William Mesa  

A MAP TO READING AND FINDING TOPICS IN HARMONY: Eight Years of Research, Studies, and Articles

William Mesa
November 6, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Harmony was a journal published by the Symphony Orchestra Institute (the organization from which the Orchestra Musician Forum and its website Polyphonic.org evolved). It was a journal of thoughtful insight and opinion about the complex dynamics of symphony orchestra organizations, and it presented essays and reports authored by practitioners, scholars, and other close observers of orchestras.

Dr. William Mesa is a professor of management and accounting at Colorado Christian University and an amateur musician who plays in two community orchestras in Denver. His interest in both music and business lead him to a doctoral dissertation that, in part, discussed, organized and categorized the articles found in Harmony. We are the beneficiaries of his work and those doing research in orchestra dynamics, effectiveness and change will find the paper that follows below to be very useful.

- Ramon Ricker
For eight years, 1995-2003, the Symphony Orchestra Institute (SOI) published Harmony. As a journal, Harmony was the application of the SOI mission that focused on improving the effectiveness of orchestras as organizations both in how they operate and how they are to be a vital part of their communities. Harmony provided a rich landscape of case studies and opinions surrounding orchestras, their operations, and their place in the community. Specifically, the journal focused on: (1) a place where field case studies on orchestras were documented; (2) a central forum allowing American orchestras to read on the developments surrounding organizational effectiveness; (3) a place where those in the industry may voice their ideas or approaches to the problems orchestra organizations face.

This paper will provide a map to the key issues that emerged from the eight years of publishing Harmony. The themes outlined are the result of the variety of opinions, ideas, and case studies in Harmony. Readers may find they disagree or agree with how topics are addressed or with a set of topics that have emerged. Such was the intent of Harmony: to stimulate discussion and evaluate how to further preserve the richness of the symphony orchestra in our society!Importantly, the themes that emerged are the work of several contributors in Harmony. This paper merely structures and organizes the work of many authors to guide the reader into investigating in greater depth topics of interest. The use of terms, such as “customer”, “audience”, “product”, and “program”, therefore, are drawn from the articles.

In the process of mapping out all the articles published in Harmony over its eight-year life, four characteristic domains or categories emerged.(Figure 1.) The domains are: social structure; organizational culture; strategic intent; and changes in the environment.


Representing pressures to the orchestra, which require orchestras to adapt, is the general environment. As such, the environment also provides for the context of the internal domains identified in the Harmony literature: social structure; organizational culture; and strategic intent.

Importantly, each organizational domain is both interrelated and partially a causation to the other domains as indicated by the arrows and overlapping circles. Put another way, the domains are related and causally ambiguous. The reader should see the domains not in an order of causation where one domain must cause the next specific domain to emerge.Rather, it is more useful to see that they simultaneously cause other domains to emerge given their close relationship to each other and overlapping characteristics. This approach to seeing the model removes the assumption that one domain must first be present before the next emerges. It is more useful to see that if any changes in orchestra practices are applied, or any attempt to understand orchestra organization dynamics, that they will necessarily be accomplished through understanding all three domains of social structure, organizational culture and strategic intent.

Each organizational domain that emerged was a result of (1) orchestras implementing changes resistance by musician and/or public occurs; and/or (2) writers articulating that if changes occur, resistance by musicians and/or the public will also surface. This parallel’s Boulez (1986):

“Try, for instance, simply as a matter of organization, to modify the constitution of an orchestra. You will see that you will almost encounter deep hostility, from both public and players, who will tell you that it has worked very well as it is: why should it not continue to do so, with a few adjustments?”

Implementing changes, discussing changes, or suggesting changes necessarily challenges established structures, cultures, and organizational purpose.

As a map to further reading the eight years of Harmony, each domain is examined in greater detail below by identifying key organizational elements.Following each domain, Tables I, II, III and IV list articles by author, title, and issue for further reading and/or research in Harmony. Note that articles between the three domains will overlap since each domain is closely related.For example, the topic of integrating musician input into the process of concert programming necessarily lends itself to the topics of organizational culture, governance, and even strategic planning.

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