The 2011 League of American Orchestra’s conference is fast approaching, and I’d like to get the word out that any musician in a member orchestra can attend the conference for free. This year’s conference is in Minnesota from June 6 - 9; here’s a link to information about the conference.
League Conference 2011
In preparation for the upcoming conference, it seems appropriate to publish all the blog posts I wrote from the 2010 conference here as an article, so symphony musicians can get a sense of what sorts of sessions are available to musicians, and what they might learn and experience through attending and networking.
The League of American Orchestras’ annual conference opened on Wednesday, June 16. Musicians, conductors, artist administrators, and music publishers were invited to an open rehearsal of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) at Woodruff Arts Center for the Atlanta School of Composers concert to be held on Friday, followed by a luncheon with comments by Music Director Robert Spano. He spoke briefly about the importance of new music in the life of an orchestra, but also about the importance of introducing the audience to new composers gradually. The ASO has gradually introduced its audience to the music of several composers over the past 8 years, particularly Jennifer Higdon, Michael Gandolfi, Osvaldo Golijov, and Christopher Theofanidis. “I’m delighted to see audience members mob Jennifer Higdon in the lobby after a performance, and not because they’re mad at her,” he quipped.
The official opening session, which was streamed live, began with an impressive performance of Ney Rosauro’s marimba concerto by the Greenville Young Artist Orchestra, Gary Robinson music director, featuring Wesley Strasser on marimba. League president and CEO Jesse Rosen then gave a tribute to the late Ernest Fleischmann, former Executive Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who passed away the previous Sunday. Jesse recalled Fleischmann’s 1987 speech titled, “The Orchestra is Dead. Long Live the Community of Musicians.”
Remarks followed from Stanley Romanstein, president of the ASO, and Joseph Bankoff, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, which is named for the leader of Coca-Cola. It was built as a memorial in 1968 to arts patrons of Atlanta who died in a plane crash in Europe while on an arts tour. The Center caused a multi-billion dollar renovation of that part of Atlanta; in addition to the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus, it is also home to the Alliance Theater, the High Museum of Art, and Young Audiences.
Jesse then introduced the four questions that were under consideration for the “town meeting” to follow. Hundreds of people had participated in discussions on the OrchestraRevolution.org website over the past month, deciding what questions should be discussed at this session. The four finalists had been posted and hundreds of people had been voting. The questions were posted on jumbotron screens, and people in the room and watching the live stream were urged to vote for the most important question. More than 750 online votes were cast.
PURPOSE: What makes an orchestra matter in the 21st century? 26%
CHANGE: If we “let go of the past” and “embrace the future,” what should we retain, release, and go for? 20%
STRUCTURE: How should an orchestra be structured, organized, and behave to be successful? 11%
RELEVANCE: What does the artistically vibrant orchestra need to look like to be essential for its community? 43%
The keynote speaker at the conference opening session on Wednesday, June 16, was Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Fund. He is the former executive director of Theatre Communications Group. A summary of his address follows:
According to Bill Moyers, there are four parts on the road to creativity: showing up, listening deeply, speaking the truth, and letting go of pre-determined results. The responses of orchestras to the current climate are short-sighted at best, similar to fire sales. The biggest challenge facing orchestras is not financial.
In 2006, I convened 700 artists to help understand the challenges facing the arts. I was amazed at the level of stress and uncertainty I heard. The artists talked about under-capitalization, under-compensation, and a generational transfer of leadership – but where would the new leaders come from?
Two key things are of major concern: audiences and technology. Audience impact: there are dramatic demographic changes happening in age, race, gender, and culture; there’s an erosion of audiences in every field, with declining subscriptions, increased churn, and a collapse of the window of social planning (i.e., people now buy tickets the day of the show, which is a disorienting shift that plagues box offices). So audiences are dwindling yet fixed costs (facilities, etc.) are escalating.
Technology impact: the arts must now compete with 3,000 to 5,000 different marketing messages that the average American sees every day. Americans spend 27 hours a week online or watching TV. The Internet is changing our conceptions of consumption, and the performing arts can’t compete because we have a set venue, a fixed starting time, parking needs, etc., etc. These are huge issues.
But we’re not alone. There’s a fundamental realignment of culture and communications going on, which is decimating the newspaper industry, shaking the book and magazine industry, and especially impacting the recording industry.
When asked about his key to success, Wayne Gretsky, the hockey player said, “I skate to where the puck will be.” How can the arts do the same?
I have four basic questions:
1) What is the value of symphonic music to my community?
2) What is the value that symphonic music brings better than anyone else?
3) How would my community be damaged if it were deprived of symphonic music tomorrow?
4) How can my organization be structured to be the optimal conduit of symphonic music? We need to expand our vision to embrace possibilities we’ve not yet seen.
He talked about Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (2006) as addressing the unleashing of a tsunami of creativity with technology. The means of artistic production have been democratized – anyone can now create a movie or CD, as well as the means of artistic distribution – think iTunes.
There’s been a massive redefinition of the cultural market; it’s now defined by participation, such as American Idol, You’ve Got Talent, etc. Even the iPod consists of personally-created play lists.
Audiences for traditional venues are diminishing, but audience participation is growing. The emergence of the pro-ams is expanding our steady vocabulary and assaulting our assumptions of cultural participation.
How do we embrace the new arts education? The kids are into be-bop, making films, writing poetry; they’re teaching and mentoring one another, and they’re doing this outside the concert halls and classrooms, etc.
Everything must be on the table – the entire business model.
There’s a 3-fold approach: Essentialize – know the core; Sacrifice – give up what falls outside that core; Innovate – incrementally and boldly. We should see this time as a renaissance – to reach a thrilling new reality.
Eric Booth, Teaching Artist and facilitator asked for a show of hands about how much change people wanted in the orchestra world, from 1 (no change) to 5 (lots of change). The result was about 3.9. Eric allowed as how this was a more change-inclined crowd than the staff had anticipated (they took a poll before the session started).
The purpose of the town meeting was to intensify the focus on innovation and change. The consistent difficulties that Eric confronts involve poor listening – guarded listening precludes a healthy, steady, authentic change.
The delegates were seated at tables of 8, and were requested to discuss the question that received the most votes, for about 15 minutes.
RELEVANCE: What does the artistically vibrant orchestra need to look like to be essential for its community?
Eric wandered around the room, randomly eves-dropping, and reported the following most common threads:
There were 436 people streaming online, and 715 votes for the questions. The Tweet stream was constant – one person commented, ”Why do technology conferences focus on creating community and arts conferences focus on technology?” Another: “Taking a moment or two out of a painful audit, enjoyed performance.” And a third: “Live performance must emphasize the unfolding drama taking place.”
We then discussed the runner-up question.
CHANGE: If we “let go of the past” and “embrace the future”, what should we retain release, and go for?
Eric again summarized what he heard around the room:
Ben’s challenge was that we essentialize, sacrifice, and innovate. Most of the conversation fell in the area of essentializing – scrabbling toward what is the core thing, the key offer. We need to find the essential. I heard little about sacrifice. I heard about the difficulties of traditionalism and why you can’t sacrifice, but I didn’t hear any energy turning toward what do we have to allow to fall away. There were lots of offers of innovation – lots of trial balloons.
What do we agree on? Jessica Balboni (League staffer, also listening) found the theme that it’s hard to have purpose around anything you don’t love. What is our core purpose? What is it we love?
There was much talk about education. An expansion of the traditional definition of education. And complaints about audience attention.
Some people discussed the coolness of the musicians – there’s something valuable with audiences getting contacts with the musicians. Getting rid of fourth walls. Reducing the separation.
Jesse Rosen (League CEO) said that he appreciated the candor in the room. “But we didn’t talk about structure – this was the lowest rated question. Is it the elephant in the room? The hardest to discuss? It’s about defining who we are – but we didn’t get into it.”
Eric summed up: There’s a fear of watering down what we do – a complicated and hard issue in our field. A big tension around this is appropriate.
Essentializing – what is the thing that we are the most about? Repertoire? What else?
Are we part of the creative community? Or are we about re-enactment rather than creation?
Accountability – who are we accountable to? To whom do we matter in our community?
The answer to the essential question – audience members can make a personally-relevant connection inside the music. If this happens, they are coming back. That’s the act of consequence – to make this happen.
The culture inside the orchestra administration – how significant is that in the long-term arc of change? It does begin at home. Quality and open heartedness at home base is essential to the long term authentic change.
Finally he described the Hawthorne effect at Western Electric Company in Cicero IL where they were testing variables to see what would make the workers more productive. They were testing variables of lighting, when employees took breaks, etc., and they involved the workers in some of these tests. They found that any variable that involved the workers caused the workers to become more productive. Any time you engage workers in the authentic inquiry about their work, their productivity goes up. When you engage your colleagues – everyone in the institution – their productivity for contributing to change goes up.
Thursday evening we attended a wonderful performance of Verdi’s Requiem by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, followed by the annual Tune Up party at the High Museum of Art (joined by delegates from Chorus America who were also meeting in Atlanta).
Thursday morning started off with a session about digital media rights, moderated by John Sparrow, VP of Orchestra Initiatives in Atlanta. The panel: Jonathan Brill, Executive VP of Opus 3 Artists; Joe Kluger, Partner at WolfBrown and former President of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Robert Levine, Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony [and a Senior Editor at Polyphonic.org], who is a leading voice in media technology and the use of iTunes. Joe and Robert were members of the Electronic Media Forum, negotiating AFM media agreements, for many years.
To begin, Joe Kluger gave a 10 minute overview of the world of electronic media. (He actually managed to summarize a rather lengthy presentation in under 10 minutes and received a warm round of applause!)
Joe defined the core mission of an orchestra as presenting performances in person, so electronic media is therefore a secondary role. The value of electronic media is in marketing the institution, expanding audiences, reaching more people, stimulating contributions, establishing institutional branding, and generating incremental net revenue for performers
Joe then defined two types of distribution: Ephemeral content is content to which the customer has access but not ownership or control, such as radio broadcasts, TV, and online streaming, vs. Collectible content, which provides permanent access to and control of content, such as downloads, CDs, and DVDs. But this line is being blurred, given the iPhone. A third newer type of content is On Demand, where the customer has control of access to the content, but not on a permanent basis, such as podcasts.
Historically there was a high cost of recording and distributing a limited amount of content. Most recording projects were the initiatives of commercial and non-commercial broadcasters; they assumed the risk and controlled the distribution. In the current situation there is less demand for full performance content, but an increased opportunity to present excerpts. The costs of digitizing content are coming down dramatically; the Internet provides an opportunity to limit the gatekeepers in the process who control content and distribution.
Joe recommends The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, which describes how you can make a whole lot more by selling a few copies of a lot of things rather than trying to hit the Top Ten and sell a lot of copies of a few things.
Current Opportunity: recognize the value of taking advantage of technology; determine which activities to pursue and set clear institutional objectives for those activities; be clear about the audiences – local or national, which demographics; do a cost/benefit analysis to see if it’s worth doing (i.e., worth the allocation of resources); incorporate technology as a core priority of the organization, just the same as for education concerts; be proactive rather than reactive, and outsource things when appropriate – when they are not part of the core competency.
Agreements: You need to obtain agreement from musicians, conductors, soloists, composers, publishers, stagehands, and performance venues.
Process: the parties have shared goals and strategies, so use collaborative decision making to reach consensus agreements. Structure the relationship on a shared risk / shared benefit basis.
Robert Levine then gave an overview of the Milwaukee Symphony’s foray into putting their archival performances up on iTunes.
In October 2005, the MSO was the first American orchestra to release recorded material directly to online download stores such as the iTunes music store. Arkivmusic.com lists 27 recordings featuring the MSO, plus they’ve done some self-produced recordings, including the first English-language version of Hansel and Gretel in decades. They’ve also long had a local TV presence.
But the most important commitment of the MSO to electronic media has been its national radio broadcast series, produced without interruption since 1976. The MSO has produced over 400 concert broadcasts.
After the Hansel and Gretel recording was released, the MSO management convened a “media summit” to consider further media projects. At this meeting the MSO artistic consultant, Evans Mireages, mentioned that another client was looking for additional orchestral content.
This information caught Robert’s ear, as he’d served on the ICSOM Electronic Media Committee for many years and was very involved in drafting the 2000 AFM Internet agreement. He had been disappointed that the agreement was so little used. In part this was because of the dot.com collapse, and also because in 2000 most people connected to the Internet with a 56K modem, which was not conducive to downloading a symphonic concert.
“What is iTunes’ phone number? They don’t have one. You have to send them an email. At one point the San Francisco Symphony didn’t know how to get hold of them.”
Robert helped the MSO negotiate an internal agreement; then they identified content and pushed it through their internal artistic approval process. The MSO also had a strong tradition of respectful labor-management relations, which greatly helped the process. They had to jump through a lot of hoops from the online stores, but eventually 14 recordings went public, including a Robert Sierra world premiere.
The MSO was well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity presented by their consultant. They had a lot of experience with media, and already had lots of digital content from their years of radio broadcasts. They also understood that media is a promotional tool (they never made much money from it). And they had someone in the institution (Robert) with the background and experience to see how to get it done.
Innovation does not have to be expensive – the total cost to get the first recordings up on iTunes was $3,000, donated, interestingly, by a musician in the orchestra. The radio broadcasts had already been paid for. It did take up a lot of staff time but fortunately was done over the summer.
The next step was to start their own online store, but the Philadelphia Orchestra got there first. The MSO created the theoretical capability to use sales data from that store to cross-sell concert tickets, but they haven’t had the staff time to exploit this possibility. They’ve started a line of binaural recordings (click here for an explanation of the binaural microphone) but only have two sets of binaural recordings online.
Robert’s biggest take-away is that innovation is hard – not because of resistance to change or musicians wanting more money, but because, as Peter Drucker wrote in 1966, “Innovation and change make inordinate time demands on the executive.” The MSO just doesn’t have the staff to pursue this.
Their biggest success in working cooperatively may have held it back as well; cooperation is also very time-consuming, and no one person owns the project. It’s not high enough on anyone’s radar screen to take accountability for it.
To sum up, the MSO has gotten a lot of attention for being first, and they’ve made some money – not enough. It’s good professionally – the musicians are happy to see their work up and available. But they haven’t really tapped the potential in fundraising and ticket sales.
Robert’s summary was that media is very challenging to manage, and it’s hard to capitalize on what you’ve done if you don’t have the resources, particularly staff time.
John Sparrow then asked Jonathan Brill what the important issues are from the artist’s point of view. What sorts of rigors/matrices does he go through with managers?
Media is cheap to do – production costs are so modest, and union arrangements are amenable. Most institutions include a clause in the contract that they will do media. Peter Gelb, General Manager at the Metropolitan Opera, made an arrangement for all media rights to be bundled together. Without exception, everyone agreed to a 5-year period. Peter has the right to do anything with the recordings in all categories (such as DVDs, etc.). This agreement enabled him to do the HD transmissions of live operas into movie theaters. He started with 300 screens and now transmits to 1100 screens world-wide. The revenue model is the tickets – people are willing to pay $20 to see live opera in a nearby theater.
The billion dollar media business has pretty much disappeared. It’s dried up – it’s a desert.
Other opera houses world-wide have begun to ask for the same rights as the Met; media rights are now bundled into the performance contract. Many artists want to separate the idea of a personal performance and a recording performance, but these rights have been negotiated at the Royal Opera House in London, in Italian opera houses, and in Spanish houses.
Rostropovich made six recordings of the Dvorak cello concerto. He hated recordings – he didn’t even like radio broadcasts. Philadelphia tried to get him to agree to radio broadcast and to streaming a performance. According to Joe, “He was one of the great artists of the 20th century but now we’re in the 21st century.” A handful of artists would refuse recording rights because of their exclusive contract with a record company.
An artist has a different imperative than an institution. A solo artist will narrow the repertoire – they may play multiple performances of the same concerto. But then they’re suddenly asked to give these rights to particular institutions.
Does the accessibility of recordings help classical music? There are probably no statistics to answer this. Young people are willing to accept a far lesser quality of reproduction on their iPhones than their parents ever were with their fancy stereo systems.
You can have all rights subject to artistic prerogatives and limitations. Territorial limitations are being destroyed by the Internet. You can also negotiate time limitations – the Royal Opera House has a 10-year contract.
There’s a difference between stating that “the commercial value is not there” vs. “the rights are worthless.”
Artists need to participate in the discussion, and they cannot do so if the rights clause is just there in their contract.
It’s important to manage objectives together; it’s important to drive communications between partners.
Thursday afternoon’s general session began with a performance by the ASO brass quintet.
Jesse Rosen then recounted an experience he had playing bass trombone in the NYU orchestra. He was preparing his part for Brahms’ Requiem and was pleased to see that he had a lot of notes, including a few melodies. At the first rehearsal, he was shocked to find that the basses in the chorus were singing the same thing he was playing; he said it felt like a real bait and switch. But it was the most glorious sound in world, and he felt like he was riding on top of all those guys back there.
A perfect introduction to Ann Meier Baker, President and CEO of Chorus America since 2000. (Chorus America delegates joined League delegates for several general sessions.)
Ms. Baker then introduced Philip Kent, CEO of Turner Broadcasting and a board member of the of Woodruff Arts Center. He spoke about the clear connection between businesses and the arts.
Businesses want their employees to be happy and proud of their city, and proud that their employer supports these organizations. All businesses have a burning need to improve the quality of education in this country; early exposure to the arts is critical. Be connected to your communities, get kids to performances, get young professionals out to performances. Make it cool to go to a concert. Embrace technology – share what we have learned in the use of media technology. It would be a shame to waste a good crisis – it’s time to re-engage.
Then Wayne Brown, Director of Music and Opera at the NEA, spoke briefly about collaborations. He mentioned the NEA’s newest initiative, Art Works, which plays a small role in assisting arts organizations to engage better in their communities.
Finally, Jesse introduced Russell Willis Taylor, the keynote speaker. Russell is President and CEO of National Arts Strategies and a very challenging, intense, and dynamic speaker (not to mention funny!). She told her daughter that she had explained to the League that she planned to give her honest thoughts at the League address and say exactly what she meant, and her daughter’s response was, “Don’t these people know you?”
The League has posted a PDF file of her complete speech, which you can access here. A few highlights of her speech follows – particularly her 10 rules for how to put your organization out of business.
There are no crises, only tough decisions. Crisis in Greek is krisis, which means decision. We are facing a decisive moment, a turning point.
By the end of this talk I expect that about 25% of you will be angry with me, 30% will agree with me but not like it, and at least 10% of you will be depressed. Sorry about the latter. I will apologize in advance and ask only that the remaining 35% of the audience sees me to safety when I am done.
We have built a delivery structure that is not sustainable – the arts are experiencing a crisis of legitimacy. It has been a long time in coming. Legitimacy is bestowed, or conferred, or awarded; it is not simply appropriated. Some factors are beyond our control: a changing educational systems, shifts in consumer behavior, and a major and historic shift in the centers of wealth creation from the west to the east.
We’re at the center of something so profoundly altering, it’s hard to see just what a moment this is. We are naïve. We are not alone – things are out of our control, but changes were not unforeseeable.
I became fascinated with how businesses go out of business – those of you who have read Jim Collins latest book, How the Mighty Fall, will know the names of some. What behaviors, rather than characteristics, are coincidental to failure?
So, these jobs are hard, and times are hard, and maybe there is a crisis. Let’s just end the madness. Here is my formula for how to be absolutely sure you go out of business, quickly and efficiently:
Rule 1: Keep fixed costs as high as possible, and variable costs as low as you can.
Robert Levine wrote a Polyphonic blog post about Ms. Taylor’s address, focusing on this rule in particular, in several blog posts on September 13, 2019. http://www.polyphonic.org/blog/2010/09/apart-from-that-mrs-lincoln/#more-1590
Rule 2: Confuse core values with core competencies.
These are related but you really need to conflate the two to destroy your business. For example, decide you must own and manage the perfect acoustic performance space – so you have to become an expert in retail space management.
Rule 3: Believe that growth only means getting bigger and more expensive.
This one is particularly useful when driving a nonprofit out of business. If you grow without identifying secure balancing income to match the growth, you create a larger problem. If you lose money on every transaction, volume is not your problem!
Rule 4: Never make empirical decisions. Ignore data.
The easiest way to achieve this is to not have any data. We did pretty well on this for quite a while. If you are saddled with inconvenient facts and numbers and analysis, you need to perfect the art of not using it for decision making if it says something you don’t like.
Rule 5: Create more value for employees than customers.
If you create more value for your employees than for your customers your financial structure will need to take into account that you are not creating sufficient value for financial and participation reward from the market, and you should limit the scope of your work accordingly. Or not, if you want to accelerate the process of exiting the field.
Rule 6: Fear new technologies of all kinds.
This is an ancient art. Socrates deplored writing because it would weaken the memories of young people. Ignoring the tectonic shift that technology has provided in the form of portable, self-curated culture will go a long way to accelerating your exit, stage left. This is a major sociological change we are experiencing, not the age of gadgets.
Rule 7: Pretend that liquidity doesn’t matter – a lot.
Rule 8: Blame your customer.
By believing that your customer isn’t smart enough, patient enough, interested enough, educated enough, or even in extreme cases grateful enough, you can shrink your market.
Rule 9: Pursue transactions rather than relationships.
Stop the strategic development of enriching relationships and go for short term gain.
Rule 10: Compete rather than collaborate.
Rule 11: Ignore the global pro-am revolution.
This is Charles Leadbetter’s term for the fundamental shift in cultural consumption over the past two decades. Audiences are not as passive as they may have been in times gone by.
Rule 12: Don’t accept that uncertainty is the price of innovation.
If you feel pretty comfortable and generally ticking along with business as usual, then you are probably not being particularly innovative and are making progress toward closure.
What if you decide you didn’t want to go away. Not all value is created in markets and we in the arts actually have an essential role to play in advancing society and developing economies of meaning rather than just economies of money.
Public schools are no longer engaged in audience development – we must reach into the schools and fill them with music to build institutions of value for the next generation.
What if you already embrace the idea that arts organizations can no longer just be about something, they have to be for somebody – a lot of “somebodies,” and that you are going to make your organization an indispensable part of your community — even if it means that you have to take the component pieces of it and rearrange them and refit them and redefine them until you are indivisible from how your community sees itself and celebrates itself?
And what if you each and collectively have decided that our most enduring and pervasive legitimacy in the arts will come from the creation of relationships, not just the amassing of audiences?
Well, if you can choose these paths in this time of crisis – as the Greeks understood the word krisis – if you can make this a time of tough but intelligent decisions rather than a time of feeling victimized by circumstance and buffeted by ill fortune, then I am very much afraid that your organizations are going to be around in American life for a very, very long time. Maybe even – in one form or another – forever.
On Thursday we had a musicians’ session, with Bob Wagner moderating. Bob is the principal bassoon of the New Jersey Symphony, a board member of the League, and former ICSOM rep and Orchestra Committee chair of the NJSO.
There were perhaps 15 of us: we talked about a lot of things:
I asked about the League’s R/Evolution website –and it’s relevance to musicians. The breakdown was pretty much generational – I didn’t like it at all, but younger folks did.
I put up recently about his advice as he tours the country.) What is a good concert? Why do people come? Michael just says, “Put something together” and they will come. His model doesn’t work so well for symphonies where we only have a few repeats of the same program.
Gold Book of volunteer projects]. It could contain canned programming in specialty areas.
Well, not all gloom and doom, but a sobering conversation.
Friday morning again had multiple sessions, each presented twice.
The Diversity panel, moderated by Beth Wilson, Director of Student Musician Development at the Atlanta Symphony, showcased the ASO’s Talent Development Program (TDP), a program for talented young African-American and Latino classical musicians in the greater Atlanta community.
The panel included Edie Bostic, TDP Trustee and Vice Chair for Academic and Student Affairs; Joseph Conyers, ASO bassist and new Assistant Principal in Philadelphia, and Director of Project 440 ; Stanford Thompson, 2005 TDP alum (trumpet) and an Abreu Fellow now working with Tune Up Philadelphia; and Drew Alexander Forde, violist and a 2010 TDP grad, entering McDuffy Center for Strings in the fall.
Beth Wilson: TDB is a talent-based, not needs-based program. We seek out the most talented African-American and Latino students in Atlanta, and help them get through the pipeline to a career in classical music. TDP began as a volunteer initiative – most of the teachers are ASO musicians.
Why is diversity on the professional/amateur orchestra stage important?
Joe Conyers: I grew up in Savannah and was involved in a program similar to TDP. I was accused of “abandoning my roots” to play “white” music.” To be relevant to our communities, we should look like the communities we serve. I remember meeting a young bassist who wasn’t much interested in classical music because he had never seen anyone who looked like him playing it.
Joe was the first bass hire in the Philadelphia Orchestra in 34 years. He believes that many African-Americans are not comfortable coming to symphony hall.
There are many cultural challenges to African-American students who want to play classical music. Grand Rapids, MI has a program similar to TDP – the Mosaic Scholarship program. There’s an opportunity to enrich our program from the African-American community, but it’s not easy. We must attract new audiences – to do that we must develop talent and create new programming.
TDP was built on the backs of volunteers. The more we can get people outside our musical world involved, the more it can grow.
Beth: What impact does a more diverse orchestra have on its surrounding community, not just its audience?
Stan Thompson: I started in TDP in the 7th grade – I had trumpet lessons every week and studied with Chris Martin (now Principal in Chicago). I had help getting to summer festivals – I went to Interlochen for 4 summers, and I had help buying instruments (through the TDP instrument fund). I needed to stay on the path to continue to do what I do today. Life would be different for me without TDP. I go back to visit with friends from the 7th grade, and they have very different lives. Many have not completed college; many have children. TDP literally saved my life and provided me with a new direction.
I heard Ben Cameron speak here, and I met him in Boston [when he came to address the Abreu Fellows]. He asked how would your community be devastated if your organization were to leave – who would be there when the bulldozers come?
To answer that in terms of El Sistema:14% of population of Venezuela has gone through this intense music program; all children are included, including special needs students, and parents; they perform in community centers, schools, plazas; prisons are closing because they’re not in use; more money is spent to put more kids in the program. If you were to bring that bulldozer to Venezuela, 400,000 kids and parents and 3.5 million alumni will be there to stop you.
Regarding TDP – it took a few years for the ASO to really embrace the program. Now it’s absolutely not disappearing. People will support it if its rooted in the community.
Once the families become part of the program, the parents are educated as well. Part of the mission is to get the parents to support the students to practice at home, and they can then explain to the community the importance of the program.
Edie Bostic: We have a Friends of the Family program where we pair each student/family with another family or alumni family to offer support and encouragement.
We have great success: Drew studies with Paul Murphy (AP Violist with the ASO), and a tubist grad is off to NEC this fall.
Beth: What are other effective ways for targeting underserved audiences other than training youth or recruiting more minority players for the orchestra?
How can we make outreach programs more strategic and longer lasting?
Drew Forde: I was a member of the ASO Youth Orchestra; the 3 concert competition winners (and the 3 runners-up) were all TDP students. When I played aa concerto with the ASO Youth Orchestra, along with a bassist, we had the highest percentage of minorities in the audience for the competition concert, but the previous winter the concert with a TDP harpist also brought in a large percentage of African-Americans in audience.
Morehouse College has a National Black Arts Festival in the summer – Drew will be playing the first movement of the Walton Viola concerto. Many principal players in the youth orchestra are TDP students.
Beth: Once targeted, how does an organization maintain a relationship with its newly-captured audience?
Edie: The program that Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Gramley [TDP founders, I believe – both were in attendance at the session that morning] perceived was with an integrated group of volunteers. They wanted to make a difference and chose to do it through the children.
Drew: Playing it forward is important. I started teaching an African-American student in the 3rd grade, and the viola is just not in his culture. He didn’t know anything about classical music, so I was mentoring him from ground up. I’ve seen inspiration dawn on his face.
Audience comment: Bringing in soloists of color – we need to make it a priority.
Beth: Finally, how can we, as a national community, join together to make the industry more diverse?
Drew: It’s a complex issue. We need to create more programs like TDP – it’s a step in the right direction. I have a single mom and paying for viola lessons is just not in the budget. TDP has provided lessons, concert tickets, and support for festivals – I’m going to Bowdoin this summer. I’m inspired to teach others, to share music, and to be more civic minded. That’s the only way to reach these audiences – to be respectful of their cultures and meet them in the middle. Making music more diverse means adding their culture.
Stan: It’s easy to do this stuff when you get a big check or grant. It’s important to have the will, then the support, then the funding. Don’t wait for the grant to come in – you’re going to have to volunteer.
Joe: We need to talk to our musicians – I’m big into education and working with students, but the usual vision is so myopic – it’s all about getting the next gig. There’s a duty for me to give back to communities. All the students who go through this program can be advocates for the program as well. It’s a choice: stay the way we’ve been or the musicians can know that this is their responsibility. We should be sharing with the community.
Mrs. Azira G. Hill: “Leave it better than you found it.”
I asked Joe about whether the audition process needs to be changed to bring more musicians of color into our orchestra, and raised Aaron Dworkin’s controversial ideas about affirmative action.
Joe: Times are changing. The audition process is not the problem; it’s just that there should be more openings. I took the second bass audition in Philadelphia in 30 years. Because we have tenure, there are very few openings. My position is that, as openings come, there will be more people of color in the talent pool so, by default, change will take place. We don’t need affirmative action because the talent is out there.
Jesse Rosen moderated; panelists were Carla Lehmeier-Tatum, President of ROPA and a cellist in the New Mexico Symphony; Tom Gibson, a freelance trombonist in Atlanta; Matt Albert, violinist and violist of eighth blackbird; Tony Woodcock, President of the New England Conservatory; and Susanna Perry Gilmore, concertmaster of the Memphis Symphony.
Jesse posed the following questions: What is essential about symphonies – what are their core fundamentals? The session was motivated by something he noticed in New York City – musicians today, when contemplating careers, are imagining a wider range of possibilities regarding a career in music. There are important questions to ask of professional training institutions in terms of what is the appropriate preparation for a musician today? How might orchestras need to change to be most hospitable and supportive of musicians today as they develop their musicianship?
Carla Lehmeier-Tatum: “This is a passion of mine.” She researched the founder of the NMSO, Grace Thompson, who was sent to New Mexico as a tuberculosis patient. During her recovery became committed to coming back and devoting her life to music in New Mexico. Grace worked with John Philip Sousa to create a New Mexico march, with native Americans playing classical instruments. The NMSO was approached by a mine up in mountains to do two concerts for the community and out of town guests. Musicians have been connecting to communities since the start of orchestras. 2nd NMSO concert, 77 years ago, programmed arrangements of native American folk songs that Grace transcribed.
Tom Gibson: I joined the Navy band right out of graduate school – I needed to relate to taxpayers. They were phenomenal at outreach programs. I took with me the skills that I wasn’t taught in school about management, marketing, and communication. I felt confident to leave and pursue my own projects. I chose to be a regional orchestra player so I’d have time to do jazz and commercial playing. Some people have great people skills but not everyone. Find out more about each individual in the orchestra; there will be a way for them to express themselves in new ways.
Matt Albert: The conservatory students I encounters show a combination of leaders and those with other skills. I encounter little resistance to what eighth blackbird does – the students are excited about a new music group that communicates from the stage and uses theatrical elements. But there’s a disconnect about getting from where they are to where we are. Lot of students don’t know how to do it, or what the steps are. Others are better at the go get it. Everyone wants to be excellent at their instrument, and we do need excellence, but some think that’s all you have to worry about and the opportunities will find you. They need to learn how to find these ideas, because the ideas won’t find them.
Jesse Rosen: What were attributes that got eighth blackbird launched successfully?
Matt: One was a total priority to the organization first – we were all students at Oberlin and then we committed to be together for two years. We had to find part-time jobs so we could rehearse from 1:00 to 5:00 every day. We gained by deciding to give everything to this group for 2 years – we could always go get a graduate degree if it didn’t work. Second was a commitment to one another. We’re a chamber group of 6 people – when we had conflicts we committed to resolving them amongst ourselves before we changed anything. We’ve only replaced one of the founding members. We figure out people’s skills – making cold calls, balancing the checkbook, etc. This thinking can apply to auditions as well, in terms of principal player vs. section players – you may need to look for a different skill set.
Colin and Jesse acknowledged that view was that they’d get an orchestra job after school. End of work to make your career happen – job is to show up and play. Matt took very different career path.
Tony Woodcock: Like all really good ideas, entrepreneurial musicianship is not new. Look back in time: Sullivan producing in London, Paganini was in it for the money, Beethoven promoted his own concerts, Wagner, etc. Organizations need to do a retrospective re-invention. Humans are highly specialized in thinking; there are more brain specialists in the greater Chicago area than in the whole of the UK – all have divided up the little sections of the brain, so you have to go from specialist to specialist. In music we’ve also become highly specialized – expectations of musicians have become more and more limited; we expect less when we should be expecting more.
At NEC, we celebrate unfettered creativity – if you have a dream on Thursday, you can make it a reality Friday morning. When the students go to the real world, that’s knocked out of them with a baseball bat. They see only two ways of earning a living: as a studio teacher/free lancer or get a tenured orchestra job. I think that’s the past. The tird option is neither of the above – you create a blackbird. NEC students play excellently but that’s not enough. There’s a new entrepreneurial program at NEC and other conservatories which will result in young musicians having very different expectations and different skill sets – they could help to transform your organizations. We need to put all the pieces together.
What’s an audience? 200 people = 200 audiences. How do you raise money? Become a charity? Produce a budget? Conflict management? Group leadership? Consensus building? Go into a classroom? NEC can now help them with that.
Susanna Perry Gilmore: Over the last 6 years, under Ryan Fleur, there has been a complete paradigm shift in how the creative energy of the musicians can be harnessed. Our latest project has been a concert series that the musicians created and piloted last year; we designed the series in response to cut backs in staff and other concert series. We opted in to taking on some traditional roles of staff, such as marketing, programming, design. No MD last year. We had a grant from Mellon to take what learning we could, so we did a mentorship with Orpheus. Seven musicians went to New York and observed Orpheus for a day, came back to Memphis, and presented what they’d learned.
We voted on a code of conduct, created a system of self-governance based on Orpheus’ model and then Orpheus musicians came and worked with us on our pilot performance in December. Why a code of conduct? We polled our colleagues about their fears – the biggest was what would happen when the conductor left? How would we talk to each other? Resolve issues? There was a fear that it would become “the Susanna show.” It was a constant challenge for the orchestra’s musicians, but it was a also very cathartic experience, for section players especially.
We analyzed how we’re connected to the community – we kept being approach by people who said, “the symphony isn’t my thing.” This was a new concept – outside the concert hall, audience is 360 degrees around us, interspersing non-classical repertoire, we talk between movements, it’s OK to clap whenever, we wear jeans. It’s been a great success in building anew audience base.
Tony: Relationships. Terrific work for Susanna – also an indictment of the current orchestra model. The back of the 2nd violin section are never listened to. Think of the skill base in the orchestra – so much is not utilized. But it’s put into a context that’s highly regimented; the role is re-creative rather than creative, one person is the whole focus of the organization. We need a new model or need to recreate the model. Look at the creative power of individual musicians, then allow them the opportunity to be trained.
Carla: The change of leadership in Memphis enabled this change to happen. There must be a willingness amongst all –a power struggle can prevent this from happening. NMSO musicians met with board members to help get a grant renewed, and the next year the staff was unwilling to execute what was in the grant, causing resentment and no buy in. We must create something that everyone owns.
Jesse: The concept of professional development – it’s 8% of the budget in commercial budgets, but barely exists in orchestras. What can orchestras do to improve the capacity of people to navigate through new channels?
Tony: Memphis’ code of conduct – I can understand how you reached that conclusion – it’s a reflection of fear. Fear of stepping away from the contract. Be really courageous and create new models – get rid of trench-like thinking. If the process is one of inclusivity, then everyone has ownership of the results, and you can use a failure to learn and move the agenda forward. This is how musicians might be in the future – they are magical, powerful people. It’s critical that they not be subjugated. We must bring people into the engine room.
Matt: In a chamber group you are responsible for doing so many of these things on your own. The parents of one member paid for an etiquette training program.
Tony: How much of the creativity of the musicians does an orchestra use? Perhaps 30%. They get their creativity elsewhere.
The audition process is a brutal system of dashed expectations. If recruitment were more focused on the package that a musician could bring other than his/her expertise on stage, we’d start to look at the organization very differently. We’re in agreement with excellence but fear we are more geared towards perfection and thus creating problems. Perfection of performance is misguided because the audience often can’t tell the difference, but they can tell with how engaged we are with the community.
Jesse: In summary, musicians have always been innovative and entrepreneurial – how can we take advantage of that and attract them? We need to explore the concept of opt-in. In terms of recruitment, we must define what we’re looking for. There’s lots of tension around that process, which comes from a different time. Feedback is crucial for professional development; this is an area of opportunity for staff as well. CBAs don’t create encouragement or an opportunity for that to take place. There’s a tension around the organization’s focus on the Music Director that doesn’t build a sense of value and worth in musicians.
Friday afternoon was for Symposia – six simultaneous sessions, each repeated once. I took notes at the ASO session.
“The Atlanta Symphony War Room: A New Approach to Collaborative Decision Making” featured Robert Spano, music director, John Sparrow, vice president for orchestra initiative and general manager, and Charlie Wade, vice president of marketing. Again, my notes may not be verbatim but hopefully catch the true gist of what was said.
They described how they make programming decisions collaboratively, now with one 6-hour meeting 8 times a year. For more details about the War Room, see the League’s publication Fearless Journeys: Innovation in Five American Orchestras.
Charlie Wade: People often ask us, “How do you program? How do you decide what to play?” They think that we get together, scream and shout at each other, and then put it together.
Pre-war room: I saw a chance to grab the wheel when [Yoel] Levi [music director from 1988 to 2000] left – but what to do? I wanted to get out of the pattern of the music director teaming up with the artistic administrator and deciding what to play.
We had a need for data – we had lots but we didn’t know how to process it all – how to make it work as a team. We wanted a collaborator; a music director that would still make decisions but who would also consult with the rest of the institution. So we started on a process.
Robert Spano: The institution had done a lot of work to define the ways in which it wished to work. This was in line with the way I had worked in Brooklyn. Usually there were 5 or 6 of us then; now there are often 12 people in the War Room. Initially it was just senior management and me, but now we often add the personnel manager, the librarian and others. The name “war room” came from the movie Dr. Strangelove where he shouts, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here – this is the war room!” so I called it that because we needed to fight.
The perspective at the table is that we really want the program to satisfy all agendas, not just one. It’s an interesting puzzle to find a balance in the course of the season where all those things are being addressed – or in the following season. We get into each others business – we tell the others how to do their job. Each person must be the authority for the perspective they’re supposed to represent at the table. Will it sell? Is this an artistically satisfying program? Are we keeping musicians in shape – getting the vitamins from the music? What’s good for the audience? Should we pander or go for excellence?
Data about what sells in our town for our audience us valuable for being part of the decision-making. It’s not that we don’t do things because they won’t sell – we just don’t do them all the time. The people who do show up are really passionate. For a St John Passion, there are people who’ve waited 6 years for us to do it – so it must be part of our diet. But we must strategically place things.
Charlie Wade: In terms of living composers, the music director brings in a list of new music and says, let’s do it over time, introducing a work by xyz composer and build on that – gaining traction. We have to allow time for the connection. Often, when a program didn’t sell, the artistic administrator would accuse marketing of not caring about this program. There was no sense of understanding the audience, which fostered an us/them mentality. The War Room takes the emotion out. Marketing provides credible information to the process – not anecdotal but real data.
Robert Spano: We’re learning what sells – we’re doing some composers who have become well known, so we have different issues now than 8 years ago. The focus on tickets and sales is important, but so are the development, education, and personnel manager concerns. Also librarian issues. We have a shared vision because it’s a shared process – we make the decisions together so we can’t blame anyone.
John Sparrow: Energy being finite, how do we waste as little as we can? Everyone owns the decision-managing resources. The goal is good decisions that satisfy both artistic and revenue objectives. Say we want to cultivate a relationship with another community and do a run-out. Timing takes care of lots of issues. Over time a $20,000 run-out becomes a $40,000 run-out – I make sure the information is thought about.
Robert Spano: I begin the season by rehearsing for a week without concerts; we look at new repertoire, read things we don’t ordinarily perform, and hold sectionals. This forsakes revenue for that week but it’s important artistically. John books revenue gigs around this week.
John Sparrow: The structure of the week is Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Thursday, Saturday, or some other configuration. It’s an open discussion. Sometimes I’ll come in and announce, “I have this opportunity but is it the right one?”
Robert Spano: Sometimes I’m the one asking about fiscal responsibility.
Charlie Wade: Robert has a minor in Marketing! A colleague asked, “What are the rules of the war room? How far can I go? When do I know when I’ve overstepped the bounds?” (Robert: When food gets thrown at you!)
John Sparrow: We inherent a sense of trust in each other. It’s evolved over time. All three of us have been there for a decade.
Robert Spano: If you’re trying to model this, we started by spending a lot of time together. It used to be two days, but now it’s never more than six hours. It’s an investment that’s worth it.
The Fiasco! We had a failed experiment in the first season, in November. We hired a video artist to create a piece to go with the Vaughn Williams Sea Symphony – he is very creative. The art community thought he was brilliant. The piece was very busy and there was no water. There was a crying baby, babushkas, and members of audience shown with “You shall die – revolt!” superimposed. People were streaming out of the hall at intermission! So we thought we needed a meeting. But no one could point a finger and say, “What the hell are you doing!” because we’d decided on it together. And because of the publicity, we sold out the next two nights. Next time we did something like this, we managed the artist very carefully. The learning curve was steep, but we created a response to the media crisis and there was no fall guy.
By the way, we did the Sea Symphony because of a chorus member – collective knowledge of repertoire is essential.
Other comments from the session:
Plan 3 years out!
One of the three was “attacked” by an John Adams fan at a Walgreens in the north Georgia mountains – he was upset that they weren’t programming enough Adams!
The business school at the University of Western Ontario as written a case study on the Atlanta Symphony’s War Room.
BHAG = big hairy audacious goal
In response to a question about a music director that won’t collaborate: It’s ridiculous for a conductor to work in a vacuum – you just must make him collaborate. I often hear that “we’re” the problem. I’ve talked to musicians about the concern that programming was affecting ticket sales – turns out the conductor had not spoken with the marketing manager. Robert talked to this particular conductor and he was very open to having this conversation. We should work in concert. Force the issue.
There are no board members or musicians in the war room. But they have other ways of interacting with them.
Charlie: It’s messy enough as it is – we can’t bring in more people. We’re getting enough input from them through other forums.
1 6-hour meeting 8 times a year.