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League of American Orchestras’ 2013 Conference

0 Ann Drinan
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missouri-st-louis-gateway-arch Editor's Abstract

I was pleased to attend the 2013 League of American Orchestras conference in St. Louis in June, 2013. I have written several blog posts about various sessions I attended at the conference. This article presents all these posts as a record of this year’s conference.

The 2013 League of American Orchestras’ conference was the usual mix of plenary sessions, constituent meetings (I attended the musician sessions), workshops and smaller presentations, a master class with David Robertson, and a concert by the St. Louis Symphony. The theme of this year’s Conference was “Imagining 2023.” The conference presenters included two futurists, one of which was the keynote speaker Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, a most dynamic speaker. More about Elizabeth later.

Jesse Rosen Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League

Jesse Rosen Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League

Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League, gave his opening remarks about the future of orchestras. He talked about the need for orchestras to balance getting out into their communities while still performing in their wonderful concert halls, where they sound the best. He used the metaphor of the Hudson River in New York City that flows both north and south simultaneously. He mentioned the New World Symphony’s initiatives in bringing in new audiences and quoted hockey great Wayne Gretzky’s response to the secret of his success (“I skate to where the puck will be”) and applied it to New World (“We skate to where the audience will be”).

As examples of forward-looking initiatives, he mentioned the Cleveland Orchestra’s series that takes place in a bar, the Stockton (CA) Symphony’s work confronting gang warfare with a piece about conflict resolution, and the diversity conference organized by the Sphinx Organization last February.

He quoted Yo-Yo Ma who, in his Nancy Hanks Lecture on April 8 in Washington DC, talked about the “edge effect” — the ecology where two different ecosystems meet, such as a forest and a savannah. The more varied the two backgrounds, the more diverse are the life forms, and the more potential exists for new life forms. Jesse suggested that orchestras should look for their own “edge effect” in finding unions of different genres, cultures, art forms, etc. Imagine 2023!

Jesse’s complete remarks can be found here on the League’s website.

A fascinating coincidence was presented at the opening session. The Gold Baton award was given to the Volunteer Council of the League and to Don Randel, president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Dr. Randel is an eminent music historian (medieval and renaissance music) and taught at Princeton for many years; he is also the past president of the University of Chicago.

During his remarks in receiving his award, he mentioned the performance of John Adams’ Dr. Atomic by the St. Louis Symphony that evening. He said that a scientist he knew at Princeton, who left to go to Fermi Labs and who is featured in the Dr. Atomic opera, was once asked by Congress whether the work he was doing there would contribute to the national defense. His reply was, “No, except to make the nation worth defending.” Dr. Randel applied this concept to symphonies as a treasure of our nation.

Keynote Address

Elizabeth Merritt

Elizabeth Merritt

Elizabeth Merritt, the Founding Director of the Center for the Future of Museums, gave the keynote address at the League’s 2013 Conference. You can watch a video of her address on the League’s website.

Futurists – what do we do? We are at the collision of two fields: future studies and museum studies. The fertile results of that collision should help the orchestra world imagine the future.

Futurists do not predict the future, and we are not about shiny robots and jet-packs. We help people imagine different potential futures within what we call “the cone of potential futures.” There are many plausible, possible futures – any of these potential futures could come to pass. We know the forces and trends shaping our world today, and as we move through the course of the future, we find ourselves heading towards many potential targets. However, we can become myopic and get blindsided if events don’t go as we expect. We need to open our imaginations to start thinking about the types of utopias we want, because things can go terribly wrong.

One of the truisms of future studies is about trying to find the hints of those potential futures in our world today. Any possible future has a toehold in the present. Museums are a little ahead of orchestras in trying to navigate these shoals/museum futures. We are in an identity crisis. You need to understand your core purpose. Many commercial companies have foundered on this. For example, Kodak was founded on the technology of film but forgot that the experience of emotions had overtaken them and can now be delivered in many ways. They forgot their core mission of sharing memories and emotions, and got hung up on the mechanism of film. Likewise SONY – they are now making most of their money through content, not through how these films get delivered.

Museums – what is the definition of a museum? I can’t tell you – museum people will argue about it endlessly. It has something to do with authenticity, with “the real thing.” But what does that mean when the Google Art Project can deliver high-quality reproductions to your computer – you can take a virtual tour of world-class museums. Is that real? They’re real reproductions of actual works…

As we try and navigate this identity crisis, we’re trying to find and hold on to the core purpose. Museums that are foundering today are ones that tried to take the whole equation of how a museum works and control every variable. This doesn’t work. Museums are having to let go of all of those habits, all of those assumptions. They must find the one true thing that they’re adhering to, and let everything else morph as the world changes. They have to rethink various assumptions.

About Place. A University of Chicago study – 1994 to 2008 – found that there was more building growth in our sector [the arts] than any other. We thought that if we got a big name architect and built a large cultural center, people would come. 80% of these projects went over budget and often the attendance projections were dead wrong.

About Time. The day of the old 9 – 5, Tuesday through Sunday, museum hours is gone. Museums are experimenting with being open in the evening – even all night.

About Content. The first Internet cat video conference was held last year at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. They got 10,000 nominations, and narrowed it down to 79-80 videos. They put a big screen projector on the lawn and invited people to come watch – they had 10,000 people show up to watch! It’s now gone on the road. Is this serious content? One of the curators said, “This is material culture, and one of the three most important things a museum can do is help people think critically about material, pop culture.”

About Format. It’s not necessarily going to involve four walls of the museum – you might find the museum coming to you. The Guggenheim BMW Lab’s massive portable popup museum helps cities think about urban design. What are the elements of design that make a city livable?

About Scale. Museums like the Smithsonian can be really proud of having 1 million people visit them, and then they have a 10% increase the next year. But the Internet reaches billions of people – does that make you feel a bit small? Conversely, there are museums that want to be “world class” but perhaps they should be thinking smaller in order to serve their community.

About Structure and Authority. Those are the assumptions that hobble all these other variables. The traditional museum had the director in charge of curators, who had all the status and authorities, who told the educators what they could interpret in the exhibit. Now museums are restructuring. The Oakland Museum of California has a new organizational chart that focuses on the community, because that is the core of their purpose.

When the equation balances successfully, you’ve found a core purpose that’s essential, or addictive, or ideally both. How do we balance the equation? We look at the world around us and determine how people want to consume.

People want experiences that are shareablenot just going to the museum with a friend; they want to go in with their cell phone and share it on Facebook and Twitter. This has so changed the whole premise that most museums don’t have “No photography” signs any more, except the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where they have a protest movement that declares flash mob Sundays where they all descend on the museums and say, “We’re all taking pictures. What are you going to do, arrest us?” It’s France – they do arrest them.

People want museums to be participatory – not just an interactive exhibit. They want a hands on experience, so some museums are sharing data. They’re inviting people to get online and be curators. People are often experts about things that the museum curators are not. For example, with a historic photograph collection, you might know who’s in that photograph – perhaps it’s your grandmother. The curator wouldn’t know that. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art presented One Minute Sculptures – the art consisted of props, pictures, and instructions and invited people to create a sculpture. People often needed help from other participants, and then they laughed and took pictures, which goes back to the social and sharing.

People want personalized experiences. Consider the Live Museum Sound project at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; you can pick up a resident musician who will plug into a set of headphones, follow you around, and create a personalized sound track for your museum visit.

People also want more control over the length of time of the experience. I call this “chunked” experiences. They may only have their lunch hour – so museums are suggesting, “here’s something you can do at lunch.” Museums are finding more creative ways to chunk their experiences. There’s a DVD slot built into the outside wall of the Museum of the Moving Image, part of an installation by Aram Bartholl, called Dead Drop.  You go in with a blank DVD, put it in the slot, it spits it out, and you have a digital art collection that you can go home and consume at your leisure. That is chunked art.

People want their experiences to be multi-sensory. It isn’t enough just to have a visual experience anymore. Museums are finding ways to break the barrier of “don’t touch.” Because we are able to use technology tactics to create digital data and create the illusion of being able to touch the things that previously were behind the velvet rope.

And finally, people want experiences that are distributed. It’s not even just going to the museum, it’s how can the museum come to you. The Portrait Gallery of Canada took high-quality reproductions of their portraits out to the skateways so people could enjoy them while skating and playing hockey.

A lot of the things I’ve mentioned involve technology. One of the dangers of thinking about the future involves the shiny robots and the jet-packs. We get fixated on the technology. Here’s a secret – it’s never really about the technology. The technology just ignites and accelerates cultural change, and helps shape people’s expectations. People have come to expect museums, even low-tech museums, to provide them with the highly interactive, multi-sensory, and distributed experiences technology has led them to expect. Do museums have to adapt to this expectation? There are examples of successful museums that haven’t changed in 150 years. The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum  in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was founded in 1871. It has a library and a traditional art collection. It doesn’t have augmented reality, iPad tours, it hardly even has labels, and it’s beautiful and beloved by its community. And there are hardly any other museums like that in the country because it wasn’t a highly successful model in the 20th century.

There is always space to be traditional, to adhere to what worked in the past. It just may not be a very big space.

If were looking ahead to see what the majority of museums might look like in the future, let’s remember we’re not trying to predict what that’s going to be. We’re trying to imagine the different possibilities. One possibility is a fragmented world in which most museums stick to the traditional model, inside the four walls, presenting traditional authoritarian exhibits, and that’s fine. They’re going to have dedicated audiences. But all those addictive and essential art history experiences will be provided by someone else. So in this fragmented future, you can have the Google Art Project reaching out to bring art into peoples’ homes; specialized history projects for the LGBT community that brings contemporary living history to live in peoples’ home towns; educational model like Conn Academy to take art into the schools. We still has vibrant art projects, but many of them don’t live in museums.

Conversely I can see a future of ubiquity where the majority of museums have chosen to be flexible, adaptive, and immersed in their communities, and more of them may end up looking like Project Row Houses in Houston. Founded on the premise that art is essential to the well-being of the community, this project involves historic houses, and it’s about art, but it also has a laundromat (because the community needed one), a day care for working mothers, educational/vocational programs, resident artists, and it preserved those historic row houses.

My challenge to you is take those two potential futures, fragmentation and ubiquity, and fill in the word “orchestra.” In a fragmented future, if the orchestra decides to fill a vital but more constricted role, who are the other players who will step in and provide those other compelling, addictive experiences? And in a ubiquitous future, what will an orchestra look like? What are all the ways it might be embedded in the community? How might it look very different from the orchestra that you saw 20 years ago?

50 years from now, if I ask “What is an orchestra,” I might get a very different answer. It is like asking a child of today, “What is a phone?” because a smart phone is not about making phone calls – it’s about sharing. It’s about communication. That is it’s core purpose.

What is the core purpose of the orchestra? And what would it look like in a ubiquitous future?

A Conversation with Greg Sandow

In her introduction, Judith Kurnick, Vice President for Strategic Communications at the League, described Greg Sandow as a cultural critic, someone who could bring thinking across disciplines and share ideas that you would never have thought of before. He’s been a member of the graduate faculty at Juilliard for 17 years, and was involved in the Mellon Orchestra Forum, assisting orchestras in rethinking and revisioning what orchestras could be.Greg Sandow

Greg Sandow: When I was at the Mellon Forum meetings, I used to say “I’m 007, I have the license to kill,” meaning that I could go to any meeting and say anything. But listening was more interesting than talking.

Today we’re going to dream about 2023, and imagine that all your problems are solved. You have a new and vibrant audience and all your concerts are full. Maybe people in college will come to your concerts on dates. That happened with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1950s. You could have college nights for different colleges in the area. That was done by many orchestras in the past; the Boston Pops would do it. When it was MIT night, the MIT students would snake dance through the streets from their campus in Cambridge, across the Charles River, to Boston. And when it was Harvard’s night, they had to call out extra police because the Harvard students were rowdy – they would make a lot of noise and demand to hear the Academic Festival Overture.

In the 1920s, when a great soprano retired, her teenage fans at the Met strung banners from one side of the house to the other. These things are not unprecedented.

In 2023, the entire community is buzzing about you – you can track references to you on Twitter, even from people who don’t go to your concerts, because the orchestra is creating that much excitement in your community.

They download your concerts, they buy your recordings and they buy your merchandise at stores all over town. And you have no funding problems, with no artistic compromise. In fact, you are freer than you’ve ever been – you’re not afraid to program whatever you want for fear of offending your audience because your audience is so excited about everything you do. Probably not impossible. When, a few seasons ago, the New York Philharmonic programmed a concert version of Ligetti’s opera Le Grand Macabre, their subscribers turned in their tickets en masse, but then they sold out three performances to excited young people in New York. Possibilities exist.

Question 1 for attendees: Write down three reasons why we don’t have this vision of the future right now.

Comments from attendees:

  •  Limited staff – even larger orchestras are maxed out with the budget and staff time, just doing what they have to do. It’s a real problem for smaller orchestras.
  • We’re operating in crisis mode – how are we going to make payroll, we have a deficit looming, etc.

Greg: Deborah Borda [CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic] noted a long time ago that orchestras don’t have an R&D component. Corporations launch new products all the time and they expect some of them to fail. The League is sort of our R&D arm, but orchestras need to be willing to take risks.  We need to have money squirreled away to spend on taking risks, so that if you lose it, it’s OK.

  • Fear of offending longtime supporters and donors.

Greg: On the one hand we have to continue to do what we’re doing, and on the other hand we have to embark on a completely new path. How do you have the resources to do both and do it without offending your established audience?

Lay these concerns aside for now because we’re dreaming – we should always beware the gospels of despair. One of my favorites is, “Nobody likes classical music anymore – nobody’s educated in it so people don’t care about what we do.” We should beware of blaming others for what we do, and watch out for thoughts that prevent us for thinking about what we can do on our own. We should think of successes.

One of my favorites is Present Music, a new music group in Milwaukee, that has several hundred subscribers and then they sell several hundred more tickets. How do they do it? I’m going to have that conversation with them, but I noticed on their website  that they have an audience development committee of 15 people. I think they prioritized this.

Also, the Toronto Symphony, which says 1/3 of its audience is under 35 – they just persevered with discounted tickets and special concerts for young people for well over a decade.

And the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in London has late night repeat performances of some of its regular concerts – these people are young and not at all like the regular classical music audience.

I will quote from South Pacific, from the song Happy Talk – “Gotta have a dream; if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” The orchestra has power, can change itself, and can change the reality it deals with or at least make people in the city react very differently from the way they usually do.

Question 2: Imagine it is 2023 and you’re looking back – write down one thing that happened in the 1st or 2nd year. Something that gave you a sign that it’s working, that all of this can change. It might be a really big thing or might be a small thing, but something you did or something that happened in the community.

I was at a dinner party in New York, and I was the newcomer, so someone asked, “What do you do?” I replied, “I work in classical music.” The conversation ground to a halt – no one knew what to say!

  • If the traditional stuff works, go do it. The traditional stuff needs to be applied in the best possible way – to the max.
  • Different way of delivering tickets, not via subscriptions, geared to younger people who don’t make advance plans.
  • Let the audience photograph and videotape during concerts to share on Facebook and YouTube – then you would know that people love classical music

Greg: The last is profound in many way. At the Kennedy Center, the very first thing that happens is the shaking finger on the PA system, “No cell phones! No photography! No recordings! Not “ Welcome! Happy to see you!” , but “Don’t do this, Don’t do that.” This is probably not the way you want to greet people. People like to hold up their cell phones so their friends can hear what they hear, but that’s forbidden in classical music. But if it happened, you’d know that people love what you did, and their friends loved what you did.

And the prohibition of clapping between movements really only became uniform in this county in the 1950s. In Mozart’s time people applauded during the music the minute they heard anything they liked. Imagine you’re playing Beethoven’s 9th, and the timpani solos in the Scherzo, and people applaud – that happened at the premiere. If that happened at your concerts, you would know that they care. My Juilliard students often say, “I love my audience but I wish I knew what they were thinking.”

Question 3: It’s now February – Black History Month. There’s a dynamic young Hispanic mayor and she wants to celebrate diversity in your town. There’s a meeting of cultural and community organizations. The theater company has it easy – they do two plays from August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle. The dance company does two dances celebrating blues and hip hop music. The art museum shows outsider art by African Americans in past generations. And the Historical Society has unearthed a guy who ran a barbershop who was also the lead singer in the doo wap group in your town in the 1950s.

What is your orchestra going to do?

  • Play music by black composers.

Who? And the people in the black community say, “We don’t know that name. Does this music represent our culture?” A lot of African-American composers are not known in the African-American community.

In the 1990s I wrote a piece about African-American music – my editor insisted because I felt I had no experience in this subject. It was fascinating, talking to African Americans in the New York community that were prominent in the classical music world.  The New York City Opera premiered Anthony Davis’ opera X, an opera on the life of Malcolm X. At the premiere, the hall was 1/3 African Americans, which was not your standard classical audience. But then they never returned to that opera.

The American Composers Orchestra commissioned a piece from a jazz musician; they used gospel choirs. Again, a good involvement from the black community but they never went back. People really notice that.

Things that could be done: I met a black cellist from the Cincinnati Symphony who told me that in the late 1960s, Aretha Franklin did a show in a big club in New Jersey. She demanded a string orchestra, and insisted that all the players be black. So maybe in 1968, a black classically-trained string player was not on everyone’s consciousness;  the club owner had to really scramble to find them. The cellist told me that he was one of them, and the string players didn’t know each other. The concert began to develop a consciousness and encouragement amongst people who were doing something not common for people of their ethnicity to do.

The Brooklyn Philharmonic, trying to relate to communities in Brooklyn, went to Bedford Stuyvesant, a black neighborhood, and rather than trying to figure out how to bring Beethoven and Brahms into Bed Sty, they had conversations with community leaders: “What is it the makes sense to you, that speaks your cultural language, that also speaks ours?” They came up with a collaboration with Mos Def, a hip hop star from the community, and composer Derek Bermel, who’s an insane hip-hop guy, to write an orchestral version of Mos Def’s music. It’s fabulous orchestra music and fabulous hip hop. They got tremendous turnout.

Elaine Mack wrote a book, Black Classical Musicians in Philadelphia: Oral Histories Covering Four Generations, which is a history of active classical music in the Philadelphia black community. It reminds me of something Michael Morgan, the African-American conductor of the Oakland Symphony,  once said to me: “In previous generations, a lot of African–Americans were interested in classical music but because of the racial climate at the time, they had no opportunities to make careers.” Now those barriers are down. Orchestra could consider doing an oral history of their community and upstage the historical society!

If we imagine 2023, and the community is taking an active vibrant interest in what you do, then you, presumably, are taking an active, vibrant interest in what the community does. This might take you into parts of the community you haven’t had much contact with.

I’m thinking of the inspiring part of Jesse [Rosen]‘s talk yesterday, about how little arts education there is in East St. Louis, a poor minority community. And I’m thinking of the South Bronx, which is now in pretty good shape, though it used to be a wreck. And no, there’s no arts education, but all by themselves, they developed hip hop. It’s important not to have a missionary attitude (“let us bring art to these people”) but rather sit back and listen to them – what can they do on their own. And then maybe develop a community collaboration.

Question 4: Let’s look back from 2023 and look at the first five years: what’s a large thing that happened during that time period – a big development that indicates that you’re in a different place.

  • Empower young musicians – they need a multiplicity of talents and roles. Music schools are starting to stress entrepreneurship and business skills.
  • Make everything digital.
  • We need a new approach to concert dress. Greg: Baltimore has upturned the idea that orchestras are not visible in their community; you have created a lot of buzz. I thought it was brilliant that you teamed up with the Parson School of Design to have students design new concert dress. They then partnered with the Mannes School of Music to try it out at a concert. It would have cost a fortune to approach a famous fashion designer. I was once a consultant to the Grammys when they had a full orchestra, and they did have a designer come up with concert attire, and the musicians bitched and moaned about it. You can’t just parachute that stuff in.
  • Community relations is a two-way street – we don’t know enough about how we appear to the outside world. Greg: One large orchestra did a series of educational outreach concerts and never bothered to ask the teachers their impressions of the concerts.

Question 5: Tabatha Coffey comes to town. She’s the host of the TB show Tabatha Takes Over. She’s a hair designer, a salon owner, and an entrepreneur. In her TV show, she descends upon hair salons that aren’t working very well, and she often meets with very fierce resistance. Let’s imagine that one of your donors has paid Tabatha to come and work with your orchestra.

She works with the way the staff dresses – they must be neat but not too trendy. Is this a friendly place that welcomes people as they come in, and reassures them they’ll have good things done to their hair? She made one salon in South Beach (Miami) repaint the place and do a make-over. Then the employees went out onto the beach and passed out flyers about the grand reopening, but also pointed to a tent where people could get a free haircut.

Maybe this applies to orchestras, and maybe it doesn’t, but what might she say if she came to your orchestra? The orchestra world doesn’t know enough about how we look to the outside world.

  • I noticed last night at the St. Louis Symphony concert that Daniel Lee, principal cellist, stayed on stage during intermission and talked to audience.
  • Orchestra members should smile while playing. They should look like they’re enjoying being there. Greg: At the University of Maryland, the musicians were asked to accessorize their black clothes according to the music. Blue and green for Mahler, red for the Symphonie Fantastique. You notice the bass player with blue ribbons on his tuning peg, a beautiful shawl on a violinist, blue socks on another. It’s individual, it’s festive, and you get the feeling that they care and they’re happy to be there.

I was in Norway last week, taking part in a debate at the Bergen International Festival on the Future of Classical Music. A lot had been said about musicians in orchestras smiling and someone angrily got up in the audience and said, “Do you mean in 1900, when we didn’t have these problems, those orchestras actually smiled, and that shows that everything is different?” The point is it’s a whole spectrum of things and it’s not just about smiling. It’s just generally looking involved.

In 1900 you had a natural kind of communion between orchestras and audience that you don’t have now. And certainly earlier, in the 1820s, there are wonderful stories about musicians in German orchestras – the violinists, when playing those fabulous downward scales in the Finale of Beethoven 5 making eye contact with the audience, because it was all so new. And people in Paris crying out in wonder at passages in Beethoven.

Last time I saw the Berlin Philharmonic – they were playing Mahler 9 – everybody moved their bodies with the music. It was especially noticeable in the bass section in the last movement; they were practically dancing with their instruments. It wasn’t choreographed at all; it was just spontaneous. This is probably one of the reasons they have that fabulously rich sound, if their bodies are so into it. You look at them and you know that they “love to play.” There are many ways that involvement can be shown.

An historian, William Weber, has written a paper about listening during the 18th century, when everybody talked during performances and then applauded when they liked something. He argues that it’s a serious form of listening, even if you are not rapt.

At the premiere of Mozart’s Paris symphony, Mozart wrote a letter to his father, saying, “I knew there was one passage in the first movement they were going to like, and so I was sure to repeat it, and then end the movement with it. And sure enough, they did like it and they applauded.” Here’s an audience that was talking and moving around – there are paintings showing that. And then they hear something and they applaud. I would say that that’s a very involved listening of a kind that we don’t know about.

I was hosting and co-programming a concert series some years ago with the Pittsburgh Symphony.  I tried the experiment of playing the first movement of Mozart’s Paris symphony and reading Mozart’s letter. I invited the audience to applaud when they heard something they liked, because that’s what Mozart’s audience would have done. The applause was different from moment to moment, and the lustiest applause came in the recapitulation at the place where it diverged from the exposition. These were not trained musicians in the audience, but they realized that something new was going on! The most interesting lesson was that whenever something new happened, they stopped clapping so that they could hear it. I had the feeling that they were listening more intently than other audiences. This is radical and it’s not appropriate for all pieces.

If you do something that make it more than a concert – that makes it an event – the audience might respond, “I can’t believe what they did?” and you start getting some buzz. This raises the difficult question: Is it about the music and are we detracting from the music if we do that?

We have to understand that music is a larger phenomenon than just listening to the notes. If you go back in history, you’ll find that people acted as if the show was the important thing and that the music was a part of that, but that the way it was presented, and the audience reaction to it was important. Take Handel – the first time he produced an opera in London, he released doves in the air for a garden scene. [Not a great idea after all!]

In the interest of seriousness and artistic leadership, and getting back to Maher 9, one of the things people might say after a concert is: “I heard this piece, I felt the universe shifting as it was played, and I know the orchestra felt that too because of the way they looked.” We’re talking about deep, rapt, spiritual immersion in what you’re doing, and no one can possibly miss that they know and love classical music.

That is actually my dream. I’m going to end with this: I talk so much in my work about performance enhancements and changing the whole atmosphere. What I would really like to see are performances that are so vivid, so compelling, so unmistakably powerful and right, that people don’t need anything more than that to be riveted. This is the frontier that we might think about. We’re all playing the music pretty well in American orchestras, but are we playing it ‘jumping out of our seats’ well? When we get to a big climax, is it so riveting that no one could possibly miss it? Haydn wrote all those symphonies for the entertainment of Prince Esterhazy’s guests – if those false endings didn’t come across, well, “Fire the guy” because he’s not really delivering. I would like to see our performances so powerful and so vivid that no one in the audience can possibly miss that something exciting is going on.

A Conversation with Peter Pastreich

The final musician session was a conversation with Peter Pastreich, a well-respected manager in the orchestra world, having served as Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony for 21 years. Prior to that he served as Executive Director at the Saint Louis Symphony, the Kansas City Philharmonic and the Nashville Symphony. More recently he came out of “retirement” to lead the Philharmonia Baroque in California from 2009 to 2012. He has consulted extensively across the country and in Europe. Bob Wagner (NJ Symphony) announced that this was Peter’s 50th League Conference – there had been a celebratory gathering for him the previous evening.

Peter Pastreich

Peter Pastreich

The organizers of the musician constituency meetings asked Peter to present his personal views on where the industry is now, how it got to where it is, and where it’s going. While not an exact transcript, the following is quite close to Peter’s actual presentation.

Peter: The timing was lucky; from the 60s until recently we’ve had an uninterrupted expansion period – the economy was exceptional throughout the country as well. We are affected by what happens in the outer world recessions – we had one in the 70s, two in the 80s, and one in the 90s – but they didn’t affect us very much. We are aware of them – we have dips in ticket sales – but they didn’t really touch our people, the wealthy, white, upper middle-class patrons. Say what you like but without them we’re dead.

2008 was different. No orchestras are moving towards 52 weeks any more. We all wanted musicians to make a living, and most managers of my generation wanted their orchestras to be able to serve their community in a way they couldn’t when musicians were working elsewhere to make ends meet.

I went back to work full-time in 2009 and it wasn’t as much fun because it was a different atmosphere. The recession had hit hard and 1/3 of our board members lost their jobs. Not the CEOs but high level executives; they had to resign from the board. Major orchestras were also experiencing problems, with long-standing board members who now couldn’t afford to support orchestras. Corporations were deeply affected, and there was a new feeling about corporate responsibility. It was no longer possible for them to use corporate funds to do personal philanthropy – things were much more restricted. Every orchestra has lost lots of corporate support. There are still plenty of rich people but what a struggle it is for us! When I was with San Francisco and St. Louis, 1/3 of my time was devoted to fundraising. With the Philharmonic Baroque, it was 2/3 of my time.

There was a real crisis and it still exists. Many orchestras started an endowment – San Francisco had $6 million and then $160 million. Orchestras spent at least 5 ½% of the endowment each year. If you have a $20 million budget, you should have a $60 million endowment (three times the budget) so you get $3.3 million a year in income. But when the recession hits and the endowment goes down in value to $35 million, you’re in trouble. You cannot give away the principle, so now you have $1.2 million or so instead of $3.3 million. Where will you make up the difference?

There’s also a ticket problem. In St. Louis, there was inelasticity in demand of ticket pricing. We figured if we kept raising the prices, people would keep buying tickets. The recession stopped that; there was a real resistance to the new prices – those orchestras that cut prices sold lots more tickets.

The graying of audience: the whole population is getting older! If we are an art form that appeals to people over 55, that’s fantastic – we would have growing audiences. It’s not because kids don’t get music in the schools any more. Schools do a terrible job but the real reason people don’t come to our concerts is more that we’re expensive, they think they can get it on radio or TV, and they don’t see how they have time in their busy lives. You can easily spend $300 to go to a concert, with dinner, parking, and $100 orchestra tickets. In San Francisco the norm was a 24-concert subscription. Now if someone buys a 6-concert subscription, it’s call for a celebration. Lots of orchestras have tried cutting ticket prices – St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was the model. They sold enough additional tickets to make up for what they’d lost in cutting the prices. But then what do you do the next year?

I don’t regret that orchestras have a larger number of people buying lower-priced tickets. If we had twice as many concert goers, we’d have twice as many potential donors. And cutting ticket prices makes us more accessible, which is appealing to foundations. But many orchestras are in such trouble that just cutting ticket prices doesn’t cut it.

Musicians complain that there’s plenty of bad management out there, but it’s not because managers are no good. When orchestras were growing, adding weeks, and increasing salaries, I can’t remember ICSOM ever saying, “Boy, we have great managers!” Now that we’re contracting, ICSOM says, “The problem is management.” There’s a certain irresponsibility in seeing it that way, I believe.

At the Philharmonia Baroque, if we blamed bad ticket sales on the recession and not on marketing and programming, when we increased sales, would we give all the credit to the economy, or would we claim it was good marketing and programming?

Look at Minnesota – they continued as though things were normal. They kept giving increases to keep up with other orchestras – the musicians demanded parity, raise for raise. The only way they could pay their bills was to invade the endowment, and take not 5.5% but 12% or even 15%. Seattle took 17% one year. You’re reducing the endowment so you have less money the next year. With a 5.5% draw, the endowment holds its value. If you raid the principle, you’re eating the seeds, and then you can’t plant any more.

Question: Do orchestras budget for cash reserves or is the endowment the cash reserve?

Peter: A consultant recently said that orchestras were undercapitalized; this was a new concept for orchestras. Every orchestra could run out of money in a matter of months if there’s a downturn because they have no cash reserves. They can’t weather the storm. Why don’t we have them? We have to end the year with a surplus to generate a cash reserve, and managers have worried that if they submitted surplus budgets they would get into trouble at the next union negotiation. The San Francisco Symphony had a cash reserve for most of the time I was there – but we couldn’t maintain it for long.

I think we should start talking to orchestra members about the need for cash reserves: “You get a raise and we also need some a reserve. We need the money for R&D; if an opportunity comes along now and it takes some capital, we can’t do it.” An orchestra with a $20 million budget should have $2 million in reserve.

Question: Given the economic cycle, is there any reason why we couldn’t have a portion of contributions temporarily restricted?

Peter: Foundations set up such restrictions all the time. Recently during negotiations in Seattle, the musicians were mad because they claimed that management had restricted funds that could only be used for the endowment. They saw that as a dirty trick. But it’s really responsible management. If you start maneuvering the money so you’ll look like you’re in worse shape than you are, that’s bad management. You should be honest.

The future of orchestras: I am not worried that there won’t be orchestras in the future; there will be plenty of orchestras to manage 50 to 100 years from now. Look at all these kids in conservatories – if there were no future, why would they be there?

Back in the old days, we played and managed for half of what we are paid now. I did some consulting in Honolulu – they’re a basket case financially but the musicians are all still there. We all know that orchestras are not going away. If things turn bad and the board goes away, the musicians stay. Some orchestras are going down, but it’s not the end of our field. The gloom and doom in the press is a misunderstanding – the auto industry made some major adjustments and survived most successfully.

I’d like to offer three questions.

1) During the San Francisco strike, the musicians said the refusal to increase their salaries meant that the board had lost sight of putting artistic quality first. Do higher artistic standards equal better music? Can higher musician salaries ever damage artistic quality?

If we were a scientific business and we put all our income into salaries and none into R&D, we’d go no place. The orchestra field doesn’t do much R&D, meaning experimenting with new things, new types of marketing, trying to understand what we’re doing.

Artistic standards are not only in musician salaries. Yes, without music we’re nothing but we also need to use money for education, for new initiatives. We need to find a balance.

2) If maintaining parity is a sufficient reason to increase wages in an orchestra, even when we’re in financial difficulty (e.g., we can’t go below Minnesota because then artistic standards will drop and we’ll lose people), would the same thing not apply in reverse? If other orchestras are going down in salaries, why wouldn’t we look at parity to justify cuts? Why is parity only mentioned for increases?

In an honest negotiation, management needs to say, “Here are our real needs.” Orchestra salary and benefits are the biggest piece of the budget but they’re not the only thing.

3) Is an orchestra’s financial success, or a growing endowment or cash reserve, a reason to increase wages above inflation or parity?

I realize that all three questions are uncomfortable.

Question: On the 2nd question on parity, yes, your quality should stay the same. In the real world, there can be huge problems.

Peter: If in the top five orchestras, three take freezes, and the management of the fourth says, “We want a freeze,” no one will leave for the other three orchestras, because there’s no financial advantage if they all took a freeze. These are old arguments about artistic standards.

Question: About the cash reserve and parity questions – it’s long term vs. short term thinking. Go back 50 years. We had to create the Congress of Strings to fill out orchestral string sections. Now that orchestras pay a living wage, we’ve raised the standards.

Peter: The way forward, based on ambition and drive, is that we want things to get better. No manager should want to just maintain the status quo or make it worse. Lots of orchestras are playing in halls that aren’t working for them – there’s a national crisis in concert halls. A central issue in the United States is that orchestras don’t have access to their own halls; they were built for them and now, when things are tough, presenting 3 weeks of The Lion King is more important than the orchestra. The hall can be taken for months at a time by visiting shows for short-term money, and orchestras are not playing during that time or they’re playing in inferior acoustics.

We need facilities that make us sound good – people turn away if it doesn’t sound that good and isn’t so exciting.

Question: How does the current focus on social needs impact giving to the arts?

Peter: If all we do is just play concerts, we’re in trouble. The next generation of musicians has to know how to talk to kids, play chamber music, do demonstrations, and teach. But there’s an over-emphasis on public service, as though playing concerts isn’t public service. At the opening session, Jesse asked “Are newspapers to journalism, as orchestras are to music?” We’re not a means to delivering something. The live concert IS the thing. The way you deliver is radio, CDs, etc. but we cannot do without the live concert and still get our music to people.

Basically, I am not at all negative about the future of orchestras.

Learning from New Ensembles

Moderated by Norman Ryan, Vice President of Composers and Repertoire at Schott Music Corporation, the panel for this session included Amy Garapic, Co-Executive Director of Contemporaneous; Beth Perdue Outland, Vice President of Community Engagement  and Strategic Innovation, Indianapolis Symphony; Jen Richards, Managing Director, eighth blackbird; and Julia Rubio, Executive Director of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra.

The session description was: Orchestras often look to smaller, younger, more flexible and innovative orchestral ensembles for inspiration. Likewise, many of these newer ensembles wish for the advantages of staff, a regular venue, legacy, and access to resources. Even with the common ground of vibrant music-making, what can we learn from these new organizations, and what might they learn from us?

You can watch this session in its entirety at the League Conference webpage.

Norman Ryan introduced the panelists, and talked about his working in programming at Lincoln Center in the mid 1980s, when programming choices were not at all risky – usually an overture, a concerto, and a symphony, with a great artist who was a star to drive the concert. He eventually left that environment to work with composers; he’s seen a burst of energy in entrepreneurship in both composers and new ensembles, and not just in New York City but across the country, Canada and the world. It’s been a parallel development with the development of young talented composers. He’s impressed with the commitment that ensembles make for more successful collaborations, and better music.

He focused on a New York Times article, published December 12, 2019, titled “The Juilliard Effect: Ten Years Later” where the author tracked down 44 instrumentalists who had graduated from Juilliard in 1994. Half of them were no longer in music at all, professionally; their occupations included an English teacher in Japan, a fitness trainer, a salesperson at Tiffany’s, an insurance underwriter, and a network engineer for the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. The comments from the graduates in the article were varying: How can I be useful as a musician? What’ s my purpose? What’s my worth. [Note: This article was recently discussed on ICSOM’s Orchestra-L.]



Amy Garapic of Contemporaneous is also a founding member of the percussion trio TIGUE and performs new music extensively, with Bang on a Can and elsewhere. Contemporaneous is an ensemble with 19 musicians who perform music of living composers. She described the group as possessing unbridled creativity, and encouraging possibility, risk and challenge. “For many of us in the new music ensemble world, we’re excited to get up there and create as much music as we can – we find alternative ways to support ourselves.” She said that there was no new music when she arrived at Bard, where she is a percussion teaching fellow. Contemporaneous was founded because they wanted to have their own voice and be spokespersons for composers who had their own voice. But it’s not a way to pay the bills.

The group is now three years old – one of the hardest things was the initial phase of generating excitement and commitment. Bard is a very small community (it’s a “magical nugget up in the Hudson Valley’), and they were able to generate initial excitement locally. Then they started repeating their concerts in the city [New York City].

Jen Richards of eighth blackbird is the former president of New Music Chicago. She spoke about the group’s intensive residencies over the years and suggested that the drivers and key to their successful 17 seasons is perseverance – they have now achieved a degree of stability. She was their first staff person – the first in twelve years. Before she arrived, the musicians did everything themselves, but the demand for administrative work was cutting into their rehearsal time.

The group is now experiencing a bit of “founder syndrome,” where the musicians don’t know everything that’s going on – they still want to hold onto everything but know that they can’t. They recently held a strategic visioning retreat with consultant Tom Morris, to determine how to become an institution that will outlast them. They want eighth blackbird to be legacy based, beyond the personalities of the people involved, to become a pedagogical approach. This type of thinking opens up residency work where they can teach their approach.

The group has only had two replacements over the past 17 years. 20 years from now, eighth blackbird will still be going strong but most likely no original members will be involved.

Question: Norman asked about staffing issues at Contemporaneous and eighth blackbird.

Amy: If there’s a board, it’s a working board. Contemporaneous established a core group mission, where each member has responsibilities and finds ways to contribute. The rest of the musicians approached us; they wanted to be more involved, help run it and feel an ownership, and be involved in decisions, not just be musicians that came to play a concert. However, this is problematic –  having 19 people trying to make decisions isn’t particularly easy. Many of our concerts are in small venues but it’s more of a community event – we generate a buzz around what we do because the musicians are excited about what they do.

Jen: We had epic business meetings when I was first involved with eighth blackbird. Everything was very laborious. Finally we created subcommittees, with only two musicians plus me; this helped a lot. There’s been a lot of professionalization over the years; we now have a full-time finance manager. But if we’re planning marketing for a benefit, the musicians will want to be more involved. There will always be a tension. There’s a huge difference from a start up, where the musicians do everything, to orchestral musician who show up to play and are totally disengaged.

Norman’s question for Beth: How do you confront this idea of orchestral musicians feeling trapped or stifled?

Beth: Indianapolis has an ensemble in residence, which was really an opportunistic accident. Our concertmaster, Zachary de Pue, is part of Time for Three, a trio of crazy hyper-talented musicians who met at Curtis but feel the need to operate outside the standard box of the orchestra. So I thought, what if we have part of a smaller ensemble that can operate differently within the larger machine?

Time for Three

Time for Three

We took them in and allowed them to apply their sensitivity, and told then, “Don’t be beholden to genre.” How do we make room for that in our organization? We had started a Happy Hour series for young professionals and we were failing at that. We found the trio the curatorial time, and we stepped aside and let them do the Happy Hour series. They totally changed the concert format. Did that scare us? Yes. And it scared our musicians. But it was successful.

We had a lot of formatting matchups – Beethoven and Coldplay, Stravinsky and Katy Perry. We got arrangers to find the thematic content, and integrated them to create new pieces. The series got a large following, and it birthed a new FORTE professional organization that supports the orchestra, which has tripled in membership over the last three years. We did a 40 minute play through of Brahms and Radiohead. It was wildly successful. But it can’t just be about matchups. It’s hard to do pop-ups with whole orchestra but you can do it with small ensembles. And we’re finding that most of the rest of the musicians want to be part of it; they keep asking, “What’s next?”

That led to William Bolcolm – he met Time for Three, saw what they could do, and saw what the orchestra could do, having worked with them. He wrote Games and Challenges: Something Wonderful Right Away, a complete piece for orchestra and Time for Three, based on improvisations of Second City. Giving the trio curatorial responsibility expands the palette of what the orchestra can do, and expands the audience’s perspective on what it means to go to an orchestra concert.

Norman: What types of venues do you use? Are these audiences coming back to Symphony Hall? What institutional barriers did you encounter?

Beth: The demands for Time for Three are pouring in – schools, department stores, etc. They have a 14-week residency, and we gave them more time, time to create more programs on different series. Some weeks are incubation weeks for them: we leave them alone and they become a stronger ensemble. Then we put the administrative structure in place – community placements. We had to let go of some of our preconceived notions about placing an ensemble. They played for a major donor, and the board president was concerned that they didn’t have a play list. But they just “feel the room” and improvise on the fly.

We have to trust them to do what they do. I’m not going to direct every second of  what they play, how long, what they wear, etc. And it’s integrated with artistic planning – they work with the orchestra musicians as they learn to improvise and understand jamming.

Norman: How many musicians are involved in these programs? Do they have a say about participating?

Beth: Mostly we use Time for Three as our ensemble in residence, with their own unique brand identity. And they take the ISO brand identity out with them. Sometimes we use them with full orchestra, so they’re seen as part of, and working together, with the full orchestra. There is a subset of other musicians, such as our electric jazz bassoonist, so during the curatorial phase, they worked with the arrangers to make use of this unique asset. The are identifying the unique skills in the orchestra and finding ways to elevate them – this makes it much more satisfying for those who want to stretch.

Norman question for  Julia Rubio: What is the socially-responsible mission of Black Pearl?

Julia: We are a traditional orchestra, repertoire-wise, with an ethnically diverse mix of musicians. Our conductor is an African-American woman [Jeri Lynne Johnson], and our mission is to normalize diversity in the field. It’s been a personal journey for me – I’ve been involved with classical music  for many years, and I had many stereotypes and assumptions about audiences, etc.

Black Pearl Chamber OrchestraHistorically, the experience of participating in classical music for many members of our community has been a painful one. There are people who come into our concert halls and they feel pain; they feel not welcome, or ‘I don’t fit in.’ Our answer is evolving. The first step is that the folks on stage reflect our community. Philadelphia is 50% non-white. For orchestras it’s 2%. There’s a huge disconnect.

It starts with our changing our vocabulary. We don’t use words like “minority” or “inclusion” (i.e., we’ll bring you into our world). We use “socially responsible” rather than “outreach.” We are normalizing diversity rather than bringing in minorities to the concert hall. Our audience is 60% African American and Latino, and 50% are under 50. We don’t want to have the experience where an African-American mother can’t bring her son to a concert and show him someone who looks like him.

We don’t want to be a “black” orchestra or a “Latino” orchestra – we’re not separate but equal. The Kimmel Center is our home too. And it’s not about just a certain social demographic in the city.

The other piece is a hands-on component, which is hard to do with orchestral music. We now have programming that brings people onstage to conduct. We have a program called “I Conduct,” and another called “Orchestrating Leadership.” We hold a workshop at a school, after school, and we teach leadership skills through conducting. And during concerts, we bring people from the audience up to conduct Beethoven 5. It’s simple and it doesn’t cost anything. Why not? We’re asking ourselves “Why not?” all the time.

Norman: I love the I Conduct program. I was looking at some of the  videos on your website and seeing kids doing this. What do the kids get out of it?

Julia: Our goal with our after-school residency program is not to create musicians. We’re empowering these kids as individuals. You give them a baton and put them in front of our professional musicians – that’s a powerful position. And we ask the musicians not to just play the piece – they do a bad job if they student is terrible. And it’s as much about self-empowerment – at the end of the 12-week program, we can see changes in the kids. They’re speaking more articulately, they’re composed, conducting well, and making eye contact. It’s all very experimental; we’re still learning how to capture it.

We’re careful in choosing venues – we try to avoid the 50 tickets and a bus scenario. Most of our activities are in the community. Passing out tickets and providing a bus tends to feed the problem – “We were brought in for a special concert.” It still creates this sense that they’re not part of the concert audience. We need to both play in their communities AND bring them in. Let them know that they’re welcome in these venues.

Amy to Beth: How much of a burden is it to support this trio?

Beth: We need an organizational culture that’s willing to adapt and be flexible. We can build new relationships for now, as we have revenue streams from unexpected donors. There’s also an infrastructure in place, with staff time and a change in our production capacity. There’s a lot of work involved but it’s all forward thinking and what you learn is applicable.

Amy: Composers have written pieces for us that directly involve the audience.

Jen: It’s no longer sufficient to play good music very well. Most of my colleagues see this as boring – they prefer a start-up that has an element of risk  The ISO ceded control to the trio, which is very hard for an organization to do. There’s a burgeoning new music culture in Chicago, which is all musician led, where we have to do things ourselves. It naturally flows out of our situation. It’s taken a dire situation in orchestras for them to see that they must do something different.

Norman: If you’re harnessing creative partnership ideas, which are core to start-ups, you’re expanding the infrastructure.

Julia: You’re changing the culture – that’s where it starts and these are huge issues. You’re changing the culture in your staff, but it’s not just about the strategic plan directives, or tactics or branding. It’s about changing the core of understanding your community, and seeing them in a different way.

Norman: There’s a balance of taking risk but staying stable. You all have proven that this is critical.

Question about Super Storm Sandy: Why didn’t the Brooklyn Philharmonic or the New Jersey Symphony jump in and do something about it. The NJ Symphony should have been standing there next to the governor!

Beth: Flexibility is very challenging for orchestras. We plan our seasons two or three years ahead, we’ve used up our services, the conductor has engagements – it’s very hard to be opportunistic. But having a relationship with the ensemble has enabled us to be opportunistic, and they can represent the values of the orchestra. This can then become R&D for us and can become part of the planning. But the large institutions have a really hard time with that kind of flexibility.

Norman: Opera companies are doing this more and  more with second stage performances – taking chances and risks with a new production and being opportunistic. How do orchestras do more with that?

Jen: We haven’t done this but we think about it a lot. We’re programming an eighth blackbird concert where we don’t say what we were going to play. It’s like opening a present from Mom – you don’t know what it is but you know you’ll like it because it’s from Mom. What if orchestras had 1 or 2 programs a year where you don’t announce the program – you use the core musicians only and no soloists – this could allow for the flexibility to respond to a Sandy. A day where we say, “We’re going to be doing something – trust us!”

Question: How are music schools training musicians? We seem to be stuck in a  19th century paradigm, which is completely disconnected from what’s happening out there. How can ensembles like eight blackbird have a paradigm-shifting impact on music schools?

eighth blackbird

eighth blackbird

Jen: Both are happened. To use a bad word, there’s “tokenizing,” where people say, well, over there is some new music, and then we’re forgotten. The Mellon Foundation approached eighth blackbird and said, “We’d like you to apply for a big grant.” We were thinking about out legacy and we wanted to partner with an institution to make our paradigm shift in pedagogy happen. It quickly came down to two institutions.  The obvious choice was Oberlin – blackbird emerged from there, and there’s a culture of new music there. But we chose not to go there but instead we went to Curtis, which is a very classically traditional conservatory. But our approach was that there, we would have a much bigger impact, because they turn out so many concertmasters and leaders in the field. If it’s successful, it will be because of a few people at the institution who have buy in. You have to have people who are willing to take a risk with you.

It’s hard to carve out a career in music, as shown in the Times article. Even if you get a job, it’s not clear that you’ll enjoy it. Groups like eighth blackbird are giving musicians a different way to be an engaged musician. Our newest violinist left her stable position as assistant concertmaster at Washington’s National Opera because she wanted to be more engaged, musically, artistically and even administratively. That’s becoming more appealing. If we see more orchestras partnering with new ensembles, we’ll see more possibilities.

It’s almost cruel that we allow so many musicians to matriculate from conservatories. We don’t tell them that this is not what they’re going to do for a living. It’s fine if you want to go through this training because you really enjoy it and you’re going to be an amateur musician. We need to be more honest about this and show them more alternatives to a traditional orchestra path.

Jim Holt from the League: What advice and challenge to the people in the room can you give about what they can do to start these types of projects? What’s the first step they can take?

Julia: Don’t be too hard on yourselves. As a field we’ll work towards this and one day it won’t be an issue anymore. Get out in the community – volunteer in something that has nothing to do with the arts. Make it part of the culture of the organization that you work for, such as a Day of Service with an AIDS walk, a homeless shelter, a community garden. Take risks, and partner with organizations.

Jen: Partner with young organizations and take risks. Take risks.

Beth: Start with community needs – know your community needs, and musicians are part of that. Don’t leave them out. Get them involved in building community relationships. How are they involved – because they’re the people with sticky tentacles who are going to draw people back as well. And also risk tolerance – you have to develop a comfort for failing.

Jen: Being comfortable with failure goes along with risk. 90% of everything I’ve started has failed, but then you get known for that 10%.

Amy: We’re just looking to get out and play. We have a little buzz in our communities – it would be exciting to see us work with musicians in larger organizations to build relationship.

Norman: Talk to composers and publishers directly – if you have a project in mind, talk to people. The idea is getting music out there, and encouraging you to take risks, not discouraging you.

Beth: If everybody loves it, you’re probably not taking a big enough risk.

The Getty Health and Wellness Programs

The League of American Orchestras had a session titled “Getty Health and Wellness Session: Health, Wellness and Music.” The session was moderated by Jessica Balboni, Director of Learning Programs at the League. She introduced the panel: Dr. Cynthia Briggs, Director of the Music Therapy Program at Maryville University in St. Louis; Lisa Dixon, Executive Director of the Portland (Maine) Symphony; Jennifer Barnett, Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Knoxville Symphony; Maureen Byrne, Community Programs Manager, St. Louis Symphony; and Crystal Weaver, Music Therapist at the St. Louis University Cancer Center.

These orchestras all received health and wellness grants from the Getty Foundation, a program assisted by the League.

Cynthia Briggs

Cynthia Briggs

Dr. Cynthia Briggs gave an overview of the importance of music therapy.

Why is music therapeutic?

  • Music is learned and stored diffusely across the entire brain from the brainstem to the frontal lobe.
  • The earliest sounds we make contain the elements of music: rhythm, phrasing, accent, tonality.
  • Rhythm is an organizer, and driver: it directs motor movements and organizes musical and nonmusical content.
  • Music is also processed by our auditory cortex and limbic system so it connects directly to our emotions and memories.
  • We associate positive affects to the music we enjoy, the same way we do with our favorite foods and people.
  • We connect strong memories to music, which are embedded in our memories along with the music – when we re-experience the music we re-experience the associated memories.

Dr. Briggs quoted from a June 7, 2019 New York Times article, “Why Music Makes our Brain Sing” by Robert J. Zatorre and Valorie N. Salimpoor. She also quoted from a David Brooks New York Times op-ed piece, “Beyond the Brain” from June 17, 2019 about how people are using neurosciene to explain everything – the mind and personal experiences. What makes music powerful is that it’s so personal. We can get close to someone by knowing what music is important to them.

She defined partnerships as engaging other organizations with shared goals regarding the use of music in health and wellness programming.

  • Shared interests and goals
    • What does each partner hope will be the outcome of this partnership in music and health? Is it realistic/possible?
    • Does each partner clearly understand what the other does and does not do?
    • What does each partner need to be successful regarding their component of the partnership?
    • Create shared goals for each project.
  • Strengths of each partner organization and identification of needs:
    • Survey the members of each partner: what are the member’s interests?
    • What do partner members need to be successful?
    • Educate all partner members about the project and what each partner organization does.
    • Be sure the projects you create are need-driven.
  • Educating the partner members through ongoing listening and ongoing dialogue:
    • Initial surveys and dialogue regarding interests and needs
    • become ongoing dialogue
    • Listen/listen/listen! To partner members: program recipients and the community
  • Post-op: reviewing regularly for evaluation and revision. This involves self-evaluation and research:
    • Build in ongoing self-evaluation procedures from the start
    • Structure projects, when possible, so that there can be good data collection that can later lead to sharing of results
    • Evaluate and learn from all of the data you collect, no matter what the level of the data is
Lisa Dixon

Lisa Dixon

Lisa Dixon, Executive Director of the Portland Symphony in Maine, gave a presentation about their Music and Wellness pilot program with a partnership with the New England Rehabilitation Hospital.

The program has two arms:

  • Employee programs that help employees deal with a stressful work environment, using music to help their satisfaction and stress management
  • Patient Connection – the Music for Life program, where musicians are involved in movement class and guided listening

Lisa showed a video of these two programs, with musicians working with employees and with patients. Click here for a few photos of their program.

The most important part is learning about the importance of dialogue – it’s about mutually-beneficial goals for the program. The Portland Symphony’s mission is to serve the community by enriching their life through music. From the hospital point of view, they want to strengthen employee satisfaction and improve the patient experience. Their funding is tied to patient satisfaction surveys.

We are all centered on the planning team, which involves hospital people, symphony staff and musicians.

The first program for employees was in a full room. “We went through the program, gathered the surveys, and their feedback showed that the program was great but they were more stressed out by the end of the program than at the start. It turns out they were facing a window that looked out at the parking lot, and they were seeing their coworkers going to their cars out the window – they were remembering that they’d forgotten to email or call someone and were getting stressed all over again. We changed the configuration of the room and the second program was much more successful. ”

The PSO did a survey of the full orchestra to find out who is passionate about this work. They found that the musicians are really eager to get in there and make the program as strong as possible.

Jennifer Barnett of the Knoxville Symphony talked about their partnership with the University of Tennessee Medical Center. The program started in 2003, when they had 16 performances in assisted-living facilities. In 2012 they gave 88 performances, reaching 6,000 people in the region. They now have four partners, including the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Parkwest Hospital, Covenant Healthcare Facilities, and the Fort Sanders Regional Hospital Cancer Support Community.

Knoxville Symphony String Quartet

Knoxville Symphony String Quartet

The musicians play as soloists or in a quartet. The UT Medical Center Cancer Institute is their primary partner – they play in the oncology and main waiting areas, with solo musicians playing for the patients receiving chemotherapy treatment. One violinist played in the neo-natal intensive care unit for an infant. When he moved to the side of the crib, the patient turned her head to the right, tracking the music. She had had reconstructive surgery on her neck, and had never turned her head to the right since surgery. It was a break-through in her recovery. In contrast, what they do now is send in a soloist along with a therapist. After a few minutes of entrainment work – matching the rhythm of the music to the rhythm of something in the patient’s body – they can note that heart rates have decreased from the 170s to the 140s, and oxygen level percentages have increased form 89% to 98%. They now have actual documented measurements, rather than just anecdotal evidence.

The most exciting recent development is that they’ve added a board-certified music therapist to the KSO staff – the need for a music therapist came out of a needs assessment project. There were no music therapists working in East Tennessee, so this program is pioneering this activity for the region. Her salary is funded by the KSO, UT Cancer Center provides clinical space, and the Cancer Support program provides benefits. Her role is to provide individual and group therapy, and she works with the musicians in the program.

Jennifer showed a video of KSO musicians working with patients, who commented at the end of the session, “I played with the Knoxville Symphony!”

This year the KSO started professional development for their musicians with Getty funding. The music therapist has discussed interactions and interpersonal skills, appropriate decibel levels in the hospital, making the shift from performer to provider, and how to organize repertoire for different areas of the hospital. Also caring for caregiver, given that the musicians are sometimes in tense situations.

The musicians are enrolled in the Music for Healing and Transition Program, a five-module program at the end of which they will become Certified Music Practitioners. They’ve already completed module 1, which covers patient assessment and general guidelines when entering a patient’s room. The program also includes a 45 hour internship for the musicians to work with patients

One of their great challenges over the last year has been to decide what repertoire is appropriate. What’s the best kind of music? Is classical music the best? The difficult answer is it so much depends on the patient’s preferences and background.

They’ve identified several overarching questions that our industry must answer while doing this work:

  1. How do orchestras integrate professional musicians into healthcare settings in conjunction with a music therapist? The music therapists has years of academic training in their field – they provide the musical intervention into a patient’s room. How do we take orchestral musicians who’ve not had this training and put them into these situations with musical therapists? What does that relationship look like? Where are the boundaries?
  1. How do musicians and organizations justify providing music that benefits patients, visitors and staff in healthcare settings with artistic goals? Musicians are constantly evaluated on the quality of their playing – the music played here is not always cohesive with that goal. How do we make the shift from performers to providers?

Maureen Byrne, Director of Community Programs at St. Louis Symphony, discussed the SLS’s programs. They’re involved in three healthcare programs. Two just went through their pilot year and the third is in its second year.

St. Louis Symphony's SymphonyCares Program

St. Louis Symphony’s SymphonyCares Program

The local NPR station did a great story about the collaboration with the St. Louis Cancer Center, featuring cellists Anne Faberburg and Bjorn Ranheim.

The key to the program is partner commitment. The SLU Cancer Center hired a full-time board-certified music therapist, and they implemented a comprehensive music therapy program that helped define and direct the St. Louis Symphony’s musician involvement.

They know how many musicians are interested in Monday morning performances in infusion rooms. How many ask to be part of it? They were recruiting in the pilot year, and last year they had more musicians who wanted to be part of the program than they had spaces for.

Chrystal Weaver does professional development with the musicians – she sets both their expectations, and the patients’ expectations. She’s also produced a handbook with suggestions on repertoire and logistics at the cancer center – it takes a lot of the stress out of making this visit.

The St. Louis Symphony decided on musician duos, because it’s too stressful for one musician but there’s not enough room for three.

Crystal does a clinical assessment. She feels that is a really good experience for both musicians and patients when you partner with a music therapist, who has training both with cancer patients and with musicians. One of the best benefits is the symphony’s ability to incorporate formal research when presenting the results of the program to healthcare organizations.

Tempo really does affect someone’s physical state. It’s not one style for everyone – SLS musicians have a lot more creative control and freedom – when they play from 66 to 72 beats, the pulse and heartbeat, and respiration of the patient begins to entrain with the tempo of music.

The American Music Therapy website has lots of additional information.


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