Roger Ruggeri  

Positive, Yet Perilous Potentials of Musicians on Orchestra Board Committees

Roger Ruggeri
April 10, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

"Unless musicians sit on the board, they'll never have any influence in their organization." A fashionable phrase among a noticeable segment of orchestra musicians today, but what impact will musicians on the board of directors or board committees accomplish. How much influence can one or two musicians have when most boards are comprised of anywhere from 20 to 200 members?

Then there are the issues surrounding representation, are musician board members representing their fellow musicians or are they there to express their own opinions. Even if the musicians have a clearly defined understanding of their presence on a board are the non-musician board members aware of those parameters or even agree with them?

Whether or not musicians should participate on their orchestra's board is, at best, a sticky issue. Although there's no universal answer one thing is certain: learning from other musicians who have a long sense of history in the business can shed a great deal of insight onto an otherwise murky subject. Milwaukee Symphony Bassist Roger Ruggeri fits that description perfectly and draws on his more than 45 years of experience (the last 12 of which have been spent as a musician representative to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra board) to illuminate this discussion.

- Drew McManus

Among the more remarkable turns in the recent evolution of the American Symphony Orchestra movement is a growing presence of orchestra-elected players on board-level committees. It may be awhile until generalizations about this phenomenon are really possible; but meanwhile, during the present developmental stage, it seems that all orchestral constituencies might find an exchange of ideas and points of view stimulating.

Disclaimer

At the outset I should admit maintaining a personal fondness for the traditional orchestral model in which musicians play, management manage, and board members enable and support.

By and large, that’s still the case in the nation’s largest orchestras. As long as the status quo works to everyone’s satisfaction, it’s likely best to leave it alone. As far as orchestral musicians are concerned, board involvement is one of those “two-edged swords” that should not be assumed to be a panacea.

Overview

In many situations where there is musician board representation, that representation came about as a result of challenges to the musicians’ collective bargaining agreement. (Perhaps it’s easier/cheaper to put up with musicians in the boardroom than it is to surmount financial difficulties?) At least this was the case with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in 1992, when I began my semi-career as a musician board representative.

I’d love to be able to say that things have steadily improved since then for the orchestra and its musicians…but I can’t. On the other hand, our orchestra is still playing, and the musicians are still employed, a situation that might have been far different without a lot of extra-musical volunteering on the part of many MSO colleagues.

Musician board representation is hardly a quick fix for orchestras, but it does have the potential to gradually improve situations. Having engaged in this process over a number of years, I’ve noticed that orchestra board-level decisions made without musician input seem significantly less likely to prove effective.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

I enjoyed this article by Roger Ruggieri (whom I have never met, but hope to!). It pointed out so many important facts, and was written from the standpoint of an experienced musician, one who is willing to try something new to improve the understanding between board and orchestra. I am going to print out this article and carry it with me to show my colleagues in the NY Philharmonic. Orin O'Brien
Molly on April 18, 2019 at 11:41 PM
Regarding the question "To Vote or Not to Vote" I can see two types of situations, neither of which is enhanced by having Musicians voting as Board Members.

The first situation is probably the most common. The outcome of a vote is not in doubt with the vast majority of the Board following the confident recommendation of their leadership on the Executive Board. In this situation, a few votes from the Musicians, even as a minority, have no impact that couldn't be just as clearly expressed without a vote.

The second situation is scary. A vote's outcome is in doubt and the vote(s) of Musician(s) could decide a controversial issue. I hope this scenario requires no elaboration here to demonstrate the perils of the situation for the voting Musician(s) and for the Board!

That said, I think that a Musician presence in the Boardroom can SOMETIMES be beneficial and that Musicians on selected Committees can OFTEN be of great benefit. Who should decide? The Board should make the call.

An enlightened Board will frequently avail themselves of the input of Musicians (whether or not they vote). A less progressive Board will be less likely to seek input from the Musicians (whether or not they vote).

Finally, who represents the orchestra at Board meetings? Here I think the Musicians must decide. Perhaps the Orchestra Committee is the ideal group since they are charged with representing the Musicians already and tend to be knowledgable leaders, perhaps representing the diversity within their ranks. Specific Board Committees might benefit from Musicians selected to do that specific work (so the Orchestra Committee isn't over-taxed), but in any case representatives should probably be chosen by their peers. (In my orchestra, the Orchestra Committee's job description in the CBA includes attending Board Meetings when invited - no voting. I like that idea. There is nothing to preclude other invitees, as well. But there remains a diversity of opinion on this entire dicey subject, some favoring less involvement and others favoring more including voting, so I am speaking as one here and not for the organization). However, I will volunteer that the current interaction among Musicians, Staff and Board here seems to be very healthy and productive both in general and on specific joint Committees.

Tom Reel, Virginia Symphony
tomreel on January 24, 2019 at 11:10 PM
Thanks to Tom Reel for expanding on the inadvisability of musicians voting on board committees. Beyond its illusory appeal, the musician vote on a board committee seems to me to be filled with significant pitfalls for all concerned. Votes are for board members; management and musicians attending board meetings most effectively provide insight and information to the voting process.
Roger Ruggeri
rruggerijr on January 25, 2019 at 8:08 PM

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