said about the importance of being able to see how things worked on the stage; whether certain things did or didn’t work. I think an upside from the musician’s standpoint is that it can be very easy to just show up on stage and not think of anything else, not think about all of the things that are going on behind the scenes. And I think this is a real opportunity for us to see how much work is involved on the other side, preparing for these concerts to happen. It gives us a real sense of orchestra ownership to be involved in both aspects.
West: From the board perspective, it seems to me that Bob has made some very good decisions about making these assignments internally. From my exposure to musicians over the years, my perception is that, as a group, they are frighteningly bright. To think that all they can do is play instruments is nonsense. Because they have such great capabilities, to be able to deploy them internally is just marvelous.
Harris: I also want to pick up on a couple of things Keith mentioned. I do think there are bridges. At the same time, I don’t think they necessarily exist to the same extent for every person in the orchestra. That’s part of what has to be our work in progress. When one listens to people at orchestra meetings, the degree of suspicion or anxiety is often inversely proportional to the amount of knowledge. That is not to say that if everyone had complete knowledge they would agree, but I think that there would be a much greater understanding and greater comfort level.
Harsh: Dan, you and I both know, that like people in most jobs, orchestra members are good at griping. And there is not much verbal play between management and the musicians. And By, as for the board, other than seeing your names in the program, I really don’t know you. I don’t know how you are chosen, what your role is, or what your influence is. Communication is a problem.
West: Communication is always an issue. I’ve never been in an organization where one of the primary issues wasn’t communication. So I am not surprised to hear that it is an issue in the Toledo Symphony. As far as the board goes, every board’s function, regardless of whether it is the symphony, a museum, or any other organization, primarily is to secure the fiscal stability of the institution. So board members devote a lot of time to fundraising and trying to see that the dollar side of the house is in order. But we don’t meddle in artistic matters. I think it would be wonderful if we could have an event where board members and orchestra members had a chance to get to know one another in a casual setting.
Harsh: Someone mentioned yesterday that we couldn’t even have an orchestra picnic and have everyone show up!
Clark: What we’ve been talking about, I think, is communication across a divide. In this orchestra, I think the management maybe does it better than the musicians, simply because some of us are in the office. Bob Bell is from the ranks. Bob and Keith often discuss how a particular decision will affect the players. Andrew Massey, our music director, considers the orchestra members when he is thinking of programming. On the other hand, the musicians who aren’t working in the office don’t really have an idea how a symphony orchestra is maintained, funded, and sold. I’ve heard some very naïve comments from my colleagues, such as, “They should just sell more tickets down there and then we can all get a raise.” A lot of the musicians would, I think, appreciate knowing what goes on in the office. But I actually think some of them are afraid to know too much.
Budner: It is a real eye opener to work at the office. Those of us who have experienced the office work do know, perhaps, a little better. Even then—and I’m just speaking for myself here—there are a lot of things that someone as part-time as I am still doesn’t see. But no one should underestimate the office work.
Harris: It seems to me that the issue is: how can we improve the quality of what we are doing? We need to work on strengthening communications not only between players and management, but also among ourselves. I think that all of us need to know a bit more about what the rest of us are doing in order to do our own jobs better.
Carroll: Let’s broaden our outlook a bit. If another orchestra were considering instituting our practice of having some musicians serve in dual positions, are there any words of wisdom you would offer them?
McWatters: We have talked about how musicians feel about those of us who serve dual roles. But one also needs to consider how staff members who are not musicians react to the dual-role players who may not always be in the office during normal business hours. When we are out until 2:00 a.m., we may not be in the office until 10:00 a.m. And someone has to answer the phones and take messages when we are not there. It is important for non-musician staff members to be invited to rehearsals, to sit on the stage, to come to concerts that have been challenging to put together. And it is equally important for players to be invited to staff meetings, receptions, and board meetings. And for those serving dual roles, it is important that they not take advantage of the generous flexibility they are offered.
Clark: I think any organization that is thinking of trying dual roles might want to think about it this way: Every staff needs a core of people whose job it is not only to accomplish certain things, but also to be there all day long. Those of us who are both musicians and staff have specific things we are asked to do within a given time frame. If we can do them in less time, or if there is a week when not much of our time is needed, we are not pressured to be in the office. When I first started working on the staff side, I felt some animosity about what time I came in and what time I left. But when I could show results, that animosity lessened because people understood that I was getting the job done. Any orchestra looking to try dual roles should be prepared to educate the staff from the beginning. And musicians who might be interested in doing staff work need to understand that it is a real juggling act. When do you stop doing the office job and practice? Because one certainly cannot do the orchestra job without practicing.
McWatters: That is a very important point. The music comes first. I think we would all agree that we’re players first. It is nice that we can make our livings totally in music by combining responsibilities. But any orchestra considering dual roles for players must understand that the music comes first, and orchestra members must not be asked to circumvent those responsibilities for office work.
Knecht: I think it would be interesting if other orchestras were to study the Toledo Symphony, which has some real-world experience in management crossover. Other orchestras should try a few ideas with their own personnel to find out what happens. I have to wonder if providing opportunities for orchestra musicians—as part of their contract—to participate in small management commitments, or volunteer committee assignments, would result in a sense of increased ownership towards the orchestra. In turn, maybe even more positive feelings of job satisfaction would develop.
McWatters: I think everyone in this room would agree that what we are doing in Toledo might not be right for every orchestra. Several of us have mentioned the importance of Bob Bell’s understanding of both sides of the bridge. But dual roles do work for this orchestra, both on and off the stage. And I have to believe that there are other orchestras in this country that could benefit greatly by having musicians serve in part-time staff roles. I agree with Melissa, and would encourage others to consider giving it a try.
Carroll: On behalf of the Institute, thank you for your time. We are proud of what we are doing here in Toledo, and you have each helped to share our story.
The American Composers Orchestra
As mentioned in “Publisher’s Notes,” there is an interesting genesis to the excellent piece of organizational journalism which follows. Eighteen months ago or so, I wrote a few sentences about the founding and development
of the Institute for the 1953 class notes section of the Harvard College alumni magazine. This brief mention caught the eye of classmate Joel Mandelbaum. After receiving his Harvard College degree magna cum laude, and then master’s and doctoral degrees respectively from Brandeis and Indiana, Joel devoted his life to classical music education, composition, and scholarship. He was intrigued by the Institute, contacted me, and I sent him some issues
of Harmony. He liked what he read, in particular the essays by Jim Orleans and Soong Fu-Yuan, and we corresponded.
In due course, Joel sent me some of his own thoughts about the selection, composition, performance, and national propagation of new music by American composers. Joel’s devotion to American composition and his writing ability were quite evident, and in his drafting there was a brief reference to the American Composers Orchestra.
Although we were pleased to have the ACO as a supporting organization of the Institute, and assumed that the organization had a special mission with an organizational system which supported it, I felt that few people outside of New York City (including me) really knew much about either. I wondered: Would Joel be willing to inquire into and report on the ACO as a volunteer organizational journalist, and would ACO staff, board, conducting, and musician participants be willing to cooperate with Joel, speak openly about their work and their organization, and have these views, feelings, and processes reported broadly to the audience of Harmony? Obviously the answer became “yes” to both questions. It appears that we arranged a mutually satisfying match!
Special thanks to Joel Mandelbaum and Michael Geller, and all his colleagues, for working together to have all of us know more about this unusual American orchestral institution.
The American Composers Orchestra
Things could not have been more topsy-turvy than when I arrived shortly after the start of the first full orchestra rehearsal of the American Composers Orchestra for its January concert. I took a seat to the side and noticed about 40 players (30 of them strings) randomly seated in the orchestra space with no semblance of an ordinary seating plan. The written parts were similarly strewn about the page, a few measures here, a few measures there. The sounds were even more abstracted, a snippet here, a snippet there, generally one, two, or three solo lines at any given time, with no instrument playing more than three or four notes before returning to long periods of “rest” involving feverish counting and following the strangely notated musical cues. What they were playing sounded something like what a Webern Klangfarbenmelodie might sound like if some machine had quantized all the notes to fit into the C major scale. Tantalizing segments suggesting familiar musical syntax fraternized with empty spaces, or units too small to have any syntax. But every note belonged to a single diatonic scale. The composer was John Cage.
What I noticed next was that this group of musicians, famous for its prodigious reading skills, was dropping entries right and left. Periodically Dennis Russell Davies, the conductor, would call out “Joe, you’re supposed to be playing here,” or “First violin 4, where are you?” as entrances were missed. Davies took everything in stride. He noted the location amid the jumbled seating of some of the players who had missed entrances and promised them cues.
After a break the orchestra turned to Amy Beach’s Third (Celtic) Symphony, composed in 1896. Where, throughout the Cage, Davies had given almost uniform, large, angular beats, leaving the divergent elements of expressivity to the individual players, he now employed the full range of conductorial gestures. The orchestra responded with a splendid first reading that far surpassed what would have been final performances by all but a few of the world’s orchestras. So electric was the reading that much of the rehearsing that followed consisted of pointing out to the players the details in the score that called for relaxation. Except for its obvious Celticisms (evocation of folk-like tunes from time to time) the rather lush and exciting score evoked more Dvorak than anything else. The orchestra, though formed, trained, and nurtured on a very different kind of music, took to the Beach like a fish to water. From the first upbeat the hall resounded with joy. What a splendid collectivity had been formed over 24 years out of these freelance musicians.
At the concert two days later, before a two-thirds-full house at Carnegie Hall, the Cage work proceeded without problems. At its end, Davies applauded the players for mastering the complicated measure counts and entrances. Certainly the notes, selected by subtraction (“deconstruction”) from some choral pieces by the 18th-century American composer William Billings, would not have been a problem for even the most amateurish community orchestra, but oh those rests! The Beach was a pleasure to hear again.
After intermission were two newly commissioned works, both by African- American composers more than a generation different in age. Both involved what are called “crossover” features, stylistic elements of music originally intended for nonconcert venues. Both also involved electronic tape. The first was “Tomorrow’s Song, as Yesterday Sings Today” by Muhal Richard Abrams, a veteran composer and jazz pianist. The electronic sounds occasionally crackled over the orchestra and the most memorable passage was a sustained string unison with a somewhat angular and chromatic, but very lyrical, melody. The final work was “Harlem Essay for Orchestra and Digital Audio Tape” by Daniel Bernard Roumain, a youthful composer. Recorded street voices alternated with dynamic hip-hop rhythms on the tape, the latter matched by the orchestra’s percussion. A highlight occurred when the tape ended and the orchestra took up the mesmerizing rhythm alone. Even more memorable was the quiet piano solo with which the work concluded in subdued lighting.
I enjoyed the concert very much as did most of the audience. Even though one of the works (the Cage) was about subverting the very essence of what makes an orchestra an orchestra, and both commissioned works achieved their strongest impact with features for which the presence of an orchestra was somewhat peripheral, it was still a lovely
orchestral concert, though unquestionably centered on its century-old entry. Besides the music itself, one could not but enjoy the sheer craft and gusto, the total professionalism of the undertaking. It was clear that in both rehearsal and performance, the players and conductor were delighted to be doing what they were doing.
An Orchestra By and For Composers
The American Composers Orchestra and its principal conductor, Dennis Russell Davies, had already made a profound impression on me quite some years ago when I attended a concert which included a work by a colleague and was amazed at the general quality of the performances. In particular, what had seemed to be a forbiddingly opaque texture in a Sessions symphony was opened up by Davies and the orchestra to reveal a richness of lyrical melody I would otherwise never have believed was there. It was therefore a great pleasure to have an opportunity to learn more about the orchestra.
Founded over lunch in 1975 as a one-concert endeavor by the well-connected composer Francis Thorne and the then fledgling conductor Dennis Russell Davies, this orchestra, devoted entirely to the works of American composers and largely to the works of unknown but qualified living American composers, has since given 4 to 5 concerts a year, performed works by 346 American composers (most of them represented by a single work), and recorded works by 24.
Thorne and Davies had wanted to give a special concert to honor the 40th anniversary of the American Composers Alliance, and with a mix of private funding and a grant from B.M.I., raised $30,000 to stage that first concert. Paul Dunkel, a freelance flutist and conductor, undertook to contract the players from his talented cohort who know one another through various part-time orchestras and chamber ensembles in New York. He brought in a group of excellent players, excellent readers, and individuals who possessed a high level of interest in playing new music. Today, nearly 25 years later, Davies, now a world-renowned conductor; Thorne, now a true elder statesman; and Dunkel, now a successful regional conductor, are still active with the orchestra, as are more than half the original players—a remarkable statistic, which is perhaps the greatest possible tribute to the success of the overall undertaking, as well as to Dunkel’s perspicacity in making the right choices from the beginning. The high morale of the group which the statistic evidences was already apparent to me in the atmosphere of the first rehearsal: attentive players, an obviously well-prepared conductor who respected them, a mission which everyone respected, and a well-organized staff to keep the engines running.
The American Composers Orchestra, called the ACO by everyone associated with it, is one of a cornucopia of professional orchestras operating in New York City under a more or less standard union contract. Since these are all part-time orchestras (members of the Philharmonic or the Met would never have the free time to participate), many of the same players are regular members of several. They include pit orchestras for ballet and opera companies with relatively short seasons; regional orchestras within the New York metropolitan area, such as the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the Westchester Philharmonic; various chamber orchestras; neighborhood orchestras; and special orchestras such as the Opera Orchestra of New York (which, under Eve Queler, has for many years offered concert performances of neglected opera classics with interesting lead singers); and the American Symphony Orchestra (which, under Leon Botstein, has offered unusual programs linking standard works and almost unheard music of all periods through imaginative thematic programming). The ACO can be seen as fitting comfortably at the “special programming” end of this spectrum. As its brochure (the contents of which can also be gleaned on its Web site, <www.americancomposers.org>) strongly hints, and interviews with its executive director and members of the orchestra and board of directors confirm, the orchestra combines many standard features of New York’s “single engagement” orchestras with a few unique ones stemming from its particular focus on composers.
The Interaction of Constituencies
The board of directors, currently some 23 strong, includes the usual contingent of bankers, lawyers, philanthropists, and community leaders. It is also sprinkled liberally with composers, including a few amateur composers, and several performers who actively program new music. The board has about a half dozen committees of the standard variety, such as development and finance; an executive committee, consisting primarily of the chairs of the various committees (which meets considerably more often than does the full board); and an artistic policy committee which, as the result of a relatively recent initiative, includes orchestra players (elected by the orchestra committee which itself is elected by the full orchestra).
The artistic staff includes two conductors and two composers. Those two composers also sit on the board of directors. One of these composers, Robert Beaser, is listed as the “Artistic Advisor.” The ACO also has a published list of about two dozen composer advisors. It has indicated that it also uses people “outside the organization” to assist with jurying the submitted scores, and advising on artistic policy.
The administrative staff includes a highly energetic executive director, Michael Geller, and a compact supporting group. Some functions which orchestras usually assign to full-time staff members, such as educational outreach and publicity, are accomplished part-time by consultants.
The constituencies interact to a degree that I have been led to believe is unusual among orchestras. The relationship of the two conductors with the players is exemplary. Davies has the total respect of the players for his technical craft, his musical mastery, his preparedness (I have never seen another conductor as much in command of the scores of multiple unknown works from the first rehearsal onward), and the collegiality and respect he accords them at all times. The associate conductor, Paul Dunkel, has also produced some impressive concerts and recordings with the orchestra. Though he no longer does the contracting, Dunkel placed most of the current members in the orchestra and he remains close to them.
Geller is an effective conduit among the constituencies. He is a good communicator and strongly committed to the orchestra’s founding mission. The presence of two composers from the artistic staff on the board of directors facilitates smooth interactions between those bodies. The artistic policy committee is a focal point for working through any differences and furthering initiatives among all the parts of the organization.
Besides the formal contacts among the constituencies, there is an important informal reality that rests in the personality of the co-founder, de facto artistic advisor, and current president, Francis Thorne. Technically he is listed as part of the administrative staff. But all constituencies of the orchestra look to him for leadership and find it in abundance. Members of all the constituencies, including the orchestra players themselves, speak with respect and deep affection of Thorne. More than anything else, it appears to be his vision and self-sacrificing service which have kept the orchestra on course. An able composer of mainstream, slightly conservative modern music with a touch of jazz, to judge from his 5th Symphony (the only work of his the orchestra has recorded), he has declined to use the orchestra to enhance his own reputation, and in so doing has sent a strong message of openness to outsiders. He and others with the organization are confident that Robert Beaser, his successor as artistic advisor, will continue this tradition.
“It is our mission to try to institutionalize openness” is the way Geller put it to me as a kind of challenge of seeming contradiction in a three-hour interview. The ACO literature boasts (with good reason) of works it commissioned from Joseph Schwantner and Ellen Taaffe Zwillich when nobody else had commissioned orchestral works from them, which very works then won Pulitzer prizes. I was prepared to ask why neither of those works was included in the ACO discography. As the discussion proceeded, the question became unnecessary. The orchestra’s philosophy is to move on to others once it has opened opportunities for specific composers through its performances. The more recognition the performances bring, therefore, the more imperative the orchestra considers it to move on. Certainly, if the orchestra concentrated on consolidating the reputations of those it brought to the fore, it would never have come close to playing music written by 346 different individuals.
The artistic policy decisions have focused on program selection. With Davies and Dunkel, and a distinguished list of guest conductors headed by Leonard Bernstein and Gunther Schuller, and with Dunkel’s superb roster of players, there have been few, if any, problems involving artistic personnel. The organization is quite specific about how it makes selections from among unsolicited scores. According to Geller the orchestra always tries to include a few of these and assures every composer submitting a score that it will be reviewed by three persons—two composers and a conductor—at least one of whom is outside the organization. Works selected as best through this mechanism are then reviewed by the artistic staff, especially by Beaser and Davies, and one or more are then selected. At least one composer per season is selected for a commission on the basis of readings held annually, with about five, usually very junior, composers participating. Roumain, on the present program, had been selected through the readings of a previous year.
Though these processes are meticulous and assure a measure of access to every composer, the majority of works programmed by the ACO are selected less formally through recommendation by or to the members of its artistic staff. An effort has been made to keep channels open to different stylistic communities, and the list of performed composers includes substantial numbers of so-called neo-Romantics, hard line serialists, minimalists, and ethnic crossover composers. Although this leaves gaps, especially among traditionally tonal composers, including a number who have made reputations in opera, I think one can fairly conclude that by the standard of other organizations that specialize in new music, the ACO has been remarkably successful in its openness.
Recently, the ACO has increased its efforts to communicate directly with other music directors and artistic administrators about the composers and repertoire it has performed. The orchestra has established the “ACO-Xchange, a professional network for sharing this information, with its own area on the ACO’s Web site at <www.americancomposers.org/exchange.htm>.
A Look to the Future
With a list of more than a hundred major supporters for its current four-concert series, the ACO has clearly found a financial formula for its present success and the likelihood that this success can carry well into the future. Supporters are, with good reason, happy to be identified with superb instrumentalists who are adequately paid to give outstanding performances which help launch the careers of previously unheralded composers. The fact that sponsors find valued prestige in being identified with new work validated by the artistic community has long been demonstrated in corporate and foundation support in the visual arts. It is a win-win-win situation that deservedly brings satisfaction at every level in the organization. And it may suggest means whereby other communities might start similar ventures, or existing orchestras might start new music projects with a chance of success.
In the midst of what appears to be a self-sustaining process of four relatively…
What Might Your Community Do to Emulate the Success of the American Composers Orchestra?
Davies himself suggested that the combination of able freelance players and an informed audience might exist in Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as New York, but probably in no other American locality. It would be hard to duplicate the combination of founding members Thorne’s, Davies’s and Dunkel’s unusual qualities all of which have contributed immeasurably to the ACO’s success. Nevertheless, the ACO’s success has demonstrated that new music can appeal to major financial supporters. And the ACO’s program of introducing about 16 new works a year could be duplicated by a standard orchestra with a 32-week season by introducing one new American work at every other concert cycle, or by offering a special short series of concerts devoted exclusively to a repertoire similar to that of the ACO. There are precedents for special donations for the introduction of new works in the orchestral community. An important series of recordings of new American music was issued by the Louisville Symphony some 40 years ago. Perhaps new donors can be found for such a series, or else present donors might be interested in increasing their gifts for special recognition in connection with such a series.
The ACO has fulfilled its mission in an exemplary way. Nevertheless, I would suggest a policy of supplementing rather than duplicating what the ACO has done. The ACO set out to increase the proportion of orchestral programming throughout the country devoted to contemporary American music. It has succeeded. But meanwhile, the overall interest in orchestral music has appeared to drop. For example, Michael Geller considered this to be a reason why NPR discontinued broadcasting ACO concerts. There seems to be a prevailing premise—fallacious in my opinion—that the fate of new music and that of orchestras as a whole are unrelated. According to that premise, the core audience for symphony orchestras must be sustained and enhanced by the classical repertoire alone, with new music integrated only at the periphery and directed primarily to audiences previously not in the symphonic orbit.
Unfortunately, as the repertoire ages, its impact on audiences gradually diminishes. In all the arts except concert music, audience growth is spearheaded by new works. Concert music, including orchestral music, needs to sustain itself also at least partly through the infusion of excitement and energy provided by new works. But these must be new works which stimulate and bring enrichment to symphonic music’s audience base. To alienate this base in the pursuit of ephemeral new audiences is ultimately counterproductive.
For a century, critics and academics increasingly have authenticated only music adhering to “modernist” premises. This included confrontation with the belief systems of the audience through some degree of subversion of the language of tonality as it developed through the 18th and 19th centuries. It will, therefore, be necessary for the orchestral community, if it values its long-term preservation, to seek, develop, and nurture its own cohort of composers able and willing to find a path for originality and spiritual depth within a musical language that symphony audiences understandandrespect.1 Somethingsimilarwasaccomplishedinthe1930s and 1940s through the efforts of orchestra leaders such as Koussevitzky and Stokowski whereby composers established through more modernist channels (e.g., Copland and Bartok) were persuaded to compose masterpieces in a more accessible language, while new composers with more traditional proclivities (e.g., Britten and Barber) were encouraged to emerge.
To develop a cohort of composers and a body of new works directed toward the renewal of audience interest in orchestral music would require participation of the orchestral community on a vast scale. Philosophic questions regarding what can or cannot be accepted as valid idioms of expression in this postmodern age would have to be reexamined. For the paradigm shift to be effective, the initiative must come from the orchestral community rather than the community of established composers. While this would differentiate such a campaign from the ACO’s in some respects, there are several points of ACO activity which should be emulated directly: its emphasis on openness to variety; its repeated demonstration that new works can draw audiences and funding; and, above all, its successful insistence on the highest performance standards in presenting new music.
The orchestral community—with its self-interest in mind, as well as interest in the survival and growth of the art of music—could provide a variety of new music programs building in part on the success of the ACO, and enlarging the mission to one which unfortunately has not been assigned to or attempted by new music for 100 years: enhancing and developing audiences for symphonic music itself. Impossible? No; possible, and furthermore, necessary.
1 For a discussion of one possible way to bring this about, see Fu-Yuan Soong’s essay, “Restoring the Ecosystem of American Classical Music through Audience Empowerment,” in Harmony Number 6, April 1998. Soong is actively engaged with the New York Chamber Symphony in a fledgling attempt to realize some of the aims he articulates.
well-attended concerts a year, discussions regarding possible changes are concentrated in two areas. First, the orchestra is trying to give more attention to outreach beyond the New York concert community. Second, the orchestra is seeking a new principal conductor in light of Davies’s retirement, to take effect in two years.
The first area involves recordings, broadcasts, and possible tours. None of these are totally new to the orchestra. It has issued 20 recordings on a variety of labels (CRI and ARGO having a plurality). Public radio used to broadcast its concerts regularly. And one tour, which included Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, nearly recouped all costs. For readers outside the New York area, these means of outreach would seem important. In each case, there seemed a consensus during my conversations that the ACO wished to proceed, but would need substantial fundraising specific to each of the projects (a higher priority for the use of general funds appeared to be a return to a five-concert season).
Concerning recordings there is talk of starting the ACO’s own label, in light of the fact that the existing catalogue includes several items which are out-of- print. There is also talk of upgrading the archival recordings made at concerts to commercial levels so that proceeding from concert to recording would not entail as much incremental cost and labor as at present. As to the broadcasts, this would also require considerable project-specific fundraising. NPR formerly paid to broadcast the ACO. That it does so no more was attributed to public radio’s own financial pressures, and a sense that in the total cultural scheme of things orchestral performance in general has lost ground.
Replacing Davies will be no easy matter. The ACO is down to a short list and is combining extensive interviews with close monitoring of present conducting activities by the candidates. Whether the orchestra can find someone with Davies’s interpretive skills, his technical mastery and score-reading ability, and his proclivities for thorough preparation, as well as his collegiality with the players, remains to be seen. These qualities are desirable in any conductor, but the ACO’s emphasis on difficult works in premiere performances makes them— especially those regarding score-reading and preparation—particularly necessary.
Meanwhile the ACO, which Davies calls a “cultural motor” roars on, turning out remarkable concerts which offer opportunity to some fortunate composers, novelty to audiences (according to Geller the demographics and taste of the ACO audiences closely resemble those of audiences for other, more conventionally programmed orchestras). Most of all, it provides the excitement of brilliant musicians performing a labor of love under a superb conductor whom they venerate (Davies will remain as conductor laureate). It has, for nearly 25 years, been one of New York’s most extraordinary cultural treasures.
Joel Mandelbaum is a professor of music emeritus at Queens College of the City University of New York. He holds an A.B. from Harvard University, an M.F.A. in composition from Brandeis University, and a Ph.D. from Indiana University.
Orchestras That Educate
Few readers of Harmony would disagree that in many American communities, music education in the school systems is, at best, inequitable. And that thought is the one with which this essay’s author, Mitchell Korn, begins. He soon suggests that orchestras can become important partners in building effective musical education initiatives.
No Single Right Answer
Korn defines what he considers to be the primary components of comprehensive arts education, and suggests that there is no single right answer to how to implement them. He offers the thought that programs must be tailored to different age groups, musical experiences, and locales. Observing that “programs that are instructionally imposed upon teachers typically fail,” he says that collaboration in the development of need-based programs is one key to success.
The essay then turns to ways in which orchestras can implement successful education programs, outlining ways in which staff, board, and orchestra members can work together to deliver effective programs. He concludes that “orchestras that educate” can make themselves indispensable to their communities.
Orchestras That Educate
Last year, while I was doing work for a major music organization, a middle-school student told me, “So I am supposed to think that seeing the pictures of dead white men means something? If anyone ever bothers to make it real, to let me try it, I might feel different, but all orchestras want to do is make me feel less by telling how great their art is and how bad mine is.” Most of the students in the room vigorously agreed and one added, “Yeah. It’s like going to an orchestra and them playing ‘Star Wars,’ and the lead guy, the conductor, dressed in some lame costume running round the stage like a cartoon, and we’re supposed to believe that when we grow up this is what we’re going to be. No way. It’s just no respect.”
Today, in numerous American communities and schools, music education and access to the arts is, without question, inequitable. Throughout our schools, there is ample opportunity for arts learning in one classroom, while across the hall there is none. Arts education from year to year in the sequence of a student’s education is, at best, uneven. From classroom to classroom, inequities are based upon a host of factors:
- the time dominance of state-mandated, high-stakes testing;
- the “content” comfort and knowledge of individual teachers;
- the support of the principal;
- district funding levels; and
- the presence or lack of full-time music specialists. While many Americans assume that arts education is actually part of every child’s development, most students have no exposure to music education.
Given this situation, many schools have turned to the only arts education programs available to them, those provided by community arts organizations, such as the local orchestra. This development, a process that began more than 30 years ago, represents an intelligent use of resources: orchestras need multiple ways to build relationships with audiences and the communities they serve, while schools increasingly recognize the value of music education and the availability of orchestra personnel to fill that need.
However, many orchestras are still rooted in an “exposure-enhancement” model of music education content and delivery that is more than 30 years old. This approach to orchestra education, developed in the late 1960s, and typified by the Bernstein Young People’s Concerts, is today still the programmatic norm. At the time of its development, these concerts perfectly fit a nation whose children all received music education. While these efforts still have great value to orchestras and their communities, this model was developed as a means of enhancing an existing classroom music curriculum. From instrument demonstrations and reading of composer biographies to discussions of form, these programs look first at young people as potential audiences, not as learners. The content and teaching approaches are typically rational and pedantic, disregarding the creative and participatory nature of the arts. Considering the unstable and inequitable environment for music education in schools today, neither exposure nor enhancement is enough.
Many orchestras are becoming increasingly aware of the lack of sound strategies for working in schools and communities, as well as the limits of their knowledge or capacity to effectively meet school and community needs. The laundry list of deficiencies among typical orchestra education programs includes:
- programs that have no relationship to authentic academic, community, and social needs;
- programs that lack sound pedagogic and developmentally appropriate learning approaches;
- programs without sufficient funding to assist school faculty in using the arts effectively in the curriculum; and
- programs that exhibit a general arrogance and insensitivity to students’ cultures and challenges.
If orchestras are to build truly meaningful and effective music education initiatives, they need to improve dramatically the methods and skills they employ in this work. There is a growing body of tested methods and strategies which an increasing number of orchestras are embracing to build effective programs for today’s children and schools.
No One “Right” Orchestra Education Program
Sophisticated orchestra educators currently promote a variety of programs, from community conservatories and culturally diverse partnerships to comprehensive curriculum integration programs and teacher-training initiatives. This diversity is well warranted when one considers the entirety of music and arts education.
Arts education is a discipline in which students acquire a broad range of skills which are not learned through “exposure” any more than math or science are. The skills are learned through teaching and experience, and good programs require teachers who are familiar not only with the subject matter, but also with the children’s developmental stages, and what concepts are best taught at what ages. Arts education is not only for gifted children any more than reading and history are; it is a central element of any well- rounded education.
At the same time, the teaching and assessment of arts education has traditionally been different from the teaching and assessment of the so-called “core” subjects—“testable” subjects, such as reading, mathematics, and history. An essential element of arts education is doing: singing, playing a musical instrument, dancing, or painting. What is more, in the arts there are often no “right” answers, so an important component of arts education is developing students’ capacities to perceive, understand, and make informed judgments.
For the purpose of this discussion, I would define three components of a comprehensive arts education.
- Skills-based instruction, in which specific artistic techniques are taught. These might include playing a musical instrument, drawing, or dancing.
- Aesthetic context instruction, in which the meaning of the arts is described in relation to culture. This includes study of the “great works” of diverse cultures.
- Integrated arts curricula, in which the arts are used to illuminate and illustrate concepts from other disciplines. The arts are used in an integrated fashion, as tools to explore other “non-arts” ideas. One small example is the profound relationship between music and mathematics, and the way that musical intervals illustrate the concept of fractions. When such concepts are applied in an artistic activity, they become for the learner relevant and understandable rather than dry and abstract.
Each of these three components is equally important; comprehensive arts teaching requires all of them. Teaching and learning in one area leads to increased demand for, and interest in, teaching and learning in the others. Comprehensive arts education, therefore, refers to this holistic, comprehensive, three-part concept that makes learning attractive and engaging for students.
Turning more specifically to “orchestra education,” programs should be suited to different age groups, musical experiences, and locales. To insist that orchestra education has only one definition or can encompass only one kind of program is ill-advised when one considers children’s needs, experiences, and different ways of learning. For example, family programs involving parents and grandparents provide wonderful opportunities for furthering relationship and community building through activities that include both adults and children. These programs exhibit an understanding of early childhood, and the fact that parents are more likely to be involved in the schooling of younger children.
The development of effective strategic plans for an orchestra’s education programs occurs when articulated community needs intersect with the actual artistic and personnel resources of the orchestra. Musicians and conductors are more valuable education assets when they speak to the repertoire that they respect and love. Successful programs acknowledge that informal presentations in classrooms and community settings require skills different from those used in teaching master classes or providing side-by-side mentorship.
Need-Based Programs: Education as Strategic Culture
A survey of orchestra education programs will typically reveal that many have developed over time, without strategic thought or planning. Program menus are crazy quilts of projects created from good ideas, senior staff suggestions, foundation gifts, or donors’ pet projects.
But orchestra education programs should be rooted in the genuine and articulated education and social needs of students, adult constituents, and the broader community. One should ask students, teachers, administrators, and parents what they want and need. By carefully examining children’s most important learning needs, and what schools, students, teachers, parents, administrators, and community leaders themselves identify as most important in improving their schools, we begin the process of authentic community building. Approaching orchestra education program development through the identification of school and student needs is the best means of creating a “strategic culture” for orchestra education.
Programs that are instructionally imposed upon teachers typically fail. However, working with classroom and arts-specialist teachers and seeking their direction and experience creates successful efforts. It may seem a cliché, but teachers’ ownership of and inclusion in instructionally based programs creates trust and community.
Today, educators frequently demand programs that meet their needs, and often voice complaint about education programs offered by arts organizations that do not include teachers in the planning process. Without involvement from area educators, programs cannot meet teachers’ needs, often resulting in ineffective, underutilized programs. As one parent said, “Presentations to thousands of kids don’t do much. The teachers can’t integrate these programs into their classes, so they are often not relevant to the classroom.”
Collaboration with teachers in the development of programs and materials results in programs that teachers can use to meet their own curricular requirements, and materials and activities which orchestras offer must be attentive to the pressures on classroom teachers to meet specific standards and curricular goals. Programs which feature integrated approaches to arts education, centered around building skills in core curricular areas as well as the music curriculum, will help teachers meet curriculum content standards. Without interdisciplinary approaches, programs are perceived as extraneous and will never achieve the sustainability of programs that are integrated into the regular classroom.
Successful initiatives also complement existing services and resources. This is especially important at a time when school systems, community organizations, and arts institutions are coping with overextended resources. This additive approach also recognizes the good works that teachers and artists accomplish and is dedicated to building upon their successes.
And one should remember that study of the arts can teach skills that employers need in such arts-related industries as media, advertising, fashion, and more. While these industries search for young talent with a combination of creative and technical abilities, successful partnerships can supply the experiences and skills to help students attain these opportunities.
Finally, a strategic culture for orchestra education should foster collaborative relationships among area schools, arts and community providers, foundations, and corporate philanthropies. Through partnerships and the creation of sustained relationships, children and schools are better served, and the community begins to value the orchestra as essential.
The Orchestra Educator: Sophisticated Professional
In both small and large symphonies, growing numbers of orchestra educators have developed into formidable professionals. These orchestra education directors provide institutional leadership within their organizations on an array of issues. Effective orchestra educators seem to embody certain consistent characteristics that are assets to an entire symphony orchestra organization.
The most compelling of these qualifications is the singular ability to effectively advocate internally for education and the building of relationships with new communities as a primary service of the institution. Busy and distracted orchestra leadership needs to be reminded constantly of the importance of education, and that message can only be consistently carried by the orchestra educator. Effective and passionate communication skills, combined with political and social savvy, are essential to success.
Knowledge of the symphonic repertoire, of education approaches, and of school and community issues are also requisite but not always found in the same package. Typically, orchestra educators come from careers as music teachers or musicians. Recently, orchestras have increasingly hired their educational leadership from business, public television, and other areas of organizational management. Graduate programs furthering the careers of accomplished professionals (such as the arts education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education) will add to the field professionals who have both content and management skills.
Successful orchestra education leaders are also extremely effective external advocates for music education. They find the means to support local music educators in practical and ongoing ways. There is an erroneous, yet long-held, belief that orchestra education programs substitute for and hasten the decline of music education (and, by extension, the employment of music teachers) in schools. For some, this notion is the cynical fruit of having witnessed the slashing of music programs, faculties, and budgets by bean-counting school administrators. Recently, there was even an attempt by a national organization of music educators to curtail or halt national funding of orchestra education programs. While this political effort ignored the history of effective working relationships between orchestras and music educators, it was a warning sign. Hence, it is no surprise that effective orchestra educators are directing their resources to aid and abet music educators, and are aggressively supporting increased budgets for supplies, facilities, and faculty for music education.
Sophisticated orchestra educators are politically able, having the experience to move complex agendas through committees and staff leadership. Effective education directors must sometimes take bold leadership action when it is necessary and “ask for forgiveness” later.
Successful orchestra education efforts also recognize the need for adequate staffing and expert consultation. Numerous education departments have been built in this manner, fully recognizing that education is an income and programming center requiring the same commitment to staffing and advice which development and artistic departments receive.
A Rightful Place in the Front Row
There is a plethora of orchestra behaviors indicative of the lowly priority education actually has in some orchestra organizations. Among these are:
- the inadequate rehearsals and back-ended schedules allotted for education services;
- the lack of preparation, interest, or qualifications of conductors or musicians assigned to or volunteering for education programs;
- the fundraising success of education programs being completely out of proportion to the money actually allocated to those programs; and
- the overall marginalizing of education leadership in relation to other orchestra management.
Yet there is a proven remedy.
Successful orchestra education programs are often managed by a director who is equal in staff position to any other orchestra department head. This senior management position gives the educational effort access to the institutional decision-making process. When the education director is present at meetings, and regularly speaks to the role of education in scheduling, budgeting, board involvement, fundraising, programming, and strategic planning, education begins to have its rightful place in an orchestra’s management process.
This front row seat is further assured by active internal education of staff and board. Some orchestra education departments have successfully created extensive “professional development” workshops that engage the orchestra organization in participatory and comprehensive music learning. Learners become enlightened supporters.
Education as an orchestra priority is also furthered by a board education committee that is equal in status and leadership to other board committees. This strategy assures a much higher level of knowledge of education by board leadership and members. Also, when these committees are encouraged to invite professionals and constituents from the broader community (teachers, community leaders, parents), the agenda of education becomes more community directed and powerful.
The rightful place of the education director in orchestra management is as an institutional conscience, creative programmer, and fundraising innovator. When an education director successfully fills these roles, education receives the institutional respect it deserves.
Primary Resources: Musicians and Conductors
For decades, many have viewed the symphonic repertoire as our most precious educational resource. But successful orchestra educators know that it is artists— musicians and conductors—who are the primary teaching and relationship- building resources of the symphony.
Effective orchestra education programs create a qualitative environment for conductors and musicians in which repertoire and ideas are valued. Musicians are students of preparedness. Yet for many orchestra education services, musicians are regularly underprepared and underrehearsed. Successful programs are committed to engaging conductors and musicians in a planning and listening process that includes teachers. This process also includes comprehensive preparation and musician training that emphasize the learning styles of audiences to be served, selection of important repertoire, presentation skills, and the means to create participatory learning.
Teachers and administrators frequently cite the need for orchestras to deliver more of their programs and musicians to classrooms. Educators recognize the benefits of interactive contact with professional artists. Teachers typically express an interest in programs that include deeper involvement with the musicians of the orchestra. As one teacher put it, “Symphony performances are good, but kids need someone coming in and working with them, offering a more hands-on approach that deals with kids in small groups and individually.” Parents also recognize the benefit of artists in the classroom. “My daughter’s classes are boring. They need an infusion of activities that are interesting. Arts in the classroom give our students a chance to move around, socialize, interact,” noted one parent.
While time and budget constraints are frequently cited as barriers to participation in programs involving travel to an orchestra’s hall, there are also perceived barriers in many communities which limit travel to the “downtown” symphony hall. Bringing artists to the classroom allows the orchestra to overcome these perceived barriers that prevent teachers and students from fully utilizing the services of the orchestra. Expanding and giving priority to programs that deliver artists to the schools not only serves the expressed need for artists in the classroom, but also is an essential element in addressing the needs of fractionalized communities. Delivering artists to schools and community settings builds bridges that will ultimately encourage people from these schools and communities to come to the orchestra, opening a two-way street of travel to and from the symphonic experience.
While many education programs are filled with a “dumbing down” of musical selections, from the traditional “kiddy pieces” to movie and cartoon music, successful education programs emphasize the authentic repertoire of the orchestra, and work creatively toward making the music accessible and real, rather than mistakenly creating programs of music that is already “popular” to young listeners.
The economics of orchestra education are much like those of any profession: free services are viewed as less valuable than paid ones. While there are a number of programs that utilize the generous volunteer labor of orchestra players, the increasing demands to professionalize orchestra education require professional pay. The American Federation of Musicians has established baseline fees for education services which serve as an excellent starting place to discuss with musicians fair pay for demanding work.
Finally, successful education programs have the authority to veto participation by musicians or conductors who are uncommitted to education and children. Certainly this is controversial, yet plainly it is necessary. Orchestras that use the education podium to fill out job descriptions, for conductor or musician, are met with lukewarm audiences and ultimately failing financial and community support. Ask anyone in education: children and teachers always know when the adult before them does not care.
Passionate and communicative musicians are orchestra education’s finest assets. Orchestra members have the singular ability to speak about the music, the instrumentation, and the ways in which the music connects to our lives. Successful education programs find many ways to showcase these human resources and to build programs around them.
Education as a Programming Center
A number of orchestras are exploring broader and more diverse programming, from open houses and new-music festivals to ethnic, rock, and jazz concerts. While some of this programming is driven by financial and facility needs, successful orchestra education departments are playing a major role in the planning and presentation of these events. The opportunity for the education department to play a significant role in programming is unprecedented. As orchestras broaden their artistic and cultural palettes, it is education that serves as a glue and connective pathway to all music and cultures.
Successful institutional programming emphasizes education because it is the best means of establishing a context for diverse music for all audiences, and for building sustainable relationships with historically underserved communities and neighborhoods. Rather than staging programs featuring “representative” cultures and music styles, and cynically “checking off” this social responsibility, effective education programs embrace programming that values all music.
Diversity and Partnership
Because of the pluralistic nature of our nation, and the multicultural populations within our schools and communities, educators throughout America express a need for experiences in many kinds of ethnic music. An emphasis on cultural equity will assure that art forms which are representative of the community are included in children’s arts education. Some orchestras are successfully educating their communities in culturally pluralistic music. Programming for audiences in our schools and communities requires that orchestras develop partnerships with a broad spectrum of artists and organizations, and requires the same qualitative criteria as symphonic or chamber work. Ethnomusicological expertise is important, and the inclusion of ethnographic approaches is consistently successful.
Partnerships can bring together schools, cultural, and community organizations, and individual artists, and can provide a framework in which all of these constituents can work together to provide comprehensive services to learners. Partnerships bring together needs and resources, and form strong organizations that give ownership of programs to the entire community. Partnerships help provide equitable distribution of resources, attract sustained funding, and can be maintained over many years. The sharing of artistic visions among partners stimulates artistic excellence. By joining forces and combining strengths, the organizations in a partnership can create a “whole” that is capable of achieving far more than any one of its components.
Partnerships are also about increasing the value of the resources an orchestra provides to a school or community. Partnerships recognize that no one artist, ensemble, or organization alone can serve a school and its students, teachers, and parents. Partnerships of organizations with similar missions, culturally diverse and supported by musicians, composers, and conductors, can make significant differences for schools.
Orchestra Education, Philanthropy, and Accountability
Leading orchestra education initiatives often drive fundraising campaigns and the development of sustained relationships with philanthropies. This fact alone should empower education and education directors at orchestras. Those institutional efforts that embrace education as a primary income and programming center give education due respect. But there still are too many orchestras that use education as a “cash cow” and public relations instrument, while internally marginalizing educational commitment and mission. This is a real ethical dilemma that should not be ignored.
Orchestras that educate are finding the means to create sustainable efforts— a quality embraced by many philanthropic interests. And why not? If you were to invest in a service to your community, you would be much more inclined to devote your dollars to a service that would last.
There is a history in America of short-lived arts education programs. Changes in institutional leadership, organizational commitments, and funding priorities often lead to their abandonment. Orchestra education efforts should use some of the following strategies to garner long-term program support.
- K-12 programming ensures continuous learning for all students every year. While programs may initially be introduced in a limited number of schools and grades, K-12 programming can be achieved by adding additional schools and grades each year. This sequential approach allows for the isolation of program variables in such a way that problems can be identified and solved early.
- Adult learning, both for teachers and parents, provides a means of program continuity. Such efforts lead to increased support for and reinforcement of students’ arts interests both in school and at home. They also build a powerful constituency for enlightened arts-education policy.
- Effective and objective program assessment is a most compelling form of advocacy. The wide distribution of assessment information can lead to sustained funding.
- Sustained funding creates the financial stability for programs to grow. Sustained funds also encourage thorough planning and enable programs to become a natural element of daily classroom life.
An orchestra’s need to be accountable to constituents is another tremendously powerful encouragement to fund education initiatives. When service providers, teachers, principals, funders, and others are all mutually responsible through contracts, assessment, and evaluation, accountability furthers and sustains these relationships. The fact that the committed, expert staffs of these education initiatives are able to work with diverse populations; complicated educational, institutional, and economic agendas; and complex artistic, school, and instructional issues is testimony to their skills.
Successful orchestra education initiatives have been uniquely capable of generating multiple-year support from single funders. This rare occurrence is not so rare in arts education. Philanthropies are motivated to fund educational initiatives that are strategically planned; involve authentic partnerships; implement serious external assessment procedures; are planned directly with educators and directed at mandated curricula; present the arts in authentic cultural and discipline diversity; engage in sustainable capacity building, including teacher and musician training; and emerge from orchestras that clearly set a priority for arts education as a primary institutional service.
Orchestras That Educate
Orchestras that educate have in common certain qualitative and strategic approaches. Artists are primary teaching and relationship-building resources.
Programs contain meaningful learning opportunities for families, and build capacity in four critical areas: professional development of teachers and administrators, artist training, curriculum development, and assessment. These orchestras also see teachers as primary instructional leaders; seek articulated student need as a guiding force; provide diversity in arts education; include educators in the design and development of programs; work with instructional goals and curriculum mandates; promote meaningful, skills-based learning; and demonstrate genuine accountability among orchestra, schools, and partners.
There is no single program that identifies the orchestra that educates, nor is there a single successful leader or service. Yet, successful programs create a strategic culture in which education is both a programming and fundraising center. Because no one orchestra can comprehensively serve its community alone, orchestras that educate seek meaningful partnerships to enhance artistic offerings with discipline and culturally diverse arts.
Orchestras that educate are “causing” arts education to sprout and grow, finding ways to create more equitable access to learning about and through music and the arts.
Many individual Americans would say that their communities’ orchestras are dispensable. But when orchestras begin to provide services that change and improve schools, and to build relationships with historically uninvolved constituencies, they become indispensable. These are the orchestras that educate.
Mitchell Korn is founder and president of Artsvision, and an arts education lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Bard College (New York), and a master’s degree in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Readers may learn more about Artsvision by visiting the Web site at <www.arts vision.com>, or by sending e-mail to Mr. Korn at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.