Orchestral Organization

Henry Fogel
October 29, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Henry Fogel stepped down as President of the League of American Orchestras at the end of June, 2008, though he will continue consulting with the League about fundraising and will continue visiting orchestras around the country. Henry has years of experience in the orchestra world, and he graciously agreed to hold a session for musicians at the June conference, where he explained the structure of orchestras, and how smaller orchestras differ from larger ones. As always, his presentation was witty, laced with many stories, but also enormously interesting and educational. If you don't really understand what all those people on your staff are doing, read on. And even if you do, read on anyway!

- Ann Drinan

What Is This Beast Called Management?

I prepared this description of orchestral organization [see the appendix to this article] for a class I teach for performance majors at Roosevelt University‘s conservatory in Chicago. I once complained to the conservatory dean that instrumental performance majors needed to know something about how orchestral organizations function; the dean replied, “So you teach it!” No good deed goes unpunished!

The most important thing to understand is that all these functions need to be performed by someone, regardless of the size of the orchestra. The smaller the orchestra, the more these different departments will be condensed. The smallest orchestras have an Executive Director. Period. The next larger have an Executive Director and a secretary.

The largest orchestras have huge staffs of 75 to over 100. It depends on, among other variables, whether the orchestra owns its own hall. Chicago had 30 more people on staff than the NY Philharmonic – I used to get flack from the Chicago musicians about the staff being too large, but we had to hire security guards, box office staff, stage hands, etc. The Boston Symphony has the largest staff of any orchestra because they have perhaps100 groundskeepers at Tanglewood. If you take the building management out of the picture, most large orchestra staffs have 75-80 people.

What do they do?

If an orchestra is owned by anybody, it’s owned by the board. They have the legal and fiduciary responsibility: they hire the Executive Director and the Music Director – even if the Music Director reports to the Executive Director – the board still hires and fires that person. No Executive Director would fire the Music Director. If anybody were going to be sued by the orchestra for lack of being compensated, or by the public for some malfeasance, it would be the board that would be sued. Most boards have directors’ liability insurance.

In the outline, I’ve listed all the various board committees for a larger organization. These committees are largely advisory, and offer advice to the professional staff. Small orchestras (under $1.5 to $2 million) frequently don’t have a Development Director, so the board must be out there even more. In large orchestras board members are expected to fundraise but they are advised and directed by the Development Department, who research whom the board members should contact. Smaller orchestras don’t have the personnel to do this research.

Most board committees are standing committees but some are what I call ad hoc committees. These are formed for a specific purpose, such as the centennial gala, or a Music Director search.

Many of my students didn’t know that the board is not paid. Not only are they not paid, they’re expected to contribute substantially to the orchestra and buy subscriptions. Why do people join a board? For some board members, it’s part of belonging to the corporate community. There are also social aspects – parties and special events. It also looks nice on a resume. And some board members just really care about the orchestra and do it for selfless reasons. Unfortunately, some join to wield power and they can be destructive. And some join because they believe that the city should have a professional and important orchestra – a sense of civic duty. In my experience, the majority of board members are helpful and constructive.

I have visited 128 orchestras during my tenure as President of the League [of American Orchestras]. The corporate ethic is becoming less prevalent. Take Sioux Falls – in the 1960s and 70s, many national credit card companies went to Sioux Falls for tax reasons. There were major Citibank and other bank offices there. Also two very big hospitals – the major hospitals for the whole part of the north Midwest west of Chicago and Minnesota are in Sioux Falls. The hospitals want doctors to be attracted to come to the city, so the two non-profit hospitals are among the biggest supporters of the orchestra.

Some cities don’t have a lot of corporations. There’s a growing trend to look at the short-term bottom line and devalue community contribution. Another problem is mergers, where big companies leave the city.

But then some amazing things are happening in very small cities. For example, Middleton MI has a new arts center with a wonderful museum, a theater, and a concert hall. But then Middleton is the home of Dow. All the constituent groups are under one structure, which has a $6 million budget for operating the center and a $70 million endowment. This in a town with a population of under 50,000.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

excellent information. I wish I could have taken the class
fiddlinmatt on March 28, 2019 at 12:57 AM

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