Are Three Legs Appropriate? Or Even Sufficient? Part I

Henry Fogel
October 10, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

For eight years, 1995-2003, the Symphony Orchestra Institute (SOI) published Harmony. It was a journal of thoughtful insight and opinion about the complex dynamics of symphony orchestra organizations. The journal presented essays and reports authored by practitioners, scholars, and other close observers of orchestras. In 2004 when the founder of the SOI, Paul Judy, gifted the SOI to the Eastman School of Music, the Orchestra Musician Forum and its website Polyphonic was created. The Harmony archives were included.

The following article, Are Three Legs Appropriate? Or Even Sufficient? was written by Henry Fogel, then President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, for the April 2000 issue of Harmony. Mr. Fogel is now President and CEO of the American Symphony Orchestra League. Be sure to watch his interview with's Interview Series Host Greg Sandow!

In our continued efforts to inform the orchestral community, we will feature Harmony articles, from time to time, for those of you who would like to reread them, or for others who may have never had the opportunity to do so before. Those of you who may want original copies of this publication can obtain them free of charge (while supplies last) by emailing Enjoy.....

- Ramon Ricker

Editor’s Digest

For more than a century, the organizational model for American symphony orchestra leadership has been the “three-legged stool.” This model places responsibility in the hands of the music director, the executive director, and the board chairman—theoretically as equals. Author Henry Fogel opens the essay that follows by tracing the genesis and evolution of the “three-legged stool.”He then poses a series of critical questions about this traditional arrangement.

Roles for Musicians

First among these is the role of musicians (or lack thereof) in the overall direction of their orchestras.Fogel suggests that both the insularity of boards and the authority demanded by conductors have been sources of adversarial relationships.He notes that the emergence, in the 1960s, of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) gave a negotiating voice to the musicians, a voice often at loggerheads with “management.”

Using several specific examples, Fogel details the relationship dynamic that exists in many orchestras, andpleads that “hostility and mistrust” cannot be healthy ways to run orchestral institutions.

Toward Healthy Institutions

Arguing that guarding “turfs” and not inviting musicians into serious roles in governance are major barriers to healthy orchestral organizations, Fogel particularly explores artistic direction as an area needing major revision in roles and responsibilities, and suggests that orchestra players could and should be significantly more involved. Overall, no one escapes Fogel’s scrutiny, and his concern for his subject is palpable.

In addition to being a knowledgeable and passionate participant in the orchestral scene, the author is quite a raconteur. His essay is laced with interesting sidebars that illustrate his points.This essay is meaty and thought provoking; we encourage your consumption.

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