Roger Saydack  

Some Guiding Principles for Music Director Searches

Roger Saydack
May 10, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

How does a Music Director Search Committee ever arrive at consensus around one candidate? Roger Saydack has served as Chair of three Music Director Search Committees for the Eugene Symphony Orchestra. In this article, he shares his experiences with these three committees, and explains the principles that these committees adopted that enabled them to come to consensus.
Roger first explains the importance of a balanced committee, with the number of musicians equaling the number of Board and community members. Second, he describes the nature of consensus decision-making and emphasizes the importance of looking for the "right" candidate rather than the "best" candidate. And finally, he discusses the necessity of getting to know the candidates as artists, to evaluate whether the candidate's artistic vision fits with the artistic vision of your orchestra. Roger concludes with the observation that a Music Director search, when viewed as a true opportunity for new experiences, can rejuvenate an orchestra.

- Ann Drinan

I have had the very real privilege of participating as Search Committee Chair for the Eugene Symphony’s last three Music Director Searches, which resulted in the appointments of Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, and Giancarlo Guerrero. Each Search presented different challenges for the organization. Each required a Search process that fit the times. And even though it seemed unlikely at the beginning, each Search ended with a strong consensus around one candidate. The Music Directors we selected all went on to build a different aspect of our orchestra. And, most importantly, with each Music Director our orchestra has given our audience artistic experiences that have been beyond our best expectations.

One of the reasons these Searches were successful is that they were guided by principles that the Search Committee adopted at the beginning of each Search. This article summarizes the principles and practices that worked well in three key areas:

  • the composition of the Search Committee,
  • the development of a consensus, and
  • getting to know the candidates as artists.

A Balanced Search Committee

In order for the Search process to be respected by the entire organization, the members of the Board and the musicians of the orchestra must believe that the process will have integrity, that their voices will be heard, and that the Search will not result in a new Music Director who is unacceptable to their constituent group. In order to be convinced of this, the musicians and the Board members must be confident that their group will have real power and influence in the process. While the job of the Search Committee is to recommend the next Music Director to the Board, and the ultimate decision to accept or reject that recommendation is the Board’s, a Search that is controlled by the Board, or for that matter by the Executive Director, invites the musicians, and even the audience, to feel disenfranchised.

For this reason, it is important that the number of musician members of the Search Committee equal the total of the Board and community members of the Committee.This balance means that the work of the Committee will require agreements involving members of all the groups. No one group will have the power to control the process. This knowledge alone gives the process credibility.

Also, the musicians and the Board should each have the right to select their own delegates to the Search Committee, without either group having approval rights over the other’s selections. Again, this gives each group confidence that they will have voices in the process who truly understand, and who will truly advocate for, the group’s perspectives.

In order to preserve this balance, the Chair of the Committee should either be completely independent of the Orchestra and the Board, or if the Chair is a Board or musician member, s/he must be perceived by all as someone who will manage the process fairly and impartially. This frees the Chair from being identified with positions on issues unrelated to the Search that could potentially be divisive and distracting.

To prevent any person from having too much power in the Search, the orchestra’s Executive Director should serve as an ex-officio/non-voting member of the Committee.The Executive Director will staff the Search Committee and be responsible for all professional contacts during the Search. His/her opinions and views about Search issues will be important for the Committee to consider, but they should not be controlling. The organization’s constituents, not its professional staff, should choose their next artistic leader.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

Is this the format that Baltimore Symphony used?
elizabethmiller on May 10, 2019 at 9:58 PM

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