Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
Institute Activities During 1998
Players Representing and Leading Players: A Roundtable Discussion
The Jurassic Symphony: Part Two by Robert S. Spich and Robert M. Sylvester
Orchestras in a Complex World by Bernard H. Kerres
Just a Dream? by Paul R. Judy
About the Cover…
Book Review by Emily Melton
Symphony orchestra organization complexity has many dimensions. As an example, let’s look at the different ways in which board, staff, and orchestra constituencies respond to formal and informal leadership.
The general leadership patterns of the boards and staffs of most North American orchestral organizations are quite hierarchical, and follow those of most public for-profit corporations. This is quite normal, given the historic development of the American symphony organization, coupled with its usual legal status as a corporation, albeit nonprofit. Typically, orchestral boards elect a chairperson and, usually with his or her consent, a small group of colleagues as officers or an executive committee. The board then delegates to this core group substantial authority to “run things” or, in the case of larger organizations, to coordinate, move forward, approve, and integrate the recommendations of a large group of specialized board committees, reporting to the full board from time to time—for implicit or explicit ratification—all the actions which have been or are being taken. Most orchestra staffs are organized and integrated in parallel with board committee specializations. After brief discussion, everyone is quite comfortable in following the lead of the executive director, the board chair, or the whole board, and marching forward in concerted action.
Orchestras, on the other hand, are larger and flatter organizational components, and their inner dynamics are quite different from those of boards and staffs, for many reasons. As an organizational form, the orchestra goes back to the late 16th century, and has evolved and expanded as a collective of individual craftsmen since those early days. In America, proactive unionization, emerging in full flower in the 1960s, in particular response to various forms of highhandedness within symphony organizations and the musicians’ own union, enhanced the natural egalitarianism and separation of the players within the overall orchestral organization. Also, in most orchestras, although to differing degrees, players have nonorchestral work which gives them, at a minimum, an intellectual independence from their principal workplace. And, finally, each player’s sense of individual participation and equality within a large, bonded ensemble is reinforced each time he or she joins other players in a relatively small, flat stage area to engage in an intense and unified effort in which, however, many individual parts stand out.
As a result, members of orchestras have an almost innate resistance to being commanded or governed. They certainly can’t be managed. As a body, they often act very ponderously. On balance, orchestras are filled with highly intelligent people who are quite able to respond sensibly and constructively to factual information, opinion, and belief, if information is presented consistently over time in a open and comprehensive way. Most players believe in democratic processes and have the ultimate respect for minority views, which sometimes draws them into dead-end courses of action. But, for the most part, orchestra musicians can and do respond to enlightened orchestra committee or personal leadership, and it is our observation that such leadership is increasingly emerging among North American orchestras.
In light of this observation, we thought it timely to gather the views of a small group of players who are current or former orchestra committee chairpersons, and who are acknowledged leaders within their orchestras. As in the case of other roundtable presentations, we asked these participants to address a varied set of questions and speak frankly about the particular challenges of informal and formal leadership within a symphony orchestra, and about representing the orchestra within the overall institution. Special thanks to Bill Foster, Paul Ganson, Sara Harmelink, Michael Namer, Norbert Nielubowski, and Ron Schneider for their candid discussion which opens the main content of this issue.
Throughout the world of organizations, and among academicians who study them, there are many schools of thought about “strategic development,” including debates as to the degree and extent of “choice” which organizations in fact have in controlling their destinies. “The Jurassic Symphony,” authored by professors Robert Spich and Robert Sylvester and published in the sixth issue of Harmony, laid out some interesting theory about the possible destiny of the symphony orchestra institution, as seen from an organization ecological perspective. In the sequel to the earlier essay, professors Spich and Sylvester now address the generic developmental choices which they believe symphony organizations might have, along with some challenging questions about innovations which might be considered. We think you will find this essay to be thought provoking and presented in an entertaining style.
In the next essay, Bernhard Kerres, who is based in Munich, Germany, brings to our attention the application of “system dynamics” as a technique to better understand the interaction among various operational components of a symphony organization, within the organization and in interaction with its external environment. This approach, as adapted to the conditions within and surrounding a particular symphony organization, may have real usefulness in bringing board, staff, and orchestra members to a more cohesive appreciation of the complexity of their institution and its key operations, their systematic relationships, and all the strategic implications.
A founding objective of Harmony was to publish historic, overlooked, and perhaps underread writings about the dynamics and challenges of North American symphony organizations, particularly when the clarion for positive change was sounded. Our final essay is a further step toward that objective. Students and supporters of transformational change in North American symphony
organizations will find many of this essay’s quotations to be as fresh and applicable today as when they were written. Although there is some evidence of change taking place in a few organizations, readings of this nature remind us that the time has come for more deeply substantive, accelerated, and broadly based change.
And, elsewhere in this issue, we
• review the activities of the Institute during 1998 on page vii;
• welcome Emily Melton as program director of the Institute on page ix, and bring to your attention, beginning on page 89, her review of an excellent, fairly recent, and very readable book on leadership, which we can commend to all participants in symphony organizations;
• list on page x and thank the 86 symphony organizations which have already provided 1999 support of the Institute’s aims and objectives;
• challenge our readers, first, to identify the music on the front cover. Hint: this fragment comes from the score of a famous overture. Have it? Well and good! But, now, for what major musical event of particular significance in American orchestral history was this overture played as the opening piece? See page 87 to verify or discover the answer, courtesy of Phillip Huscher;
• remind our readers that we maintain an extensive bibliography of literature and research about symphony organizations, and index of all articles which have appeared in Harmony, as well as the primary content of Harmony on a year’s delay basis, at our Web site, www.soi.org. Please visit us there from time to time.
As always, good reading!
Institute Activities During 1998
The year just completed was one of solid advancement toward the objectives and aims of the Institute. During the year, we printed and distributed more than 15,000 copies of Harmony reaching primarily board, staff, and orchestra members in nearly 225 orchestra organizations, particularly targeting those persons occupying leadership roles. The contents of the sixth and seventh issues of Harmony included eight significant independent essays and reports, two book reviews, and a special set of reports and essays on the topic of women in leadership roles in symphony organizations.
During the year, academicians sponsored by the Institute completed organizational studies at two symphony institutions, adding to the Institute’s fund of knowledge about symphony organizations and how they operate. Early in 1998, the Institute commenced an organization improvement program, working through process consultation with the constituencies of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, and guided by the Institute’s statement of beliefs and principles for such consultations as published in the sixth issue of Harmony. We anticipate that such efforts will advance the organizational health of the institutions served, as well as contribute to the development of a methodology for organizational improvement from which other symphony institutions and consultants may draw.
Progress was slow during 1998 on the two research programs the Institute is pursuing. In the Conductor Evaluation Data Analysis Project (CEDAP), efforts are still underway to develop distinct, useful, and reliable factual data about orchestras and conductors for the ten-year period under study. As to the project of Dr. John Breda, dealing with the comparative distress of orchestral musicians and related conditions, an analysis of the data collected by Dr. Breda is continuing and hopefully findings will be determined in 1999.
In the Fall 1998 issue of Harmony, we acknowledged almost 300 persons who in some way have helped the Institute become a catalyst for positive change in North American symphony organizations. This list included the executive directors of 103 organizations whom we thanked on behalf of their organizations and who helped the Institute exceed its goal of 100 supporting organizations for the year.
The list also included 16 active participants or close observers of symphony organizations who agreed to serve on the Institute’s Board of Advisors for one- year terms beginning in mid-1998, including 12 who had not previously been affiliated with the Institute’s efforts. We are grateful for their support, and we value the advice of this special group of Institute enthusiasts.
Lastly, as of the end of 1998, we can identify at least eight prominent symphony organizations in which there have occurred, or are occurring, distinct, significant departures from traditional or past behavioral and decision-making practices, working toward improved organizational health and greater effectiveness. In many cases, these steps are modest, but they are in the right direction, and they appear to be giving those involved the courage to move forward and take much bigger steps. These changes are of course within the goals of the Institute, and thus we feel 1998 was a year of special progress and promise.
Players Representing and Leading Players: A Roundtable Discussion
In several issues of Harmony, we have used the roundtable format to tell the story of some aspect of symphony orchestra organization life. Reader response has been positive; we seem to learn from real-life stories. In this issue, we explore the roles that orchestra members play in representing and leading their fellow musicians. Our conversation was with players who currently serve, or have served, as members and chairs of their orchestra committees.
What Orchestra Members Expect
The conversation began with a discussion of the expectations that orchestra members have of their orchestra committees, and ways in which orchestras select committee members. Some interesting observations came forth about the evolution of musician involvement over the past 30 years, as did some startling information about the extensive time commitments that orchestra committee members and chairs make.
The Importance of Communication
A major portion of the conversation revolved around the many aspects of communication. Our roundtable participants shared ideas about communicat- ing with the orchestra as a whole, as well as communicating with other constituencies within the orchestra organization. They then turned their attention to the concept of individual leadership, and discussed the ways in which they have changed after assuming leadership positions.
As readers are aware, the Institute champions greater musician involvement within symphony orchestra organizations. We think you will agree that our six roundtable participants are, indeed, involved.
Players Representing and Leading Players: A Roundtable Discussion
Over the past four years, the Institute has explored many aspects of organizational effectiveness within symphony orchestra organizations, always with an eye to improving the effectiveness of all symphony
organizations. One method we have used is to bring together symphony organization participants for roundtable discussions on topics of mutual interest. We have conversed with members of individual orchestral families that have achieved breakthrough moments, and we have explored the leadership that women provide to symphony organizations. In this issue—again using the roundtable format—we explore the work of players representing and leading other players.
We invited six musicians with experience as members and chairs of their orchestra committees to participate. Each completed a written questionnaire to provide background information and initial thoughts about our chosen topic. Following receipt and circulation of the questionnaires, Institute founder and chairman Paul Judy, board member Fred Zenone, and Harmony editor Marilyn Scholl held conference calls with the participants. The report that follows presents an edited transcript of our conversations.
Institute: Let’s begin with introductions.
William Foster: I am assistant principal violist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. I have served on the orchestra committee off and on since 1970, with several terms as chair, including the last four years. I have also served on artistic advisory committees, music director and executive director search committees, and on long-range planning committees of the board.
Paul Ganson: I am the assistant principal bassoonist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and have been for 30 years. I have chaired the negotiating committee at least a half-dozen times, and have served on many other committees, including artistic advisory, marketing, and board-musician long-range planning.
Sara Harmelink: I am a violist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I have been a member of the orchestra committee for the last seven years, and have served as chair for four of the last five years. I was previously also a member and chair of the artistic advisory committee. I am also a musician member of the board, and have served on many board committees during the past six years, including the executive, finance, long-range planning, and endowment committees.
Michael Namer: I am second bassoon with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada, and have served as chair of the orchestra committee for the past 11 years.
Norbert Nielubowski: This may sound a little redundant, but I also play bassoon. I am a member of the Minnesota Orchestra, and have twice served on the orchestra committee, from 1989 to 1991, and again since 1995. I am currently chairing the orchestra committee.
Ron Schneider: I play third horn with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and have chaired the audition committee and the players’ committee. I currently serve as chair of the players’ committee.
Institute: Let’s begin our conversation with a discussion of orchestra committees themselves. We would ask each of you to comment on just what it is that your fellow orchestra members expect of this elected group of colleagues?
Namer: Most players expect members of the orchestra committee to make themselves available to deal with personal perspectives regarding issues in the workplace. This may involve both issues directly related to specific working conditions, or personal problems concerning an individual musician’s relationship with the organization. Most players expect members of the orchestra committee to be advocates for their personal points of view.
Foster: Our musicians generally want to elect people who are willing to represent the orchestra as a whole and who will see to it that decision makers within the organization hear and understand the musicians’ views. They want representatives who can have an impact on decisions, either by appropriate understanding and application of the contract or by effective advocacy. And I think what Michael said about availability is very important. It’s something I worry about because I sometimes sense that orchestra members are reluctant to approach me because they think they are bothering me. And I certainly don’t feel abused!
Schneider: That’s interesting, Bill. I think my family would have the exact opposite complaint based on the number of phone calls I receive.
Ganson: Availability is an aspect of serving on a committee with a group as large as an orchestra. At any moment, there are people who need someone available because they do have a pressing problem. When you are the chair of a committee, or a member of a committee, or a union steward, you are one of the first people to whom other musicians turn. One’s private life can, indeed, become lost.
Harmelink: In Milwaukee, we are looking for musicians who are willing to put forth the time and effort necessary. We want people who are capable of handling the stress of the position and who are able to resolve conflict effectively. We also want people who are responsive to the needs of the musicians as a whole and not just interested in pushing their own personal agendas.
Schneider: In Pittsburgh, the tradition had been to elect “anybody available” for non-negotiating years and to save our experienced people for contract years, but that no longer seems to be true. One reason for this change is a modification in our bylaws which increased an orchestra committee member’s term from one year to two. What you hope for is a committee that is a reflection of the orchestra and represents a range of viewpoints.
Institute: So now that we have some idea of what your musicians expect of their orchestra committee members, let’s turn our attention to how you interest people to serve on orchestra committees. Are you overrun with volunteers, or do you need to do some serious recruiting?
Schneider: Now that we have two-year, staggered terms, it is not as hard to find people to run as it was when we elected all seven members every year. We do identify people we think would do a good job and encourage them to run. I think it is important to encourage participation.
Foster: There have been many years when there has been no election because there have been only as many nominees as vacancies. As often as not, those nominees have been selected through other orchestra committee members urging a musician to accept nomination.
Harmelink: We have to do a lot of recruitment, too, behind the scenes. We announce when there are openings, and if we see that people are not signing up, we might twist a few arms. And what is most interesting to me is that somehow just being approached by a committee member instigates a lot of soul searching, and the people who then decide to run have more confidence about what they are doing.
Namer: I think this is a problem in most orchestras. It is often difficult to fill the roster with nominations. After nominations and elections, we have often had to fill the fifth position through appointment by the orchestra committee, subject to ratification by the orchestra. But I suppose I must remember that we are a small orchestra, with 46 players, and that a 5-member committee is a fairly large percentage.
Nielubowski: It is interesting for me to go back into history and think about how 30 years ago, musicians were clamoring to get any sort of representation. Now, as conditions have improved, it is very easy to take things for granted. I think current committee members need to help people realize that it is very important to have a committee and to serve on a committee. This is not something that came easily.
Ganson: Norbert, I would call what you just described the “first generation” of musician involvement. Representation of musicians by their committees has been, and still is, a means of accomplishing orchestra recognition, as distinct from union recognition. I think this first generation of involvement has really been reactive representation rather than something we would have chosen to do. We would choose to avoid it. We would choose to play great concerts with our only problems being those of creating the concerts themselves. And that’s why it is difficult to get people interested and involved.
Institute: Stop right there, Paul. Are you suggesting that we are moving toward a second generation of musician involvement that will have a different philosophy?
Ganson: I think a second generation might include more active involvement in exercising choice. The precursors for a second generation of musician involvement are conductor evaluation and selection, service on committees of the board, and, in some instances, service on the board of directors and the executive committee. We should actively pursue these developments in musician involvement because there are active, creative things we can do. The first step is to inform as fully as possible those who might become more involved so that they can make informed decisions.
Harmelink: Paul, let me see if I have straight what you are saying. You said that in the first generation, musicians did not want to be involved, and that the second generation is about having choice, if that implies that musicians will be heard by our boards and management and that serious consideration will be given to our input. In the first generation, are you assuming that musicians did not want to be involved, or rather that they were trying to avoid any kind of agreement with management and the board? What did you mean by avoiding commitment?
Ganson: I meant having to deal with issues they would rather avoid. The idea that the orchestra committee was perceived as the grievance committee.
Foster: I think what Paul is talking about when he says second generation revolves around an awareness that you don’t have any contractual power to effect what you are trying to effect. But if you have good arguments well expressed, and a good sense of timing, you can be effective in those areas.
Schneider: It’s also possible that what is causing change is not just us, but circumstances, as orchestras are having trouble meeting their goals. The organization needs musicians in order to be successful, and I think musicians are beginning to see that we need successful organizations in order for us to be successful. The problem of apathy is one we face everywhere in our society— from government to the PTA. Also, people usually don’t feel a pressing need to be involved when everything seems OK. That’s the problem we are facing.
Harmelink: I don’t know if I entirely agree with that. Because Milwaukee Orchestra members actually hold seats on the board of directors, and on board committees, we attend meetings where we get to know the board members and members of management individually and see how they work together. My observation is that our input is welcome, and although we have to do some recruiting, we are really not apathetic.
Schneider: We, too, have a great deal of contact with our board members. By exchanging e-mail addresses, we have opened up channels of communication among musicians, board members, and management that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Maybe our authority isn’t very different, but our communication certainly is.
Nielubowski: In Minnesota, we’ve just completed a contract for which we used an interest-based bargaining process, and one real difference was having access to the board. I must admit there was some resistance to this idea, probably because some people feel they have been burned in the past. It is difficult to bring an orchestra to this new way of thinking.
Institute: This is a very interesting conversation, and we would observe that the six of you are anything but complacent. You are all volunteers, and you apparently spend a good deal of time working on orchestra committee business. Just how much time are we talking about? And if you are the committee chair, does that increase the time commitment?
Foster: I would figure for a committee member it is probably an hour to an hour and a half per week, which would work out to 50 to 75 hours a year. For the committee chair, I would estimate that it is three to four times as much.
Harmelink: That’s very hard to estimate because it depends on the year and the issues. I would say that in a non-negotiating year, committee members put in around 75 hours per year, with the committee chair logging 25 to 30 percent above that. In negotiating years, it is five times that amount! And, of course, these estimates do not include our meetings with board committees.
Ganson: I think we spend more time than that. I would guess that it is two to three hours a week for committee members, and five to ten hours a week for the chair.
Schneider: I agree that the time involved is hard to estimate. A ball park figure would be five hours a week for the thirty weeks a year we are not touring or on vacation. That would be about 150 hours. We have more meetings now because of the Hoshin process our orchestra has been using.
Namer: I’ve never tried to estimate the time before. I would think it would be about 100 hours a year for committee members, with a multiple of three for the chair. And, of course, those figures are multiplied in a negotiation year. Our orchestra committee is also the negotiation committee.
Nielubowski: For us, I think it would be about an hour a week, with the committee chair averaging four to five times that much.
Ganson: I have a question for those of you who have musicians serving on your boards of directors or board committees. Are meetings of those groups scheduled during services of the orchestra?
Harmelink: I can tell you our experience. Up until this year, we had no problem with board meetings being scheduled in conflict with orchestra services. It started to become a conflict this year, and we just mentioned that fact to our executive director. They’re going to be more watchful in their scheduling so we can always attend.
Namer: Sara, you have given me the opportunity to add something that is on my mind. I think it is vitally important that musicians support the establishment of efficient structures within their organizations that facilitate meaningful communication between musicians and management, and between musicians and the board. Many organizations have opted to have musician representatives on management and board committees. If these are decision-making bodies, musician participation can be constructive so long as musicians have real power on the committees and are prepared to accept the burden of responsibility that goes with decision making.
Institute: Let’s turn our attention to how you view your committees’ work in the overall governing of your orchestras. And we would include in that asking you to tell us how the committee communicates with the orchestra as a whole.
Foster: I feel really strongly that the word governing does not apply. I think representing and leading are what we are talking about.
Schneider: I agree with Bill. We are talking about representing and leading. But the word governing just doesn’t fit in what we do. We have limited authority, and it seems to work just fine that way.
Namer: To me the word governing has a connotation of ruling or dictating, and I would certainly reject that idea. Our role is definitely to represent the views of others and to be advocates for the rights and needs of others. At the same time, we provide a certain amount of needed organization, too.
Nielubowski: I’m really glad you asked about communicating with the orchestra, because I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. I’m trying to find better mechanisms for communicating information to the orchestra because we have a lot of members who don’t want to have too many meetings. I’ve about decided that when an organization is having problems, that tends to galvanize the orchestra and bring it together. When things are fairly calm, it is very easy for apathy to creep in.
Harmelink: In Milwaukee, we have an internal newsletter, and publication of each issue seems to stir things up a bit.
Schneider: How often do you publish? Harmelink: Twice a year, around January and July. Schneider: Is that an orchestra committee function?
Harmelink: We oversee it, but the editor is not on the orchestra committee. Because our musicians have a lot of involvement on the board of the organization, and on separate board committees, we include in the newsletter reports from the musicians serving on these committees. We also include general reports to let the musicians know what is going on and to encourage them to talk with us personally. Let me add that as a committee member, I expect to communicate well within the committee and to lead the orchestra musicians to a clear understanding of the issues we face. We accomplish this by a lot of listening. I have a great interest in communication and tearing down walls that have been built by distrust, and I do not believe in conspiracy theories. On the other hand, when there is conflict, the issues must be stated clearly and openly. We should not avoid conflict, but should work through it in open discussion.
Schneider: We just settled a five-year contract in Pittsburgh, and one of the things we are concerned about is how do we keep the orchestra from becoming complacent for the next five years? One communications technique we’ve used— and I have to give Bill Foster credit for suggesting the idea—is to have focus groups. We broke the orchestra down into groups of 15 to 20 to discuss various issues. In the smaller group, you can actually ask an individual who has not said anything, “How do you feel about this?” People expressed themselves, and in the end, all sides felt they understood the others better.
Namer: In the National Arts Centre Orchestra, we have distinctions as to types of meetings. We have business meetings when a vote is required, and advance notice is given of the subject matter. For these meetings, we get good attendance. Then there are information meetings, and for these, attendance is not as good.
We have also used focus groups over the lunch break, and that has proven very useful. And we do try to keep informal track of those who have been unable to attend meetings. We approach these people casually and say that we realize that they were unable to come to the meeting, but thought they might be interested in knowing what had transpired. They seem to appreciate that.
Harmelink: One other thing we do happens during negotiation years. Every negotiation year, each member of our committee interviews perhaps 18 individual musicians. We then write up the interviews, and each member of the committee reads all of the write-ups before the negotiations begin. We feel as though we really have heard from everyone because not everyone will speak out at a meeting.
Institute: You all seemed to agree that the word “represent” was better than the word “govern.” How much authority does the orchestra committee have to represent the orchestra?
Foster: My view is that the orchestra committee has no authority to make substantive decisions that have not been approved by the orchestra. However, the committee ideally represents the musicians’ views well enough that they can come to agreements with management, with the intention of going to the orchestra with a strong recommendation and confidence that the recommendation will be ratified. Every time the committee brings such an issue, it is like a “vote of confidence” in the representation and judgment of the committee. In a healthy organization, one in which musicians and management trust each other and are not afraid of looking at issues creatively and flexibly, this can occur quite frequently.
Schneider: In my view, it is important for the committee to keep the orchestra informed, although this is very time consuming. Our bylaws also give the orchestra the right to appoint subcommittees. One of my responsibilities is to fill slots on board committees, or to respond to requests from staff departments that want orchestra representation for particular projects.
Nielubowski: We tend to err on the side of asking for orchestra approval rather than making assumptions. This often gives us an opportunity to get additional points of view, and also to be sure we are on track with our assessments.
Harmelink: We have elections for our representatives on board committees. And we make sure that everyone is aware that there are openings. We also advise management on the musicians’ position on certain issues. If we are unsure where the musicians stand, we call an orchestra meeting. Quite often, after members have the opportunity to express their ideas, the orchestra passes a motion giving the committee the authority to negotiate using our best judgment.
Ganson: I agree that it important to involve the orchestra early when a new idea is being discussed. You need to inform them early because you want them to be more involved, to be part of implementing a new idea.
Harmelink: Paul, that relates to good communication. Communicating with your orchestra on a regular basis enables you to lead through consensus building rather than saying, “We know the right way, so just listen to us and follow us.” That’s not going to work. We need to take information back to the orchestra and find out what they really think. We need to find the common ground.
Institute: We’ve talked a good deal about orchestra committee leadership. Now we want to spend some time considering individual leadership, and would ask you to describe for our readers what you see as the role of the orchestra committee chair.
Namer: The orchestra committee chair serves as a liaison between representatives of management and members of the orchestra committee, and also serves as a liaison between the orchestra committee and the Local for business that relates to contract administration. The chair presides over meetings of both the orchestra committee and the orchestra, and has the responsibility to provide as much information as possible, and to facilitate discussion and decision making. When presenting recommendations of the orchestra committee to the orchestra, it is the chair’s responsibility to ensure that there is ample opportunity for discussion and open debate of the issues.
Foster: The orchestra committee chair is responsible for seeing to it that the musicians’ agenda is addressed. This requires a level of consciousness of the orchestra’s affairs that constantly organizes, sets priorities, and acts on issues that are raised.
Nielubowski: I would add that the orchestra committee chair can have a large impact on the quality of communication with management. I think the chair can set an agenda for areas that the orchestra would like to improve, and can try to involve other members of the orchestra committee and the orchestra in the process.
Harmelink: I agree that the orchestra committee chair plays a large role as a communicator, and to that I would add as a facilitator.
Institute: Are there attributes or special qualifications that you believe a person elected to this role should have?
Foster: First of all, the orchestra committee chair must be willing to devote an enormous amount of time to the position, as we discussed earlier in this conversation. The chair should have good judgment, should be a good listener, and should be articulate. He or she should be able to understand, and even argue, different points of view, and be able to effectively represent a point of view different from his or her own. I would add to the list a good sense of timing. By that I mean that the chair needs to know how to deal with individual issues. Sometimes it is too early, and an issue needs to be held on the agenda for a more appropriate time. Sometimes it is too late for meaningful input. The chair
should also have a good idea of what the appropriate forum is for addressing an issue. Does the whole committee need to meet with management? Would a smaller group be more effective? Is one-on-one discussion needed? And finally, an orchestra committee chair should be able to handle confrontation. Even in the most harmonious musician-management relationships, there will be times when there are strong differences. The chair has to be viewed by both management and colleagues as having a constitution that can hold up under difficult circumstances.
Namer: Bill, I’m not sure I can add to that! But I might express it that the chair needs to be capable not only of organized thought but organized emotion as well. As you implied, individual and group interactions can be volatile. Rational and intuitive thought, balanced with measured and intuitive emotional response, are necessary to meet many challenges of the workplace. The greatest tests for any committee chair are to always deal with issues on their merits, to avoid personal agendas, to control one’s ego in the attempt to get to the essence of a problem, and to find solutions that will bind people together, rather than divide.
Schneider: Well said! But there is one concept that I would add, and that is consensus building. Good orchestra committee chairs are able to share their “vision” or ideas in a way that gets others to participate. A great idea isn’t worth much if no one will go along with it.
Institute: In the questionnaires you filled out to prepare for this conversation, you each indicated that your orchestra committees elect their own chairs. That led us to wonder how your committees maintain continuity? Do your bylaws provide for some type of succession to the position of committee chair?
Namer: As I mentioned earlier, I have chaired the National Arts Centre committee for a long time, and succession is something I have thought a lot about. When it was time for our last elections, I spoke with an individual who I felt would be a very good committee member, and someone who could potentially take over as chair. I encouraged this person to come on the committee, and have been passing on my experience and knowledge. I was candid that I would not be continuing on the committee, and that we needed a good person to succeed.
Nielubowski: I would agree that grooming people is very important. That didn’t happen when I went on the committee. I found myself going to people who had served on the committee in the past to learn the history and past practices.
Schneider: Our two-year terms were designed to provide continuity to the committee. Five members of our current seven-person committee have led the group at some point, so there seems to be an unspoken rotation of the leadership position.
Namer: There is no question that continuity and consistency can benefit an organization, particularly if the person enjoys a broadly based confidence. When one deals with the same people over a period of years, there can be mutual respect and confidence, even when you are going at it hammer and tongs.
Nielubowski: I’m glad you said that, Michael, because I’ve been thinking about the fact that people in management must get frustrated sometimes. They start developing a sense of rapport with the committee and the chair, and the next year it’s new people and starting all over again.
Harmelink: Conversely, if the committee has been stable, it has the same problem with turnover in management, especially if it is the executive director or general manager position.
Ganson: I would just add that the more informed, involved, and interested the orchestra, the less critical is the issue of succession. At the end of the day, the most meaningful continuity resides in the orchestra as a whole.
Institute: What we have been talking about in this conversation is leadership, and you have all acknowledged that you are leaders within your own orchestras. Does being a leader influence your behavior around the orchestra or with individual colleagues?
Schneider: I have a great deal of respect for the “office” of the chair and would prefer to answer the question in that context. There is no doubt that I am invited to participate in certain activities because I chair the committee, and I try to represent the best interests of the orchestra. And I know serving as chair has increased my diplomatic skills. There is probably always a percentage of orchestra members who want to discredit any leader, particularly a leader perceived as successful. Dealing with rumor and innuendo seems to be a part of the job. I try to keep a low public profile, as I do not see myself—nor do I want to be seen— as what in Yiddish we would call a “macher”—a big shot.
Ganson: I agree that the first thing to avoid is pride or a feeling of having been anointed. One must be careful not to jump in to “lead” a situation when the opportunity exists simply because one’s colleagues are uninformed, confused, or discouraged, and are willing to let someone—anyone—attempt to show them a way out. The best leaders are those who can follow the lead of a well-informed orchestra.
Schneider: When I first went on the committee, I did not want a public role at all. I did not want to speak to the orchestra because I wasn’t comfortable with that idea. I was quite content working behind the scenes. Two years later, our committee chair—who had done a terrific job—retired from that role and said, “You do it.” And I really didn’t want to. I remember the first time I had to call the orchestra together. I hesitated because I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. I think back about that now and find it rather funny. I guess one either grows into the role or leaves.
Harmelink: I felt the same way, because I, too, would rather be behind the scenes. Things changed when I felt a void or a lack of direction. I was churning inside, knowing that someone needed to take action to keep things focused and moving. It was then that I began to step in and contribute.
Namer: As I have served as chair of the committee, I have learned that a leadership role is a position of trust—trust that has been given to me by the members of the orchestra. If I lose that trust, I will also lose any authority I may have.
Nielubowski: Michael, I agree with that completely. And I would add that sometimes the orchestra committee is very close to a situation of which the average orchestra member has no knowledge. In these situations, I think my leadership involves speaking with orchestra members who have questions and giving them background information to help them better understand what we are doing and how we relate to the organization as a whole.
Institute: Well put, Norbert. As we are approaching the end of our time together, are there any other topics you would ask your colleagues to address?
Schneider: Yes. I would ask my colleagues, “Are you having fun?”
Nielubowski: I guess I would answer the question yes and no. It is certainly fun when you feel as though you are making a difference. I enjoy sitting down with members of our orchestra, or our committee, or our management and saying, “All right. We have a problem. How do we fix it? What do we do to make this better? How can we get beyond this and really try something different?” For me, the downside is the frustration of finding yourself back in the same old ways of doing business.
Foster: Well said. And even a recognition of old patterns can be turned into an interesting challenge—an opportunity to analyze what made it impossible to be creative and constructive. Chairing the orchestra committee is always challenging, demanding, stimulating, and engaging. If that’s your idea of “fun,” then I recommend it.
Namer: I have found serving as the committee chair very stimulating and enjoyable. I’ve learned a lot intellectually, and a lot about myself in the process.
Schneider: I’m glad to hear that because I, too, have enjoyed being chair, and I know I am not doing it out of a sense of responsibility. I think it has to be fun or it is time to move on.
Harmelink: Being involved and more knowledgeable about every aspect of our organization has given me far greater job satisfaction. I don’t sit on stage wondering why we are rehearsing in a specific hall, or why the schedule has been changed. I am more willing to ask for behind-the-scenes information if it has not already been provided. And another interesting byproduct of my committee involvement has been the opportunity to improve some neglected skills in writing and speaking which has contributed to a greater level of self- confidence in all areas of my life. I love getting to know the people on the committee who have diverse interests and points of view. Putting our collective ideas together to find solutions that are acceptable to our musicians, management, and board is perhaps the most rewarding benefit of committee participation.
Institute: This has been a fascinating conversation, and we thank you all for your time. We know our readers will gain a better understanding of orchestra committees and their chairs, and the ways in which musicians serve as important cogs within their orchestra organizations.
The Jurassic Symphony: Part Two
Taking on the Dinosaur: Strategic Options for Symphony Organizations
Just one year ago, authors Robert Spich and Robert Sylvester led our readers on a fascinating ecological tour of what they characterized as the “Jurassic” symphony. In this issue, they explore a range of strategic choices
that may be available to symphony organizations.
Robert Spich brings to this essay the perspective of a professor of manage- ment and international business; Robert Sylvester brings that of a professional musician and performing arts school dean.
Recognizing a Problem; Understanding a Strategy
The essay opens with a discussion of the need for a true understanding of an individual symphony organization’s challenges, and the suggestion that fixing operational problems or making incremental adjustments are not strategies. The authors then offer a detailed explanation of strategic response, examining both “hard-approach” and “soft-approach” strategies.
The Transformational Symphony
Following a brief discussion of the pluses and minuses of both “solo” and “cooperative” strategies is an extended explanation of transformational strategies and ways in which symphony organizations might employ them. This section includes contemporary examples from several U.S. orchestras. The essay concludes with presentation of what the authors call “crazy-but- maybe-not-so-crazy” ideas for both solo and cooperative strategic actions.
Although this is an extended essay, it reads easily, as our West Coast writing team throws just enough curve balls to keep their readers’ attention. Also, be prepared for several good laughs!
The Jurassic Symphony: Part Two
Taking on the Dinosaur: Strategic Options for Symphony Organizations
Editor’s Note: Part One of this essay appeared in the April 1998 issue of Harmony. The essay’s title derives from a cartoon metaphor that appeared in the New York Times depicting a conductor in the middle of a Jurassic- period scene.1 To refresh readers’ memories, the population ecology perspective is an important form of organizational analysis based on the application of known Darwinian principles to understand better the dynamics of relationships between and among organizations in their environments. The value of this approach lies in its analysis of the symphony orchestra industry’s issues in a systematic way, and providing an understanding of the dynamics of those issues. Part One began with some assumptions that unpinned the analysis. It is worthwhile to recapitulate them here to set the tone for Part Two.
Some Basic Ecological Assumptions
◆ There is a diversity of forms in any ecology of organizations such as the musical arts community. This reflects a unique but dynamic set of relationships between a grouping of organizations and the environment.
◆ The symphony orchestra is just one type of musical organizational form within a greater classical music community made up of populations of different types of musical arts organizations. It is also the largest. Because the focus was on the aggregate (industry level of analysis) of symphony orchestras, the discussion analyzed the general conditions of the population of symphony organizations, rather than the specific conditions or fates of individual symphony orchestras.
◆ The ecology of an organizational environment is the pattern of conditions, institutions, and organizations that describes a known community. Resources determine the mix of organizations, and the nature of relationships among them, in the musical-arts community. Over time, these communities develop webs of interdependencies and power relationships. Modes of interactions can range from strong competition to neutral observation to cooperative partnerships, depending on the resource profile of an environment (quantity, quality, distribution, utility, substitutability, and access), and the demands made on it.
◆ Larger organizations, such as symphony orchestras, need greater amounts and varieties of resources to sustain them. The relationship between the resource state of an environment and the use pattern create a dynamic and ever changing set of industry conditions that can change more rapidly than any organizations’ ability to keep up with the changes. This implies that survival strategies that worked in the past can be inappropriate and dysfunctional in the present. Organizations which monitor and adapt to this changing profile tend to survive and thrive. Those that do not, can fail and disappear.
◆ The onus of organizational survival lies with the organization and/or its community. Because the ability to adapt is distributed and developed unequally, a population (industry) of organizations is rarely stable, as new organizational types and forms continually arise, grow, and disappear. The demise of any one organization is not cause for alarm and is considered a natural outcome of population dynamics. The larger industry trends that affect the survivability of the population of symphony organizations are, however, an issue of concern.
◆ Successful music organizations represent successful adaptations to surrounding environments. Adaptation takes form in changes in organizational outputs, structure, internal process, and culture. Species variation demonstrates that more than one survival strategy is possible for an organizational form. There is no single unitary symphony organization form that is superior and must be copied and mimicked by others. Rather, there is a range of adaptations that are possible given variations in environments.
Don’t Take Survival for Granted
Having laid out a set of ecological principles and their effects, the authors explored the cultural conundrum of free choice: given free choice, most people would not choose to support (i.e., pay for) a tradition which they neither share nor value highly. This raised the possibility that symphony organizations are really facing a much larger cultural-cycle issue, one that points to the roles that international- ization, multiculturalism, and “Americanization” of the symphony orchestra play in shaping this music’s future.
Part One closed with the message that symphony organizations cannot take their survival for granted, no matter the glory of their traditions, the quality of their products, their associations with former success, or the rightness of their intentions.
With the causes of decline and the sources of challenge that make change so difficult to manage now identified, this second installment moves to the issue of response to these challenges and the strategic options that seem to be available to symphony orchestras as an industry.
Taking on the Dinosaur! Beyond Metaphors
As poignant as the Jurassic metaphor may be, as with all metaphors, it has its limitations. For one, it breeds a certain passivity in viewpoint if taken too literally. We know that the logic of Darwinian selection points to an ever changing mix of life forms due to the eventual demise and extinction of those that do not adapt. It is an inexorable and “necessary” change achieved
through selection among the candidate life forms that spring up, and not through any willingness of a particular life form to change itself, to metamorphose into something else. The brontosaurus could not willingly change itself into one of the adaptable mammals that succeeded it in the chain of time. Time and adaptive selection define the palette of life that paints the landscape of any time period. Depending on the nature of the web of community inter- dependencies, demise of one form can be either detrimental or beneficial to the rest of the community’s members, depending on how resource profiles change with the corresponding shift in mix of community members. The message is simple: environments are just a given set of circumstances and forces at work—nature is neither for you, nor against you. The problem of survival rests essentially with the organizations and not with nature.2
The symphony organization has just that problem of long-term survival. Being a large-scale musical beast, it exerts a heavy demand for resources to sustain it. Its size, and the weight of tradition it carries, makes it slow to respond to changing conditions. However, the symphony orchestra does not have to remain a fixed organizational form stuck in an era and particular ecological niche for all time, waiting for its declining fate. Symphony organizations are willful human constructs and artificial inventions that can change themselves. A hallmark of human organizations is the ability to anticipate and prepare for the future. Unlike the brontosaurus, symphony organizations have choice. They can anticipate the future and forecast trends. They can take initiative, change direction of effort, move operations, and reinvent themselves. This suggests that passive acceptance need not be the logical response to environmental conditions that seem beyond control. The essence of strategic choice is the freedom to fail. But to exercise that freedom, one must make some choices and take some risks.
The First Step: Problem Recognition
Recent developments show that individual symphony organizations and their professional associations have not remained passive or distantly ignorant to the declining fortunes of orchestras over the last decade. There is a record of industry analysis by the American Symphony Orchestra League and purposeful experimentation in programming by various symphony groups. Past issues of this journal and other industry publications record those efforts.
A relevant example of problem recognition of symphony “fit-to-environment” was the task force effort to identify an overall strategy of “Americanization” of the U.S. symphony orchestra as the necessary next step in a larger industry- wide effort at change.3 Having been born of European traditions and mastered the techniques, U.S. symphony organizations now face the question: what next? Full adaptation to the “New World,” with all of its contradictory forces and energetic impulses, might be that next challenge.
Yet despite good intentions, many symphony program and organization-change initiatives remain somewhat troubling because they tend to revisit traditional problems and offer only minor adjustments in standard activities and musical products. These “innovations” seem to be based on an implicit “fix- this-try-this” model of change. Whether it’s a change in program times, the addition of TV screens and preprogram lectures, two-for-one ticket offers, or “Moms and Daughters Days,” these changes are not fundamental and do not seem to solve any major problem. This approach can, in the aggregate, create momentum for more significant changes later, but without a larger vision to guide them, these actions can simply be ad hoc, piecemeal, opportunistic, incomplete, wrong, wasteful, or potentially harmful. While a decision to offer “Mahler Past Midnight” might appear to be an innovation, it is not much different from a long-ago circus ringmaster’s trick to “fool” an audience into attendance. It helps pay the bills and gets the organization through the season, but it does not address the fundamental strategic problem of audience creation and development.4 Fixing operational problems and making incremental adjustments are not strategies. They are actions taken in hope of solution and resolution.
This raises a basic concern among boards and long-term industry observers: Are these programmatic changes a case in which the more things change, the more they stay the same? Are the right problems being addressed? Do all of these adjustments add up to real functional adaptation? Or are the adaptations and modifications we see simply a case of “deck-chair management” of sym- phonies with potentially Titanic fates? This brings us to the question of strategy.
What Is Strategy in a Time of Troubles?
The very notion of a choice in strategies may seem a luxury to organizations that are in trouble. Developing a new theory and vision for the business does not seem a relevant option, especially in mid-season. Performing arts
organizations often do not have the important resources to work through their problems, nor the time or right skills to do the kind of quality analysis needed. They often see their hand as being forced by crisis circumstances. Management and membership under pressure often feel driven to “do something” and will base their actions on cursory analysis and simple one-step extensions from current experience and practice. As with most people who are experiencing change, they find themselves having to develop ex- post rationales to give the appearance of purposeful and rational actions, making the decisions seem more acceptable to themselves as well as others.
A key to understanding strategic choice is to differentiate reaction from effective response. Often, organizations that have lived on the margin for a long time, or that have experienced a run of recent failures, develop a reactive style of decision making. Reaction is largely habitual and circumscribes decisions via organizational culture and procedural norms (e.g., “the way we do things around here”). Such “at risk” organizations tend to become concerned with procedures and control over the basics out of fear of the implications of failure. They develop norms for framing problems or handling difficult situations that tend to constrain their decision analysis. Their norms for reporting “bad news,” supporting innovation, or managing conflict tend to reflect a restrictive style concerned with self-protection. They fail to see opportunities because they are preoccupied with uncertainties in information, the risks involved, and the potential downside results of decisions.
A recent book review in the Los Angeles Times noted how an obsession with tradition prevented Frenchmen from seeing the possibility of a resistance to the Nazis being initiated outside of France after 1940. This was based on a culture that treated the fact of no experience, memory, or tradition to sustain an external resistance action as grounds to treat such an option as merely an abstraction.5 Experience, past results, organizational culture, and reward structure often support the continued use of traditional decision modes whether or not they remain appropriate. Thinking “outside of the box” occurs infrequently in reactive organizations.
In contrast, the modes, styles, and cultures of responsive organizations differ considerably. Strategic response is a long-term, whole-organization perspective that is concerned with placing the organization into a favorable future environmental situation (market/resource/competitive space, in the language of business) that is competitively advantageous to the organization and sustainable over a long period of time. Strategies are purposeful, calculated bets. They are human judgments based on judicious analysis of organizational strengths and weaknesses juxtaposed against the opportunities and threats the organization faces. Decisions rest in the top management because these people tend to have overview positions. One cannot underestimate the need for quality, experienced, and capable strategic leaders. A look at what Michael Eisner did for the economic fortunes of the Walt Disney Co. makes this point well. Leadership makes a difference. Choosing the right leaders is yet another matter.
Strategic decision making is not democratic by nature. However, it is highly dependent on the quality of information needed to identify new directions. Strategy making, therefore, must include good internal information and communications processes to sense environmental change and assess organizational ability to deal with that change. The active parti- cipation of a larger number of stakeholder members who provide key information and communicate important perspectives is an important part of the strategic-decision process. Strategic changes which require active member acceptance and buy-in for implementation point further to the importance of a valid and legitimate process for wider participation in decision analysis and preparation. However, the final decisions rest with the leadership.
Strategy requires the commitment of substantial resources to a new direction for the organization. That is why it tends to be the responsibility of top leadership, including the board. At the same time, strategic decisions require a clear understanding of the implications for implementation, the balance of costs and benefits, the importance of first successes, and the inevitable pain and disappointment at the displacement of favored projects and people. Substantial change in direction, and redefinition of basic mission, policy, and people may be the result. Successful strategies of standing organizations tend to be nothing less than the overhaul of an organization’s accustomed way of doing things, where new values become the new criteria for decisions about people, programs, and resources.
The business world presents a large number of case examples of organizations which were responsive to the challenges of their environments and went through major and fundamental strategy changes. The Xerox Corporation’s early technological lead contributed to a complacency that nearly sank the organization until a very major turnaround effort in the 1980s. Similarly, Harley-Davidson found in the fierce competition of Japanese motorcycles the best teacher for its need to shed old ways and become a more competitive organization. Companies which are in rapid growth modes also face the risks of having organizational capabilities that do not match the strategy’s ambitions, as in the cases of Barnes & Noble Inc., Starbucks Corporation, and the Home Depot Inc. In these cases, midstream changes to strategies are often no less wrenching and difficult. The same lessons apply to such nonprofit organizations as Planned Parenthood, the U.S. Postal Service, or even the venerable British Museum which itself is presently involved in a large-scale change of modus operandi and identity. In all of these cases, the organizations faced serious environmental challenges that required serious, committed, and difficult strategic responses.
Two Common Modes of Response
Competitive situations and environmental challenges leave organizations with a few basic strategic choices. They can do nothing, build up defenses, and wait out the problem. They can move from the unfriendly environment and seek a better place under the sun. They can put resources and efforts into changing, or at least influencing and reducing, those aspects of the environment that are most detrimental to organizational survival. Or they can take actions to adapt themselves to better fit a set of environmental conditions. Some combination of these four fundamental choices underlie all strategic change.
When mature organizations face declining environmental conditions, two common modes tend to characterize change strategies. The first is the “hard” mode, common to Wall Street industry takeovers, forced mergers, and the like that involve abrupt, structural, uncomfortable, but decisive, decision making. The second approach is the “soft” mode of organizational improvement and renewal, often consultant led, that focuses on reinvigoration of the present organization through a focus on problem-solving processes, cultural modification, and limited organizational “tinkering” with structural aspects of organizations.
These two modes demonstrate differing world views of dealing with organizational problems that in appearance also represent stereotypes of the modes of the two human genders. They are not extremes on a continuum as much as they represent general tendencies to treat choices as dualistic. There is a wide variety of specific strategies that could be used in either of these modes. The case of the Denver Symphony Orchestra’s Chapter 11 declaration eventually led to a harder type turnaround strategy with some softer process issues included.6 In the case of the American Conservatory of Music, the turnaround literally decimated the organization down to one person—firing 29 of 30 administrative staff members—and started all over again.
The “Hard” Approach
Hard-approach strategies are often undertaken when the crisis has grown to such proportions that only radical and strong approaches are seen as viable. The strategies are often initiated by key outside stakeholders and their agents who intervene in normal decision processes. The targets of change are largely structural in nature with little focus on process change. The initial focus is internal, on cutting costs and “stopping the financial bleeding,” which means cutting out whole programs, dropping commitments, unilateral adjustments to agreements and contracts, and “downsizing” units. This results in abrupt changes in personnel with sudden dismissals, firings, and forced resignations. Externally, the organization pleads with creditors for time extensions, makes expensive deals for short term resources, drops products and services that do not meet new rigid financial standards, seeks help and intervention from governmental authorities in the form of subsidies or less restrictive regulations, while promising customers everything will be back to normal on Monday morning. The decision making is usually unilateral, decisive, and major. The period of change tends to be short and is characterized by much “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as uncertainty about the organizational future looms large. Past contributions are forgotten or ignored, promises are broken, key norms and expectations are violated, everything is possible, and no one is safe! One can only very painfully imagine a symphony board calling in an outside head-chopper executive to “clean house and make things right again”!
The business management literature is, in fact, full of cases of such hard strategies often presented in heroic terms loaded with macho symbolism. The recent past CEO of the Sunbeam Corporation, before falling on his own chain saw, is an example of this Fortune Magazine-type hero having made his hard- mode reputation in a fairly brutal way. (The CEO became known as “Chain Saw Al” for his less than elegant approaches to restructuring organizations. But remember, his tactics were well known when he was hired by boards of directors.) Yet, in the face of certain failure or slow death, hard approaches can be justified, even if ex-post. Their relevance for cultural-organization change remains distant, but still on the shelf.
But hard-mode strategies can leave a legacy of long-term costs. The list can be long:
“ . . . hard-mode strategies can leave a legacy of long- term costs.”
- Negative reputation effects with clients, suppliers, or the market.
- Lingering organizational-justice issues that tend to create tentative and tepid commitments on the part of remaining members.
- Increasing use of “arms length/cash nexus” agreements that lead to the necessity to pay higher entrance fees for new recruits to cover their risk of joining the “new, risky” organization.
- Pay differentials not based on talent, experience, or reputation can then lead to internal tensions among new and old members, as well as potentially pricing the product out of the market. (Note the National Basketball Association’s fee structure for professional basketball players as the key issue in the recent lockout; performers are paid for skill— and at market rates.)
- Loyalty and commitment, often the critical glue and grease of arts organizations, become chance byproducts as people’s motives become opportunistic and self-centered. (Note the problem of “roving” conductors maximizing their career potentials at some cost to orchestra development.)
- Higher costs of resources as external providers raise prices to cover the new risk premium of an untried strategy.
- Questionable top-management motives, and suspicion of hidden agendas, leading to lower levels of effort and risk taking because of that distrust.
- Inadvertent or purposeful destruction of subtle relationships and cooperative motives that are key to artistic production, such as volunteerism, goodwill, or attraction of artistic affiliation.
- Time-driven and brusque, decisive actions that often “throw out the baby with the bath water,” failing to recognize continued and important value in selective ongoing organization activities.
Hard-mode strategies tend to be quite insensitive to the human factor because they are action- and short-term-results-oriented. They focus on efficiencies, productivity, cost control, and short cuts. Saving the impersonal organization and satisfying outside interests, not maintaining the critical web of internal relationships, is often their main goal. These strategies often assume that the human factor can be taken care of after the hard economic choices have been made. The critical role that skilled professional human resources play in contemporary arts organizations makes this approach risky for orchestras. To choose hard-mode strategies, the first decision is the declaration of crisis, and that is itself a difficult judgment call.
The “Soft” Approach
Soft-approach organizational improvement strategies focus primarily on facilitating evolutionary organizational adaptation of stable-environment organizations by using a variety of internally focused, gradualist, and planned change strategies which are designed to change members’ attitudes, behaviors, and thinking at work. The belief is that gradualist approaches improve organization processes and activities without disruption of important aspects of the organization. This then is thought to lead to improved performance, growth, longevity, and survival.7
There are, however, some problems that confound a facile application of soft-change strategies for music performing arts organizations. Unlike stable mass-production, large-scale organizations, symphony orchestras produce a large variety of related, but essentially custom, products in which the cycles of activities are not as predictable. Annual programming changes the configurations of people and activities, making it hard to institutionalize a new culture that needs to be “grown” or gradually derived.
Symphony organizations can be characterized as loosely configured networks of interest groups in which activities are coordinated more by common shared values and common experience in the “know-how” of producing the cultural product and less by formal hierarchy and bureaucratic control. Soft strategies tend to be more appropriate for loosening the culture of a formal organization to make it more responsive and flexible. Symphony orchestras have a certain amount of the flexibility already built in because of the constant change in programming. The problem is perhaps one of using this flexibility more effectively.
Musicians’ original culture is often formed in conservatory training where the emphasis is on artistry and musicianship, not on creating good working organizations. A lack of knowledge and training in the running of music organizations means that most management learning, even self management, is “on the job” and often naive to the subtleties of soft-change strategies.
Because orchestras are populated with independent-minded, highly trained professionals, there tend to be multiple conflicting views about artistry and the performance product. A certain amount of conflict is constant and perhaps necessary to work out an artistic vision. Soft strategies tend to deemphasize the creative tension in favor of more general “pleasant” norms. Differences in artistic vision and taste may not be readily worked out in a soft strategy. A case in point is the structural tension between the need to protect and maintain tradition while remaining contemporary and relevant to society.
Soft-change strategies imply egalitarianism and a common goal to create a unitary culture (a symphonic family) because of a wider participation of individuals in the change process. Yet symphony organizations are status-conscious organizations where differences are important and defended. Status matters both within and without the organization because important opportunities, rewards, and privileges are tied to status. While there may be common concerns about fairness, equality is often not necessarily a central issue. Deference to artistic vision and recognition of greater talent remain common motives for compliance and cooperation in musical organizations. (This recognizes that biases toward gender, musical pedigree, instrument, and historical affiliation continue to be common problems of prejudice in these organizations.)
Artistic organizations tend to have more open organizational boundaries, allowing a wider variety of people to have influence over the direction of events, pulling the organization in many directions. Because soft strategies seek participation and agreement from the widest number of organization stake- holders, finding agreement among varied constituencies is a costly process, and once achieved, however imperfectly, a process that needs constant maintenance.
Symphony management style—and the resulting organizational culture—is often a carryover from the symphony tradition in which the conductor is the final and major authority figure, and deference to his or her interpretation of tradition is common. Thus authoritarianism and central control over all decisions has been the hallmark of symphony organization culture. It is not clear that “getting rid of” or seriously modifying this culture in the name of greater democratic participatory arrangements is a good thing for the organization or the art form. In the business world, leaders often leave a powerful mark on their organizations and industries. The history of conductors shows a similar pattern in the symphony orchestra world.
Soft-strategy interventions that increase organizational performance through seminars or consultants may improve the working climate, morale, and the efficiency of some ongoing activities. But such interventions will not necessarily lead to functional adaptation to the environment. Increasing people’s satisfaction with doing the wrong tasks may end up protecting the formal organization from the more dramatic changes that conditions warrant. There is always the problem of means/ends reversal in which the machinery of organization becomes more important than the ends of producing great performances of music.
In summary, soft-mode strategies are long-term commitments to changing the way people think, behave, and feel about work. They are, by nature, complex processes which are time consuming and often require the assistance of skilled change agents for guidance. Their focus is on changing the organizational culture gradually by focusing on the people, the tasks, and processes of getting work done. Presently, there are a number of major, as well as regional, orchestras that are involved in such change processes. While it is too early to assess these change efforts, the above caveats should allow symphony organizations to avoid some of the costs of this general mode of strategy.
The Problem of Going Solo
In addition to problems inherent in the two modes described above, there is also the issue of ability to carry out a strategic action. Symphony organization leadership has to decide which activities are best done by the organization alone and which are best done in cooperation and coordination with other organizations.8 Symphony organizations can choose to put resources into a competitive solo strategy, seeking their own survival over that of other arts organizations, or they can enter into collaborative strategies at the regional or national level, and attempt a collective turnaround of the symphony music industry. There are good reasons why birds flock and fish school.
In pursuing solo strategies, organizations forgo the possible benefits of collective action and absorb more of the risk themselves. However, if the strategy is successful, they capture most of the benefits for their own organization, and can avoid the costs of coordination in working with other groups (e.g., resources use, time, talented people committed to joint projects). If the strategy is bad and they fail, they can always say, “At least we tried and we probably would have failed anyway given conditions.” So the natural choice tends to be to go it alone.
However, the success of a solo strategy depends on some specific conditions and assumptions:
- The strategy is new, unique, and has measurable potential of success. This is, of course, a judgment call.
- The organization possesses unique competencies and/or specific conditions that competing organizations do not possess.
- The strategy cannot be readily copied or imitated in advantages protected by contract, commitments, or unique conditions.
- The strategy is sustainable (and assumed able to be implemented) over time, enough so to earn the organization its payback and some risk premium for the investment.
- The potential exists for strong and active competition (direct and indirect) that is ready to respond in kind to solo strategies.
- The strategy creates a first-mover advantage. That is, the organization that moves first and fastest improves its chances for long-term success.
- The organization has enough resources to run risks and absorb failures.
- There is a strategist—usually a single person—who has a vision, a willingness to take risks, and a commitment to lead a solo strategy.
- Price/efficiency, niche, or differentiation strategies are possible in the industry and marketplace.
In reviewing this list of strategic conditions, it becomes apparent that many of these assumptions and specific conditions may not hold, either in general across the symphony orchestra industry or for individual organizations. This industry is very homogeneous, with all orchestras drawing players, music, and audience from a common tradition, culture, and repertoire. Competition is a general, indirect condition of relationships within this industry, not a direct- market, confrontational relationship. All arts organizations in this environment compete, in a general sense, for resources, only some of which come from market audiences. Major urban centers usually have only one large symphony orchestra which often exerts informal, quasi-monopoly control over the regional cultural environment. This orchestra generally has no direct competition, which reduces the need to be highly competitive (and efficient). These organizations do not compete on price because their audiences seldom have a choice of symphonies on the nights they choose to attend.
In major urban centers, the niche for high-culture, sophisticated music is also generally filled by one orchestra. Finding and cultivating specific niches is what regional and smaller local symphonies do to survive, because the large orchestras tend to draw from large, local, urban populations and do not compete directly. Within a global market, it is possible for certain niche strategies to take place, for example, when a major symphony becomes the single guest company at a festival year after year. Niche strategies seem less possible in a more global society where, as industry practice indicates, niche possibilities are quickly discovered and absorbed by the larger players.
If both price and niche strategies have limited relevance, differentiation emerges as the major solo strategy for most orchestras. Here, the lessons of toothpaste and cereal companies suggest that when the products are very similar, if not the same, differentiation is the act of making and marketing a specific value-laden image to the minds of the consumers. A strategy that is fine-tuned around marketing activities focuses on customer-generated product, value pricing, competitive quality, power packaging, instant, easy access and delivery, guarantees, and after-market services. It does not focus on building and maintaining a cultural tradition.
Decisions become very pragmatic: what works and yields specific results? Tradition is not valued for its intrinsic merits, but only for its utility in achieving other goals. In addition, marketing strategies are not cheap nor are they permanent solutions. They are merely constant investments and costs. It is not presently clear, given tradition and industry structure, that becoming marketing-driven is where these artistic organizations need and want to go. Yet, much of the present industry programming and promotion activity could be characterized as marketing- oriented. There may not be much choice about a marketing emphasis in the overall strategy. The choice is in the mix of variables that a particular strategic effort emphasizes.
In the past, the major orchestras differentiated themselves through the development of unique and pleasing sounds, as in the case of Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia or George Szell in Cleveland. These strategies depended on long- term residency and leadership of committed conductors whose constant presence was needed to get to know the players and shape the sound over time. Again, with conductors and music directors (and perhaps the boards who hire them) showing shorter-term tendencies, such strategies may not be warranted or even possible in contemporary times. Other confounding factors in using differential strategies include the real possibility that the new audiences may not be able to appreciate subtlety in musical expression, and the fact that the desires and feelings of the players are probably as motivated by the making of artful music as by the prospects of steady employment as players.
Thus, the choice of solo strategies is clearly risky and depends on specific sets of conditions and capabilities to be able to “pull it off.” Given a homogenous industry with a semi-public purpose, a cultural mandate, a heavy burden of tradition, a time-stressed market, and strong competition from substitutable cultural experiences, the idea of strategy is perhaps a more subtle undertaking. For these reasons, it may be that cooperative strategies are the bigger challenge. Cooperative strategies may in reality be the de facto or default option under these circumstances.
The Challenge of Cooperation
If symphony organizations choose the collective strategy of collaboration with other orchestras, they can use fewer resources, share the downside risk with others, create an assurance association for the “bad times,” and benefit from creative ideas and synergies of common implementation. However, in cooperative ventures, a symphony organization risks some part of its fate in the hands of others. This has several downside effects:
- Resources may be wasted if a generalized strategy does not allow the organization to capture important specific benefits for itself or avoid specific costs. In addition collective benefits may be too dispersed and small to be of real value to the individual organization. This might be the case if the American Symphony Orchestra League were to engage in widespread promotional campaigns in large urban centers, campaigns from which regional orchestras would derive less benefit.
- The collective strategy may be wrong or irrelevant for the individual organization whose situation varies from the general industry mean, as in the case of a resource-rich orchestra programming and publishing program brochures jointly with other orchestras to save money.
- Costs of coordination can be high in the invested-time costs of key staff, as well as opportunity costs—the cost of the road not taken. A symphony orchestra which decides to participate in a joint CD- publishing effort forgoes the option and benefits of other choices that might have been more lucrative as a solo venture.
- Gains from collective action may be distributed unequally, without differentiation, or “undeservedly.” This creates costs of conflict and increased barriers to further cooperation.
- Collective strategies generally need champions who have clear interests when important goals and benefits are expected to be obtained in this manner. Because the benefits of cooperative strategies are shared, diluted, and generalized, their specific benefits are less clear. Without champions (from within or outside the industry), the initiation and sustainability of cooperative actions may be difficult to develop.
- Problems of evaluating and insuring equal inputs creates equal problems for determining how benefits and costs should be shared. This might be the case when an orchestra which lends its stars to a benefit concert does not receive matching inputs from the other organizations participating in the effort. The resulting inequity creates problems for future cooperation.
Problems of cooperation are, of course, not insurmountable. The logic of cooperation is well established in both theory and practice. The boom in strategic alliances and international partnering in business has come about specifically because cooperative ventures have some very specific benefits of risk sharing, knowledge networking, synergy of efforts, and joint learning. The point here is to show that in the face of big problems, collective strategies are not necessarily better because they are bigger. Most strategies involve a judicious mix of cooperative and competitive solo moves that need to be assessed both separately and for joint effect. It is not clear a priori that one or the other is always superior. Contingent conditions determine the relative value of each.
The Transformational Symphony: An Ideal Theme
One might view transformational strategies as a third way of looking at strategic choice for symphony organizations.
Of course, there are the fantasy transformations in which the organization’s wishful thinking leads to a hope that it will wake up from its nightmare of down times and find itself magically transformed into some princely organization destined for happy-ever-after times. Fantasies are fun and always work out well as long as you don’t wake up a frog or, at worst, a cockroach on your back in bed!
And then there are the long-march transformations—stories of change and development that would put Mao Tse Tung to shame. These are the stories of wars and battles waged over the years that are often characterized by ambitious goals of redefining the very nature of the organization’s purposes, missions, strategies, and design, usually transforming the organization into a different entity. The Xerox Corporation and Harley Davidson went through this type of change before they emerged as totally different companies.
True transformational strategies differ from adjustment and tinker strategies in that they seek to reenvision the organization in a new way.9 Older missions, core values, basic assumptions, working culture, organizational roles, fundamental structures and practices—all of the design features of the older organization—come into question and analysis. This requires organization members to give up favorite notions they have about the organization and to accept the possibility that the organization will be a very different one from what they now know.10
Transformational strategies are difficult to articulate and communicate. Their focus is on creating flexible, adaptable collections of smart people who are sensitive to the direction and possibilities for change and always ready to respond to it. They require intense and creative investment in thinking differently about an organization. Transformational terminology is often strange and unfamiliar because it may turn old ideas on their heads and require a new way of looking at things (e.g., Tom Peter’s notion of managing in chaos). And these strategies often focus on counterintuitive insights, nuance and subtlety.
Transformational strategies result from observations of contemporary life in highly developed, urban-oriented societies that recognize and accept the complexity, hectic pace, and dilemmas as part of the modern organizational condition. Information is seen as the key currency and focus of activity in modern organizations. Organizational form is considered an organic, loose, amorphous, sometimes boundaryless, and fluid characteristic of organization. Formal structure is often seen as “beside the point” and a barrier to effective response to opportunity or problems. Informality in relations and presentation, the absence of strong hierarchy, skill-based status, reward for performance not person, and modernity seem to be touted core values of the transformational organization’s culture. In a sense, eschewing tradition defines the organization’s basic attitude.
From Dinosaurs to Rabbits
Can the symphony orchestra transform itself from a dinosaur to some other beast more of this day? The answer is simply that it probably cannot under the present structure, culture, and functioning of the symphony orchestra. Transformational strategies require a willingness to change in such ways that the past might become unrecognizable. A contemporary example from the telephone industry shows how the telephone companies have transformed themselves—under considerable financial, legal, and technological duress—into information and communications services companies. Telephone companies looked at the basic functions they were performing and then redefined those functions to make them consistent and responsive to contemporary conditions. The wired telephone has been slowly giving up its once traditional and central role in personal communications. Now the fax, beeper, e-mail, and audio chip implant are competing forms that address the fundamental market need for information management and communications. With the great convergence process of entertainment, computer technology, cable communications, data management, and interactive technologies, there is even more challenge to become transformational companies.
In like fashion, the symphony orchestra industry may one day evolve and transform itself into the “summa art/new serious music” industry. Imagine the Dallas Symphony Orchestra redefining itself as a “crossform-musico experience,” an organization that creates leading-edge, high-art music using high-technology sound mixing to combine newly instrumented, traditional high-art music forms, computer-generated sound, and high-art visuals (borrowed from local museums) to invent unique new listening and feeling experiences for audiences interested in the “new serious music” and higher forms of sophisticated art! While this imagery borders on the low-art form of “fantasy fiction,” there is something distinctly possible and potential in it, especially when one realizes that the Web as we know it was just an idea 15 years ago.
The symphony concert, as a form of musical expression and centerpiece of the present orchestral organizational form, will slowly give way to other variations of musical form that will, in time, also be considered high art and serious music. This has been the function of the symphonic form over the past two centuries: to be the icon of serious, sophisticated musical taste! The fact that the symphony has been the de facto standard of high, sophisticated musical art means that it has been without real competition from alternative musical art forms. The power of traditional culture to control and mold musical taste cannot be underestimated. But by looking beyond the limits of musical form itself into the fundamental function of this music, the symphonic orchestra can free itself of structural and cultural constraints, often self imposed, and begin to transform itself into another kind of organization.11
For those worried about the future of traditional music, we might point out that original instrument ensembles, medieval music, and religious chants continue to grow as segments of a wide musical- market audience. There is always appeal for good past things. Secondly, great music is its own reward, as many generations will continue to learn. While efforts to keep this repertoire available for choice is important, Bach survives for his music, not his hairdo! Lastly, if in the end, there was a need for a societal-level response, true musical museums could be founded using technology to conserve and present music forms much as any other museum artifact that society wishes to save. Knowing that society formally took on the mandate of conserving musical traditions, the present symphony organization would be free to truly redefine itself, a very scary proposition that no orchestra has yet faced.
In the end, transformation is about people changing. Presently, symphony orchestras are populated by creative, energetic people who see themselves as artists for the most part, and artists are often change agents. While tradition and the fundamentals hold sway against change, the people—who are the most important element in the organization—are primed to be innovators and creative problem solvers. There really is not an impossible dilemma between being traditional and being modern. It merely requires being able to work effectively with a mindset that is able to hold contradictory ideas at the same time—to be postmodern traditional organizations!
Stripped to its barest essentials, the grand strategy for symphony organizations is essentially one of co-optation. The trick is for musicians to get the rest of society to support them in their wonderfully “bad” habit of making great and beautiful music. It’s a bit like the ruse that Huck Finn used in getting other people to paint his fence and like it. This is not a cynical observation. Since history shows that budgets never really get balanced, symphony organizations have always needed society’s continued support. The challenge has always been to get society to pay the bill and like it. That might have worked well in past times. Today, society is asking questions about fence painting that show a change in the cooptation game. The trick now is to get that continued support without paying too high a price in change. It is not clear if that will be possible.
No doubt, some very difficult tradeoffs will have to be made. Society’s support will come at a price. That price might require adjusting, adapting, eliminating, inventing, and destroying some traditions, core beliefs, venerable practices, essential values, and favorite notions about the symphony organization’s art that seem untenable and “non-negotiable.”
This breakthrough thinking, imagining the unimaginable, is a first step in a renewal and perhaps transformational strategy. This will happen when there is either great inspiration or great pain. The former often follows from the latter. “Things” have to get very bad, and important people have to be hurting, before most organizations realize they are in serious trouble. That does not yet seem to be the case for most symphony orchestras. However, the trends are there and the data show problems with finances, audiences, competition, venues, and the like.
In summary, hard, soft, and transformational models are presented as modes of strategic choice. All have their pluses and their minuses. No one is the perfect fit for any organization. The relevance of each will be determined by the situations individual organizations face. The presentation here has been for illustrative purposes: to demonstrate that strategic analysis of the environment creates opportunities for choice of modes of change. While environments do have long- term generation effects on organization life cycles, in the shorter run, the people who run organizations still have choices that can make a difference in a lifetime. The dinosaur can be something else no matter how much effort and make-up it takes. It remains a leadership issue of identifying and taking opportunities, and believing that futures can be shaped.
No Single Solutions; Many Efforts
One fundamental conclusion, looking at the differential responses to industry crisis, is that there is no singular strategy that will work for all symphony organizations. The symptoms of the crisis are generalized across a whole industry, but are shared differentially and specifically: some symphony organizations find themselves in friendlier sectors of the arts culture environment, or in supportive special niches of a generally difficult arts environment. Some are doing better than others and may or may not agree about the nature and degree of a crisis. And, of course, organizations will respond to their own reading of the crisis. One thing for sure, there is no dearth of trying new things whether or not they lead to true functional adaptations.
Numerous attempts are presently underway to recapture the symphony orchestra audience.12 For example, recognizing that 25- to 55-year-olds have become musical omnivores, some symphony organizations have contemplated the creation of “adult” children’s concerts to educate this audience. And the precedent set by the success of “Three Tenor” concerts suggests that there will be more one-time, grand-event presentations designed to carry a higher-priced ticket to a one-time purchase market. In addition, there is some thinking about how to metamorphose orchestral players from faceless clones to MTV-acceptable personalities. A recent public radio program from Lincoln Center in New York featured individual orchestra members in interviews designed to give them faces and personal stories that the public could understand.
Rethinking the symphonic performance space has been a prime initiative of the New World Symphony in Miami. There they are examining more listener- friendly spaces, which emulate a more informal, popular-musical-culture audience. There is a discussion of moving the orchestra from place to place within the venue during performances, or centering the orchestra in a symphony- in-the-round presentation. The Philadelphia Orchestra has experimented with projection screens throughout the concert hall, to show close-ups of the performers simultaneously with the live performance. This mimics television coverage of symphonic music, where changing camera shots and angles are required to hold audience attention. While the Philadelphia experiment has been less successful than expected, it is from such initiative that industry learning occurs. This might be an example of an area in which cooperative, industry- wide experimentation, under controlled conditions, might yield a really effective melding of visuals with music in the concert hall for the benefit of the entire industry.
Proposals have been offered and plans are underway to utilize media and the Internet in winning back audiences. In San Antonio, the symphony sent out program notes with audio cassettes promoting its “Casual Classics Family Series.” In Los Angeles, the Philharmonic created “Symphonix,” a World Wide Web site offering video and audio samplings of future concerts. And in Seattle and Los Angeles, as well as in a number of other venues, the opera projects supertitles above the stage. The Metropolitan Opera in New York City is offering its audience the choice of a seatback title system that each audience member can use at his or her discretion.
In cities that have long traditions of symphony attendance, subscriptions offering a quasi-curatorial programmatic emphasis create a sense of cultural history through music. While still being offered as a “new formats,” crossover and pops concerts are being used as program innovations. However, they are already being characterized as ineffective in attracting audiences to regular orchestral programming. In another attempt to give the audience a greater feeling of freedom and a complete night out, the Oregon Symphony has offered such events as “Mozart to Midnight” programming. This marathon event, with an emcee, encourages audiences to come and go as they please and to partake of catering, exhibits, and special booths. These activities are reminiscent of those that were promoted in the Crystal Palace at the height of London’s growing frenzy to attend large-scale concert extravaganzas!
In Europe, we find a more successful example of creating the “mega-orchestral experience” in a festival held in Amsterdam that offered the complete works of Mahler. Three major European orchestras—the Royal Concertgebouw, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Berlin Philharmonic—performed concurrently, with offerings of symposia, and exhibitions of art, photographs, manuscripts, and archival material. While the quality and depth of the entire event was extremely successful, one must remember that the audience for this festival possessed a tradition, education, and codification perhaps unequaled in the world today. It is important also to note that this event could only be successful in the major capitals of the world where the tourist audience plays a significant role in attendance growth. Simplistic transfer of an innovative musical event to a new setting can often lead to unsuccessful mimicry, one of nature’s more challenging strategies for adaptation.
In the category of questionable ideas, the recording industry has attempted to create audiences by repackaging products under such titles as “Mozart in the Morning,” “Debussy for Daydreaming,” and “Beethoven at Bedtime.” This approach may sell some CDs, but its effect on building audiences for live performance remains speculative.
As for the local and regional orchestras, we believe they may well have different solutions.13 AnexampledealswiththeorchestralsituationinupstateNewYork. For many years, the Rochester Philharmonic, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Syracuse Symphony have all suffered from serious financial woes and audience attrition. It is clear that within a certain period of time, these three orchestras, geographically fairly close, would fold. However, in a very different scenario that envisions the symphony as an organizational opportunity to make great music rather than a cumbersome cart carrying the baggage of tradition, combining the best players of all three orchestras into one upstate orchestral unit would give significant market opportunity, as well as a high-level musical experience. This however requires transformational thinking, something many individual orchestras are beginning to show in their creative programming responses to the decline problem.
In a different case, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is a variation on a theme that may become a more common tune whistled in the symphony world. First of all, one must note that the mindset of leadership in New Jersey government, and in the private sector, does not seem particularly hampered by ideological purism of adherence to free market ideals at all costs. In New Jersey, people often look to the government to play a coordination and set-up role for public programs, be they the preservation of open space or giving a state symphony orchestra a home. And that thinking can be seen in both major political parties.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s new home in Newark represents a dual strategy of urban renewal of a major city, as well as the creation of an independent arts center capable of attracting good talent and effectively competing with the big city across the river. Growth in audience over the last three seasons has shown that to be the case. In the process, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has created a true regional identity by clearly offering their programs statewide in the other major cities. This allows them to draw on the loyalty and resources of a much larger population while serving a larger public mandate for good music. This has not taken resources from local symphonies which continue to thrive as well.
The value of differential responses and experi- mental programming lies in the favorable possibilities that variations in program create for niche and local environment adaptations. The more varied the strategic responses are to the crisis, the higher the probability that a set of successful and perhaps industrywide transferable strategies will be identified and shared over time. However, given a fragmentation of the environment, the development of a national- level strategy may not be possible. The symphony industry may become populated with a lot more eclectic forms of organization adapted to local regions than tradition has expected. Perhaps this is the real diversity challenge of multiformism—living with many different organizational forms, all calling themselves “symphonies”!
The pattern of adaptation will depend on whether the “Americanization” strategy has an implicit model of pluralism or multi- culturalism guiding it. If pluralism dominates, there will be a blending of musical cultures that still recognizes original cultural traits and forms, but mixes them into new forms of music (i.e., perhaps the melting pot equivalent in music). However, if multiculturalism is the dominant cultural milieu, then blending and experimentation might become subservient to the wish to conserve and celebrate the individual cultures at the cost of blending. This leads to a potential “Tower of Babel” problem in which a thousand different musical tongues talk at once, creating neither tradition nor unique crossover innovations, other than a tradition of no diversity.
History and Conjecture
We sense that since music is such a robust art form, it can stand to be shaped and reformed in any combination, in any environment. Witness the music created at the death camps of World War II. We suspect that symphony organizations are in for some surprisingly creative transformations in the years ahead, and that the only barrier to continued existence will be the organizational form that constrains expression. In this section, we speculate about some of the new forms the “dinosaur” might take.
Might one create a music organization capable of playing large-scale pieces of music that resembles a symphony but is not a symphony? What might that organization be and how would it function? Is the “hollow symphony,” mimicking the hollow corpo- ration, a possibility, one that merely contracts and organizes events within a corporate identity but which has no real home, a sort of virtual symphony organization with a Web site? An example that comes to mind would be an orchestra made up of numerous ensembles that could be utilized by the composer according to artistic decision. The 21st-century orchestra could consist of a string ensemble, two or three woodwind quintets, two or three brass quintets, an early music ensemble, a multitude of keyboards, a percussion ensemble, a jazz big band, a battery of synthesizers and digital acoustic recreative equipment, a host of electronic instruments, some developed exclusively for a particular performance, and a multitude of world-music ensembles. The composer would choose among these self-contained units the ensemble of choice for a particular composition culminating in public performance.
This raises an interesting question. If the present symphony orchestra has difficulty existing, how would an ensemble of a multitude of units and divisions such as this, which may represent in number many more musicians than a symphony orchestra, be affordable? The answer is simply that it already has.
One modern organization coming close to this model was the Columbia Symphony. The NBC Orchestra under Arturo Toscannini was a close second. The Columbia Symphony was not a symphony organization with a board and a complex management team, but rather a semi-corporation. It worked as follows: Columbia Records wished to record major artists, soloists, and composers, while behaving as a corporation rather than a symphony organization board. In many cases, their time frame was much shorter than is typical of program planning by a symphony orchestra. The traditional symphony orchestra is not terribly flexible in terms of available time for recording or isolated concert dates. In addition, while the Columbia Symphony was hired and sanctioned through the musician’s union, the cost of assembling an ensemble, especially for a particular project, was significantly less than hiring an established symphony orchestra whose negotiated fees would have been much higher. The Columbia Symphony was a responsive and flexible organization, a virtual-type organization that could be created over and over again, each time including only the actual musicians needed, and each time dispersing after a particular project.
History also shows how the sociopolitical environment influences the formation of music organizations. The issue deals with the future thrusts of multicultural artistic life versus pluralistic artistic life. We presently live in an age in which music from a hundred countries—traditional, historical, contemporary, and popular—is at our disposal. This music exists in concert halls, bars, cultural centers, museums, pavilions, superdomes, and coffeehouses around the world. One hears music on radio, television, CDs, tapes, on the Internet, to say nothing of in buses, terminals, and elevators. There are specialized record stores, journals, popular music arenas, academic institutes, national ensembles, embassy presentations, all celebrating distinct cultures through music of the past, present, and future. In recent years, there have been significant examples of symphony and opera music being composed with major ethnic musical influences. If the trend towards a pluralistic approach to composition and musical organization continues, such a pool of smaller musical units making up new 21st-century orchestras may well become a significant possibility. Technology to extend the power and talent of single musicians will no doubt become a central means for transformation.
Throughout history, cities, especially large regional urban centers, have also been important factors in the survival of symphonies. In the same manner that symphony orchestras were developed and sustained within major cities which enjoyed the benefits of the Industrial Revolution, it is most likely that symphony orchestras will continue to function in major cities, because in those cities the major elements of environmental support are in place: a concentration of educated people with higher incomes, convenient and multiple facilities and venues to reach larger markets readily, continued immigrant and international citizen populations who support classical music, tourist support of symphony events, corporate headquarters support, and elite concentrations. However, the organizational form of the symphony will have to better reflect the dynamic conditions of modern cities and take on their challenges and demands for responsive, relevant, and valuable music services.
Some “Out of the Box” Ideas
Tradition-bound organizations develop cultures of politeness. People know when and how to self-censor themselves whenever they get “nutty ideas” that will probably stir the ruffles and cause embarrassment. This 19th-century stereotype of symphony culture dies hard, and is probably the reason that any number of good “nutty” ideas originating within the symphony have a hard time getting a hearing.
These authors do not feel that restriction and so will, before we close, offer some “unusual” ideas for strategic consideration. We note that the limits to strategic choice are mainly in the minds and imaginations of the strategists in charge. What is possible depends on what you dare to think is possible. If symphonies are not daring, someone else might be and to the betterment of the genre. Here are nine “crazy-but-maybe-not-so-crazy” ideas about possible solo and/or joint symphony strategic actions designed to help create a favorable environment for the arts.
1. The “Got Music?” Campaign
This would encompass cooperative alliances created to gain the benefits of common, coordinated activities. Note how the dairy industry has posted billboards and very effectively used star personalities with very simple but powerful messages about milk. The symphony industry, under American Symphony Orchestra League direction, could start an “Everyone’s a Star” national, generic billboard campaign to encourage and create further opportunities for amateur classical musicianship. There might be a series of billboards of people in their places of work, (e.g., a brickmason with trowel in hand, a plumber under a sink, a mailman facing a dog, an office worker at the water cooler, or even a busy “yuppie” executive at her computer keyboard), all with daydream clouds over their heads, imagining themselves playing an instrument at a concert or conducting a symphony—all in their work clothes. The first message is that music is fun, inspiring, and a great escape! The second says it is for all of the people, not just the “tux and tails” crowd!
2. The Arts Advantage Gambit
Research and experience have demonstrated that arts education, and particularly music education, is clearly associated with higher performance in learning in general. The kinds of thinking and mental skills developed seem key for success in such other areas as science, mathematics, and computer programming. The advantage this education gives a child is clear. The California legislature has recognized this fact in its recent passing of legislation to support arts education. Yet in many communities, music budgets in schools have continued to fare poorly. It seems, therefore, only logical for parents to document these gains of arts education and make their political will felt at PTA and town meetings. The evidence and data are there for all to see. Even football coaches could agree to this. Imagine a poster of a football team in uniform singing in a choir!
3. The Family Values Strategy
The recent history of the National Endowment for the Arts supposedly shows that there is a strong divide between conservatives and others on issues of public support for the arts. Such a divide might be false when it comes to education. Music education can be supported by a conservative agenda because it is quite pro-family. Think about the music learning experience in schools: children are doing something constructive after school in playing their instruments in the school band or jazz group; music requires practice at home which keeps the kids in sight and very busy; music is essentially a cooperative venture which encourages people to get along in groups and coordinate in unique ways; music is hard work which requires discipline, concentration, and stick-to-it determination, some very old-fashioned values not often displayed in video game playing or TV watching! Music is a natural pro- family agenda that can unite very different political tendencies around a good solid pro-children/pro-music issue. Imagine a poster that says, “I know where my kid is!” and shows various pictures of young people playing music with others and having fun! This could go a long way to reducing the stress and worry of parents who are often at wit’s ends trying to figure out how to give their kids good learning experiences. Music education is a simple solution and not a simplistic one. It works.
4. The Umbrella Group
Formation of art “keiretsus” (a Japanese collective-type business organization that is very powerful) through which a huge umbrella organization uses cross- subsidization among arts groups to allow for a balancing of cycles, lending of resources, and possible synergistic gains of scale and audience sharing.
5. Corporate Ensemble Partnering
Corporate partnering could involve individual corporations taking active roles in sponsoring and supporting the development of small ensembles. In turn, the ensembles could represent the company in formal public settings and provide internal musical education, entertainment, and ambiance for official activities.
6. Go Global
This would involve going international through true expansion into foreign markets, including setting up operations, and not just touring. The symphony organization can use foreign market opportunities, venues, and resources to help support domestic and other international activities. Why assume that the Denver Symphony has to be from Denver? Does IBM still represent Tarrytown? Is Microsoft really still a Seattle company? Why can’t Korean arts investors put money into helping the Atlanta Symphony develop a topnotch symphony in Argentina? Why can’t the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra have a summer training camp in Spain? Music is not necessarily local. It’s how you think about it first that gets the ball rolling. After the idea comes the argument and the money.
7. Politics Is Not All Dirty
Strong activism by minority interests linked with media strategy can yield important political payoffs. A large-scale political action among music lovers, as has been the case with Christian activism, to change the tide of conservative thinking and “public-tize” the musical arts might be a good collective strategy of changing an environment which is unfriendly to symphony orchestra interests. Politics is yin and yang—pendulums, not concrete posts. Things change and activism helps them move faster. Perhaps even advocating for a cultural post at the Cabinet level might be an idea whose time has come.
8. Music Research and Development
We often think of musical creation as the work of solo artists and creative geniuses writing alone and in the middle of the night. Yet in most business organizations there is some significant portion of resources spent on looking to and creating a future. The motives are pragmatic and utilitarian but aimed at increasing the longevity of the organization.
In music, there is no formal “R&D” function, per se. Conservatories can play this role, when they are not busy inculcating tradition into the heads and hands of a new musical generation. Private music corporations (e.g., Sony, Geffen, et al) actively search out this R&D talent and bring it “in-house” where they will enjoy a monopoly of the benefits of the creative talent. This is how capitalist music works. Yet, why not? Why can’t there be a cooperative R&D function that creates value for the larger community of musicians? There is no reason why symphony orchestras or consortiums of musical-arts groups should not create think-tank functions to invent, develop, and test-market music forms, instruments and instrumentation, and technology for better music playing and listening. What if a serious music research center (basic and applied), such the Cité de la Musique in Paris, were developed in Los Angeles?
9. Classical Music TV
MTV is successful because it effectively joins audio and video entertainment and matches them for a pop music youth market. Since its founding, MTV has expanded to become a global “youth station” with programming that attempts to reflect some of the more pressing interests and concerns of young people. We would conjecture that there are possibly large segments of the youthful population whose real and maturing needs are not being addressed by MTV. It is possible that a “CMTV”—which addresses young people’s life issues maturely, without resorting to mindless entertainment, immature posturing, or gross championing of consumption—might just work. Such a station could be staffed by hip and sharp young people who are also into serious music and who are interested in helping their peers develop the critical skills of appreciation and comparison. This is something someone like a contemporary Lenny Bernstein might champion. CMTV could also be about lifestyle, choices, and real adventures grounded in sensible experience, without the hyperbolic imagery of life created by constantly fast, loud music, fleeting images of self-centered people, relentless advertising, and persistently complaining singers. Surprisingly, CMTV, or some variation thereof, might be a tremendous relief for a youth culture presently assaulted and romanced for its role as “a market” and not as people. Young people are smarter and more cynical than ever. They do listen to some of the very interesting alternative serious music that speaks to them. CMTV could be that voice.
The Final Strategy: Genre Begets Organization
There is an intimate link between genre and organization form. Cultural organizations are often synonymous with the very products they create. In cultural organizations, innovation in musical product form, content, technology, and presentation more often drives organizational change and adaptation. In a sense “the show drives the organization,” not the other way around. Success or failure provide the feedback which signal the organization where to go. Over time, audience and critic acceptance signal success of the cultural innovation, and the organization adapts its internal structures and decision processes to support the further development and perfection of that product. If symphony orchestras suddenly found that crossover music, mixing electronic music and instruments with classical formats of performance, was becoming both popular and representing a fundamental shift in audience interest, that genre would begin to dominate the performance output over time. Eventually, the symphony orchestra would become populated with digital “techies” who had a different set of organizational and equipment requirements for support and development. This is the adaptation process which eventually fits the organization to the conditions of its environment. Would the resulting organization be a symphony orchestra? Does that really matter? The resulting organization would both survive and thrive no matter what name you gave it. Pragmatism would dominate the culture, and tradition would have to evolve to include this new entity of human musical expression.
The argument here contends that cultural organizations would better renew and transform themselves by focusing primarily on product and performance outcomes rather than focusing on improving internal organizational matters as the primary agenda. By emphasizing innovation and development of artistic genre, the change of organization design becomes “secondary and natural” as the organization struggles to create new cultural products and achieve market success. Survival would be the natural outcome and not a desperate goal.
We hope that this essay will stimulate continued interest in the more effective development of cultural organizations. Without the higher arts and the appreciation of more sophisticated aesthetics, a culture will become that much poorer in the expression of high ideals and high purposes in living. The arts have a powerful civilizing effect on a society that pretends to be more than a collection of swirling interests. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy acknowledged the importance of the arts to national cultural development, stating, “I have long believed . . . that the quality of America’s cultural life is an element of immense importanceinthescalesbywhichourworthwillultimatelybeweighed….14 In 1997, President Clinton’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities again noted the importance of the arts in creating and preserving cultural heritage and personal identification with the society.
Technology tends to isolate us as individuals reachable only via our electronic machines. The musical arts do the opposite. They take us away from the mundane of that which we must do and give relief from task and toil. The arts stretch our imagination and open up possibilities for seeing things very differently. And it is in seeing things differently that we improve the possibilities for survival in a turbulent and changing world.
Robert S. Spich is a visiting associate professor of management and international business in the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles. He holds a B.A. from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and M.B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert M. Sylvester is dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at Portland State University in Oregon. He is also a cellist, and founder of the “Chamber Music at the Guggenheim” series in New York and the “Bellingham Festival of Music” in Washington state. He holds B.M. and M.S. degrees from the Juilliard School of Music. E-mail:email@example.com
1 Cozzolino, Paul. 1996. The New York Times, December 8: Section 2, 1.
2 The record of which individual symphony will survive or die is impossible to tell. As in actuarial statistical practice, we cannot know who specifically will die, but data and trends simply suggest that in the absence of effective strategic change, more symphonies will falter and close their doors as time goes on.
3 American Symphony Orchestra League. 1993. Americanizing the American Orchestra: A Task Force Report. Washington, D.C., ASOL.
4 Quinn, J.B. 1980. Strategies for Change: Logical Incrementalism. Homewood, IL: Richard Irwin.
5 Khilnani, Sunil. 1999. Review of Realms of Memory, edited by Pierre Nora. Los Angeles Times, 14 February, 3.
6 Atchison, Sandra D. 1993. Grand Ole Symphony? Staid Orchestras Are Forced to Change. Business Week, September 6, 76–78.
7 Smither, Robert, John M. Houston, and Sandra A. McIntire. 1996. Organization Development: Strategies for Changing Environments. New York: Harper Collins College Publishers. See also, French, W.L., C.H. Bell, Jr., and R.A. Wawacki. 1994. Organizational Development and Transformation: Managing Effective Change. Burr Ridge, IL: Richard Irwin. Cummings, T.G., and C. Worley. 1993. Organization Development and Change. New York: West Publishing Company. Porras, J.I., and R.C. Silvers. 1991. Organization Development and Transformation. Annual Review of Psychology 42: 51–78.
8 Cummings, T.G. 1984. “Transorganizational Development.” In Research in Organizational Behavior, edited by B.M. Shaw and L.L. Cummings. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. See also Feneuille, S. 1990. A Network Organisation to Meet the Challenges of Complexity. European Management Journal 8 (3): 296– 302. Lorange, P. 1994. Implementing Strategic Processes: Change, Learning and Cooperation. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
9 Naisbitt, John, and P. Aburdene. 1985. Reinventing the Corporation. New York: Warner Books. See also, Berquist, W. 1993. The Postmodern Organization: Mastering the Art of Irreversible Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Forssell, A., and D. Jansson. 1996. “The Logic of Organizational Transformation: On the Conversion of Non-Business Organizations.” In Translating Organizational Change, edited by Barbara Czarniawska and Guje Sevon. New York: Walter de Gruyter.
10 Margolis, Howard. 1993. Paradigms and Barriers: How Habits of Mind Govern Scientific Beliefs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
11 American Symphony Orchestra League. 1991. Celebrate the Past, Design the Future, a symposium held during the League’s National Conference, Chicago.
12 Bula, Frances. 1997. VSO-Opera Merger Dismays Players. The Weekend Sun of Vancouver, British Columbia, January 11, 1. See also, Rodes, Nevin J. 1996. Marketing a Community Symphonic Orchestra. Marketing News 30 (3), 2. Reiss, Alvin. 1992. Bringing Arts Groups Back from the Brink of Collapse. Fund Raising Management 23 (10), 44–48.
13 Jacobs, Tom. 1997. The New West Symphony: Envisioning the Orchestra of the Third Millennium. Performing Arts 31 (4), 44–50.
14 Swoboda, Henry, ed. 1967. The American Symphony Orchestra. New York: Basic Books.
Orchestras in a Complex World
I n our ongoing conversations with symphony orchestra participants around the world, we had the good fortune to hear from Bernhard Kerres,
a management consultant based in Munich, Germany. Over the past several years, Kerres has helped several European orchestras develop strategic agendas, and he agreed to acquaint the readers of Harmony with some of his analytical techniques.
While several models exist to analyze complex organizations (as evidenced by the use of organizational ecology in the “Jurassic” essay), Kerres presents system dynamics as a useful analytical tool for symphony orchestra organizations.
The author begins with a description of the generic environment in which orchestra institutions operate, and identifies five external forces that especially affect that environment. He then builds a conceptual map to represent ways in which an orchestra organization’s main activities interrelate with one another, and with the operating environment.
The Conceptual Map
Suggesting that the parameters for measuring “success” are both artistic and financial, Kerres presents an initial map that starts with the success of performances. He then moves to a discussion of the importance of brand recognition, adding this factor to the map, and demonstrating feedback circles—loops of issues which reinforce one another, either positively or negatively.
Further map additions include attracting musicians; success with fundraising; recording and touring; and outreach and education. Each addition is accompanied by an explanation of why that activity was selected.
The complete map presented toward the end of the essay gives readers an overall, graphic representation of the complexity of a symphony orchestra organization viewed as a “system.”
Orchestras in a Complex World
W hat is success for an orchestra? This question is more easily answered than is the question of how an orchestra can become successful. In my research over the past three years, I have spoken with a number
of representatives of the music industry about these issues. It seemed useful to develop answers to the questions above through “system dynamics,” a relatively young discipline for the understanding of complex systems. This essay reports the findings and presents a way of thinking about how orchestras can achieve success.
Over the past three years, I have worked with various orchestras in Europe to assist in the development of their strategic agendas for the next five to ten years. In the course of that work, I spoke with orchestra managers, concert promoters, musicians, agents, and others close to the industry in the United States and Europe about the challenges orchestras face today.
Most of my interviewees agreed on five major indicators for successful orchestras. These can be summarized as:
- High-quality orchestral concert performances with the ability to attract and retain excellent orchestra musicians, as well as guest artists and conductors;
- Challenging and interesting programming which attracts audiences and raises the interest of new audiences;
- Attracting well-qualified managers and staff, and also enthusiastic volunteers and supportive sponsors;
- Maintaining a media profile, including recordings and broadcasts, as well as favorable reviews; and
- Successful outreach and education work through provision of musical services to their communities, with an outcome of raising the understanding and appreciation of music.
When the discussion turned to how to achieve these success factors, it became difficult to find a common theme. The discussions made rather clear that orchestras work in a complex environment. Answers about how to achieve success must be seen within this complex environment. Based on the development stage of each orchestra, one or another part of the complex environment becomes more important. It became clear that a description of the complex environment could help to answer questions of how to achieve success.
System dynamics is a perfect tool for a better understanding of complex environments. System dynamics is a rather new discipline which was developed by, among others, Jay Forrester at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s. System dynamics aims to find new ways of thinking about and solving problems in increasingly complex and dynamic environments. In the field of system dynamics, many tools have been developed that are now common practice in business, as well as in research and in other areas. Among the most powerful tools are scenario planning, war-gaming, and modeling. These tools can be applied to many areas, including orchestral activities.
The Environment of an Orchestral Institution
Before one can build a detailed conceptual map for orchestral institutions, one must consider the environment in which these orchestral institutions operate. System dynamics can represent this environment in a very high-level figure, with the organization in its center and the main forces around it. This figure should use three to five main forces to limit the complexity of the later map.
Figure 1 is one option for a representation of the environment in which orchestral institutions operate.
Figure 1 first represents the orchestral institution in detail. In my view, an orchestral institution exists because of the people who come together to work for the same idea. Therefore, the most important internal force is the “people force” which represents the high-level impact people have on any orchestral institution. The definition of the people force includes some of the most important groups working for and supporting orchestral institutions. Even the best musicians would not be able to run a successful orchestra without staff, supporters, volunteers, and all the other people who are very actively involved in today’s arts world.
The most important external force is the competition for the time of audiences. In today’s world, people have available a wide variety of activities, regardless of where they live. This variety ranges from cultural events, sports, and other outdoor activities to television, the Internet, and computer games. A successful orchestral institution needs not only to fight against other cultural activities, but also for the free time of its audiences.
Technology is another force which changes today’s environments. Fast developments, especially in the communication sector, offer orchestral institutions many options to deliver their music. However, technology could also become a threat for arts institutions. Ignoring technological change might be fatal.
At the beginning of this century, orchestras delivered their music primarily through live performances. Later, orchestras were able to broadcast performances and also record them. Today, artists can deliver their music directly via the Internet, as some pop music groups are already doing. They are successfully cutting out other distribution agents (such as record labels) to reach their audiences by less expensive routes. Before long, orchestras will be working on similar ideas.
Political support represents the influence that politicians and governments, and other groups, have on symphony organizations. This force can vary from passively acknowledging that music is performed to providing large government subsidies. The political support force is important to understanding an orchestral institution’s operating climate.
Political support can have many forms. In Germany, this support is manifested in the relatively high public subsidies available for cultural activities. In the United Kingdom, the support can be seen in the favorable tax advantages for sponsorship of the arts. In a climate which does not have political support for the arts, public subsidies, tax advantages for sponsorship, or support for the arts in the educational system, it will be difficult for orchestral institutions to survive.
The general level of music education and appreciation is a very important force which not only heightens the acceptance of and interest in music, but also provides a continuous development of new talent. In countries where arts are supported in the school systems, young people have early opportunities to overcome any anxiety they might have when going to an exhibition or to aconcert. Educational programs developed between schools and arts institutions encourage young people’s interest in the arts and in culture. This will perhaps make them greater supporters of the arts in future, and may also encourage them to think about careers in the arts themselves.
A final force to consider is demographic changes. Classical music was long dominated by Europeans, and when they emigrated to North American cities, for example, they took with them knowledge of classical music and support for symphony orchestras. In recent years, changing demographics have increased the concentrations of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians in those cities, offering orchestral institutions new opportunities to win audiences by marketing to segments that had not been addressed in the past. Success in this marketing requires new thinking about programming, paired with outreach activities.
Building a Conceptual Map
To better understand the complexity in which orchestras operate, one can draw a conceptual map. The conceptual map represents ways in which the organization’s main features and activities interrelate with one another, and with the environment in which the organization functions. Building a conceptual map is normally done in an iterative team effort, as described by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline.1 The map represents the groups’ consensus of the operating environment.
A successful conceptual map requires the support of the whole team. Therefore, it is valuable to work not only with the management and the board of an orchestral organization, but also to include supporters, sponsors, and representatives of audiences. The success of an orchestra is not based on a few people on the orchestra’s payroll. In today’s world, staff, musicians, volunteers, audiences, supporters, and many others take an active interest in the future of their orchestral institutions. They have built an important base of knowledge about the institutions, one which is important to use. Although this approach lengthens the map-building process, it builds on a greater knowledge base, and increases the chances for a successful process.
Inclusion of a significant number of people in building a conceptual map limits the danger of “groupthink.” In many organizations I studied, small groups of people work under the same challenges every day. It is difficult for those small groups to see new solutions to challenges. They often end up in what is called “groupthink.” Building a conceptual map based on groupthink would be fatal because it would not provide new insights into the complex system. The active participation of a wide variety of people, with the help of a trained coordinator and map builder, is essential for a success.
Drawing such a map can be an important learning process for any organization. For many organizations, it is the first time a significant number of participants really discuss the issues important to the environment in which they operate. The process helps to build common understanding and common ground, in turn making it easier to find solutions and support within the organizational system. The more people who are actively involved in the process, the greater the common understanding will be.
Before we can start drawing a map for orchestras, there are limitations which we should keep in mind. The map which will be developed in this essay is drawn with respect to orchestral organizations. Throughout the map-building process, we need to remember the external environment in which our organizational system is operating.
Another limitation worthy of note is that the map presented here is generic. A generic map helps to start discussions, but cannot assist in the individual challenges of specific organizations. Orchestras which find this way of thinking worthwhile are well-advised to st
art map-building processes of their own which consider individual aspects of their environments.
Any conceptual map is also limited by its useful representation. In the discussion about a conceptual map, main issues need to be separated from secondary issues. If the map itself becomes too complex, it will not help to understand the complex environment. The conceptual map is an abstraction of reality which does not consider all issues and influences, but rather focuses on main issues.
The map developed below is also not limited to a specific country. Environments for orchestras in the United States, Canada, and Europe are becoming more similar. Even funding has become more similar. Government funding is at generally low levels in the United States, and is decreasing in Canada and Europe. For many orchestras in Europe, public funding is so small that it is not worth thinking about any more.
To build a conceptual map for orchestras in larger cities, the success of metropolitan performances seems to be a good starting point. What is a successful performance? What makes it successful? Successful performances can be seen mainly in two ways: artistic success and financial success.
Artistic success includes the quality of the performance and the challenge of the program. Financial success includes the ability to sell tickets for the performance and to attract sponsorship. The comparable dimension of intermediate- or longer-term artistic and financial success would be the ability to sell season subscriptions and to increase the audience base.
When considering what makes the actual success, audience attraction is a major point. Financial and artistic success can only be achieved if audiences are attracted. Audiences are often attracted by their interest in the program and/or the attraction the artists hold, including the fundamental quality of the orchestra. Programs and artists are often cited as the main reasons why audiences attend concerts. Sometimes the venue itself plays a role. The new, state-of-the- art Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Symphony Center in Chicago, or the Musikverein in Vienna are attractive and unique places in themselves, and attract audiences who want to say, “I’ve been there.”
And one should remember that audiences are not only the people who come to listen to a concert, broadcast, or recording. Audiences also include supporters, volunteers, and others who endorse the work of an orchestra. This wider definition of audience is critical for the success of orchestral institutions. Without the support from the wider audience, an orchestra would be limited to silent listeners. It would be hard for an orchestral institution to become a lively organization which attracts great artists and musicians, or to be successful in the longer term.
And undoubtedly, the media have a role in attracting audiences for performances. But what exactly is that role? Media includes print, as well as recordings, broadcasts, and many other forms. Media is a very large industry in itself and often crosses paths with the music industry. Media attention includes not only reviews, but also any form of publicized information about the orchestral organization’s activities. This can range from advertising at the local bus station to dedicated slots on the local radio station.
Technical developments in the media industry over recent years have lowered access to the media world, but have also raised the level of competition. Orchestral institutions face the challenge of how to use these developments to their advantage. The options are immense, and might include selling recordings over the Internet or entering into partnerships with various media companies.
With these thoughts in mind, one can now establish the first part of the conceptual map, as shown in Figure 2. The map starts with the main objective of most orchestras: to develop and maintain an excellent orchestra.
The Importance of the Brand
Figure 2 shows influences on the success of performances, but does not yet fully explain the influence of the media on success. Furthermore, Figure 2 does not yet develop a feedback circle between items. A feedback circle establishes a loop of issues which influence each other. For example: satisfied customers generate positive word of mouth, which leads to higher sales, and, therefore, to evenmoresatisfiedcustomers.2 Ifsuchafeedbackcirclecanbeestablishedfor an orchestra, that orchestra would have found a success engine.
So far, we have not spoken about the “brand” of the orchestra. In today’s world, a brand for an orchestra is just as important as for any other good. Such examples as Virgin Records demonstrate how powerful brands can be.3 But there are also examples of powerful brand names in the orchestra world. Such orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic or the Berlin Philharmonic are associated with world-class quality and other attributes. The names of these orchestras have developed into brand names, even if these orchestras do not actively promote their brands.
But what lies behind a brand name? A brand relies on the image it generates in people’s minds. A brand links the values of a product or organization with the qualities people associate with the product or the organization. We, therefore, should consider not only such well-known brands as Coca-Cola. The local shop in a small town actually has a brand because the local population links the image of the shop with the values the shopkeeper represents. The only differences are that fewer people know the brand, and it may not be as well managed or widely recognized as Coca-Cola.
One example of an orchestra developing its image into a brand is the Detroit Symphony. With its surprise encores and the friendliness it exhibits towards its audiences, the Detroit Symphony is creating a certain favorable image in the minds of its audiences. It is building a brand with this image to differentiate itself from other orchestras, and from other performing arts groups in Detroit. The correct conclusion is that orchestral institutions in any city have to think hard about the qualities and values they want people to think of when they hear or see the orchestra.
Take the example of the Florida Orchestra, which works hard on its image of being informal and creative. Recently, this orchestra performed an all-Frank Zappa concert as part of its frequent testing of the boundaries among classical music, jazz, and pop music. The Washington Post reported that, “Roars of applause followed every piece. . . . Symphony patrons in tuxedos edged past colorful eccentrics decked out in Willie Nelson braids and Harley leathers.”4
We now add brand to the conceptual map. Because brand recognition can be measured, it is a good parameter for a conceptual map. Figure 3 includes brand recognition.
Furthermore, Figure 3 helps to better understand the media’s role. Media—in its full variety—influences brand recognition more than do the actual successes of performances. The more an orchestral institution appears in articles, broadcasts, shows, and reviews, the higher the brand recognition.
Figure 3 also establishes the first feedback circle to our model: the stronger the brand recognition of an orchestra, the higher the attraction to audiences, the better the success of performances.
In system dynamics, this kind of feedback circle is called a reinforcing circle, and is represented by the letter “R” on our map. In a reinforcing circle, each item influences the next in the same direction. In the brand recognition example, the direction of the reinforcing circle is positive. However, the same example could change from a virtuous circle into a vicious circle if one considers the following: If the success of performances is low, the impact on the brand recognition will become negative. Negative brand recognition can lead to lower audience attraction, which in turn can lead to less successful performances.
It is important to see the two directions of a reinforcing circle. Taking one part of the circle less seriously than another can easily lead to a very negative outcome. Keep this in mind as we build the map further through additional reinforcing circles.
So far, the map is missing one element vital for an orchestra’s success. An orchestra could not exist without its musicians.
Figure 4 shows how musicians can be attracted. Musicians consider important the orchestra for which they play. They take into consideration the brand of the orchestra, as well as the soloists and conductors with whom they work. If an orchestra is attractive to well-known conductors, it will also be attractive to musicians. Attracting good and enthusiastic musicians is critical for the success of an orchestra and its performances.
Success with Fundraising
Our map so far has not touched upon a very important issue for any arts organization: fundraising. In general, few orchestras in the United States ever really experienced the system of public funding which was well known until
recently in Europe and Canada. In Europe, funding for the arts was historically reserved for the sovereign. Until the last century, the arts were funded by emperors, kings, queens, dukes, duchesses, and so on. As democratization progressed, governments assumed some responsibilities. The shortfalls in state households and the focus on other issues have led to a constant decrease in public funding in most European countries. Private fundraising has now become as important in Europe and Canada as it has been historically in the United States. A conceptual map for orchestra organizations needs to take this development into account.
Fundraising success—from individual, corporate, and public sources— depends heavily on the brand recognition of the arts organization. An organization with a good brand recognition will be able to attract the right supporters and volunteers to make fundraising a success. The success of the orchestral institution itself depends on the ability to raise sufficient funds. Fundraising success must therefore be included in the conceptual map.
As Figure 5 shows, fundraising success depends heavily on brand recognition. It is easier to raise funds for an organization which is well known and well thought of than for an unknown organization. Well-known orchestra organizations can attract higher levels of funding, and can also attract prominent persons to leadership of their fundraising campaigns.
The survival for lesser-known organizations is a real issue, especially in Europe. Lesser-known organizations in countries which traditionally had high public funding face not only drastic reductions in public funding, but also see corporate sponsors attracted to the top institutions (which, ironically, still receive a certain level of public funding). Public and private funding become focused toward a few well-known organizations, leaving fewer funds available for lesser- known institutions.
Success in fundraising starts another reinforcing feedback circle. Only if enough funds are available will well-known soloists, conductors, and musicians be attracted to perform with the orchestra. High-level artistry is necessary to develop audiences and to generate sufficient media interest. This process again leads to better brand recognition.
Similar to brand recognition, fundraising seems to be a key success factor for orchestras in today’s environment. Many orchestral organizations in the United States have professional fundraising staffs, either in-house or outsourced. Orchestra organization board members in the United States take active roles in fundraising, often giving significant donations to their organizations.
Private donors are the strongest supporters of U.S. arts organizations. They may not necessarily be interested in a well-marketed brand, but they are interested in the image behind the brand. If they see their own interests and values represented in the image behind the brand, they will be inclined to support a particular orchestral institution.
The climate in Europe is very different. Fundraising is rather new. Some organizations in the United Kingdom are taking the lead. Nevertheless, many boards, if they exist at all, see their roles primarily in governance and not in fundraising. A learning process will obviously be necessary.
Recording and Touring
Our map now needs to include two additional important points of the complex system: the ability to record and broadcast, and touring. Both issues are vital parts of orchestras’ activities, and both are success factors for orchestras. Figure 6 includes these points on the conceptual map, which immediately adds two more reinforcing circles.
Already explained is the importance of fundraising. And fundraising has a second important aspect. Many orchestras must raise funds for recordings. Classical record labels today are less prepared to take risks with new releases. The classical recording industry speaks of a massive downturn. Recording and broadcasting enhance brand recognition, and are therefore important for any orchestra.
Many arts organizations are already experimenting with the options new technology gives them to be less dependent on established record companies. Many orchestras have excellent Web sites on the Internet, and use this medium to present themselves to new audiences. Some sell tickets over the Internet and make soundbites available. Having the support of experts in these new media, and having the financial backing to establish themselves in this new world, can give orchestral institutions a competitive advantage. As an example, with thesupport of General Motors, the Detroit Symphony is able to continue its national radio broadcasts which reach more than 1 million listeners weekly.
Touring can also be a major source of income for orchestras, and needs to be considered in a conceptual map of the environment in which orchestras operate. It is easier to obtain offers for major touring contracts if the orchestra’s brand is well known. Orchestras which tour extensively are more interesting to record and broadcast companies because of the broader audiences to which the orchestra plays.
Outreach and Education
Outreach and education work is becoming increasingly important for orchestras. It helps orchestras build closer relationships with their audiences, especially in their hometowns and places they visit regularly. This is generally achieved through a dedicated outreach and education program and the involvement of many local organization supporters.
The local support for orchestral institutions is already included in the wider definition of audiences used in this essay. Outreach and education work can now be added to the map. Figure 7 represents the complete map.
Outreach and education work raises the interest in symphony concerts and may gain the interest of people who never considered going to a concert. Outreach and education work is easier in smaller cities because it has a more direct impact than in larger cities where it may be just one of many similar activities. Nevertheless, the efforts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) are lively examples of successful outreach and education work in a large metropolitan area. The CSO has set itself three clear goals in its commitment to broaden its reach in Chicago. The first goal is collaboration and relationship building with other arts organizations in Chicago. This includes coaching and mentoring from orchestra members in the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum and People’s Music School. The second goal is to remove barriers between the orchestra and new audiences. The orchestra distributes tickets to community organizations, and opens the Symphony Center to community events such as the No Dope Express Foundation gala in June 1998. The third goal is achieving greater diversity within the CSO itself.
Many orchestral institutions use the tools of outreach and education work even on tours. They not only perform concerts while on tour, but also get the populations’ interest by giving classes or playing chamber music. This often leads to higher ticket sales and a greater interest by the promoters in welcoming the orchestral organization back.
Another important aspect of outreach and education work is its indirect impact on brand recognition and everything which follows from that recognition. A well-developed outreach program gives sponsors more visibility and offers them new opportunities to support their communities.
Even a strongly abstracted conceptual map makes more clear the complexity of orchestral systems. The variety of performances possible today—from live performances to Internet broadcasts—is only one aspect of the complexity. A broader view of the system makes the importance of brand management and fundraising clear, and the need to incorporate these important issu
es into an orchestra organization’s day-to-day management.
In order to succeed in today’s complex world, orchestra organizations need to understand their specific strengths and weaknesses in their own environments, and the success factors for those environments. The conceptual map presented here can only be a starting point. It is necessary to build an individual map for each orchestra if system dynamics is to be utilized effectively.
When it is fully and continuously aware of the environment in which it operates, of its own role within the system, and of the changes in the environment, an orchestra organization can use its understanding to competitive advantage. System dynamics provides a way to build this understanding. Orchestras then need to translate this understanding into strategies, tactics, and action plans to develop a competitive advantage. Such an exercise needs support from all persons working in or related to the organization. The ultimate benefit will be a more- focused approach to the future based upon a better understanding of the environment, and of the key interrelationships with and between the organization and the environment.
Bernhard H. Kerres is an associate with Booz-Allen & Hamilton in Munich, Germany. He holds an M.B.A. from the London Business School. E-mail: Bernhard@Kerres.com
1 Senge, Peter M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency.
2 The Fifth Discipline. 3 Rifkin, Glenn. 1998. How Richard Branson Works Magic. Strategy & Business
(Fourth Quarter). 4 O’Neil, L. Peat. 1999. Florida Symphony in the Key of Z; Orchestra Honors
Rock Pioneer Zappa. Washington Post, January 24, G7
Just a Dream?
Our files and bookshelves are filled with materials “we really must read sometime.” So it is refreshing that Institute founder and chairman Paul Judy suggests in the following essay that we take time out to consider two texts: Philip Hart’s Orpheus in the New World, and the American Sym- phony Orchestra League’s Americanizing the American Orchestra. He suggests that a careful reading of these texts will remind us of the potentials available in transformational change for American symphony orchestras.
A Thematic Review
Drawing extensively from the texts themselves, Judy leads readers through a variety of common themes: repertory, orchestra boards, artistic direction, and musician involvement. Much of what you are about to read was written years ago. However, the messages are very contemporary. Is the idea of positive change for symphony orchestra organizations “just a dream”? The author suggests that there is some evidence that we are, perhaps, moving from dream to reality.
Readers will also appreciate the biographical sidebar on Philip Hart which accompanies the essay. Octogenarian Hart currently lives in Santa Fe and continues to write.
Just a Dream?
T he Symphony Orchestra Institute is dedicated to fostering improvement in the functioning of North American symphony organizations, toward greater participant and constituent satisfaction and community value.
The Institute came into being based in part on the anecdotal observations of more than 100 interviewees who felt, generally, that the symphony organizations with which they were familiar functioned well below their potential. Nor, to the knowledge of most interviewees, had much change ever taken place in the basic structure and operating processes within these institutions. The gist of what many interviewees said could be paraphrased as follows:
As far as I know, we have always been organized and functioned this way. There isn’t really very much we can do about it. Our practices and patterns are traditional and deeply imbedded. Our problems are systemic. This is just the way these organizations operate.
Some people’s observations were more optimistic and suggested possible avenues for change. But they still ended on a questioning note.
Well, we might change. To do so, many people would have to change together, simultaneously. I can envision the ways it might work. I for one would be interested in trying. But, of course, all the right people would need to agree to work toward something different, challenge their own assumptions, understand the views of others, give up vested interests, develop trust, embrace new forms of teamwork, and create new behavioral patterns and practices. We might then achieve closer to our potential. We could be much more effective. We would also feel more secure and experience less stress. It would be a really fun place to work or volunteer. But, how could this be done? I must be dreaming.
How “Pollyanna”—or realistic—is our typical symphony organization participant? How deep and systemic are the organizational patterns and practices within the community of North American, and particularly U.S., symphony organizations? How great is our challenge in bringing about change? Are we just dreaming, or can change take place?
Recently, in hiring and orienting a new associate here at the Symphony Orchestra Institute (see page ix), these fundamental questions again came to mind. In addition to learning other aspects of a new job, my new associate was faced with a good deal of background reading. Certain texts are canon for the well-rounded student of symphony orchestra organizations, but which ones should I indicate had priority?
After some review, two texts stood out. One provides a particularly excellent historical and somewhat prophetic perspective; the other, a more contemporary view. In addition, some secondary readings surfaced to supplement these primary texts. To better discuss the materials, I sat down and reread them myself.
The result is this essay. For I had forgotten the power of these writings.
Reflecting on the systemic nature of organizational patterns and practices in symphony organizations over a span of 25 years, the texts offer tellingly similar and interrelated insights. I decided that in addition to discussing these insights with my new associate, I should also share them with the readers of Harmony.
The first text is Orpheus in the New World: The Symphony Orchestra as an American Cultural Institution—Its Past, Present, and Future, written by Philip Hart in the early 1970s. This book is now out of print, but it is available in many libraries. A brief biography of Philip Hart appears on the facing page.
The majority of the book traces the historical development of American symphony organizations and some people prominent to that development. Hart also provides the historical background of two industry associations, the American Symphony Orchestra League (League) and the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicans (ICSOM), and a look at certain other dimensions of the industry through the early 1970s. In the final chapter of the book, however, Hart offers his own contemporary critique and overview of the orchestral institution. Permeating this chapter are explicit and implicit suggestions for institutional change which would enable orchestral organizations to better serve their communities and advance the symphonic art form—or otherwise face decline. In the material below, I call special attention to this chapter of Hart’s book.
The second primary text of interest is Americanizing the American Orchestra, published in 1993, 20 years after Orpheus. A report of the National Task Force for the American Orchestra: An Initiative for Change, which was convened by the American Symphony Orchestra League, Americanizing summarizes the contemporary discussions and views of some 150 close observers of the American orchestral institution in the early 1990s. The report presents a chapter on each of seven central issues facing many American symphony organizations; three of these issues relate directly to human resource and organizational matters.
The publication of Americanizing (along with its predecessor, known in the industry as the “Wolf Report,” which concentrated on the financial status and outlook of the industry and its institutions), created an uproar in various industry quarters. At that time, the Symphony Orchestra Institute was but a gleam in my eye; I was not attuned to the process that generated the content of Americanizing,…
Philip Hart was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1914. Educated in the Portland public schools, Hart first attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but transferred to Reed College (in Portland) where he graduated in sociology in 1937. After a brief sojourn to New York, where he assisted a concert program annotator, and upon his father’s death, he returned to Portland and opened a music store, expanding its activities into a local concert-presenting business. Over the next few years, he became an active volunteer with the Portland Symphony during a period of severe organizational and financial problems.
Hart’s career in orchestra management started in 1946. After becoming half-time manager of the Seattle Symphony, and while retaining his Portland business, he was soon invited to become manager of the newly resuscitated Portland Symphony, where he served for eight years. In 1956, he and his family moved to Chicago, where he became assistant to George Kuyper, manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Hart’s duties ranged widely and included the preparation of confidential summaries of the finances and operations of the 20 or so major orchestras that composed the “conference of major managers” (before that group became part of the American Symphony Orchestra League). During this period, too, he was a colleague of Fritz Reiner at the height of Reiner’s musical leadership of the Chicago orchestra. After five years of intensive and varied work in Chicago, Hart moved to New York, joining the staff of the Juilliard School, taking charge of the public performance program of the students—chamber music, orchestra, dance, and opera—and counseling young musicians who were about to seek musical careers. He was also involved in overseeing Juilliard’s outreach program built around performances in public schools, and in the planning and construction of the Juilliard Building within Lincoln Center.
Hart began to think about writing at an early stage in his musical career. As he told the Institute: “In a sense, Orpheus began with my writing publicity for the Portland Symphony.” He explained that he always wanted to write, and after 25 years of a diverse career involving orchestras and classical music, was ready to write “about a topic I knew something about.” In 1970, Hart and his wife moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and for almost 30 years, he has devoted his time and energy to researching and writing about symphony orchestra topics. He completed Orpheus in the New World in 1973, and then embarked on the research, interviews, and writing which resulted in Conductors: A New Generation, published in 1979. In 1983, Hart began to research and write a comprehensive biography of Fritz Reiner, which “labor of love” was completed in 1994. This book involved extensive travel to many locations where Reiner had lived and worked, and extensive archival research. After finishing this book, and following the death of his wife, Hart moved to a Santa Fe retirement community, where he now lives and continues to write. He is currently devoted to completing an annotated Reiner discography.
…nor the basis for the wide-ranging criticism it received. Since then, people have tried to explain the situation to me, but I have yet to comprehend the problem. Perhaps in the reactions to Americanizing, we can learn something about our industry’s mindset just a few years back.
To me, Americanizing stands on its own, like the music of Wagner. The question is, Do the observations in this report, particularly in regard to organizational issues, resonate with the observations and experiences of people closely familiar with the American orchestral institution? For the most part, my answer is yes. Many findings in the report are well expressed, informative, and valuable, especially those which describe the more pressing organizational problems which American symphony organizations face, and the directions in which change might and should take place. In addition, the report gives us a relatively recent plane of reference from which to look at such thoughtful past observations as those of Philip Hart.
A third, supplementary, overview of the development of the symphony orchestra in America is The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States by George Seltzer. Written in 1975, a year or so after Orpheus, the book is a compilation of writings by various participants in and observers of professional orchestras. The writings touch on the history of the symphony orchestra, the role of the conductor and musicians, audiences, repertory, economics, and the outlook for orchestras at the time.
Let us turn first to Orpheus. In introducing his last chapter—appropriately titled “Toward a Responsible Institution”—Philip Hart expresses his deep affection for and belief in the institution.
I believe that the symphony orchestra is an essential part of American culture, as a vehicle for the preservation and presentation of a body of art . . . as important . . . to Western civilization as [its great paintings and literature]. . . . The symphony orchestra in America has become the primary and central force in maintaining the [musical] profession in scores of cities across the nation. (Hart, p. 455)
However, many years of experience with symphony organizations convinced Hart that significant change was needed in “this complex and growing institution.”
I do not believe that the institution has always operated effectively in the past, I view its present state with considerable misgivings, and I have deep concern for its future course. (Hart, p. 455)
I have sometimes been tempted to describe the symphonic institution as being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the last third of the 20th century. (Hart, p. 478)
Fundamental Problems Are Not Financial
Hart especially criticizes the symphony institution for addressing problems with such a singular short-term financial focus, as opposed to addressing its strategic and organizational—or as he puts it, psychological—dimensions.
I am convinced that the issues and challenges confronting this cultural institution require much more than a primarily financial approach. To be sure, virtually every aspect of symphonic activity has direct financial implications, and the continued viability of our orchestras rests in the last analysis on their fiscal solvency, but the degree to which economics has dominated major policy deliberations has too often obscured and distorted basic consideration of the total role of orchestras. (Hart, pp. 453-454)
The time has come for the economic study of our orchestras to proceed beyond the definition and projection of financial needs (important as these are) to an analysis of what orchestras should do, rather than merely what they are doing. (Hart, p. 473)
In their almost exclusive preoccupation with economic problems, both sides have tended to ignore some profound psychological elements of personnel relations. (Hart, p. 467)1
Twenty years later, Americanizing echoed Hart’s view.
[The financial] picture looks bleak, yet its very gloominess suggests opportunity and hope. The hope lies in the realization that the orchestra field’s crisis is not merely financial. For if it were, new and effective solutions would be hard to discern. The financial condition [of orchestras] cannot be corrected by applying purely financial solutions or management “fixes” because it is symptomatic of other problems in the orchestra. (Americanizing, p. 5)
Both Orpheus and Americanizing address the topic of “repertory.” As Hart put it, repertory issues facing symphony orchestras and their audiences embody an age-old “conflict between the past and the present.” Repertory seems to have been as pressing an issue within orchestral institutions 20 years ago as it is today.2 Hart devotes a section of his book to this topic, and concludes with this very contemporary observation:
[Our] problems can[not] be solved [by] conservatively holding to an increasingly static repertory, because that is what the audience wants, or by merely scolding the artistic direction of orchestras for the repertory rut they are in. In this the orchestras confront the challenge of education in the broadest sense—arousing the receptivity of the present adult audience to a broader, richer, and more intense musical experience and developing among our youth a basic understanding of the art. To the degree that there is a crisis in the symphonic repertory . . . orchestras must come to grips with it through a deeper understanding of their educational function. (Hart, p. 426)
Prophetically, Hart felt that musicians should be involved in determining and carrying out the educational policy and programs of their organizations, and should be challenged by the diversification inherent in these activities.
Of course, between 1973 and 1993, and even more so over subsequent years, a great deal has happened in the community and national contexts in which symphony orchestras operate. Our contemporary environment is succinctly described in Americanizing:
Audiences today are bombarded with a number of cultural and entertainment options of which the orchestra is just one. A great variety of music is instantly available through radio . . . television, digital recordings, and various emerging technologies. Development of new technology and changes in the nature and use of leisure time can only intensify as time goes on. The challenge for orchestras is to harness the technology to aid in the presentation of the music and to adapt to changing lifestyles among potential audience members. (Americanizing, p. 22)
Given the changing times in which, unfortunately, the medium is more and more the message, and also given the growing complexity of urban life, Americanizing put less emphasis on straightforward community adult and youth education, and more emphasis on product packaging and marketing, the promotion of American music, the targeting of repertoire to diverse audiences, innovations in concert presentations, and the collaboration of orchestra organizations in larger-scale community music education systems. As noted, the environment for orchestra life has become even more complex during the last quarter century (and changes ahead may be even more dramatic), and “marketing” is now a vital ingredient in symphony organization activities.
Both Orpheus and Americanizing have interesting things to say about boards of directors and the general governance of orchestra organizations.
There is no question that many orchestra boards need wider community representation, not only of other business interests but also of diverse ethnic and social groups and artistic personnel. Nor is there any question that orchestra musicians and government professionals have much expertise to offer symphony boards, by direct representation, via contacts with management, or through formally established and effective advisory committees. (Hart, pp. 481-482)
Many orchestra boards have become large, entrenched structures that include people who have not kept abreast of changing community dynamics and values. The criteria for board membership, born out of a competitive nonprofit environment, may emphasize access to wealth and little else, thus severely limiting the breadth of community representation. (Americanizing, p. 41)
Nor can anyone familiar with the internal power forces within symphony boards ignore the problems created by the interplay of the personalities involved. Most board members have strong characters: in their own lives they are accustomed to wielding authority and enjoying the respect and obedience of their colleagues and subordinates. . . . Boards tend to be dominated by
strong leadership [by] an individual or a small group . . . most directors incline to go along. . . . Challenges are rare . . . boards tend to be “closed corporations” in observing the sometimes strained amenities of confidentiality and courtesy in times of dispute. . . . [There is a] reluctance to challenge leadership in the early stages of developing policy disputes. (Hart, p. 480)
The theoretical role of the board in the nonprofit organization is to represent the interests of the community that supports the organization. . . . Orchestra boards usually recruit individuals who can either “give or get” substantial amounts of money, often overlooking individuals who have other assets to offer, such as community perspective, influence within new constituencies the orchestra wants to reach, knowledge of education practices and needs, and artistic qualifications in other disciplines with which the orchestra could collaborate. (Americanizing, p. 177)
Going further back, some 40 years now, the American Symphony Orchestra League, under Helen Thompson, issued a “Report of Study on Governing Boards…
“Board development” is a phrase generally used to describe specific programs of boards of directors to evaluate and improve their own performance as a group. Toward this end, progressive commercial and industrial, as well as nonprofit, boards use various approaches and techniques. These activities are often “facilitated” by trained professionals and are sometimes referred to as “interventions,” i.e., efforts to review, discuss, change, and improve the processes through which the board functions.
One of the two leading academic journals in the field of nonprofit organization research, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, recently published the results of a three-year study of 24 boards of nonprofit organizations, 10 of which participated in development interventions, and 14 of which received no intervention. The conclusions of this study are reported as follows:
The most effective boards in our demonstration projects learned to attend to how board members worked together as well as to what work the board did. Their members began taking responsibility for considering the ways the board carried out its work and for seeking new ways to improve performance. Rather than treating board development as something separate from regular board responsibilities, these boards came to see how well…
..of Symphony Orchestras.” The study, based on research involving 20 orchestras and more than 700 board members, reported:
The League has spent many years studying various aspects of orchestra operations in an attempt to isolate those factors which seem to predispose an orchestra toward failure or success. . . . Invariably, investigation of these factors leads back to the orchestra’s governing board which holds the power to engage personnel, formulate and carry out basic policies of operation. The story of a successful orchestra is, in reality, the story of an effective orchestra board. Conversely, the reasons behind an orchestra’s lack of success usually are to be found in the existence of an ineffective board of directors. (Thompson, p. 317)
The report went on to list how boards function in successful orchestra organizations. The thinking is as good today as it was in 1958. To paraphrase:
Boards of successful orchestras really work at the job. They have etched out a sound philosophy of the value of the orchestra as a permanent institution in their community. They are composed of individuals well
…they did their work as a part of their ongoing responsibilities. These responsibilities now included taking time for reflection on how the board was using its time, particularly after dealing with a difficult issue, as well as conducting more extensive and formal steps of board education, performance evaluation, feedback, and planning. (Holland and Jackson, p. 132)
The findings from these projects provide evidence that boards of a variety of nonprofit organizations can take intentional steps that improve board effectiveness. Focused and sustained efforts to improve board performance can realize measurable gains. Such efforts take long-term work by a board; they involve moving members out of familiar territories and comfortable habits and supporting their experimentation with new ways of doing business. As one board member observed, “Just as our board members expect staff to show improvements in productivity and gains in impacts, so we should model the behavior we want from them.” Ongoing attention by a board to its own performance leads to a culture of active responsibility for continuous improvement in the quality of its work and greater satisfaction among members. It enables the board to improve its leadership of the organization and demonstrates to others inside and outside how the board expects value to be added to the organization. (Holland and Jackson, p. 133)
…qualified to serve in a capacity of leadership. A high percentage of board members have a strong interest in the arts. There is a close relationship between effective management and effective boards. Finally, periodic board self-analysis is a valuable task. (Thompson, pp. 320- 322)
A few years later, a panel assembled by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to study the problems and prospects of performing arts organizations reported:
Board recruitment remains much too casual in most organizations. Meticulous auditioning procedures are used for second violinists . . . but people about whom practically nothing is known often are chosen to be trustees. . . . Board members should be as carefully screened as performers. . . . The potential for serious and prolonged damage to the organization is as high in the board room as on the stage. (Rockefeller Brothers Fund, p. 327)
Let us move to another topic raised in Orpheus—the issue of the nonresident music director. What did Hart observe in the early 1970s?
I find every indication of a strong trend toward loosening the close bonds that have traditionally tied conductors to their orchestras. (Hart, p. 457)
Profound changes have occurred in the role of the conductor . . . in his institutional relation to the orchestra he serves. . . . [Conductors now have careers which have] seriously undermined the traditional concept of the resident conductor in many communities. (Hart, p. 456)
Outside the central subscription season, many musical directors take little interest in their orchestras’ overall artistic function in a community. . . . There are . . . important exceptions, [but] the trend seems definitely pointed toward a decreasing rather than increasing involvement of American symphonic music directors in greater diversification of their orchestras’ activities . . . creating a vacuum in artistic direction. (Hart, p. 460).
Twenty years later, in many organizations, the nature of the music director’s relationships with the orchestra, the orchestra organization, and the orchestra’s overallartisticdirectionanddevelopmenthaschangedsomewhat.3 Americanizing reports on the phasing out of the maestro-era in American symphony orchestras and only discusses lightly and indirectly the non-residency aspect of many music directors’ relationships with their employers and orchestras. Instead, Americanizing concentrates on the emergence and requirements of the “triad” of leadership involving the board chair (as senior participant), the music director, and the executive director. About this arrangement, the report observes:
Where the [triad] orchestra leadership structure is working well, the leaders are working as a team: the team’s members possess the specific skills and knowledge they need to be effective; they have mutual trust, respect, and appreciation for one another’s roles; they share a mission and goals that are communicated both within and outside the organization; they have knowledge of, and appreciation for, the organization’s history; and they all play strong, visible, and appropriate roles in the community.
If things are not working well, any number of factors may be involved. Board members may not be adequately prepared to lead and may lack the necessary commitment to spend the time and resources required to be effective. The artistic leadership may not be setting standards, advancing the orchestra’s quality and repertoire, or paying sufficient attention to the needs of the community. . . . The management staff may be so dispirited and burdened by the daily pressures of keeping the orchestra afloat financially that they are unable to consider the long-term health of the institution. Finally, poor communication and an absence of structures and relationships that naturally promote understanding, collaboration, and sharing of views among staff, governance and direct-service volunteers, and musicians, may be adding to the difficulties. (Americanizing, pp. 175-176)
Further comment on both nonresidency and triad leadership is provided by a group of orchestra organization leaders assembled last year by the Mellon Foundation to discuss industry issues. The panel considered music director absenteeism to be the most critical aspect of a lessening of artistic direction within the symphony institution. In addition, the group identified the ambiguity of “tri-party leadership” and unclear responsibility and accountability as major factors in the artistic underdevelopment of many orchestral institutions.4 Obviously, in some organizations, the triad is not working well.
To fill the vacuum left by the increasingly absent music director, and perhaps also to draw on unused human potential, Hart proposed that orchestra musicians should become involved in the artistic direction of their institutions.
Orchestra musicians could provide a major resource of artistic expertise that is now largely neglected. They can tell the laymen on an orchestra board a great deal about the musical repertory, and about the competence of soloists and resident and guest conductors. . . . [They] can make a very real contribution to artistic policy. . . . [They have experience of] great value in formulating education policy . . . [and] are sensitive to the opinions of [the community’s] most culturally aware citizens. . . . When orchestra associations concern themselves with “broadening their base,” they should give serious thought to the ways in which the important “input” of their musicians can constructively affect overall policy. (Hart, pp. 465-466).
Philip Hart was familiar with the ways in which the self-governing London and other European orchestras functioned. He felt they might be an example for American orchestras in the area of artistic decision making, among other things.
It may well be that in the long run orchestra musicians themselves will assume a more important role in policy direction. . . . [The] European experience may provide an example . . . cooperatively governed orchestras . . . seldom [are] closely identified with one conductor as musical director in the American sense, [they] have developed among their members a sense of artistic responsibility not evident in this country. . . . There are alternatives to the American tradition of building great orchestras under the autocratic control of one resident artistic director. (Hart, p. 461)
The European experience . . . may provide a fruitful example to our symphony musicians, many of whom envy their colleagues’ control of their orchestras, although without recognizing that this power involves responsibilities unknown in this country. . . . These cooperative enterprises are governed by their members with considerably greater sense of artistic and financial responsibility than is evident here. (Hart, p. 464)
European players undertake symphonic activity because they want to and because the cooperative nature of their association gives them a direct stake in its success. If they select a musical director who may be personally obnoxious to them, they do so because his artistic qualifications override their personal feelings. When they detect a falling-off of a colleague’s performing ability, they find some way of retiring him. . . . [Personal dissension arises, but] their professional attitude produces different resolution of their differences. . . . I do believe that American musicians can learn much from their European counterparts. (Hart, pp. 464-465)
Americanizing also devotes space to the fully cooperative model of orchestral organization, but does not champion its features; nor (perhaps in light of its “Americanizing” theme) does it mention the existence of the London and European models. Regarding other possible organizational designs, Americanizing outlines a “multi-party partnership” involving four constituency groups (musicians, board, staff, and direct service volunteers) in the cooperative leadership of the organization—an idea which may well have some role in the future of American symphony organizational development.
Throughout Americanizing there is extensive commentary (if not explicit or implicit recommendations) about increasing involvement of musicians and volunteers in the affairs and decision making of American orchestra organizations. Here are some examples:
The relationship of musicians to the institution affects everything the orchestra does or might do. (Americanizing, p. 7)
Musicians are the orchestra institution’s primary communicators through their music, their activities as teachers, and their visibility as artist and role models. They can be an abundant source of the ideas, creativity, and energy needed to accomplish new goals. Indeed, the collaboration of musicians and the orchestra institution of which they are the core is essential to the evolution of the new American orchestra. (Americanizing, p. 67)
In most orchestra organizations, board members, administrative staff, and the music director all have a role in setting organizational goals and determining operating procedures. This triumvirate . . . makes decisions regarding financial, administrative, programming, and operational activities. Artistic decisions are made primarily by the music director, who has final say over the orchestra’s musical output. The musicians do not have a defined role beyond the business of rehearsing and producing music; they mostly are not included in other aspects of orchestra operations and decision making. (Americanizing, p. 70)
Questions of organizational ownership and involvement can be addressed first by recognizing and acknowledging needs and then by shifting perspectives. . . . Boards, managements, and music directors need to recognize that musicians in the orchestra feel strongly about all issues that affect their lives— not only repertoire, guest artists, schedules, and acoustics, but marketing, public relations, education, finances, and fund raising as well. If mechanisms are implemented to include musicians in identifying and addressing those issues in ways that the musicians find fulfilling, a big step will have been taken toward realizing substantive musician involvement in decision making. (Americanizing, p. 79)
Orchestra organizations can increase their effectiveness if musicians participate in a meaningful way in achieving the orchestra’s mission. (Americanizing, p. 182)
What has kept America’s orchestra organizations from better involving musicians in their overall affairs? Americanizing suggests some underlying factors, beginning with:
an appropriate description of current relations between musicians and orchestra institutions. Musicians, board members, and staff in orchestras around the country have used words such as acrimony, conflagration, confrontation, division, and catastrophe to describe tumultuous instances of conflict and current conditions of anxiety and mistrust. (Americanizing, pp. 67-68)
The three-legged stool structural model is so ingrained in orchestras that few variations exist. Although the traditional organizational triumvirate may work well for some, if it is rigid, it can isolate orchestra participants from one another; foster internal competition that keeps people from learning, consulting, and communicating; and close the organization to information and ideas from its environment. In orchestras where musicians are insufficiently involved in decision making, strategic planning, advocating, and representing the orchestra in the community, relations can become adversarial and damaging to the health of the organization. (Americanizing, pp. 177-178)
Musicians . . . represent an underutilized resource of talent, ideas, and creativity. Yet often a spirit of acrimony, suspicion, and constraint pervades their relationship with [others in their institution]. (Americanizing, p. 10)
Lack of access to honest, complete, and regularly communicated information contributes to [a] mutual lack of trust . . . and to a perceived gap between “us” and “them.” . . . Musicians may see the origins of orchestra financial problems in a lack of competence or effort on the part of boards and managements, while those boards and managements may blame what they see as unreasonable demands for salaries, extended seasons, and benefits on the part of the musicians. (Americanizing, p. 71)
A culture of conflict seems to have developed in which issues of control predominate over questions of mutual interest. . . . This conflict puts at risk the orchestra’s fundamental relationship with its community. Any organization preoccupied with internal difficulties tends to overlook its external relationships, potentially misreading the community’s tolerance for and interest in the organization’s troubles, and missing opportunities to build allies and institutional support. (Americanizing, p. 72)
Speaking as an individual 20 years earlier, Hart scolds all parties for the adversarialism that had been developing in many symphony organizations over the previous decade or so.
The hostile, adversary attitude of both musicians and management long pervading personnel relations still constitutes a barrier to the constructive growth of our orchestras. . . . Removing this obstacle of adversary confrontation will not be an easy task. (Hart, p. 463)
Orchestra associations and the managers who do their bidding have all too long shared with their players a narrow employer-employee approach to personnel relations, which actually involve sincerely dedicated supporters of the art on the one hand and equally serious musical artists on the other. Board members tend to lump their personnel problems in the same category as labor relations in the industrial world, bringing to the symphonic bargaining table an implacably conservative outlook derived from their private business experience, an attitude sometimes accompanied by a patronizing paternalism. . . . They expect the players to make financial sacrifices in lower pay comparable to their own contributions of money and time . . . forgetting that while musicians depend upon the orchestra for all or part of their living, board members do not. (Hart, p. 466)
Musicians, for their part, have . . . talked and thought in terms of militant unionism, using a rhetoric that [has] inflamed their colleagues and frightened their employers. . . . There is a grave danger that this militance will become an end in itself, continually seeking new issues to justify its existence. (Hart, p. 466)5
[Musicians] cannot relieve [workplace] tensions by imposing on management and the conductor more and more restrictions copied from a book of union work rules. It seems to me that they would be far better advised to work cooperatively with management on the development of diversified musical activities to their mutual advantage. (Hart, p. 468)
Much of the initiative in reducing adversary hostility must come from the orchestra associations themselves: they must put aside their fear of losing control over the artistic destinies of their orchestras and implement institutional procedures and organizations that will bring the now untapped resource of their players’ musical knowledge and experience into the decision-making process of their orchestras. (Hart, p. 469)
In their respective preoccupations, if not obsessions, with financial problems and union- oriented working conditions, both management and the players have lost sight of their broader obligations to the art of music and to making that art an enriching experience for the communities which they serve. . . . [This] demands imaginative and progressive initiative from both groups. (Hart, p. 469)6
Hart was also quite cognizant of the “artistically stifling life of a majority of symphony musicians,” of their “artistically confining work,” of their “sense of alienation from their work,” and “the routine of playing the same music in an artistically debilitating manner.” (Hart, p. 467)7 He was also conscious of the long-standing tensions in the conductor-orchestra interaction:
The subjection of individual artistry to the interpretative ideas of a conductor, the absolute technical discipline, the fear of playing a wrong note, and the possible humiliation of being called harshly to task . . . place a symphony musician under severe psychic strain. Over . . . years, this experience can have a devastating effect on the self-respect and emotional stability of a sensitive man or woman. . . . [Players can lose their] sense of artistic mission [through] subservient performance in the orchestra. (Hart, p. 468)8
The role that orchestra musicians play in the American symphonic institution gives them little artistic responsibility: though their training has, in most cases, included a broad musical education, and though they have been motivated since childhood by a strong commitment to music, they are, by and large, artistic eunuchs once they enter the orchestra. (Hart, p. 462)
A Mandate for Change
Philip Hart’s belief in the need for serious, deep, and constructive change in American symphony organizations comes through strongly in his book’s concluding chapter. The effort that produced the Americanizing report was equally aimed at organizational reevaluation; it was, after all, part of “An Initiative for Change.” The nature and substance of this needed change are sprinkled throughout the report:
Old ways of thinking and talking about orchestra issues and problems have become less productive in our changing society and have not led to many widely accepted, practical solutions. (Americanizing, p. 4)
Orchestras that are willing to explore altering the status quo as a positive response to a changing environment may advance themselves substantially as artistic and community institutions. . . . Each orchestra will have to find its own way to initiate, carry out, and measure the success of change. (Americanizing, p. 12)
The establishment of multiple means of communicating, and the sharing of organizational information among all participants, are vital to improving the musicians’ relationship with the orchestra institution. (Americanizing, p. 77)
Ongoing communication . . . [characterized by] disclosure of information, open discussion, and cooperative action [should] become the norm, not the exception. (Americanizing, p. 80)
Finally, Americanizing outlines some excellent ideas about change which can be paraphrased as follows:
Change is necessary and demanding. Change takes place only over time and is comprised of many small efforts. It can be heard in how the orchestra sounds and can be seen visually throughout the organization. Change is often spurred by a few committed individuals as leaders. Change will usually engage the community in which the organization operates, and often involves strengthening community relations. Change is not free; it requires an investment of energy and resources. Change benefits from recognition and acknowledgment of successes. Lastly, change involves dynamic feedback processes through which organizations learn regularly to evaluate and reinvent themselves on an ongoing basis. (Americanizing, pp. 12-14)
Can deep transformational change take place in the American orchestra institution? Is it just a dream—of Philip Hart’s, of the authors of Americanizing, of the typical orchestra organization participant as paraphrased earlier, or even of the Symphony Orchestra Institute? There is some evidence, however slight, that the industry might be turning a bit toward dreamland. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and our hopes high.
1 In the concluding chapter of his book, looking toward the future, George Seltzer reprints an interesting essay by retiring orchestra concertmaster Rafael Druian which appeared in a 1974 issue of Symphony News, a publication of the American Symphony Orchestra League. Musician Druian shared Philip Hart’s then contemporary view that money was not the crux of orchestra organization’s problems:
I think if a real effort is made to identify the problems that arise as the orchestras develop, solutions can and will be found. But one must be ready to adjust or abandon many practices that were right in the past but were not able to encompass the changes brought on by the passing of time. If the objectives are simply to keep going somehow, I doubt that even massive Federal aid can be of much help. For the problem is not really money; money is the symptom. When the contributing factors to the problems of an orchestra are not identified and dealt with, they usually translate themselves into “more” money.
The musicians want “more money”; the association has to raise “more money”; the public is asked to contribute “more money”; and the tickets cost “more money.” No matter how much money is raised or paid in salaries, the sum will never be sufficient to eliminate the cause which necessitated raising the money in the first place. The preoccupation with money only creates the need to raise more money. (Druian, pp. 426-427)
2 Programming choices and challenges facing orchestral ensembles are an ageless issue. In this author’s view, they should be looked upon as a normal, integral, risky, and community-specific aspect of being an orchestral institution. More than 100 years ago, in his unfinished autobiography, Theodore Thomas discusses the “repertory” issues he faced in his early days as conductor of the fledgling Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The [summer evening concerts had awakened] a general love of music, but it was chiefly music of a lighter character, with symphonies administered in very small doses. The people expected the same class of music at [my regular winter season concerts] and found much fault with my programmes, which they thought too severe.
It was a very discouraging time for us, for while Wagner had to some extent interested the people, he had also accustomed them to strong doses of excitement, and contrast, and everything without tonic properties was regarded with indifference. Indeed, the announcement of a symphony was enough to keep many persons from going to a concert . . . [By pointing out the program content and standards being maintained by the Boston Symphony] . . . I was able to keep up the standard of my programmes, notwithstanding all opposition, until finally the intelligent and influential minority were ready to give up their musical trifles for broader forms, carrying with them the rest of our musical world, and at last I risked arranging programmes for a cultivated audience, though with many fears as to the result. But behold! it was said that I had never made such good programmes! That was true enough, but had I offered them a few years previously, it would have been our ruin. It never occurred to our concert goers that it was they who had progressed. (Thomas, pp. 104-105)
3 Through the centuries, orchestras have grown in size, complexity, and specialization, as have the overall organizational systems of which they are the central component. Looking back some 250 or so years, Adam Carse tells us that things were simpler. According to Carse, a top 18th- century musician was an “executant”—today, we might even use the word “generalist.” The senior musician was a keyboard or bowed-string instrumentalist in ensembles that played music the senior musician had composed, and in which he took the solo or lead parts. This musician was often the ensemble’s “conductor,” playing the keyboard instrument and reading the full score, providing a base line, filling gaps in orchestration left open by less skilled colleagues, and therefore providing “harmonic stability.” Alternatively, the player working from the first violin position was the “leader,” setting the tempi of the performance and keeping the ensemble together with his head, shoulders, arms, bowing, body, or foot movements. Some musicians had both competencies. As time passed, the “leader” role began to predominate, with the leader standing in front of the orchestra, increasingly using his arm and bow to “conduct” the ensemble. By around 1820, with the further growth of orchestras and increasingly complex orchestra works, the lead musician was transformed into a non-playing conductor (though still quite often the composer of some or all of the music being played), equipped with a stick or baton and referring to a complete score. For a period, conductors faced the audience, but later began to face the orchestra. As time passed, conducting and composing, as well as a wide range of other tasks related to the symphony orchestra, began to reflect the specialization which has overtaken most all occupations and organizations in modern times. (Carse, pp. 7-10)
4 Mellon Foundation. 1998. The Orchestra Forum: A Discussion of Symphony Orchestras. New York: The Foundation.
5 In an essay published in the first issue of Harmony, I noted the “bondedness,” and the intellectual as well as physical “propinquity,” of the members of a symphony orchestra. (Judy, 17) This spirit of “togetherness” within orchestras may also result in part from a tradition- or myth-based view of “management and the board” as being “the enemy,” with collective, cohesive, militant action being needed to confront and battle this adversary. However, in 1955—some 15 years before Orpheus and the times of which Hart spoke—Charles Munch captured a more positive side of the spirit which binds members of a symphony orchestra:
And everywhere I have admired the spirit and the high ideals of the great orchestras. Each has its own character, its own color, and its own special quality. But the musicians always know that they are only individual cells of a larger body. They know that they are completely dependent on one another and they place all their talent at the service of the musical collective of which each is but a part. They teach us an important lesson in human solidarity. It is an honor to conduct them.
Sometimes the head of an orchestra section comes forward from the ranks to play a concerto. His comrades never fail to give him the best support and to applaud him without any reservation or any suspicion of jealousy. But a true orchestra musician does not dream of making solo playing his career. Outside of the orchestra, he is probably more inclined to chamber music and may well spend his rare free evenings playing quartets or trios with his colleagues. I know many world-famous ensembles of this kind that are made up of musicians who are still also members of orchestras and who consider the foundation of their musical lives to be still within this great family, which they will never abandon.
Next time you go to a concert, look at the orchestra on stage before the conductor’s entrance. You probably cannot connect any of the names in the program book with the faces you see, but they deserve your respect and admiration just the same—and just as much as the famous virtuosi who prefer their glorious isolation to the splendid anonymity of the orchestra. (Munch, p. 161)
6 Some 10 years after Orpheus was published, Steven Sell, executive director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, spoke at the 1983 ICSOM conference. As reported in the June 1984 issue of Senza Sordino (the same issue in which Tom Hall presented his views about player discontent, as discussed below), Sell suggested that the then still prevailing mentality of adversarialism must change, on both sides. As he noted: “It will take time to build mutual trust, confidence and credibility . . . but people change very slowly and reluctantly. We have all too long been adversarial, and negative attitudes are very deeply entrenched. . . . Those who have an interest in changing attitudes, initially a minority, must patiently do what they can to educate and persuade those not of like mind.” Sell then went on to report steps being undertaken in his organization to improve relationships, particularly between the orchestra and board of directors.
7 One might think that these conditions became somewhat alleviated after the early 1970s, but clearly not. For instance, in 1980, Henry Shaw, a musician in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, who was obviously interested in organizational psychology, published the following thoughts as editor of Senza Sordino, based on discussions with colleagues:
A favorite topic for discussion in the working place generally [is that] having a job is only part of making a living [and] that enjoying a job is an integral and even necessary ingredient to many in the work force. Many who can no longer find that ingredient . . . do not hesitate to look to greener pastures. . . . We are concerned with some of the discontent that is obvious . . . [and] the artistic dissatisfaction sometimes felt in the working place and . . . especially the need of professionals to enrich themselves musically and where necessary, to leave the main source of employment to find that ingredient. . . . One wonders if the discontent often found in the string sections of our orchestras is not related to a general feeling that section string players do not matter . . . as much as do players in other sections of the orchestra. (Shaw, 3)
Shaw went on to outline some basic tenets of job enrichment drawn from his reading of Paul Dickson’s The Future of the Workplace:
- Treating workers as educated adults.
- Allowing for decision making on all levels.
- Increasing the opportunity for using the mind on the job.
- Giving greater individual identity.
- Removing a layer or two of supervision.
- Reconstructing work so that it is more coherent. (Shaw, 3)
Moving forward to mid-1984, Tom Hall, a thoughtful violinist still quite active with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, listed and elaborated on a range of factors he felt contributed to orchestra musician discontent, including anonymity; intra-orchestra inequities; a persistent sense of subordination; narrow early personal development and education; public apathy about classical music; a heightened emphasis on perfection and precision leading to constant scrutiny, criticism, and stress; career stagnation and entrapment; various physical and mental health hazards; atypical work schedules; working within a history and environment of adversarial relations with management; and repertoire saturation. Tom then went on rhetorically to question his colleagues as to whether these and other workplace factors have resulted in at least some musicians becoming jaded, embittered, disenchanted, cynical, apathetic, unreasonably belligerent, generally negative, and fundamentally unhappy. (Hall, pp. 3-4)
Of course, we have subsequently had the findings of Hackman, Allmendinger, and Lehman documenting and comparing the ongoing and pervasive workplace dissatisfaction of orchestra players.
8 According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Carl Flesch (1873- 1944) was one the great violin teachers of the modern age. He initiated the violin department at the newly founded Curtis Institute between 1924 and 1928. As a performer, he was known for his versatility, command of the repertoire, purity of style, and superb technique. An international violin and viola competition is named after him. In the late 1920s, Flesch authored a book on violin playing, in which he presented a florid and amusing, but at the same time subtle and penetrating, description of the interaction between string players and “bad” (many) and “good” (few) orchestra conductors.
The member of an orchestra, to be useful, aside from those instrumental and musical qualifications to be taken for granted in his case, must, in addition, be able to comply with the following demands: the entire renunciation of his personality, of his artistic convictions, of his individual trends of taste; complete subordination to the will of the conductor, who forces him to accept his own human and artistic qualities—hence the denial of his own ego, the compulsory acceptance of an alien individuality. The essential signs of his usefulness, therefore, are a certain enslavement and negation of his proper will, a selfless waiving of every personal stirring of emotion on his part. A collaborator who attempted to force through his own artistic and human independence would soon have to be removed from the orchestra as unfit. The player who is to be of use
must follow every agogic and dynamic nuance prescribed by the conductor in the air, no matter how much it may go against the grain. Indeed, often enough unsympathetic fingerings, bowings and bow-divisions are prescribed for him. From the standpoint of the collective result to be gained, this entering into details is surely necessary, yet many an orchestra musician suffers greatly thereby. Instinctively the comparison with military drill obtrudes itself, yet with the difference that the orchestra musician must remain a subordinate his whole life long, and must obey blindly. So long as his superior is an artist, from whom he cannot withhold respect, to whose superiority he must bow, and who treats him humanely, so long is he ready to subordinate himself to the conductor’s power of suggestion. Yet woe to both participants when the superior is not recognized as standing on a higher level, when he is not sympathetic as a human being, when he does not seem to be an artist of the first class! An abyss will then open between conductor and musician in whose depths the leader’s intentions will vanish without a trace. The musician in such case girds himself in an armor wrought of contempt and indifference, one against whose impenetrability the leader’s most obvious signals, his most violent outpourings of emotion rebound as would an Indian arrow from a modern concrete fortress. What a tragi-comedy does not such a duel represent, the contradiction between the yard-long movements of the conductor’s baton, and the inch-long ones of the passively resisting violinist’s bow! His bitter smile, mingling irony and contempt, speaks volumes when one of the conductor’s remarks betrays his incapacity or when he even holds the orchestra responsible for some error he himself has committed. To this must also be added the extraordinary nervous tension and irritability due to overlong rehearsals and too frequent interruptions. It is true that there exists a type of conductor, unfortunately very sparsely represented, under whose guidance the musician is less conscious of a feeling of dependence, because he is conceded a minimum of artistic freedom and individual expression. A conductor of this sort, at the appropriate moment, allows him to throw himself into his work heart and soul, in accordance with his own feelings, instead of muzzling his personal sentiment, and thus secures for himself an enthusiastic collaborator who, inversely, may become the source of fruitful stimulus to the conductor himself. (Flesch, pp. 190-191)
Paul R. Judy, founder and chairman of the Symphony Orchestra Institute, is a retired investment banking executive. He is a life trustee and former president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Judy holds A.B. and M.B.A. degrees from Harvard University.
Allmendinger, Jutta, J. Richard Hackman, and Erin V. Lehman. 1994. Life and Work in Symphony Orchestras: An Interim Report of Research Findings. Report No. 7. Cross-national Study of Symphony Orchestras. Cambridge: Harvard University.
American Symphony Orchestra League. 1993. Americanizing the American Orchestra. Report of the National Task Force for the American Orchestra: An Initiative for Change. Washington, D.C.: League.
Carse, Adam. 1975. “The Orchestra in the XVIII Century.” In The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States, edited by George Seltzer. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
Dickson, Paul. 1975. The Future of the Workplace: The Coming Revolution in Jobs. New York: Weybright and Talley.
Druian, Rafael. 1975. “Artistic Integrity Is the First Thing to Go.” In The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States, edited by George Seltzer. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
Flesch, Carl. 1975. “The Orchestra Violinist.” In The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States, edited by George Seltzer. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
Hall, Tom. 1984. A Look at Musician Discontent. Senza Sordino 23 (5): 3-4.
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.
Holland, Thomas P., and Douglas K. Jackson. 1988. Strengthening Board Performance: Findings and Lessons from Demonstration Projects. Nonprofit Management and Leadership 9 (2): 121-134.
Judy, Paul R. 1995. The Uniqueness and Commonality of American Symphony Orchestra Organizations. Harmony 1 (October): 11-35.
Munch, Charles. 1975. “The Musician’s Life.” In The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States, edited by George Seltzer. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
Rockefeller Brothers Fund Panel. 1975. “Organization and Management.” In The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States, edited by George Seltzer. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
Sadie, Stanley, ed. 1980. New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: MacMillan.
Sell, Stephen. 1984. A New Approach to Solving Problems. Senza Sordino 23(5): 2.
Seltzer, George, ed. 1975. The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
Shaw, Henry. 1980. Job Satisfaction, For Some, An Elusive Search. Senza Sordino 28(6): 3-4.
Upton, George P. ed. 1905. Theodore Thomas: A Musical Autobiography. Reprint, with new introduction by Leon Stein. New York: Da Capo Press, 1964.
Thompson, Helen M. 1975. “Governing Boards of Symphony Orchestras.” In The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States, edited by George Seltzer. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
The Wolf Organization. 1992. The Financial Condition of Symphony Orchestras. Washington, D.C.: American Symphony Orchestra League.
About the Cover
You may recognize the work on our cover, since it is one of the most popular pieces of orchestral music ever written. But long before the Lone Ranger helped Rossini’s score ride to fame, the William Tell Overture played a role in one of the most spectacular orchestral happenings in American history—the June 1854 festival concerts held in New York’s Crystal Palace, before sellout crowds of 20,000 spectators for each concert, and conducted by Louis Antoine Jullien.
French-born, London-bred Jullien was, by all accounts, a showman, a demagogue, a mega- lomaniac, a great eccentric (he wore white gloves when he conducted Beethoven, his god)—and the most popular conductor of the day. In 1853, after taking London by storm, Jullien decided to conquer the New World as well; in August he brought 25 of his orchestra members to the United States—New York papers heralded the arrival of “the distinguished knight of the baton”—and, augmenting his band with the best American musicians, he began a series of wildly popular concerts here.
Jullien was a press agent’s dream. He conducted with a jeweled baton (handed to him on a silver tray) that was 22 inches long, made of maple, and entwined with two golden serpents, each sporting a diamond in its head. For his New York concerts, Jullien conducted, facing the audience, from the very center of the orchestra, where, with his fantastic gilt music stand and carved arm chair, decorated in gold, white, and crimson velvet, he could hardly fail to command attention.
But Jullien’s showmanship obscured the significance of his intent, for he was, in fact, a serious musician. His rigorous, disciplined rehearsals brought impressive results (“The fiddles all bowed together,” one New York paper noted) and his programs always included one of the hard-core classics. Jullien believed that it was his mission to bring great music to the masses. In that sense, he was one of the first great popularizers—figures, who throughout the history of music, from Liszt to Bernstein, have been regarded with suspicion. He gave American audiences their earliest glimpse of a new breed of charismatic, superstar conductor, and he was among the first conductors anywhere who could attract a huge following on the strength of his personality, regardless of the music he programmed. (Before Jullien, only opera stars commanded such attention in this country.)
After a hugely successful series of concerts in New York, Jullien and his musicians took their act on the road, playing to packed houses from Boston to New Orleans, and from Mobile to Baltimore (which they reached, at some peril, by crossing the ice-bound Susquehannah River). Jullien’s repertory was a savvy mix of serious and light music—a startling, though obviously successful potpourri of everything from Beethoven symphonies and Mendelssohn overtures to the Katy-did Polka and Prima Donna Waltz.
For the grand finale of his New World tour, held in New York City in June 1854, Jullien organized the first of America’s monster concerts—a “Grand Musical Congress,” which involved some 1,500 players and 16 choral societies. (Rossini’s overture began the second half of the June 15 concert, and opened the program the following night.) The highlight of an already extravagant enterprise was the Fireman’s Quadrille that Jullien had composed especially for the occasion. The piece called for two military bands in addition to a full orchestra, and climaxed with the clanging of alarm bells as firemen rushed into the theater from all sides. (Jullien was reportedly thrilled when women screamed and fainted, nearly drowning out the music in their commotion.)
On June 28, less than two weeks after his triumphant New York farewell, Jullien returned to London flat broke, then quickly fled to Paris, where he was imprisoned and later institutionalized (he died in an asylum in 1860). By then, a young American, who had played first violin in Jullien’s New York orchestra, was poised to make an indelible mark on the American orchestral scene, partly inspired by Jullien’s vision and daring. His name was Theodore Thomas, and although he had been disgusted by Jullien’s theatrics—Thomas later called him a charlatan—he nonetheless shared Jullien’s conviction that great music was a necessity, not a luxury, that should be available to all people.
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community
Max DePree, an acknowledged thinker on organizational leadership, is chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, a world leader in the manufacture of office furniture. He has written two previous best-selling books about organizational leadership: Leadership Is an Art and Leadership Jazz, both focusing
on for-profit organizations. In his newest book,
LeadingWithout Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community, he concentrates on nonprofit organizations (“communities”) and examines the nature of leadership within them. DePree’s basic premises are:
- True leaders serve their organizations and the people who work in them, not the other way around;
- Good, old-fashioned values and virtues are just as important in building a successful organization as making a profit and using resources efficiently;
- The best organizations focus on giving hope to those they serve, and
- True leaders are the nurturers of that hope.
His views are refreshing. His emphasis on the fundamental importance to true leaders of such core values as hope, integrity, justice, and equity in the workplace is a welcome change from the view that leaders in today’s resource- poor, lean-and-mean organizations must be tough, uncompromising, and unflinchingly focused on bottom-line success.
The main role of leaders, he says, is to help their organizations become “places of realized potential,” where those involved with the organization share a common vision and work toward a common good. The tragedy of organizations that do not strive toward realizing potential, posits DePree, is that they become…
“The driving force in our organizations, both for-profit and not-for- profit, ought not to be goal achievement or asset management or quantifiable growth, important as these are. Rather, our society badly needs organizations and people that move relentlessly toward realizing their potential. . . . A place of realized potential opens itself to change . . . offer[s] people the opportunity to learn and grow . . . [and] the gift of challenging work . . . sheds its obsolete baggage . . . encourages people to decide what needs to be measured and then helps them do the work . . . [and] heals people with trust and with caring and with forgetfulness.”
…closed, stale, and rigid. While they may ultimately meet their bottom lines, they never become truly successful nor do they substantively contribute to making their local communities, society, or the world a better place.
DePree champions the idea that places of realized potential become much more than mere organizations; they stand out as “. . . models of energy and devotion to a compelling cause . . . illustrate new ways of working together . . . [and] set standards of effective function and enlightened contribution.” These organizations exhibit a “collective state of mind, a public and common understanding that the future can be created, not simply experienced or endured.” These kinds of organizations value creativity, optimism, and substance over bureaucracy and ultimately make the most significant contributions to society.
The author also discusses organizational measurement, which he feels is “directly connected to the health of the organization [and] to the way an organization can mature and grow . . . [and] reach [its] potential.” In his view, measuring production output and bottom-line profit is less important than measuring such factors as “how a vision is translated into a mission . . . how good [we are] at orienting volunteers to the work we need them to do . . . how effective [we are] at giving opportunities, challenge, recognition, and growth to people who serve in nonprofits . . . [and] what [an organization] expect[s] from people in the way of work.” He stresses that the two most important questions that organizations must answer in order to measure their success are: “How does our performance compare to our plan, and how does our performance compare to our potential?”
He believes that in order to be successful, every organization needs to embrace certain core qualities or values, which include equity, trust, order, civility, good manners, sensitivity, and forgiveness. Leaders, he says, are responsible for seeing that these qualities exist in the workplace, and he emphasizes that the ways in which leaders behave and communicate their own values will set the tone for the entire organization. “Long term consequences,” he says, “always accompany the messages we convey.” He lists additional key attributes that, in his estimation, make for a vital organization: truth, access, discipline, accountability, nourishment for persons (through provision of transforming work, growth, and opportunities for reaching their potential), authenticity, justice, respect, hope, workable unity, tolerance, simplicity, beauty and taste, and fidelity to a mission.
The importance of vision in an organization and a definition of what it takes for an organization to be considered visionary are also addressed. We can teach ourselves to “see things the way they are [but] . . . only with vision can we see things the way they can be.” DePree offers a list of key questions organizations need to ask themselves about vision and concludes that, “Our society is full of nonprofit groups inspired by visions of the world as it might be. Their visions give us hope, but we cannot see the vision until it becomes real.”
At fewer than 200 pages, and with plenty of “whitespace” (DePree had his publisher leave enough room on each page so readers could take notes and write their thoughts and ideas in the book), this book is a quick read. It covers a multitude of topics in a gently meandering way that can, at times, be puzzling, but the author’s genial, friendly manner makes the reader instinctively want to like and trust him. The easy, anecdotal, but authoritative way in which he writes makes for a book that’s enlightening, entertaining, and refreshingly free of the jargon that litters so many books on organizational behavior.
Most of DePree’s ideas and suggestions could readily and appropriately be applied to symphony orchestra organizations. Staff members, musicians, music directors, volunteers, and board members could all benefit from reading his book and relating what he says to their own leadership and organizations.
Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community
Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 1997.
192 pp. $20.00
Reviewed by Emily Melton, program director, Symphony Orchestra Institute.