Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
Advocates of Change
Preliminary Results of the Symphony Organization Participant Survey
But Who Will Make Their Tea? by Peter Wiegold
Dominant and Tonic: Rethinking the Role of the Music Director by Robert Levine
Gunther Schuller on the Role of the Conductor
Frederick Zenone on the Integrated Organization
How Are They Doing? Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Revisited
A Jazz Musician’s Take on America’s Symphony Orchestras by S. Frederick Starr
Assessment of New Music: Involvement of Players and Audiences
About the Cover…by Phillip Huscher
In Harmony, we publish ideas and insights about how symphony orchestra organizations function and might better function. Living somewhat dangerously, we take a nondirective, eclectic approach to developing content for each issue of our journal. We enjoy taking the chance that we will cross or recross the paths of people who have intellect and creativity, and whose fresh and interesting ideas on topics and directions relate broadly to our mission. And when this happens, whether with individuals or groups, we invite and prompt them to become authors who will share their insights and ideas with others toward the goal of developing healthier symphony organizations.
In this issue, we have a collection of such authors. It is serendipitous that there are certain common themes represented directly and indirectly in what they express, as follows:
◆ There is untapped human potential in most organizations, but in most symphony organizations, the pent-up, boundaried, and positive energy is enormous. Fresh, nontraditional organizational approaches are required to unleash this energy.
◆ Symphony organizations must increasingly find ways to become more engaging, more open and inclusive, provide more choice, pursue more organizational experimentation, take more risks, and truly connect with their customer-audiences.
◆ Because orchestras are complex human systems, pursuing, achieving, and sustaining significant change in organizational behavioral practices and traditional institutional relationships is a real challenge. But it can take place if there is broadly based will, unified and persistent effort, and an environment of trust.
Are you acquainted with Peter Wiegold? If not, when you meet him sometime, you will know that he is very special! Peter comes in layers. Outwardly, he is a musician and composer, creative and improvisational. A bit deeper, he is a trainer, educator, psychologist, and facilitator of group learning, for all age levels. More deeply, he is a humanist who believes in the whole person and in the creativity and potential which exists in every human being. And finally, he is an activist, ready and willing to carry forth his beliefs in effective and passionate ways, including writing the essay you will shortly read beginning on page 1. I think you will find it enthralling!
Our second essayist, starting on page 15, is making a return appearance. Five years ago, in Harmony #2 (April 1996), we were pleased to publish an article coauthored by an orchestra player and his father, a neuroscientist. Their essay dealt openly with an issue—stress and discontent in the orchestral workplace—which influences the organizational performance of symphony institutions. Harmony was the fledgling journal of a newly established institution about which there were lingering questions of purpose and legitimacy. The article enjoyed a positive and thoughtful response and was helpful in establishing the nonaligned, constructive, objective policies of Harmony and the Institute. We are thus pleased again to present an essay by this orchestra player, Robert Levine, on a related subject: the role of the music director in today’s symphony organization. This is not a new topic in these pages, but the author’s insights are fresh and penetrate to the core. Not everyone will agree with everything he says or the way he says it, but many people will think, “There is much truth in these observations.” And perhaps some will go on to say, “Yes, we really must address and act on these issues.”
In these pages, we often use the phrase “organization change.” Starting on page 30, as an Institute innovation, we present the background for and a consolidation of installment presentations on this topic recently posted sequentially on our Web site at <www.soi.org>. As noted there, we have concluded that the Institute, whose mission is to “foster positive change in how symphony organizations function” is, in fact, sponsoring the application of a well-founded and expanding approach to organizational improvement. This discipline is known by various phrases, including “organization change,” which we have adopted for our review. We believe this phrase will help symphony organization participants better relate to the concepts involved and how they apply to the symphony world. As we tour this new ground, we are pleased to be guided by Laura Leigh Roelofs, the principal author of the organization change text which starts on page 33. To follow this review, step-by-step, be sure regularly to check the Organization Change section of our Web site. Those receiving Key Notes from SOI, (see below), will be regularly alerted to new postings.
Shifting gears to group authorship, we thank Andy Buelow, Samantha George, Bill Helmers, Barbara Hunt, Steve Ovitsky, Steve Richman, Allen Rieselbach, Roger Ruggeri, Mike Schmitz, Susan Stein, Liz Tuma, and Robert Wilkins for permitting us to sit in on a roundtable discussion of what is transpiring in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) organization (page 39). After some difficult times in years past, the MSO has made significant strides in organizational development through the concerted effort and goodwill of many participants. But the organization is not resting on its laurels. Leadership participants are thinking ahead about how their organization might become even more effective, creative, and innovative, and might better serve and become even more valued by its community.
Finally, former Institute Board of Advisors member Frederick Starr returns to Harmony by taking off on page 53 from where he landed at the end of his essay in Harmony #5 (October 1997). But in piloting this fresh and entertaining flight, Fred brings to us a new perspective, that of the clarinet player in a New Orleans jazz ensemble which performs with a wide range of North American symphony orchestras. This essay is an “up-close” observation of the orchestral workplace by a caring and discerning observer who has a simple message: let’s have more teamwork.
In our introductory pages, we have more than the usual amount of information, but it deals with very important Institute developments.
◆ We make two important personnel announcements on page vii.
◆ During 2000, as reported in the Fall issue of Harmony, the Advocates of Change movement was formed. The group’s membership topped 100 by year end, and already members are voicing views about possible directions and priorities toward achieving healthier and more responsive symphony institutions (page viii).
◆ In mid-2000, the Institute completed its first five years of operation. As part of a strategic review, we decided to obtain “customer” feedback in three central areas. To this end, a Symphony Organization Participant Survey was completed in December, and we are pleased to share the primary results with Harmony readers starting on page xiv.
◆ The initiation of a periodic e-mail bulletin, Key Notes from SOI, is reported on page xxi.
The Institute’s most recent field work is summarized on page 13, along with the status of the multi-year CEDAP research.
Juxtapositioned for greatest effect with related content you will find the following very interesting, quoted material:
◆ Gunther Schuller on the Role of the Conductor (page 26).
◆ Frederick Zenone on the Integrated Organization (page 37).
On page 66 is a listing of those symphony organizations that have already provided commitment to and support of the Institute’s objectives and programs for 2001.
We usually save Phillip Huscher for last. This delays as long as possible the cogitation stimulated by the score fragment on our cover. Are you frustrated? Here’s a hint. The root of this story is in a prior cover story. Think about it! Turn to page 64 to see if you guessed correctly.
I think you will find this issue one of our best! Thanks again for your support and interest.
Advocates of Change
In mid-2000, as reported in Harmony #11, the Institute initiated the formation of Advocates of Change.
The goal of this movement is to provide any participant from any constituency within a symphony organization, and any supporter of such an organization, from any corner of North America, a public voice in fostering organization change and improvement within this field.
AoC is a grassroots movement focusing personal commitment toward develop- ing new approaches to the organizational issues facing North American symphony institutions.
Advocates of Change embrace the following beliefs:
◆ As a supreme form of human creativity and achievement, music performed by symphony orchestras ennobles the spirit.
◆ Symphony orchestra organizations preserve symphonic music performance so that this art form may be passed from generation to generation.
◆ The environment for symphony organizations is rapidly changing.
◆ To flourish in this changing environment, symphony organizations must evolve into high-performance institutions universally valued in the communities they serve.
◆ Everyone concerned must take an active stake in how effectively our symphony organizations function, how organizational performance can be improved, and how all participants must work together toward these ends.
As of the publication of Harmony #11 in October 2000, 37 persons had become AoC founding members. By year-end, this group had grown to the 108 persons whose names and locations are listed at the end of this report. We hope the AoC will further expand in 2001.
Membership in Advocates of Change
Anyone embracing the Advocates of Change beliefs and wishing to become an AoC member is welcome!
To become a member, complete the detachable form in the back of this issue, make out a check to the Institute in an amount matching the strength of your commitment, and mail your form and check to the Institute. Alternatively, submit your membership interest and commitment via our Web site at <www.soi.org>.
In our first communication with founding members, we asked them to suggest how symphony organization participants, individually and collectively, might enhance the health of their organizations and help them grow, prosper, and better serve their communities. Here are some of the early responses, edited and condensed in some cases for enhanced readability. These initial comments are also available at <www.soi.org/AoC.htm> and will be supplemented as we receive more suggestions.
Mark Jamison—Toronto, Ontario
◆ Become ‘servant leaders’ for the course.
◆ Engage everyone (all stakeholders).
◆Answer the three questions:
Why are we here?
What are we going to do about why?
How are we going to treat each other?
◆ Embrace the diversity of your environment as the opportunity, not the challenge.
◆ Have fun.
Mack Richardson—South Bend, Indiana
◆ Invest in professional training, particularly technology, for all staff. Do not balance the budget by trimming staff salaries and [already] meager increases.
◆ Assess volunteerism in the 21st century. Be open to new ways, such as project-based volunteering.
◆ Simplify union contracts/master agreements to deal only with compensation. Everything else is relegated to another document called Policies and Procedures, drawn up by the Orchestra Committee, Music Director, CEO and Personnel Manager—the people who will have to live with it.
◆ Insist that if orchestra members serve on the Board of Directors (and they should), they be fully involved (including committees), working members.
◆ Invest generously in marketing and public relations and do not cut their funding in order to balance the budget. PR must include public advocacy and “connecting” with the people of the city/region served.
◆ Reflect the diversity of the community in your Boards of Directors.
Kathy Kahn Stept—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
◆ Hire outside professionals, at least in the early stages, to find a method/ program that brings inclusiveness to the four constituencies—board, musicians, staff, volunteers—and creates full participation in all areas of the organizational operations.
◆ Develop a program that connects the board and volunteers with the musicians to enable them to become acquainted and educated relative to each constituency’s purpose and method of operation.
◆ View volunteer programs as a part of the organization’s administrative department and hire a manager to oversee/manage/coordinate all vol- unteer activities.
Charles Cheyney—San Diego, California
Communication between staff and volunteers should be more than a 24-hour- advance phone call when a mailing is due to go out, requesting help with stuffing envelopes. One solution would be standing committees consisting of board, staff, and volunteers, all with permanent assignments. This would help staffs that are short-handed and overworked, because many projects could be handled by volunteers!
Marilou Moore—Fresno, California
◆ Establish a philosophy and structure that are democratic versus authoritarian.
◆ Develop a feeling of ownership among all participants by open communications, shared goals.
◆ Provide the musicians, subscribers, staff members, volunteers, and board members with equal opportunities to share ideas related to:
– promotion and marketing,
– education (audience, schools, musicians, etc.), and
– leadership (administrative and artistic).
◆ Keep subscribers, volunteers, and donors informed of progress and ways to help, and extend influence in the community.
◆ Foster the idea that change is a part of life and is necessary to maintain and enrich life, grow in status, fulfill goals, and preserve the past for the future.
James Mabie—Chicago, Illinois
◆ Create a more participatory experience between the orchestra and audience. Makeawayfortheaudiencetogettoknowtheperformers.
◆ Generate a feeling of ownership in the musicians so they feel part of the marketing effort.
◆ Create a different type of concert for young adults drawing on their musical experiences.
◆ Draw musicians into the management of the organization.
Patrick Kulesa—Chicago, Illinois
Any type of organization requires reliable and intelligent information to understand how to take full advantage of its strengths and resources. Among the most critical resources an organization possesses are its people. Gaining insight into the views of its people is a valuable process that can point the way toward concrete steps an organization can undertake to affect real and lasting change. Symphony organizations would benefit from efforts to better understand the opinions of their people, regardless of job title or position. Periodic surveys of members would provide the intelligence needed to guide change efforts, revealing, for instance, what drives pride in the organization, morale, and engagement in the profession. Individually, symphony organizations could use opinion surveys to tailor change efforts to the unique needs of their members, both musicians and those who service and support their efforts.
Collectively, information from surveys conducted across symphony organizations could be combined with financial metrics or other business measures to uncover the links between members’ opinions and real numbers on organizational performance, connecting people to the financial health of symphonies. These techniques have been applied for decades in many industries and could be adapted for use in the unique context of symphony organizations.
Joan Greabeiel—Calgary, Alberta
One of our biggest challenges/opportunities lies in music education and community outreach. That’s not a new idea, but perhaps innovative ways of getting involved are required.
Richard (Brad) Kapnick—Chicago, Illinois
◆ Increase the availability of information about the orchestra’s business and affairs to orchestra members and donors.
◆ Decrease the absolute and nearly unreviewable power of the music director in programming decisions and in musician hiring.
◆ Accept the vision that educational and outreach programs are “core” functions of the orchestra.
Edward F. R. Hearle—Jacksonville, Florida
To expand symphony audiences, present programming that features at least one of the following:
◆ Music that is familiar and captivating.
◆ Artists who are recognizable and exciting.
The following persons became founding members of Advocates of Change during 2000. To show the diversity of membership but to protect privacy, the general metropolitan area of residence of each Advocate of Change is listed, unless otherwise requested.
Hogan Allen, Jackson, MS Victor J. Bauer, Newark, NJ Robert Bell, Toledo, OH Stephen Belth, Chicago, IL Peter Benoliel, Philadelphia, PA Millie and John Boaz, Chicago, IL Martin Bookspan, New York, NY Paul V. Boulian, New Haven, CT Michael F. Brewer, Washington, DC Roger O. Brown, Chicago, IL Catherine M. Cahill, New York, NY Nicky B. Carpenter, Minneapolis, MN Charles Cheyney, San Diego, CA
NancyBell Coe, Aspen, CO James Copenhaver, Chandler, AZ Peter D. Cummings, Detroit, MI Myra Janco Daniels, Naples, FL Ann L. Drinan, Hartford, CT Christopher T. Dunworth, Miami, FL Ruth L. Eliel, Los Angeles, CA Ernest Fleischmann, Los Angeles, CA Ryan Fleur, Boston, MA Henry Fogel, Chicago, IL William Foster, Washington, DC Catherine French, Washington, DC Soong Fu Yuan, New York, NY
Dileep Gangolli, Chicago, IL G. Michael Gehret, Chicago, IL Michael R. Geller, New York, NY Joseph Goodell, Buffalo, NY Carole Haas Gravagno, Philadelphia, PA Joan Greabeiel, Calgary, AB Valborg L. Gross, New Orleans, LA Sara Harmelink, Milwaukee, WI Edward Hearle, Jacksonville, FL Shirley Bush Helzberg, Kansas City, MO Arthur Henrie, Jackson, MI Daniel Hoffheimer, Cincinnati, OH Joan J. Horan, Kansas City, MO Robert Howard, Greenville, SC Marguerite B. Humphrey, Cleveland, OH Bernard Jacobson, Philadelphia, PA Mark Jamison, Toronto, ON William R. Jentes, Chicago, IL Dwight A. Johnson, Hartford, CT Paul R. Judy, Chicago, IL Greg Kandel, Cos Cob, CT Emil Kang, Detroit, MI Richard B. Kapnick, Chicago, IL Dennis Keller, Chicago, IL John Kimball, Boston, MA Robert A. Kipp, Kansas City, MO Charles Kirkland, Valparaiso, IN Joseph H. Kluger, Philadelphia, PA Mitchell Korn, Rhinebeck, NY Patrick Kulesa, Chicago, IL Debra Levin, Chicago, IL Sharon Litwin, New Orleans, LA Carolynn D. Loacker, Portland, OR Michael Luxner, Decatur, IL James Mabie, Chicago, IL Joel Mandelbaum, New York, NY Anne Manson, Kansas City, MO Nina Masek, Tucson, AZ Craig McNutt, Providence, RI Zarin Mehta, New York, NY Marilou Judy Moore, Fresno, CA
William Moyer, Boston, MA Raymond Murray, Tampa Bay, FL Harold Newman, New York, NY Siu Yuin Pang, Chicago, IL John Pfeffer, Naples, FL Connie Pirtle, Washington, DC Barbara Pollack, Denver, CO Camille Reed, Modesto, CA Mack Richardson, South Bend, IN John M. Richman, Chicago, IL Allen N. Rieselbach, Milwaukee, WI Joseph Robinson, New York, NY Laura Leigh Roelofs, Richmond, VA William A. Ryberg, Grand Rapids, MI Robert E. Sargent, Chicago, IL Michael J. Schmitz, Milwaukee, WI Ronald Schneider, Pittsburgh, PA David & Marilyn Scholl, Chicago, IL Harry Shapiro, Pittsfield, MA Peter W. Smith, Grand Rapids, MI Ward Smith, Cleveland, OH Robert Spich, Los Angeles, CA Stephen Stamas, New York, NY Margery S. Steinberg, Hartford, CT Kathy Kahn Stept, Pittsburgh, PA Jeffrey Stewart, Baltimore, MD Patricia C. Syak, Youngstown, OH Richard L. Thomas, Chicago, IL John Thorne, Houston, TX Donald Thulean, Seattle, WA Gideon Toeplitz, Pittsburgh, PA Robert J. Wagner, Newark, NJ Christopher Weait, Worthington, OH Albert K. Webster, New York, NY Robert S. Weiss, Toronto, ON James A. Wilkinson, Pittsburgh, PA Neil Williams, Atlanta, GA John Wisotzkey, York, PA Thomas H. Witmer, Pittsburgh, PA Anthony Woodcock, Portland, OR Frederick Zenone, Washington, DC
Special thanks to Richard (Brad) Kapnick for becoming Chair of AoC, and to Richard Thomas, Institute Board member, for helping to build the AoC membership during 2000.
Preliminary Results of the Symphony Organization Participant Survey
In 2000, the Institute completed its fifth year of operation, a landmark for any new organization.
Our symphony organization and participant support base has grown considerably since we first opened our doors. Harmony is now being mailed personally to some 5,500 people, of whom more than 5,000 are employees or active volunteers in 230 symphony organizations. Of these institutions, 163 became Supporting Symphony Orchestra Organizations for 2000, that number having grown from 17 in 1996, the year we initiated the supporting organization concept. In 2000, we fostered the formation of a community of individuals committed to achieving more effective symphony organizations, the Advocates of Change (AoC), and 108 individuals became founding members.
However, given five years of development, we decided to take a fresh look at our strategic development, and particularly at our communications program. Having made considerable progress, but believing there is much yet to accomplish, we thought we should “take stock” by inviting those persons most directly served to give us feedback in three basic areas:
We were gratified to receive responses from 470 symphony organization participants, just under 10 percent of those polled. We have been analyzing the results over the past few months and reporting our findings in stages, as they emerged, on our Web site. We will continue to analyze responses in some detail, but have now completed the primary overview. We are pleased now to share this integrated report of results with all Harmony readers.
We are cognizant, as our readers should be, that respondents to our survey— given the time and thought it takes to answer and return such a survey—are likely to be more favorably disposed toward the Institute and Harmony than was the average survey recipient. We believe that this bias would affect the answers to some survey questions more than others, and we will take into account these potential biases. We suggest that our readers do the same.
As to how the Institute is perceived, the following was reported:
◆ 90% of respondents feel that the Institute increased their awareness (24% extensively) of how symphony organizations function and might better function.
◆ 92% feel that Harmony increased (24% very extensively) their knowledge and appreciation of symphony organizational issues.
◆ 81% believe that the Institute has had a positive (27% very positive) effect on the symphony orchestra field.
Our thoughts. We are of course pleased to receive these views, and, even taking into account their likely positive bias, they make us feel that our efforts are appreciated and worthwhile. Our goal will be to maintain our good effect and continue to be valuable to all those involved in North American symphony orchestra organizations.
Harmony Readership The survey posed a range of questions about Harmony readership and the responses can be summarized as follows.
Where is Harmony usually read?
◆ Most respondents (58%) usually read it at home.
◆ Some respondents (25%) usually read it at work.
◆ A few (9%) read it while traveling or elsewhere.
◆ The balance (8%) don’t read it or their responses are not clear.
How long after receipt is the reading of Harmony completed?
◆ Some respondents (10%) complete their reading within a week.
◆ More respondents (18%) take two weeks.
◆ Most respondents (44%) complete their reading during the month after receipt.
◆ Most of the balance (24%) complete their reading in more than a month.
◆ A small group (4%) don’t read the publication.
How much of a copy of Harmony is usually read?
◆ Somewhat fewer than half of the respondents (44%) read most or all of an issue.
◆ Many (22%) read about half.
◆ And, again, a few (4%) do not read any part. Are articles from Harmony discussed with colleagues?
◆ A few respondents (9%) often discuss articles with colleagues.
◆ Most respondents (63%) discuss articles with colleagues occasionally.
◆ The balance (28%) do not discuss their reading with colleagues.
Our thoughts. Since its inception, we intended that Harmony articles be well- written, serious, thought-provoking, and formative. With these objectives, we anticipated that reading an issue of Harmony might take more than one sitting and be completed over a period of time, probably involving quiet, concentrated reading, at home or while traveling. So, in many ways, respondents are confirming what we expected, and what, over recent years, we have inferred from comments. Of course we wish that there was a more comprehensive reading, and wider and more intensive discussion, of Harmony articles than apparently takes place, but we recognize that, as in the offerings of a cafeteria, not every morsel will be equally appetizing.
In addition, as discussed below, we believe many symphony organization participants are pressed for time and will increasingly diversify the way they gather information, pursue learning, and gain knowledge.
Survey respondents were asked to rate various topics covered in Harmony as to their relative usefulness and interest. Here is a summary of that feedback and some thoughts we have about it.
The following topic was favored by respondents by a significant margin over all others:
◆ Case studies of specific symphony organizations undergoing change.
Our thoughts. This is good news! We have devoted substantial effort and print space to presenting stories (case studies) about organizations pursuing organization change, as authored by the participants themselves through “roundtables.” We are delighted that survey respondents who are organizational participants throughout the industry find these stories interesting and useful, and thus, we trust, “educational.”
The following topics were rated, about equally, to be relatively useful and interesting to some 7 out of 10 respondents:
◆ How symphony organizations generally function.
◆ Trust, communication, and information sharing.
◆ Artistic decision-making processes and issues.
◆ Strategic planning for symphony organizations.
◆ Economics of symphony organizations.
◆ A somewhat larger group (30%) read only some portion.
Our thoughts. Once again, good news! These topics are central to the Institute’s mission. We are pleased that respondents favored these topics, since fresh thinking and learning in these areas will be vital if symphony organizations are to change and become more effective.
A reasonable percentage of respondents found another group of topics useful and interesting—the first three listed somewhat more so than the second three— but, as a group, less useful and interesting than those above.
◆ Roundtable talks with people in specialized roles.
◆ Societal environment for symphony organizations.
◆ Impact of technological change.
◆ Insights of organizational change consultants.
◆ Symphony organization research.
◆ Historical development of symphony organizations.
Our thoughts. These results are not surprising and are basically positive. These topics, overall, are “scholarly” or “background” in nature and are not going to have quite the near-term impact on thinking and action toward organization change that the Institute is attempting to accelerate. At the same time, some content in these topic areas is useful background to symphony organization participants who are prepared to lead or engage in imperative change. Thus, we will continue to be interested in communicating material in these areas on a selective basis, both in print and electronically.
Survey respondents rated three topic areas as distinctly less useful than all others, and content in these areas was less read as compared with all other Harmony material.
◆ Gender and minority issues.
◆ Symphony organizational patterns outside North America.
◆ Reviews of books relating to symphony organizations.
Our thoughts. In any comparative process, some alternatives will end up at the bottom of a listing. But we think these ratings are instructive. Information and ideas in these areas are very interesting to some symphony organization participants, but not broadly. And, although there is learning to be gained by exposure to and thinking about content stemming from these areas, that learning, with some exceptions, is not as efficiently convertible into the kinds of action the Institute is fostering. So, we will take into account this feedback from our survey respondents and publish material in these areas when we believe it is pertinent.
Somewhat surprisingly, 95 percent of survey respondents reported being connected to the Internet. This level of participation compares with results of a recent national survey, as reported by Susan Stellin in the February 19, 2019, New York Times, that indicated some 56 percent of American adults are Internet users. Of course, we could have some kind of bias in our survey responses, or perhaps symphony orchestra participants rely on children or grandchildren as computer secretaries more than the average American adult. We think neither condition is likely! It appears to us—verifying recent, growing anecdotal evidence—that the community of symphony organization participants is highly Internet connected.
Further, survey respondents spend a good deal of time connected to the Internet.
◆ Almost 70% of respondents report spending at least 5 hours per week.
◆ Well more than half of this group report spending at least 10 hours.
◆ Just more than 20% of respondents report spending between 1 and 5 hours per week.
As one might expect, 80 percent or more of Internet usage by the respondents was devoted to e-mailing, either personal or organizational in nature, along with acquiring general and reference information. Other uses trailed by some gap. Even with such a relatively high percent of usage, most respondents (93 percent) reported that they expect to increade usage over the next few years, especially in the following areas:
◆ Communications with friends and family (more than 80% of respondents).
◆ Communications with organizational colleagues (just less than 80%).
◆ Obtaining general and reference information (more than 80%).
◆ Purchasing goods and services (a little more than 70%).
Respondents indicated from what setting they access the Internet, as follows:
◆ Some 80% access the Internet from a home computer; of these respondents:
– Less than one-half (40%) connect only from home.
– Half (50%) connect from home and also from work.
– Some (10%) connect from home and from work, and also via a portable.
– 9% of all respondents connect only from work.
– 10% do not connect or didn’t respond.
Quite often, it is mentioned that the Internet is used primarily by “younger people.” Among our respondents, this does not seem to be the case. Some 87 percent who reported being 65 or older also reported being connected to the Internet, and an even greater percent of this respondent group anticipate increased usage over the next few years.
At the same time, 100 percent of respondents who were 35 or younger reported being Internet-connected. Quite naturally, a few of them reported that they did not anticipate increased usage. Some people may already be satiated with the Net!
Our thoughts. There is much to “chew on” in the respondent reports of present and anticipated Internet usage. Overall, subject to further analysis, the data appear to support the general impression that we have formed over recent years that the symphony organizational audience for Harmony, which is significantly congruent with the group of symphony organization participants the Institute is primarily interested in reaching and serving, is already highly involved in the Internet and is likely to increase its participation over the next few years, especially as regards personal communication and the accessing of general and reference information.
Age and Organizational Group
Most survey respondents reported the range of their ages.
◆ 15% were 35 or younger.
◆ 43% were between 36 and 50.
◆32% were between 51 and 65.
◆ 10% were 65 or older.
Respondents also reported their organizational affiliations.
◆ 22% were board members.
◆ 34% were on the administrative staff.
◆ 32% were orchestra members.
◆ 3% were on the conducting staff.
◆ 2% were volunteers.
◆ 7% did not categorize their participation.
First, let us again thank the 470 respondents for their very helpful feedback and for giving time and thought to our survey questions.
We are already finding the survey feedback analyzed to date to be very helpful as we pursue a communications program which we believe must increasingly combine print, electronic, and integrated media efforts. The Institute wishes, as effectively and efficiently as possible, to influence positive change within North American symphony organizations. Some of that effort will be carried out directly in the field, through physical, face-to-face means, and will in part, provide insights that need to be propagated through wide communications. Much of our effort will continue to be carried out through distant communications—always as personal, interactive, and interconnective as possible—but nonetheless, at a distance, through words and symbols. In the much longer term, the physical and the distant may merge into the virtual. But, for some time, we think it is just a matter of electronic media increasingly supplementing (but not replacing) print media, with growing potential for integration in these forms of communi- cation.
We will continue our analysis of survey data on a more detailed and segmented basis. To the extent there is further interesting information from this work, we will post it on our Web site. As was mentioned on the face of the survey, it was coded so that we might compare responses by various groupings, and that analysis is still underway. In some areas, this segmented analysis may be of limited value in that some groupings may turn out to be too small for purposes of data reliability. But in other areas, the results may advance our knowledge of how the responses of our “customers” differ by “groups” in the three areas covered by the survey.
Finally, we again thank L. C. Williams & Associates for that firm’s early pro bono assistance in this project. This guidance was then assumed and pursued in depth by an independent volunteer, Dr. Kathleen Holt. Kathleen’s advanced education as a psychologist and psychometrician, her solid experience in survey design and analysis, her training in music performance, and her experience as a symphony organization volunteer, provided us with a wonderful combination of enthusiasm, interests, talent, and experience. It has been a great joy to work with her, and we look forward to completing this project and working on others with her in the future.
But Who Will Make Their Tea?
The first seven paragraphs of author Peter Wiegold’s essay conjure up a vivid picture of one of his workshops. We encourage you to read them twice and to imagine yourself standing in that circle.
Wiegold shares with readers the personal artistic journey that convinced him that a musical dialogue can, indeed, trigger the imaginations of composers, conductors, and players. He then posits that this same type of dialogue can be used to engage entire orchestra organizations.
Suggesting that musical practice will always reflect its time and place, he writes that today’s world is “plural and changing fast,” concluding that orchestras must work to attain flexible musical cultures.
Journey to Guysborough
Our author moves ahead by sharing the compelling story of his work with students in Guysborough, Nova Scotia, as part of a project he undertook with Symphony Nova Scotia. He concludes that orchestra organizations must work to remake and remodel the relationships among composers, conductors, players, management, and audience to generate unique musical occasions and, at the same time, retain the orchestra’s heritage.
The Institute was intrigued by the story of the author’s experiences in Nova Scotia. In a “postlude” that follows his essay, readers have the opportunity to hear the Guysborough story from the participants’ perspectives.
But Who Will Make Their Tea?
T wenty London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) musicians stood with me in a circle—no instruments.
They looked like columns of stone—cold, unmoving. I thought, “My God, this is what it must feel like to conduct them for the first time.”
The only thing to do was to get my head down and go for it, so I began the workshop. First, simple communication exercises: learning names, passing around vocal sounds, copying, parodying one another, going for faster and faster reactions. The atmosphere warmed up.
We moved to instruments. (No music!) I played a simple figure and repeated it over and over, inviting each person in turn to join in with their own. Eventually we had a fine bubbling texture. A viola was playing a striking pizzicato rhythm, so I dropped to that, then rebuilt into a Steve Reich-like web of pizzicato. I asked for a solo. The clarinetist looked as though he’d have a go.
The music calmed and became floating and spacious, I added some revolving harmonies on my keyboard, and gradually we progressed towards a swooping free improvisation. After a stillness, a new riff from the trombonist, strong and funky; add everybody in, and onto a rousing end. Time for a break and retreat to the kitchen.
Everybody helped themselves to tea and biscuits and there was a real buzz. Someone said, “Now I remember why I took up music.”
In those simple exercises we had broken through to a direct and heartfelt communication through sound—imaginative, inventive, and belonging to us. And chatting together we began to become friends. Then I remembered what they’d said in the LSO office the day before: “But who will make their tea?”
The Genesis of Musical Dialogues
My musical dialogues began at the age of nine when I began lessons with the village organist. He had taught himself and never had a pupil, and so we worked together on what I should do. After this, I had two years with no lessons, then four with just piano lessons. In this period I taught myself harmony and began to compose.
At school at this time, my memory of class music lessons is of a teacher, Mrs. Butcher, who would make all 30 of us stand in turn and sing a folk song, after which she would give us a mark on a scale of ten. This took the whole class. A low mark resulted in having to copy the text out after school.
Eventually I caught up academically, went to university, wrote Bach fugues, analyzed Wagner, discovered modern music, and, after eight years and armed with three degrees, began professional musical life. But something in me would never let go of those early days of musical discovery and musical self- sufficiency, or of the later days of playing in university rock bands and jazz bands for hours.
So when I was invited to be a composer-in- residence in an arts center, I resolved that I would have workshops where children could get directly involved in making sound and in creating music.
During my first workshop, I was so excited by the wealth of ideas emerging from a group of ten-year-old children that it was two and a half hours later when their teacher finally said, “Could we just stop for a moment so they can go to the toilet?”
In the evenings, I conducted workshops for adults and gradually learned and developed many techniques for quickly engaging anyone who came into the room in a music-making process through name games, theater games, rhythm games, and so on, always moving towards creating a new piece, something that would belong especially to that group of people.
The Chemistry of Composers and Players
My own professional artistic life continued to be more conventional. I conducted my own ensemble and composed. I had many good commissions, but was sometimes frustrated by my rather rigid relationship with the players. Perhaps I missed the jazz bands. I began to wonder if it was possible to involve my players more in the creative process and eventually put the composing on hold.
I studied and traveled widely, including a trip to Java to study gamelan music. At the end of my stay there, the head of the conservatory in Surakarta asked me to write a piece for the main gamelan. This I did, using their number-based notation.
I took the composition into the rehearsal room, and an extraordinary thing happened. It immediately ceased to be “my” piece and now belonged to everyone. They said, “Lets put this at the beginning,” or “Lets add a solo here.” The music naturally belonged to all present, with no hesitant, standoffish relation between composer and performers.
This experience strengthened my resolve to find new ways of working with my musicians back home.
Years of research followed. I was fortunate to be artistic director of the Performance and Communication Skills Department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Working closely with the department head, Peter Renshaw, I led a postgraduate ensemble of 15 for a year at a time and was able make my own curriculum. We included Tai-Chi, African drumming, voice, and body work, as well as many kinds of improvisation and composition. It was a wonderful opportunity to test starting from scratch. Just what is it to “make music” and be a real performer?
It was easy for the experiments to go wrong. There is, for example, a very fine line between opening up imaginative space and maintaining artistic focus. But after those 11 years, I now feel comfortable in my dialogue with musicians and able to incorporate their imaginations, in smaller or greater ways, in my own work.
The Creative Orchestra
I’ve worked recently with Sharp Edge, the new-music group of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO). Formed from a group for which I led the initial training six years ago, they have had a fascinating history of working in schools; with African, reggae, and rap musicians; and commissioning pieces on which the players worked collaboratively with the composers. Sharp Edge manager Judith Webster has guided the evolution of the group, always with close consultation with the musicians.
I directed a performance last November in the “Cutting Edge” series in London and consciously presented a three-layer program that included classic contemporary works by masters Boulez and Birtwistle, a new commission of mine (95-percent notated), and six “one-pagers.” I asked six leading British composers to supply us with just one page of material that we could elaborate into whole pieces, and composers, players, and I worked together, very much as a jazz band would.
It was a thrilling concert—fine orchestral musicians playing new music and an air of danger and surprise—because nobody (including the players at times) knew what was going to happen in the one-pagers.
There were many lovely moments: a yodeling, improvised high-trumpet solo over rich chords provided by Sam Haydn; funky rhythms from two trombones with “trixie-dixie” mutes under a wild, highly decorated wind tune from Morgan Hayes (sounding like a cross between Frank Zappa and Korean music); and subtle, low-string effects in Tansy Davies’ haiku-like piece.
The players were thoroughly engaged—one said afterwards that it was the best concert of her life—and it revealed once again the immense resource and imagination locked up in orchestral players.
For me, the key to this concert was the chemistry, the alchemy, of the formal and the free—and the many stages in between—in the same event; the dialogue between spirited player inventiveness and careful composer preparation.
Boundaries Are Not Rigid
There is a simplistic view that music is either written or improvised. If it is written, the composer controls all; if it is improvised, you need Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, or don’t bother. But there are a thousand worlds in between. It is often in the smaller things that players’ imaginative responses can really count. For example, take a high clarinet trill. Ask the players to make it “penetrate.” Ask them to slightly vary the pitch, change the fingering, add another trill occasionally when it feels right, finish with a flourish.
There are no rigid boundaries among composers’, conductors’, and players’ imaginations. One must simply find the right trigger for the right imagination at the right time.
There are things composers do on paper that can be done no other way. There are things players can do within their instruments that are impossible to notate. The joy and the excitement is in the alchemy between those two points.
I have long reflected on the “third way” (even before I heard of it from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton).
If the first way is like a box, rigidly containing and restricting, the second way is an open space, the way of the 1960s—let it all hang out, or maybe a completely flat democracy. The third way is, for me, a strong center, but one which can invite many spirals around it and, as it moves into the future, can bend and respond.
When I’m directing a one-pager, there are three kinds of instruction I can give to the players: “do this,” “do something like this,” “do whatever you want.” Each is a vital part of the mix. And, of course, the middle one is fascinating. How do you trigger someone’s imagination, and also contain it in just the right way,
so it comes swooping back into the mainstream four bars later?
Much of my research has been about this critical balance. What frees musicians while maintaining integrity and purpose in the music?
Translating the Concept to Other Worlds
The musical research has many parallels with contemporary thinking in other worlds. The empowerment of the individual, the unlocking of creative resources, the managing of creative teams are concepts which are regularly explored in industry. Clearly, we live in times when individual fulfillment is increasingly recognized as making the whole “product” better. Behind us are the times of rigid hierarchies and slavish workforces.
Much can be learned from the best of contemporary business culture, especially as so much of classical-music culture is locked in middle-Europe in the mid-19th century. But those in business want to learn from us, too.
I have recently worked for Ericsson in Sweden, training executives in communication and presentation. They were generally clear about the information they wanted to convey, but not as good at getting life and color into their messages.
I began by focusing on listening and communicating, asking the participants to practice judging response according to the weight and color of the stimulus, much like musical phrasing. I worked with pulses. Every presentation has a pulse, and every pulse has a quality: buzzy, thoughtful, questioning, entrancing.
I worked with each person in turn, asking them to hold a pulse while telling their stories, keeping the audience connected to their rhythm. Then I began to challenge habitual pulses. For example, one person who was fast, snappy, and clever revealed much more emotion and feeling at a more grounded tempo.
Later I worked with the executives to present their current issues using the form of the opening of a classical symphony: grab the audience’s attention, state the essence of the key, begin to let the thought unfold. By the end of the workshops it was wonderful to see that they had become interested in the secrets locked in the artistic world: how to color a word, how to shape a performance, how to evoke magic rather than describe facts.
I think it could be very interesting to run workshops with orchestra sponsors and donors. Such workshops would give musicians an opportunity to return to the sponsors something of immediate value in their own world. So often, orchestras are the safe, pretty china on the shelf for sponsors. Is it not preferable to have an adult relationship, a real dialogue, between worlds?
Engaging Our Symphony Orchestra Organizations
In the corporate workshops, I began from the idea that in the arts, the goal is always to bring something alive: the sound of the instrument, the unfolding of the story, a spirit in the room. It is also vital that the culture within orchestras is kept alive.
Orchestras can be dangerous! Locked in the musicians is so much desire, an unconditional love of music, so much imagination. No wonder musicians get frustrated if the music does not work for them. They are passionate about music; they live for the moments when it works.
After the RPO concert, one of the players, who had never been involved in this kind of creative work before, said to me about one of the one-pagers: “That shouldn’t be eight minutes long. Its natural length would be 40 minutes.” When did you last hear an orchestral player asking for a new piece to be expanded to 40 minutes? But when a player feels part of the imagining of something, it is natural that his or her own fascination and musical intelligence comes through.
Just as players appreciate being engaged in how music is made, they appreciate being engaged in the everyday organizing of the orchestra. In the same way, orchestra administrators need to be engaged with the players, in a process that is as close to the art-making process as possible. (Administrators have imaginations, too!)
I have led workshops for orchestra administrators and orchestra players together, to share one another’s worlds. There is a fear that musician and nonmusician cannot work together, but I always begin by setting a ground of which everybody can be part and can join in. This might involve setting up parallel riffs in concentric circles so that some layers are very easy, yet central, and other layers are more playful and decorative, or virtuosic.
Early in the session we stop for discussion, and the openness of the process naturally encourages the conversation to turn to “life skills” common to musicians and nonmusicians alike. The comments come in a torrent: “I always rush in.” “It’s important to listen before responding.” “I learned to stay with what I was able to do.” “Repetition consolidates.” “Begin and end with a summary.”
The workshops always close with some sort of performance: the moment of no return, the moment of shared celebration.
There are many things within music that can teach us about how to run organizations. For example, a primary musical rule, whether in Bach counterpoint or in Ravel orchestration, is that things work well together when they are also strong and autonomous in themselves—an interesting model for partnerships and collaboration.
Music also teaches the importance of roles, of each element having its moment and time to establish itself, and of the value of surprise, daring, turning things upside down, for a moment or forever. That’s excitement.
I began this essay writing about changes in musical practice, looking at changing roles for composers, conductors, and players. The way we practice our art in today’s world must give a key as to how to develop overall philosophy and practice within the orchestral culture. Musical practice will always reflect its time and place. Consider some very different examples:
◆ the solo sitar player, religious celebrant as well as musician;
◆ the carnival drummer driving the crowd to dance and party;
◆ the elegant chamber music of an 18th-century drawing room;
◆ the proud symphonic music of the imperial 19th century;
◆ the modernist 1960s and 1970s, with composers breaking down language into its prime constituents.
No matter in what way orchestral culture develops, it must reflect its times. Otherwise, its back will break as it refuses to bend into the wind.
Developing Orchestral Culture
What does contemporary culture say to us? What kind of world are we living in? Foremost, it is plural, and changing fast. In every industry, in so many everyday situations, a simple, single, traditional answer will not suffice.
This might be frightening to some. Yet, the very volatility opens up enormous potential. Every year, I work with the National Youth Orchestra whose young people are just as comfortable playing the french horn in Brahms as dancing to (or playing) the latest hard-edged club music. They are very exciting musicians with whom to work!
We need an orchestral culture that is flexible, one that can relate to different musics and different audiences. The orchestra must be seen as a flexible community resource: performing, teaching, playing chamber music, running creative projects, always inventing concerts and projects that are unique, yet which keep a base in the timeless repertoire that they have inherited, maintaining a chemistry between the timeless and the spontaneous, between something that could happen any day, anywhere, and something that is absolutely special to that town, that community, those musicians.
One undoubted feature of the contemporary world that orchestras confront is the availability of music through technology. CDs bring music from every part of the world at the touch of a button. Wide-screen stereo concerts on DVD come close to reproducing live orchestra concerts. The Internet offers information and contact in a new public forum (although the experience is often private).
Yet, as musicians, we have one ace up our sleeve. The sense of occasion. The unique moment that could only happen there and then, in that hall, in that community, between those people.
Journey to Guysborough
Last year, I was invited to lead a project for Symphony Nova Scotia in Guysborough, a town in a fairly remote part of Nova Scotia. A gas company wanted to sponsor a project in the area where it was working.
The orchestra had not visited Guysborough in 25 years. So the idea was for children from Guysborough to write music for the orchestra, and then not only hear their music played, but also perform with the orchestra.
Three composers and three players from Symphony Nova Scotia spent two days working with students in the high school. The theme was “New Energy,” acknowledging the new energy being brought by the gas company.
We began with communication warmups, then some improvising so that it began to feel as though we were playing in a band together. I introduced the theme, then set about finding a “hook line” for the piece. After much fun we came up with “In the Heat of the Moment.” Then I said, “Let’s find the musical line for this.”
The room was full of quiet humming and vocalizing. Suddenly someone cried “That’s it!” to the person next to her. I stopped everyone and we listened. There it was: a natural, elegant musical line. From this came a song, which spawned four other movements. We then recorded what we had.
The next step was for the three composers to score these movements out. A couple of months later, we returned to Guysborough with the full orchestra and presented the new 20-minute work with the school choir.
There was a buzz. The hall was packed. The first half consisted of familiar classical pieces. Then came the new piece. The children gave their all and received a standing ovation. Then the orchestra played a piece of mine, and that got a standing ovation as well (not what I would normally expect!).
It was a most rewarding project. We had managed to connect professional and school music artistically, to bring orchestral and classical music to a community, to introduce a community to some contemporary sounds, and, on the way, to use a theme that paid due respect to the sponsor.
This is only one way of making a concert, but I feel the principle is a good one: look to make an occasion unique and special while keeping a firm link to the heritage of the orchestra.
Connect player to conductor to composer to student to audience. Connect traditional to new. And keep the relationships fresh by being willing to remake and remodel them.
Keep exploring the relationships among composer, conductor, players, management, audience so that they continually meet and confront one another on a human level. So the composer can see that a certain player plays a trill with a unique color. So that the player can stir the composer into bringing his or her vision to life. So orchestra members can join artistic planners and share their imaginations—and their constraints, too. So that audience members can identify with their children singing with the orchestra. So that sponsors can partake of artistic practice and know that they and their work are valued.
One last example: As I write this essay, I am preparing a concert with the London Sinfonietta. Their heritage is of the finest new-music playing, but in this case, before we commit to paper, I’m leading some workshops to bring players and four young composers to experiment “live” and interactively. As the days progress, it is almost as if the composers can now breathe the air of live music making and really get their music off the page.
When audiences sense that something is alive, when what is happening in front of them is daring, personal, committed, and belongs to them, they want to stay in the thrill of that circus. They want to identify with the story that is unfolding before them.
When players are truly engaged in their playing, they know absolutely why they would give and have given everything to be musicians. You never know, they might even make their own tea.
Peter Wiegold is a composer, conductor, and creative workshop leader based in London. He holds B.Mus. and M.Mus. degrees from the University College of Wales and a Ph.D. in composition from Durham University.
Guysborough, Nova Scotia, is a tiny Canadian hamlet situated a few miles inland from the Atlantic coast, northeast of Halifax, on a parallel slightly north of Bangor, Maine.
This may seem an unusual location in which to apply forward-looking ideas about the creation of new music, but Guysborough is not a haven of musical illiterates. Its public grade school employs a talented music teacher, Ursula Ryan, who teaches grades one through eight at Chedabucto Education Center. “It’s basically a general classroom music program,” she explains. “All the elements of music are combined.” And lest we picture a one-room schoolhouse, she adds that, “Guysborough is one of the largest counties in Nova Scotia. Most students are bused in and have an hour’s bus ride. It’s a geographically vast area.”
Guysborough also has a powerful benefactor, Sable Offshore Energy, Incorporated. Guysborough County as a whole is the center of 37-trillion cubic feet of natural-gas reserves, some of them under the Atlantic on the Scotian shelves. Sable has constructed a natural-gas processing plant in Guysborough County. While launching a full-scale industrial overhaul of the region, Sable also gave due attention to the importance of cultural forces by becoming the sponsor of Peter Wiegold and Symphony Nova Scotia’s visits to Guysborough.
Peter’s impact on the community may have been just as profound as Sable Energy’s was on the economy of Guysborough County, not commen- surately measurable in dollars and cents, but in creativity, joy, and enthusiasm. “It was unbelievable,” asserts 15-year-old Genevieve Foley, a former Chedabucto student and a singer who now attends the music program at St. Mary’s Academy in Nova Scotia.
Betty Webster, the executive director of Orchestras Canada, who has been a friend of Peter’s for decades, explains the importance of his Changing Arts Practice workshops from the symphonies’ perspective. “The orchestras realize they have to undertake community outreach work, to be more relevant to their communities. But the musicians are trained as players, not talkers or teachers. Wiegold’s process frees symphony musicians from their strict training. It’s absolutely amazing to see the results of several days of musicians working with him.”
Symphony Nova Scotia (SNS) principal oboist Suzanne Lemieux agrees. Since taking Peter’s workshop, she has become enthusiastic about his techniques and has practiced them in her own workshop sessions with students in the Halifax schools. “I find that Peter has showed me his skill in bringing attention to people so they all work together,” she says. “To me that’s the most interesting thing that I’ve learned from my experiences with him. It just puts the students’ heads in a good place. Once they’ve been able to do things they want to do, there’s a respect for the instrument. Then when they hear the symphony, they know what we’re doing.”
On Peter’s first trip to Guysborough, he was accompanied by Suzanne Lemieux and five additional musicians: violinist Celeste Jankowski; principal cellist Norman Adams; professional singer and SNS board member Linda Carvery; improvisational music group, Upstream, composer Sandy Moore; and SNS composer-in-residence Alasdair MacLean. They met with a group of band and choir students hand-picked by teacher Ursula Ryan.
“Peter gave us the theme—New Energy—and another one of the students, Bonnie Skinner, came up with the hook line ‘In the Heat of the Moment,’” Genevieve Foley recalls. “Then he asked for a tune, and a friend near me hummed something, which made me think of something, and I sang it out. Peter stopped everything and said, ‘That’s it!’” Then, says Genevieve, “Bonnie came up with the entire lyric, and I sang the melody. Peter said it was extremely complicated but that I was determined to have it the way I wanted it, which was true.” She adds, “He created an atmosphere that allowed you to release your natural musical talents and nurtured them in a way you would not find in a typical classroom. It was as though I was an equal to Peter. I wasn’t a student; I was a musician. It was relieving. You don’t often have the opportunity to unleash that.”
Ursula Ryan describes the process that went on behind the scenes after the students had done their work. “Peter Wiegold made a recording of the sounds and melodies that the kids came up with. Then he had them orchestrated for the symphony and sent a copy of the score to me, with vocal parts for my choir. And he rehearsed the score with Symphony Nova Scotia.” As Peter vividly describes in his essay, the New Energy concert that Symphony Nova Scotia and the students performed in Guysborough was well received.
Last May, the music created at Guysborough was performed in Montreal at the Orchestras Canada conference. Bonnie Skinner, Genevieve Foley, Ursula Ryan, and Linda Carvery sang two pieces, “In the Heat of the Moment” and “Sparks,” accompanied by SNS musicians, with Sandy Moore on accordion and Alasdair MacLean on piano. Peter Wiegold served as artistic director.
“Their program was very moving,” says Ninette Babineau, chair-elect of Orchestras Canada. “The reaction of the audience was one of amazement at the level and quality of the work. And they were very moved by the students’ comments.”
At the end of a performance that Babineau describes as “electrifying,” Bonnie Skinner grabbed the microphone and began to tell the audience what the experience had meant to her, to the school, to the entire Guysborough community. “We live out in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “And this is the symphony. These professional musicians listened to us and used our ideas. This is our music. These are our words.”
Dominant and Tonic: Rethinking the Role of the Music Director
Author Robert Levine believes that in working to attain greater effectiveness, orchestra organizations must rethink the role of the music director.
Levine opens his essay with an exploration into the evolution of the conductor’s role within the orchestra. He then traces the growth of that role into what we know today as “music director,” and suggests that the concentration of chief artistic decision maker and dominant performer in one person engenders organizational ill health.
Consequences and a Suggestion
Arguing that orchestras do not need “sole proprietors,” our author outlines what he views as the consequences, throughout orchestral organizations, of concentrated artistic authority. He then offers an alternative organizational model, that of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, placing particular emphasis on the way Berlin selects and tenures its players.
The essay concludes with a series of questions that Levine thinks all orchestras should consider if they are serious about working to become effective organizations within their communities.
As those who know him understand, Robert Levine does not mince words. This orchestra player enjoys challenging traditional thinking. When you have completed reading this essay, reconsider its title. You will discover that the author also cannot resist a good pun!
It is impossible to write critically about structural problems with the way power is wielded in our industry without having some readers wonder if the writer has a score to settle with those who actually wield that power.
During the course of a quarter century of working in orchestras, I have been, for most of that time, privileged to have worked for Music Directors whose musicianship and ability I hold in the highest respect. Not only have they taught me much about music and the art of ensemble playing, they have led my colleagues and me in some unforgettable performances. In addition, they have been surprisingly supportive of my efforts as an activist to make things better for orchestra musicians and have been quite open with me about their own frustrations with “the system.”
This essay is not about the Music Directors for whom I’ve worked; it is not, in fact, about individual Music Directors at all. Those who hold Music Directorships today created neither the system nor the resulting problems.
A recent article in Harmony by Henry Fogel of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra touched decorously on a topic whose centrality to the study of our institutions cannot be overstated: the role of the Music Director.
Most orchestra musicians have spent almost all of their working lives, and much of their youth, playing in orchestras with Music Directors and have come to accept the concept of the Music Director as something laid down with the rocks and the oceans—an immutable reality. Many participants in our industry, especially volunteers, are attracted to orchestras precisely because they are “artistic” and different from other institutions they know. They are not only inclined to accept whatever oddities they find in our world, they actively embrace them as emblematic of the differences they seek. And, of course, those who report on our world have assumed the Music Director as the face of our business, if only because it’s easier to report on one celebrity figure than to try to explain the complexities of an orchestra.
But unexamined assumptions are ticking time bombs. And the assumption that Music Directors are necessary—or alternately, that Music Directors must perform all the functions that they do in the modern orchestra—is a very large assumption in a world where leadership roles in all fields are undergoing change at an unprecedented rate. The dangers of leaving this very large bomb to tick are correspondingly great.
Any examination of the role of the Music Director must begin with what all Music Directors have in common: they are all conductors.
The role of the conductor has evolved over centuries, but its genesis was the need for a central figure to coordinate the performances of ensembles too large (or performing music too complex) to be able to function as self-directing entities. For much of the history of ensemble music, that figure was a member of the ensemble, often the leader of the first violin section or the keyboard continuo player. As ensembles became larger and less homogeneous, and as opera became more prevalent, the role of coordinator became separated from that of instrumentalist (although it is worth noting that there are a number of modern-day soloists who also handle the conductor’s role during concertos).
Boiled down to its essence, the conductor’s core function is that of traffic cop. (It is telling that the universal terms within orchestras for ensemble disasters are “car crash” and “train wreck,” precisely what happens without traffic cops.) The purest examples one can find of this core function are opera conductors, whose job it is to coordinate the performances of an orchestra spread out in a dark pit with soloists and choristers on stage who can neither see nor hear the orchestra. The need for such coordination appears in popular music theater as well; even a work such as Rent, with a score and instrumentation owing nothing to classical music, needs a conductor.
In the modern orchestra, however, serving as a coordinator is not all the conductor does. Every conductor, even the lowliest assistant, rehearses the works he or she will conduct in performance. Yet rehearsing is a far different activity from conducting, and one that requires a very different set of skills. Rehearsing is an essential task for conductors only if one assumes that the conductor is both
◆ the person who should make the key interpretive decisions; and
◆ the person who is best able to resolve the many technical issues that arise during the preparation of a performance.
It is certainly logical that the conductor would make some of the interpretive decisions. Obviously, the person who is charged with communicating tempo to the ensemble is the most natural person to choose that tempo. But why should the conductor have the authority to decide phrasing or articulation? After all, a traffic cop doesn’t tell drivers how to drive their cars; he or she simply tells them when to stop or go in order to control the flow of traffic. Where do conductors derive the authority to tell musicians how to play, rather than just when to play?
Evolution of the Conductor’s Role
One historical source for this control over individual musicians’ execution was the fact that conductors were often the composers of the works being conducted, which gave them obvious moral authority to dictate how the details of the performance (many not notated in the score) would go.
As the concert repertoire began to incorporate works composed by those no longer able to impart such wisdom directly to the performers (by virtue of being dead), the performance of a work, rather than a new work itself, became the attraction for the audience. Audiences naturally began to demand better—and perhaps more “interpreted”— performances than the rather rough-and-ready renderings that Mozart and Beethoven endured of their orchestral works.
When orchestras were faced with the problem of how to achieve greater coordination of ensemble, pitch, phrasing, articulation, and the like—because audiences were listening to the performance as much as to the work itself— they gravitated towards the most obviously “efficient” solution: to have one person make all the decisions. And that is the most efficient way to produce performances if the goal is the maximum number of different programs with the minimum amount of rehearsal. There is no way to tell what is sacrificed in the resulting musical assembly line because there are no good examples of conducted orchestras that try to solve the problem differently.
When conducting became a role separate from composing or playing an instrument, another dynamic came into play. Anyone who has spent time in orchestras comes to realize that the interaction between the conductor’s gestures and the orchestra’s playing is more complex than the orchestra’s merely “following” the conductor. The orchestra’s response to being conducted is not entirely calculated or even fully conscious. While the conductor is communicating primarily by gesture—and while there is a generally recognized vocabulary of such gestures—the orchestra is responding not only to the gestures, but also to its own playing, while the conductor is (or should be) responding to the orchestra’s playing as well.
The great French conductor and teacher Pierre Monteux reportedly described conducting as like riding a horse, in that most of the time, the horse is fine without direction, but is completely helpless without it at certain critical moments. The rider’s job—or the conductor’s—is to know when to intervene and when to stay out of the way.
And while it is impossible to prove, there appears to be communication between conductor and orchestra that is both nonvisual and nonaural. Call it telepathy, or pheromones, or magic, but I have found no more convincing evidence of something beyond the five senses than the interaction of conductor and orchestra.
Given these historical roots, and the undeniable role of something inexplicable between conductor and orchestra in the creation of performance, it is not surprising that the authority of conductors has spread beyond simply avoiding train wrecks. In the modern era, conductors are not primarily technicians or coordinators. They are orchestras’ chief performers or perhaps even sole performers. They stand high above their orchestras waving batons (a symbol of authority even in Mosaic times). They come on stage by themselves to thunderous applause. They are the focus of the audience’s visual attention. By contrast, the orchestra is a faceless mass of fungible technicians, arranged so that the conductor is at the center of their on-stage universe. Rather than an ensemble of fellow performers and colleagues, the orchestra becomes the instrument upon which the conductor plays.
So the simple fact that the Music Director invariably functions as the orchestra’s primary conductor imbues the position with considerable authority, as well as an air of mystery. But it does not explain why we have Music Directors at all, nor why their authority has few, if any, formal limits.
From Conductor to Music Director
The title “Music Director” originated in 19th-century Germany. But it is not clear from the historical record (which is rather thin regarding ensembles) just what authority the title was intended to convey. The origin of the modern functions of Music Director would seem to have roots in both secular and sacred music. The position that Bach held at St. Thomaskirche in Leipzig and the one that Haydn held at Esterhazy were typical of the period. Both jobs involved conducting, but only as part of a job description that included composing and hiring (and no doubt firing) musicians. The most important part of the job, in an era that valued new music above all other, was composing, not conducting or managing orchestra personnel. And, as noted above, few will question a conductor’s authority to decide how a piece should sound when that person is also the composer of the piece.
In the absence of a more detailed historical record, we can only speculate as to how the jack-of-all-trades kappellmeister evolved into the omnipotent Music Director. One obvious possibility is that conductors were often the founders of orchestras. Without orchestras, composers could still compose, musicians could
still perform, and audiences could still enjoy. But, if one wanted to conduct, one needed an orchestra; so conductors often became orchestra founders. And founding an enterprise usually implies a degree of control—if not actual legal or moral ownership—that can be problematic over the long term for the enterprise and its other participants.
Regardless of the exact reasons for the position to have evolved into both the orchestra’s chief performer and chief arbiter of artistic decisions, it makes for a very odd and unusual mix. Certainly there are other performance organizations that feature a chief performer, a quarterback on a football team, for example.
But quarterbacks generally don’t design plays and certainly don’t hire and fire personnel. In other arts organizations, such as theaters or ballet companies, the chief artistic decision maker is rarely an active performer and almost never the dominant performer.
The combination, in the position of Music Director, of two very different roles is both potent and problematic. Each role, by itself, would have logical boundaries. But what become the natural limits to the Music Director’s authority when the two roles are combined? As chief performer, the Music Director is the core of the orchestra’s public image and the focus of its marketing and fundraising efforts. As chief artistic decision maker, the Music Director will inevitably support the artistic needs of the chief performer. The combination of the two roles is why the psychological dynamic in most orchestras is so unhealthy. Rather than the Music Director providing leadership for the institution, the institution exists to provide the Music Director with a vehicle for artistic self-expression. In terms of organizational dynamics, the Music Director owns the orchestra.
So, of course, the Music Director makes all the personnel decisions within the orchestra, just as a violinist decides what brand of strings to use on his or her violin. Of course, the Music Director determines programming, and the staff and volunteers provide the resources to support that facet of the Music Director’s artistic expression. Of course, the Music Director becomes the focus of the institution’s fundraising and marketing. And, of course, there is chronic tension between the Music Director and the board president and the executive director. They suffer from the illusion that they are building an institution with a life of its own, rather than an instrument that, without the Music Director, has neither life nor meaning.
This may seem a harsh portrait of Music Directors. However, it is a description of a leadership model that engenders very unhealthy attitudes on the part of both leaders and those whom they lead. Few Music Directors always behave as if their institutions revolve solely around them; some have far healthier beliefs about their roles. But a flawed institutional structure is not redeemed by the fact that some leaders, and some institutions, run counter to type.
The notion of the Music Director as the focus of the institution and the only real prime mover is deeply rooted within virtually every orchestral institution now extant. Nothing else can explain Music Directors’ pervasive influence on decision making throughout their institutions. No Music Director knows more about effective programming, or acoustics, or hiring and firing of musicians, or guest artists—or perhaps even rehearsing—than anyone else. But orchestras are their fiefdoms, by virtue of their titles, and that ownership, rather than their superior abilities in all those areas, gives them the right to decide.
Consequences of Unbounded Authority
Unfortunately, the last thing orchestras need today are sole proprietors. Music Directors may be the public faces of their institutions, may be paid more than anyone else, and may receive an unseemly amount of deference, but they are also on site less than musicians, staff, or volunteers. They rarely have, or develop, roots in the community. And as Toscanini once said to a departing principal player, “When the Pope dies, we elect a new Pope.” Music Directors come and go, but the institution invariably survives (although generally not without major resources being devoted to “introducing” the new owner to the public.)
As might be expected, a concept that is so well internalized, so little discussed, and so at odds with reality does real harm to the institution’s ability to function well. A frequent complaint about orchestras from audience members, for example, is the apparent lack of involvement of the musicians in the performance. Why do orchestra musicians move so little and seem so passive, while chamber musicians move so much and seem so involved in their work? Chamber musicians are leading each other with their movements, of course, while orchestra musicians are being led by someone external to the ensemble. But more important is the musicians’ internalized belief that the Music Director is the performer, not they. The audience was sold tickets for the Music Director’s performance, not the orchestra’s. One is pleased to see a pianist physically involved in his or her performance; to have the piano physically involved would be distracting. Doesn’t the real drama of an orchestral performance lie in the ability of one man to control the masses in front of him with a little stick? Wouldn’t the masses moving independently disrupt the drama of the puppetmaster pulling the puppets’ strings?
The complaints about musician passivity prove the opposite. “The masses” moving is actually better entertainment, not worse. Regardless of whether or not audiences come to see the Music Director, they will enjoy the performance far more if the orchestra looks involved as well, or put another way, if the orchestra is performing as well. In a modern society, teamwork is far more attractive than dictatorship. But the orchestra will look as committed as the conductor only if the orchestra is as committed as the conductor, and that commitment comes not solely from a sense of professionalism, but from a sense of ownership as well.
A less visible, but equally harmful, consequence of the ownership concept is apparent on the administrative side. Orchestral leadership (at least in North America) as tripartite is now a truism. But consider how profoundly unbalanced the “three- legged stool” really is. One leg is a volunteer, nominally the head of the organization, but one who rarely knows enough either about orchestra administration or about the nuts and bolts of artistic leadership to be able to competently evaluate the performance of his co-legs. One leg is a paid professional administrator, whose job it is to manage an institution whose entire raison d’être is artistic excellence, but who has no formal authority over any matters that might be deemed “artistic.” And the third leg is a musician, untrained in management, a dilettante about every instrument but his or her own, and a part-time, limited-tenure employee to boot who has the authority to make all the artistic decisions that will determine the institution’s success, short- and long-term. Given the imbalance in knowledge and experience, the lack of defined boundaries, and the fallacies embedded in the underlying assumptions, it is little less than a miracle that this structure works anywhere and anytime.
Autonomy and accountability are the twin faces of power. Autonomy is necessary for individuals to wield power; accountability is necessary in order to harness that individual autonomy for a larger purpose. But where is the accountability of the Music Director in this structure? And by whom is the Music Director held accountable if he or she is really the orchestra’s “owner”? Many of the limits that are placed on the Music Director’s authority have evolved in direct response to the fact that someone else inevitably is accountable for the consequences of the Music Director’s decisions. They are checks and balances couched in ways that appear, disingenuously, to have nothing to do with artistic issues of the Music Director’s artistic authority. It is striking how effective these checks and balances can be, not only in limiting the Music Director’s power, but in ensuring that no coherent artistic policies either develop or succeed.
Music Directors have complete control over programming and guest artists, for example, until such control bumps into budgetary or marketing constraints, something that a clever executive director or board president can easily arrange. Of course, such a clever executive director or board president would never harbor any ideas about programming or guest artists; that would infringe upon the Music Director’s artistic authority. But given that Music Directors are usually not held accountable for the economic effects of bad programming decisions, how else is an executive director or board president to avoid the blame if the audience stays away in droves?
Music Directors have complete control over hiring and firing of orchestra musicians—until such control bumps up against the labor agreement. But labor agreements are about terms and conditions of employment, not artistic control. That obviously belongs to the Music Director. Any effect of the labor agreement on artistic issues must be purely coincidental and unintended. Even where labor agreements become most intrusive on artistic matters—such as in giving control over large parts of the audition process to committees of orchestra musicians—such intrusion is usually justified as an attempt to make auditions “more fair,” not as a way of wresting artistic decisions away from the Music Director.
So Music Directors are frustrated because the absolute power that they are told they have over artistic matters is hedged everywhere with “practical” limits; limits, moreover, that they had no part in setting. At the same time, the other participants in the institution feel trapped in a constant rear-guard action to provide such limits in the face of the belief that the Music Director is accountable to no one for artistic decisions or their consequences. The result is a profound paradox; the unbounded authority of the Music Director really means that virtually every decision that he or she makes can be unmade (or even prevented from being made at all) by someone else. The unending, low-intensity conflict over just where lie the real boundaries, the real authority, and the real accountability is inevitable, predictable, and profoundly counterproductive.
A Different Way
But artistic decisions, most importantly about programming and orchestra personnel, must be made. Are there alternatives to the traditional unbounded authority of the Music Director?
There is, in fact, an interesting and well-known European model regarding who plays in the orchestra: the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. That orchestra shares with American orchestras a conventional employer-employee relationship (at least formally), with outside financial underwriting, and a management that reports to external governance. And the Berlin Philharmonic has always had a Music Director. But there are two differences in the relationship between the Music Director and the rest of the institution that are fascinating and that offer clues to a healthier model of artistic leadership.
The first is the best known: the members of the orchestra choose the Music Director by direct election. Of course, other major orchestras allow musicians a voice in the process of choosing Music Directors. The recent selection of Lorin Maazel by the New York Philharmonic was heralded in the press as a decision driven largely by the orchestra’s musicians. But the final authority for the decision lay elsewhere and very likely was driven by concerns other than the wishes of the musicians.
The second difference in Berlin is less well publicized, but perhaps even more important in terms of the balance of power regarding artistic decisions: the role the orchestra plays in hiring its own members.
The Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic has remarkably little to do with orchestral personnel decisions. True, he participates in auditions, but so does the entire orchestra. The entire orchestra attends auditions and votes (with the Music Director having the same vote as every orchestra member) on who to hire, even for section positions. Perhaps more important, the entire orchestra votes on which newly hired musicians receive tenure. The most telling consequence of that unique procedure is the high attrition rate. It appears from anecdotal evidence that fully one-third of candidates for tenure (who by definition were winners of an extremely arduous audition process simply to get into the orchestra) do not receive it and are let go.
Observers of the American orchestra scene know that the granting of tenure to a probationary musician (usually one in his or her first or second season with the orchestra) is virtually automatic. Why is Berlin so different?
It appears that not only do the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic have an artistic vision for their orchestra—not necessarily about programming, or soloists, or even conductors, but about how the orchestra actually performs—but they are also prepared to make very tough decisions in order to fulfill those beliefs. And, of course, the members of the orchestra are in a far better position than any individual conductor, even the Music Director, to know whether or not a candidate for tenure really fits into the orchestra’s way of making music.
I have had the privilege of seeing and hearing several of the world’s great orchestras over the past few years. The Berlin Philharmonic is not the only orchestra in the top tier anymore. And it is hardly the only orchestra whose musicians take pride in their work, both individually and collectively. But I know of no American orchestra in which the musicians believe that the institution is theirs in the way that Berlin musicians do. In Berlin, that sense of ownership is palpable, both in how the orchestra plays and how they act when they play. In America, orchestra musicians on stage look like highly trained professionals trying their best to do their jobs while not calling attention to themselves. In Berlin, the orchestra members look like 100 quartet musicians, all of whom, not just the conductor, own the performance and demonstrate such ownership by the physical intensity with which they participate. It is a compelling spectacle.
While much history and many factors go into that sense of ownership and involvement in Berlin, I believe that control over who plays in the orchestra— which is really control over the orchestra’s artistic identity—is the key. It may be hard to imagine that degree of control over hiring (not to mention control over who becomes Music Director or executive director) being ceded to orchestra musicians by their employers in this country. But it is hard to imagine a better system in terms of generating real commitment and ownership by the musicians.
Certainly the members of an orchestra have a greater stake in their orchestra’s artistic identity than do Music Directors. It is they, and not Music Directors, who have to live with the way their colleagues make music over the course of their careers. The Berlin experience suggests that the musicians of an orchestra might not only have a more consistent vision over time of how their orchestra should perform, but might also be even more hard-nosed about achieving that vision than the average Music Director. And perhaps it is not completely fantastical to think that Music Directors might welcome less involvement with an issue that can so profoundly damage the working relationship between orchestra and Music Director.
One could imagine that the idea of creating more real power for a range of participants—with both autonomy and accountability—could be applied to other artistic decisions. It is accepted wisdom, for example, that orchestras that make recordings often do so because of the Music Director’s desire to be immortalized on disk. Two American orchestras, those in Saint Louis and Philadelphia, have recently started their own recording companies, jointly controlled by the musicians and the management, and the recently concluded Internet Agreement between the AFM and 73 American orchestras provides for similar joint control over Internet distribution of recorded products. Initial reports indicate that concerns in addition to the Music Director’s are driving decision making within these ventures.
It would also seem that better programming decisions might result if all the participants in those decisions share the responsibility for making them work artistically and economically. Music Directors might have more success in making their programming decisions “stick” if they also had some say in setting the budgeting constraints and marketing goals that will inevitably impact programming. Not only could such involvement allow Music Directors more
autonomy and real artistic control, the resulting accountability would greatly lessen the chronic finger-pointing between Music Director and staff that now occurs when programming decisions go sour.
Suspicious readers may wonder if this writer thinks the real solution is to strip the Music Director of the authority to make any meaningful artistic decisions. For a few unfortunate institutions, that might be the only answer. The skills needed to be an effective chief performer and an effective chief artistic decision maker are not always found in the same person. But even those orchestras fortunate to have Music Directors capable of filling both roles would benefit from a frank examination of the entire process of artistic decision making. Who should be making artistic decisions? Whose job performance is most affected by those decisions? Who is accountable for those decisions’ effects on the institution?
The answers will largely determine the orchestra’s long-term success, both for its community and for its participants.
Robert Levine is principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and current chairperson of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, a Player Conference of the American Federation of Musicians.
Harmony readers have become familiar with an ongoing discussion of the role of the orchestra conductor, with particular emphasis on the organizational and psychological issues connected with that role.
Very few people have given more thought to the responsibilities, power, and pitfalls of this role than Gunther Schuller, author of the 1997 book, The Compleat Conductor, published by Oxford University Press. In his book, Schuller contributes many personal insights to the enduring dialogue about this central orchestral position. His thinking is grounded in a lifetime of experience.
As a hornist (often the principal) in a number of the world’s major orchestras, Schuller played under such conducting luminaries as Toscanini, Szell, and Walter, among others. In addition, he is an internationally esteemed composer, arranger, musical scholar, author, and educator, as well as a seasoned conductor. He sees conducting as “the most demanding, musically all-embracing, and complex of the various disciplines that constitute the field of music performance.” (3)
On balance, Schuller is more concerned with the conductor’s leadership responsibility to the composer than to the orchestra. When he began to conduct, he was surprised to find that the music he’d been playing for years was often at odds with what the composer himself had clearly spelled out in the score. Many conductors, he claims, have been faithless reinterpreters of the scores the great composers created for them.
Given his central concern, much of The Compleat Conductor is devoted to the precision with which Schuller believes scores should be read and interpreted and provides detailed instructions with respect to conducting eight major works in the orchestral repertoire. But, in his more general musings, the author voices some keen insights into orchestral group behavior and touches on a number of attitudes and practices that run counter to orchestral teamwork and heightened human relationships. Here are some of Schuller’s observations.
Early in The Compleat Conductor, Schuller discusses the conflict between orchestra players and the conductor as to the interpretation of the composer’s score and between performers’ interpretive liberties and the need to be faithful to the composer’s intent.
Those relatively few [musicians] who have actually studied a score carefully and know not only what’s in it but how it should be performed, generally are not in a position to critique the conductor. . . . Musicians complaints rarely rise above the personal level, as for instance when a conductor’s wrong tempo (too slow or too fast) makes it technically difficult to play a given passage; it is never a complaint based on the fact that the conductor’s tempo was intrinsically wrong, in direct contradiction of the information contained in the score.
Various arguments have been presented over the years on behalf of the performer’s right to “interpret” the music as he or she best feels or understands it. In these claims all the arguments of the “inadequacy of musical notation,” “the impossibility of absolute objectivity in interpretation,” and “the impossibility of ruling out the impact of the performer’s individual predilections, capacities and limitations,” are trotted out as if they were somehow incontestable scientific facts. In truth, they are usually just opinions that are shaped into certain formulations to attain a certain polemical goal. Very often arguments on both sides—on behalf of performers’ liberties or on behalf of faithfulness to the composer’s score—are carried only so far as to serve that arguer’s purpose. The debate rarely takes place on a level playing field. (39)
Some pages later, Schuller suggests that conductors need conviction, but that their ideas should be conveyed by persuasion, not domination. He compares conductors for whom he has played as being especially benign or particularly autocratic and, similarly, he points out that orchestras can develop a collective attitude to which conductors must adapt.
. . . It is clear that a certain degree of conviction, based, one would hope, on comprehensive knowledge and talent, is a necessary part of a conductor’s equipment. . . . It is necessary in order to impose a particular point of view, a particular “interpretation,” upon an orchestra, in itself made up of a collection of distinct individuals and artistic egos. I use the word “conviction” deliberately, because I would like to distinguish between conviction and ego. In fact, I would like to make a further distinction between the human ego and the human egotist. A conductor’s convictions and a healthy ego . . . can be and should be conveyed by persuasion, not by domination. The ability to persuade musicians in turn should derive from a respect for the conductor based on his talent, his knowledge, and his behavior towards them, especially in rehearsals.
Such a condition is obviously a far cry from the situation which pertained half a century ago, when conductors’ temper tantrums, their power to hire and fire virtually at will, their generally dictatorial attitudes dominated the field. I played as a hornist in those years with most of those tyrants—Toscanini, Stokowski, Reiner, Szell, Leinsdorf, Rodzinski, Dorati, Barzin, Morel—and can testify first hand to the feelings of fear and insecurity (professional and financial) with which we musicians lived almost every day. I also played with many fine, even great conductors—like Monteaux, Mitropoulos, Goossens, Perlea, Busch, Rudolf, Kempe, Beecham—whose behavior and attitude toward musicians can only be described as benign, gentle, and courteous, who did not have to shout at and terrorize us to get the most wonderful musical results. But what is interesting is that among the conductors of both types there is no clear correlation between their personalities or behavior and the quality of their talent: in both groups there were greater and lesser conductors, some who had inflated, domineering egos and others whom I would describe as having (in Bruno Walter’s phrase) “selfless egos.”
A conductor’s attitude—whether benign or autocratic—is, of course, counterbalanced by an orchestra’s collective attitude, which may likewise run the gamut from docility to hostility and belligerence. Many orchestra musicians regard all conductors as their “natural enemy,” and in many famous orchestras the musicians’ egos may be as highly developed and aggressive as the conductor’s. It is a fact that virtually every conductor, even if famous or generally respected or popular, encounters at one time or another an orchestra with which he comes to grief, in which the working relationship with the orchestra, for often inexplicable reasons, simply turns sour. It is one of the great mysteries of the conducting profession—as well as one of its realities—that a conductor may be deeply loved by one orchestra and despised by another. (50-51)
Finally, Schuller describes the “double standard” in orchestral performance that exists for conductors versus players, and takes issue with the expectation that players must follow the whims of conductors, however far they may wander from the composer’s text.
. . .It is rarely brought out that there is a kind of injustice in a situation which allows conductors virtually any kind of liberty of interpretation, while orchestral musicians are expected to perform with absolute precision and accuracy, allowing for no deviations from the text—except for those imposed on them by the conductor. The irony here is that musicians are expected to perform “perfectly” even within the relatively (or totally) distorted interpretations in which so many conductors indulge. More than that, musicians are not only expected to be technically precise and accurate in their performing, but play with great expression, warmth, interpretive insight, particularly, of course, in solo passages, whilst being locked into a rendition—too fast, too slow, too loud, too soft, too something—which does not correspond to the score to begin with. It is amazing to me that this double standard—one for conductors and singers, by the way, another for orchestral musicians— is an accepted norm, is maintained throughout the musical world, tacitly justified, and rarely questioned—sad to say, even by musicians themselves.
I can testify to the virulence and widespread acceptance of this double standard in orchestral performance most personally. For, in my earlier career of over twenty years as a horn player in a number of major American orchestras, in most instances as principal horn, I was expected to perform flawlessly, both technically and expressively, often enough within conductors’ interpretations that were severely at odds with the information in the respective scores. Any number of musicians of the 1930s through the 1960s were in no position to protest these wayward interpretations in which we were so often imprisoned, because one could get fired by the conductor during a rehearsal, at the end of a concert, not at the end of a season with recourse to appeals, defense by orchestra committees, arbitration, and so on. It was simply understood—and is still largely accepted to this day—that a musician was (is) to perform more or less flawlessly in respect to rhythm, tempo, attack (and release) of notes, dynamics, ensemble blending as ordained by the conductor, whether his interpretation corresponded to the information in the score or not. In addition, as already mentioned, we were (are) expected to play with great feeling, with interpretive flexibility—not beyond the limits, set by the conductor, of course—and to contribute somehow meaningfully to his interpretation. And how we sweated and worried, tortured ourselves to achieve these often artistically dubious results. I now marvel at the skill and chameleon- like adaptability with which the best musicians—then and now—walk this precarious musical tightrope.
If a rendition deviating from the text is allowable for conductors, why is it not also permissible for orchestral musicians? Why can’t a musician play in wrong tempos, insert rubatos, ignore dynamics, make crescendos too early, arbitrarily accelerate the tempo during crescendos, when conductors seem to assert such privileges unquestioningly, automatically? Not that musicians are entirely free of such musical misconduct. Most are similarly inclined to take unwanted liberties with the music when left to their own devices (as in chamber music). But nonetheless a different, much tougher standard pertains for them when they are in an orchestral situation, where they are forced to adhere precisely to the conductor’s interpretations and whims, no matter how aberrant. (54-55)
The Compleat Conductor
Oxford University Press, 1997
571 pp. $25.00
The mission of the Symphony Orchestra Institute is to improve the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations by fostering positive change in how they function as organizations.
As the Institute’s efforts have progressed, it has become clear that we do not need “to reinvent the wheel.” Progressive industrial and nonprofit organizations have been changing how they function in dramatic and quite positive ways for some time. Business and nonprofit organizations outside the symphony world have been significantly altered, or even created from scratch, to function in ways that the Institute imagined should be possible for symphony organizations.
Further, advances in how organizations can better function are rooted in a long line of academic theory, research, and observation by organizational psychologists whose accumulated knowledge provides a framework for practitioners.
So the task for those interested in healthier, more fulfilling, and expansive symphony organizations is to determine how best to apply to these unique and complex organizations the theories and practices many others have already discovered and developed.
In our communications program, primarily through pages in Harmony, the Institute has promoted greater insight into the need for and possibilities of institutional change through the voices of individuals or groups in the form of essays, reports, roundtable interviews, and other formats. We believe that Harmony content has been useful to the field, as was confirmed in our recent Symphony Organization Participant Survey, and it will continue to be a central component of our communications effort.
Also, in our field work within symphony organizations and with various groups of symphony industry participants, we continue to have the objective of developing methodologies which we can propagate broadly in various forms, to help accelerate sound and sustainable change.
To supplement these efforts, we have decided to utilize the expanding capabilities of the Internet and our Web site, and, in our first endeavor, to advance the knowledge of symphony organization participants rather directly about “organization change.” Indeed, by use of the Internet, the Institute is embarking on a new educational journey and hopes to bring along on this venture a growing number of Harmony readers and Institute supporters.
As some readers already know, our journey will unfold on our Web site in installments, like chapters in a book or a series of classroom sessions. We also recognize that most people in our audience are very busy, and we know we must be reasonably short and to the point with our material. Therefore, we will usually indicate the approximate reading time as we post new material. Generally, we will alert readers to new material through our Key Notes bulletin (see inside back cover). We will also store on our Web site and index prior material for new students, or for those who may have missed some installments. We will present a general orientation or survey of the field of organization change and will provide recommended readings for those who wish to pursue the subject more deeply. As often as possible, we will list recommended readings that can be accessed through Internet links.
As presented later in this report, the organization change material posted cumulatively on our Web site will be summarized in Harmony, or other printed form, for those readers who do not have Internet access or who wish to have their learning refreshed in print.
We are fortunate to have Laura Leigh Roelofs as the principal author and educational leader of our survey of organization change. Laura is assistant concertmaster of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra and a candidate for a master’s degree in organization change at American University/National Training Laboratories. She will be assisted in her presentations by Institute and Harmony staff and by outside advisors. We thank Laura for this wonderful pro bono contribution to the Institute’s communications program.
By now, we suspect many readers are asking, “But exactly what does ‘organization change’ mean?” The answers to this question will, of course, be at the heart of our educational program, and as we progress, we will link these answers to symphony organizations. But to help take the first step in this journey, and to give all those coming along a sense of direction, we have adopted the following preliminary definition:
Organization change involves a concerted, planned effort to increase organizational effectiveness and health through changes in the organization’s dynamics using behavioral science knowledge.
As will be evident later in our presentations, various words and phrases have been coined to encompass the organizational phenomena we are going to study. However, since the Institute’s mission is to foster “positive change” in symphony organizational functioning, we concluded that “organization change” was the simplest and most direct phrase for us to employ as our study commenced.
In the course of our Web-site review of organization change, we envision the following syllabus:
◆ The historical development of the discipline: surveying the names, dates, and main ideas and contributions of prominent thinkers and doers in this field.
◆ A more in-depth exploration of some of the main concepts of organization change theory and practice, including a glossary of terms, definitions, and ideas.
◆ A review of how organization change practices have been carried out in industrial, commercial, and nonprofit organizations, and the application of organization change concepts and terms.
◆ A consideration of how organization change practices are being applied, and might be applied more broadly, to symphony orchestra organ- izations.
The Institute welcomes feedback about our organization change educational effort and will likely publish comments, questions, and other feedback which we believe will contribute to the effort.
Now, starting at the top of the next page, let’s turn to the content which has been posted to date on the Organization Change pages of our Web site. As noted in the syllabus, our survey begins with the historical development of the organization change discipline, with a review of its roots and subsequent development. As of this Harmony issue’s press date, we are in the midst of that review.
The roots of organization change began to grow almost a century ago, when social scientists and business writers first tried to address the human- organizational conflicts beginning to emerge in a developing industrial society.
After the Industrial Revolution, large business enterprises increasingly dominated the working lives of Americans; by the middle of the 20th century, they were a defining feature of U.S. culture. Hierarchically structured corporations categorized employees neatly into power levels. They also required people to perform as well-oiled parts, subjugating individuality to the good of the whole. Machines became not only the instruments of economic progress, but a metaphor for how organizations should operate.
This metaphor was quickly translated into theory. Starting in the 1880s, Frederick Taylor developed a method of “scientific management” that even today influences work design. The method involves dividing tasks into the smallest possible units and enforcing strict performance specifications for each employee. One historian writes: “The productivity gains were enormous . . . [but] living inside a machine ultimately leads to deep, inbred malaise and resentment, a thorough atrophying of creativity, and the propensity to sabotage” (Kleiner 66).
During the early years of the 20th century, the social sciences began to emerge as recognized disciplines engaging in quantitative and qualitative research. Sociologists and psychologists began to study the “human element” in groups and organizations. During the 1920s, Mary Parker Follett’s visionary work on authority relationships anticipated later theories of participative management and conflict resolution.
At about the same time, between 1924 and 1932, a groundbreaking series of studies took place at the Hawthorne Electric works in Chicago. Conducted by Fritz Roethlisberger and others under the direction of Elton Mayo, these studies established a new understanding of the effect of social relationships on productivity. Mayo’s book on the Hawthorne Studies has been cited as “the first major call for a human relations movement” (Shafritz & Ott 10).
In the 1930s and into the 1940s, a growing body of literature explored organizational behavior, human motivation, leadership, and the effect of organization structure on individuals. Perhaps the most influential figure during this period was psychologist Kurt Lewin, who is widely considered the “grandfather” of organization change. Lewin’s theories integrated individual, organization, and environment, proposing that none could be understood without reference to the others. His “Action Research Model” provided the first practical application of theory to organization change processes, and this model became the basis for many subsequent theories and applications. In the last few years of his life, between 1944 and 1947, Lewin launched two innovative research organizations:
◆ The Commission on Community Interrelations, organized to investigate group dynamics, especially in the context of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.
◆ The Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), organized, in Lewin’s words, to discover “scientific methods of studying and changing group life and the development of concepts and theories of group dynamics” (Morrow 172).
In 1946, the state of Connecticut asked Kurt Lewin to head a two-week workshop on race relations. During the workshop, Lewin and his colleagues Ron Lippitt, Ken Benne, and Lee Bradford developed a form of training which they called the “training group,” or “T-group.” This method involves forming groups of about 10 participants who learn about group dynamics and processes directly by observing and discussing their own behavior in the group. The concept proved to be a very powerful tool for both learning and behavioral change.
Lewin and his colleagues were excited by the success of the Connecticut workshop and decided to create a regular series of T-groups the following summer. In the midst of their planning, in February 1947, Lewin died. Lippitt, Benne, and Bradford carried on; they secured funding for a new institute, to be known as the National Training Laboratories (NTL), where they could continue developing T-groups. Since then, NTL has become a highly influential research and training organization, and the T-group concept has evolved in many directions, from encounter groups and sensitivity training to many of today’s team-building techniques.
A serious labor dispute at Standard Oil’s Bayway plant in New Jersey set the stage for the first large-scale use of T-group methods in a U.S. corporate setting. In 1958, Robert Blake and Herb Shepard, both members of NTL, were engaged to use T-group techniques with groups of union members and management at Bayway. Their intervention was successful in resolving the labor dispute, and it improved the plant’s overall effectiveness. Blake and Shepard reportedly coined the term “organization development” at this time to describe the organizational growth and change resulting from their work.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in England, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations was also engaged in group dynamics research. One of Tavistock’s foremost scholars, Eric Trist, was a great admirer of Lewin. He and his colleagues conducted many studies in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, developing the theory that work organizations depended on both social and technical processes. Trist described them as “sociotechnical systems.” Trist and colleague Fred Emery also adopted Lewin’s concept of organizations as “open systems” which, like living organisms, are interrelated with their environment. Trist believed that to cope effectively with external changes, an organization must allow its members to create their own self-governing communities within the workplace.
In 1960, MIT professor Douglas McGregor, an admirer and associate of both Lewin and Trist, published a now famous book titled The Human Side of Enterprise. McGregor proposed a pair of opposing theories of management based on opposing assumptions about human nature. “Theory X,” as he describes it, holds that humans are inherently passive, self-centered, and indolent, and re- quire active control and management if they are to be productive. “Theory Y” is just the opposite; it holds that humans are inherently motivated to grow and do their best and will be most productive if allowed maximum responsibility for their own work. McGregor argued strongly for Theory Y. He acknowledged the reality of the less-than-ideal behavior on which Theory X is based, but suggested that it is the result of over-controlling management, not the proof of its necessity. He proposed modifying traditional management practices to allow more individual responsibility. By bringing up the subject of underlying assumptions, McGregor also foreshadowed the concept of “corporate culture.”
In the second half of the century, a variety of approaches to organization change emerged. One of these, “participative management,” can be traced back to ideas introduced early in the century by Mary Parker Follett. It also drew on a body of sociotechnical research, including Lester Coch and John French’s classic 1948 study on resistance to change, which showed that the more involved employees are in a change process, the more supportive they will be.
A key figure in the development of the participative management orientation was Rensis Likert. In 1961, Likert published The Human Organization, in which he classified management systems into four categories: authoritarian, benevolent, consultative, or participative. In a later book, New Patterns of Management, he described in detail how such systems would look in practice. Instead of imposing standards from the top, leaders would create an environment in which groups could set and achieve their own high goals. Communication, support, and respect would be primary values, and mutual influence would foster flexibility and creativity. These concepts have gained wide acceptance as ideals, although they are only more recently beginning to be applied in practice.
Most organization change applications before the 1970s were internally focused, despite the theoretical models of Lewin and others regarding organ- izations as systems interrelated with their environments. But during the 1970s and 1980s, as organizations faced ever more turbulent social, economic, and technological environments, a broadly strategic orientation to organization change began to emerge. The new strategic orientation placed a greater emphasis on the organization’s relationship with its environment; strategic change involves working towards congruence among an organization’s mission, its structure, culture, and the demands or constraints from outside.
Within the past 25 years, ideas and insights about organization change have proliferated almost exponentially. For instance, a new and popular school has
developed around the concept of organizational or group “culture,” and its effect on organizational success. Others have concentrated on the role of “leadership”— in many forms—as it relates to organization change. Still others are addressing the role of “conflict resolution” and “dialogue” as components of organization change processes. “Teamwork” and “team dynamics” are widely discussed topics. A variety of methods have also been developed for assisting organizations in significant change programs through “interventions” and the use of “change agents,” “facilitators,” or “process consultants.”
These and other recent insights, developments, and contributors will be the subject of future Web-site presentations, leading then to the second syllabus element.
Kleiner, A. 1996. The Age of Heretics: Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change. New York: Currency Doubleday.
Marrow, A.J. 1969. The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin. Annapolis, MD: Basic Books.
Shafritz, J., and J.S. Ott. 2001. Classics of Organization Theory. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt College Publishers.
For recommended readings, refer to the Organization Change section of the Symphony Orchestra Institute’s Web site: <www.soi.org>.
Frederick Zenone on the Integrated Organization
The following quotations are from the panel presentation by Frederick Zenone at the American Symphony Orchestra League national conference in Dallas, Texas, on June 17, 2019, as reported in “Orchestra Planners and Players: Harmony or Dissonance,” which appeared in the December 1981 issue of Symphony Magazine, beginning on page 20.
Inherent in our symphonic workplace is a direct conflict between individual needs and organizational demands. We have always taken the view that the conflict came as original sin. We have dealt with the problem by putting the burden of resolution on the individual and by describing the problem as the human condition of performance. If the value by which we are measured is the quality of music we produce, then a reasonable correlative has to be to provide an environment in which the music and the musician can continue to grow. Frustration, boredom and alienation lead to unintended and negative consequences for all.
. . . Essentially what is wrong is that, from the point of view of the orchestral musician, we do not have a professional career in our organizations; we have a job.
Our organizations will have to address the growth needs of the individual members and those changing needs as individuals pass through career stages. Musicians must be able to develop their own short-term and long-term goals within the organization, and those goals, in their multiplicity, must be encouraged and rewarded by the organization. Chamber music, study, recitals, teaching, direct continuing involvement in the decisions that affect the musical and economic policies of the organizations, or, at times, none of the above but just excellence in orchestral playing, are areas that will not only be attractive to different people but will attract them at different times in their careers. We must do better than simply say, “Go right ahead, we won’t stand in your way.”
Can we change a symphony orchestra? Hardly. And who would want to? What we can do is integrate it into our symphonic organization in ways that permit the musicians to be more than artisans hired with their bag of notes for the duration of their working life.
Management, especially, will have to place more emphasis on interpersonal and emotional components of feedback. Management will have to make greater allowance for the ideas and feelings of others. It will have to be more willing to experiment and take risks with new ideas and values.
The musicians will have to be free to assume more responsibility. Some people, feeling threatened, won’t want to try at all. For others, there will be a painful transition period of reeducation and experiment. Once having experienced a new way with its intrinsic rewards, however, individuals will be miserable in the traditional types of organizations.
Such an integrated organization as a whole might not make people happy, but it would encourage fully functioning, developing people with real self-esteem, self responsibility, and the ability to develop their own goals and realize them in relation to the organization.
In the October 1996 issue of Harmony, Michael J. Schmitz, a past president of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) board, shared with readers an essay on musician participation in symphony orchestra management. In that essay, he detailed the MSO’s experience in bringing musicians into the orchestra’s decision-making process. The Institute was curious as to how this organization was progressing and recently held a roundtable discussion with MSO musicians, staff, and board members, including Mike Schmitz. An edited transcript of that discussion follows.
Institute: Please introduce yourselves and describe your roles within the Milwaukee Symphony organization.
Andy Buelow: I am the director of public relations and have been with the orchestra for 12 years.
Samantha George: I am the orchestra’s associate concertmaster. I joined the MSO in 1999 and became active this year on the Players’ Council and several committees.
Bill Helmers: I’ve been clarinetist and bass clarinetist for the orchestra since 1980. During that time, I’ve been active on many orchestra committees and currently chair the Players’ Council.
Barbara Hunt: I’ve been on the MSO board since 1995 and currently chair the marketing committee. I have been a volunteer with the symphony since about 1984 and am also a past president of the Symphony League.
Steve Ovitsky: I am president and executive director of the orchestra. I arrived in Milwaukee in May of 1995.
Steve Richman: I’ve been chairman of the orchestra board for a little less than two months. I’ve been a subscriber for more than 25 years, a volunteer for about 15 years, and on the board for about 11 years.
Allen Rieselbach: I am a former president of the board—I guess today that role would be called chairman. I’ve been involved with the orchestra for about 10 years.
Roger Ruggeri: I am the principal bassist and program annotator for the orchestra. I’ve been here since 1962. I’m a long-time volunteer and have been a musician representative to the board. I’ve also volunteered on a number of board committees, including long-range planning and development, and endowment.
Mike Schmitz: I’ve been on the board since the early 1980s and am a past president.
Susan Stein: I’m senior vice president of strategic planning and philanthropy and have been on the staff since November 1996. I have attended MSO concerts since 1987.
Liz Tuma: This is my 26th year as a cellist in the orchestra. I’ve been active on committees since musicians first became involved in organizational matters.
Robert Wilkins: I am vice president and general manager of the orchestra which I joined exactly five years ago.
Institute: As you all know, the Institute is interested in bringing to the attention of the whole symphony community organizations which we believe are functioning well—ones that take organizational matters seriously and work to steadily improve their organizations. So we would begin by asking you to describe your thoughts about the Milwaukee Symphony as a place to work and to volunteer. Steve, let’s start with you.
Richman: I would describe the Milwaukee Symphony as one that is functioning at a high level, particularly in terms of the cooperation among the various arms of the organization. We continue to have a variety of challenges, including a constant financial challenge.
But our greatest progress has been in the way we function as a team. During the time I have been active with the orchestra, there has been dramatic improvement in the way the various parts of the orchestra understand one another’s roles and how they work together.
Ruggeri: I would agree that the organization is working on a higher level than it once did. But it is rather like playing an instrument: you don’t dwell on what is going well; you continually work to address the challenges.
Helmers: The process of including musicians on board committees was an excellent beginning because I’ve always felt that the divisions between staff, and musicians, and board members are rather artificial. For instance, Steve Ovitsky is an excellent musician. Steve Richman comes from a very musical family. Many musicians have skills other than playing their instruments. We come together in many different ways. So I think the more we can reach out into the community and among our own constituencies, the brighter the future will be for us.
Hunt: There is certainly much more interaction among all of the entities— musicians, staff, and all volunteers—than there was when I was president of the League in 1995.
Wilkins: One of my greatest pleasures has been watching the development of this organization from one of enormous distrust between management and the orchestra players to one in which we can deal together with very difficult issues. We don’t always agree, but we deal with issues in a constructive, mature manner and almost always come to a positive resolution.
Schmitz: Let me give your readers a quick historical overview. Originally, I think the board viewed its role as being the orchestra’s fiduciary custodians. Board members took their responsibilities in terms of community obligation, rather than having a genuine passion for the organization. As a result of working to bring together our musicians, staff, and board, we now have an organization that functions in ways that few other nonprofits in this city do. Today we have an organization that is passionate. It feels good in both our minds and in our hearts when this organization succeeds. That is one of the keys.
Ovitsky: It is almost laughable to think about the MSO as an orchestra that once moved from organizational crisis to organizational crisis. We’ve come together in so many ways. So the challenge now is to make sure we do not stagnate and be simply competent without continuing to grow. We have talked a good bit about that and think that the further integration of the music director into our organizational planning and development is probably the next step.
Institute: We agree that the organizational role of the music director is beginning to be a central issue in symphony orchestras. Artistic decision making has generally been the responsibility of one person, and people are beginning to wonder if there are alternatives.
Ovitsky: As artistic leaders for their orchestras, many music directors have been true visionaries. But they have often not participated in discussions such as this. That’s why we think it is one of the next steps for our organization.
Tuma: While I agree that we, as musicians, have made a lot of very good connections with board members and management on issues that face the orchestra, the question of artistic direction has not been much in our hands. We have an artistic liaison committee, but it doesn’t have a power base, it is merely advisory. If we have a discussion and want to go in the direction to include the music director in the long-term artistic vision of the orchestra, musicians really should participate.
George: It is really important to strike a balance. I’ve played in an orchestra that was self-governed with the musicians making basically all of the decisions. What I experienced was that everything became a compromise. There was not a clear vision. No one knew who was really in charge. One thing that I enjoy about the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is that the musicians are able to be involved. But at the same time, I feel that we have strong leadership from the music director and management.
Helmers: If one views the Milwaukee musical community as a whole, there are initiatives happening that are not necessarily under the umbrella of the MSO. There is an entrepreneurial spirit out there in the community and both musicians and board members are involved in more than one organization.
Institute: What you all are saying is that setting the artistic direction for an orchestra is a complicated matter.
Hunt: Let me throw something in from a marketing point of view. You have to be able to market your orchestra so that people fill the seats. You also have to satisfy the musicians and the music director. You have to assure that what you are doing is high quality and valuable to the patrons. It is a delicate balance.
Richman: One thing that I’ve learned is that communication is a very big part of this. It is critical to have a mutual understanding of where everybody is coming from. So the first challenge is including the music director in the same process of communication. I recognize that does not speak to who makes the decisions. I’m a board member who is passionate about music and my instinct is to want very much to be involved in the musical decisions. But I also know that there are a lot of people around here who have much more experience than I do. No matter who makes the decisions, I’d like to see the music director more involved in our organizational development process.
Ovitsky: I’m fascinated. When I raised the issue of the music director being an active participant in the process of organization development, I was not thinking in terms of programming. Yet, everyone immediately picked up on programming decisions and artistic decisions. What is expected of a music director in today’s orchestra is very different than planning programs and conducting concerts. But in many cases, music directors are not part of the process of developing the orchestra’s mission. They are pleased to know that long-range planning or strategic thinking is taking place, yet they often have their own artistic vision of an orchestra which may not necessarily be what will work in the market. In the same way that the players were brought into the process with the board, and the board was brought into the process with players and management, the next step is getting the music director further involved in the discussion.
Ruggeri: As I listen to this conversation, it seems to me that an underlying challenge for this entire organization is an adversarial societal perception of symphonic art music. Symphonic music, in my view, is one of the most accessible kinds of things. There is power, speed, brilliance, complexity—all things which our society, on the whole, really likes. Yet too many people are only willing to take it in at pop concerts or in film scores.
Schmitz: What we are really talking about is participative management which does not come naturally to a music director. The key to getting the music director involved in an organizational sense has to come from the executive director, the same way that a number
of years ago board members worked to get the musicians involved.
Richman: I have found our current music director to be extremely intelligent and savvy about the issues we are discussing. He is easy to communicate with, and now that he and his family are living here full time, he wants to participate even more.
Ovitsky: Issues change as we successfully take small steps and then larger steps into uncharted territory. So I am looking at the question generally as to what the role of the music director should be in an American orchestra. And because we in Milwaukee are a forward-thinking organization, what better place to explore?
Institute: Let’s shift gears a bit and turn our attention to the role of the symphony organization outside the concert hall. What types of activities does the MSO undertake in music education, in outreach?
Ovitsky: We do a number of things to engage the community. Over the course of a year, we do 32 weekday educational concerts with the full orchestra in the hall. Schools buy tickets and bus the kids to the concerts. We do a series of high school concerts, one of which involves a competition for high school choruses throughout Wisconsin. The winners get to perform with the orchestra at a pair of high school programs. And for 10 years, our Arts in Community Education Program—which we call ACE—has had ensembles go into the schools and has had the orchestra perform concerts for specific grade levels. The concept is that we should be teaching arts, not only music, as it relates to the core curriculum of each grade. We began in kindergarten and sequentially moved up grade by grade. We are now in 20-some schools and have developed hundreds of small- group presentations. Each grade level has its own academic theme and each ensemble is designed for a specific grade level. Liz plays in two ensembles, and Roger plays in two ensembles.
Tuma: I play in a cello quartet for the first grade. We’re the storytelling group. We play and have a narration that goes along with the music. The theme of our third-grade group this year is architecture and music. We developed a program that talks about the building blocks of music as they relate to architecture. About one-half of the orchestra is involved in the ACE program.
Ruggeri: Within ACE, I play with both a kindergarten group and a middle- school group. And I think one thing that is very important is the extensive preparation that goes into all of the orchestra’s education programs. There are teachers’ guides. There are docents from the Symphony League who go out and prepare the classes. Everyone who presents a program goes through a training process with an educational expert.
Ovitsky: Even though I am the executive director and not a member of the orchestra, I am playing horn in an ACE group this year with our associate principal horn and a piano student on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee. We’re working with fourth graders and the concept is how people in different parts of the world came to Wisconsin. Our pianist is Venezuelan and one of her parents is from Poland. Our horn player is from Prague. Our program ties into what the students are studying in their social studies courses.
Institute: Is it possible to measure the effectiveness of the ACE programs?
Ovitsky: We take the assessment of the program seriously, too. At the end of each year, a music education specialist from the faculty at the University of Illinois comes in to assess what the kids have learned and how they have developed over the course of the year. That direct feedback goes into our curriculum planning for future years.
Institute: It is apparent that the Milwaukee Symphony is well thought of in the community. Let’s turn our gaze forward and talk a bit about what you see as challenges to your continued organizational growth.
Stein: Let me give you some background about the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The MSO was formed in 1959, but until 1985, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed in Milwaukee on 10 Monday nights. You can imagine the impact of that fact on both our subscriber base and on our endowment! So effectively, we are a 16-year-old orchestra operating the 20th largest budget in the 35th largest metropolitan area. We are not currently providing ample revenue for our core classics product because we have an inadequate endowment, not enough product at the right time for our patrons, and because some of the people and institutions which supported the Chicago Symphony never made a switch to making the Milwaukee Symphony their orchestra.
George: We also need to diversify our audience. We’re all looking to draw an audience of 25- to 45-year-olds with different kinds of backgrounds. We want to make ourselves attractive to people who live downtown or work downtown.
Ovitsky: We have a family series on Sunday afternoons that has been sold out for three or four seasons in a row. We want to expand to pairs of those concerts but cannot because of significant restrictions as to when the hall is available to us. We know which programs can be expanded to meet demand, but we sometimes don’t have a hall to play in. For example, the hall is also not available to us over Christmas, so we go on the road with a Hometown Holiday Tour which attracts substantial sponsorship. We are very good at attracting funding for our education and outreach programs, but we are continually challenged to attract funding for the core of what the orchestra does.
Richman: One thing that speaks very well to the organizational growth of the Milwaukee Symphony is the involvement of musicians in our fundraising efforts. Musicians have been going out on calls and have suggested prospects. We have received several substantial gifts as a result of musicians’ suggestions. They are truly a hidden resource in fundraising. They can also work marketing wonders. For example, last summer, Samantha and Roger visited my law firm and talked with some of the associates who are new in town. They demonstrated the same thing to my colleagues that they have demonstrated to the MSO board. We have a lot in common.
Wilkins: The key is getting to know people. When we get out into the community and get to know people, it generates a different kind of dynamic.
Helmers: The point that Steve Richman made a minute ago about musicians being involved in fundraising or marketing is an important one to me because one of the things we constantly face is professional growth and development for our musicians. The typical career path for a musician is to graduate from a conservatory and at age 20- something arrive as a symphony section player. The orchestral practice, rehearsal, performance routine is initially exciting and probably fine for a few years. But the question quickly becomes: How can I continue to grow and develop as a musician? The growth of the Milwaukee Symphony as an organization and the significant new opportunities that musicians have—whether in the ACE program or in supporting committees that are working on marketing or fundraising—keep musicians engaged and interested in personal and career growth.
George: A lot of musicians in our orchestra also participate in outside musical endeavors. There are the Bach Babes and the Chamber Orchestra. We get to know people and fulfill ourselves in that way, too.
Institute: We are coming to the end of our time together. Let’s go once around among you and ask you to tell us what would be on your wish list for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for the next 10 years or so.
Tuma: I am proud to be a member of this organization now. I didn’t feel quite the same way seven years ago or so when we were in such labor strife. We have made enormous strides. Wish list? When I came to this orchestra, we had a 48- week season. We moved to a 50-week season, but have tapered back. So I would wish that the organization could look toward developing a meaningful summer season.
George: I would wish that we could solve our venue issue.
Richman: I want to focus things to put us in better financial circumstances— grow our endowment, maximize our annual campaign, fill our seats. Then we might be ready to look at lengthening the season.
Stein: I would wish us success in encouraging the community to recognize the level of this orchestra for what it is. This orchestra performs consistently at a high level and does a lot of good work in the community. We need to translate that into financial support of what we do.
Buelow: In the years that I’ve been here, the tenor of the organization has changed from a closed system to a much more open system, responsive to the community and to one another. I’d like to see that process continue. I’d also like to see us be one of the first orchestras able to learn to sell what is unique about the symphony orchestra concert experience. Orchestras, in general, are not very good at doing that. We sell guest artists. We sell the conductor. But we don’t sell the experience itself.
Wilkins: As my colleagues in this room know, number one on my wish list is to have our own venue so that we have our destiny within our control and can maximize our ability to construct seasons, to sell concerts, and to increase our revenue.
Schmitz: Rather than adding to the list, I would like to comment on two things that have been said. In a business setting, if your principal product is hard to sell and hard to fund, you would have serious problems. And we do. We need to communicate that without our core orchestral product there would be no ACE program, no youth concerts. If we cannot fund the core product, there won’t be any other products. And I want to support the earlier thought that we must find a way to enlighten people between the ages of 20 and 40 about the experience of live symphonic performance. I refuse to believe that this generation will be the first one in 150 years that is not moved by Brahms’ First Symphony.
Helmers: I’d like to see everyone in the organization have the opportunity to sit down in a setting such as this one and really discuss and work for our future.
There are still a lot of musicians who do not participate, and I think that is a shame. I would also like to see us perform more great concerts so that everyone in Wisconsin has the chance to experience what brought us all here in the first place.
Ruggeri: I would wish that we would learn to market the players, not the orchestra. On a baseball team, you know who the players are. But an orchestra seems like a faceless megalith. People can’t identify with that. There are actually many different kinds of people in an orchestra with whom potential audience members could identify.
Hunt: Roger, I would second what you just said. Building interpersonal relationships is extremely important. Even though we have changed a great deal, there is still a perception that we are somewhat insular. That could improve.
Rieselbach: Fill the hall, fill the hall, fill the hall. To have a superior orchestra, the community has to demand one. And to learn that they want one, they have to attend. We need to make a concerted effort to pull people from suburban Milwaukee into the hall and we need their financial support.
Ovitsky: To me, a very important thing is the fact that the music keeps getting better and better. Our renewal rates are terrific, so when people come, they come again. It’s a question of reaching those people who are not attending now. As to a wish list, I would hope that we can correct a misconception that has held us back in some ways. Because Milwaukee has a county-owned, multipurpose hall and a united arts funding organization, all arts organizations are considered pretty much alike. The fact is the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is very different. It is the largest performing-arts organization. We have a very different commitment to a constant stream of performances. Our education efforts are enormous. As Allen said, we need to continue to create the demand for an excellent orchestra. That is the goal toward which everyone in this room is working.
Institute: Thanks to each of you for your participation and your candor. As an organization, you have made great strides and have much about which to feel good. We will continue to monitor your progress, and we wish you well.
As we worked with members of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) family to prepare the roundtable discussion that appears in this issue, we were struck by our participants’ enthusiasm as they talked about their Arts in Community Education program, known to all in Milwaukee as ACE. So we set out to learn more about this program which is currently completing its11thyearandinwhich40percentoftheMSO’smusicianselecttoparticipate.
Mary Wayne Fritzsche, the orchestra’s vice president for education, explained that the genesis of ACE occurred in 1988 when the MSO formed a board education committee charged with creating new program directions to respond to community priorities. The committee included teachers, state and local school administrators, community leaders, and MSO conductors, musicians, staff, chorus members, and volunteers.
The committee began its work by engaging Artsvision (whose president, Mitchell Korn, authored an essay, “Orchestras That Educate,” which appeared in Harmony #10) to conduct a community needs and resources assessment. “The study revealed that music education in local schools had critically declined and that the schools lacked the financial resources to meet the needs,” said Fritzsche. She added that the study also indicated that the demand was for arts programs that could be integrated into students’ everyday lives.
Armed with the results of the study, MSO staff and education committee members, aided by classroom and music teachers, and by local arts organizations, set out to develop and fund ACE, which was launched in 11 kindergarten classrooms in January 1991. The program is designed to bring learning through music and the arts into the classroom every day, across the school curriculum, with the goal of having an impact on children’s overall learning and development.
This year, ACE is active in 21 Milwaukee-area schools, serving 7,200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and more than 500 teachers. By the time the year ends, 50 specially prepared ensembles and individual artists will have made more than 400 ACE presentations. MSO musicians, associate conductor, and chorus members (as well as the orchestra’s president, about which more later) form 24 of these groups, with several musicians participating in more than one group. The ensembles include 40 percent of the orchestra’s musicians, who individually contract with the MSO each season for ACE, independent of their orchestra service contracts.
For students in kindergarten through fifth grade, the ACE programs are structured around a coordinating theme for each grade. In addition to the ensembles’ visits to the schools, annual MSO involvement includes:
◆ an evening family concert at each school,
◆ a specially designed full-orchestra concert at each grade level, to which parents are invited,
◆ teacher inservice training and summer curriculum planning,
◆ curricular resources and musical repertoire CDs,
◆ parent and teacher newsletters, and
◆ a culminating student project in each grade, used to assess students’ learning in ACE.
At the middle-school level, an ACE artist team for each grade level works in partnership with a school team of arts and academic faculty to plan and implement the program which includes curriculum, artist visits to the schools, student visits to community arts venues, and a student project at each grade level.
Assessment is Key
From the outset, the question “Are we accomplishing what we set out to do?” has been an important part of ACE activities. Dr. Greg DeNardo, a music- education faculty member at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, has worked with the ACE program to establish the yardsticks against which to measure the program and to conduct annual assessments. These assessments measure ACE’s impact on such items as students’ cooperation, interdisciplinary and critical thinking, creativity, and listening and other perceptual skills. “We want to keep close track of learning outcomes,” said Fritzsche, adding that the program evolves over time as all participants gain experience.
One Musician’s Experience
During the current academic year, MSO President Steve Ovitsky, himself the father of a fourth grader, has been an active member of a fourth-grade ACE ensemble, appearing in eight performances. He explained that he was something of an ‘accidental tourist’ as he ventured into active ACE participation. “Our new associate principal horn, Krystof Pipal, wanted to play in an ACE ensemble. We couldn’t find an immediate opening for a horn player, and I didn’t want to disappoint Krystof. I, too, am a horn player, so I volunteered to form an ensemble.”
Steve and Krystof enlisted pianist Elena Abend to join them in planning and presenting “Children of Wisconsin; Children of the World.” Krystof is originally from Prague. Elena, whose father is Polish, grew up in Caracas. And Steve’s grandparents are from Poland. “Our program combines the history of the horn with our Czech, Venezuelan, and Jewish roots, and reinforces the fourth-graders’ study of communities and immigration,” said Ovitsky. He lauded the involvement of Richard Kessler of the American Music Center in New York, who works with the ensembles to prepare their programs and presentations. “Richard starts by working with us to define what we want to say, and then helps us say it effectively in both music and words.”
In assessing his experience this year, Ovitsky acknowledges that rehearsal and performance time have made for some very busy days. But he would volunteer again to be part of an ACE ensemble. “I had attended ACE performances over the years, but actually participating in an ensemble gave me a much better sense of how much time, effort, and thought our musicians put into this program,” he observed.
Fritzsche, too, acknowledges the commitment that MSO musicians make to ACE, noting that musicians in 10 of the orchestra’s ACE ensembles have children who attend ACE schools. Summing up, she said, “Bottom line, ACE has helped us discover many talents among our musicians. It has provided professional development opportunities for our musicians, and has brought many elements of Milwaukee’s arts community closer together. Yes, we are very proud that Milwaukee is home to this important community education partnership.”
A Jazz Musician’s Take on America’s Symphony Orchestras
Author Fred Starr takes us behind the footlights as he shares the perspective of a jazz musician who has performed with dozens of orchestras from coast to coast.
No Crisis, but Problems
Starr does not buy the thesis that there is a “crisis of classical music” in the United States. But he does suggest that there are problems which American orchestras need to address, among them the condition of many music halls, the configuration of the orchestra on the stage, and the inadequacy of orchestral staffing.
He then considers programming, suggesting that successful program- ming involves taking risks, and segues briskly to the role of the conductor. “Like it or not,” he says, “the skills and personality of the conductor set the tone for the ensemble as a whole and, in some cases, for the entire organization.”
Starr pulls no punches as he considers the impact of the conductor’s role—for both better and worse. He ponders why this role has not been thoroughly examined in the search for organizational effectiveness, and why so few conductors take part in discussions of the future of American orchestras.
Starr concludes that the greatest impediments to improving organiza- tional effectiveness lie in areas of teamwork. Returning to his jazz connection, he suggests that America’s orchestras can “cook” if they concentrate on linking more closely all parts of the orchestral organism.
Perspective, they say, is everything. We should not be surprised then that symphony orchestras not only sound different from the stage but really are different when viewed from that perspective. Over many years, I had taken an outsider’s interest in the fate of symphony orchestras, even going so far as to offer my (outsider’s) views on them to the American Symphony Orchestra League. Briefly, I saw the chief challenge as being making contact with a changing audience and its expectations and overcoming the inflexibility and alienation within orchestras that was preventing many of them from meeting this challenge.
My undeserved reward for this act of hubris was to be asked to chair the advisory committee for the Knight Foundation’s orchestral program and to serve on the board of the Cleveland Orchestra. Neither project, however, put me behind the footlights. And so my perspective remained more or less intact.
More recent developments have placed me on the stage at more than four dozen symphony orchestra concerts from coast to coast. For 20 years I have been a member of a New Orleans-based jazz band that has performed classic New Orleans jazz at major venues across America, Europe, and Asia. Some years back, friends asked me if the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble had ever performed with a symphony orchestra. I told them it had not, and that I considered most jazz-and-classical concerts demeaning to both forms of music. I was not about to subject our professional artists, who had performed with everyone from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to the Olympia Brass Band and Pete Fountain, to a “play along” with orchestra musicians equally out of their element.
Nevertheless, friends prevailed and we eventually worked out a series of formats that featured classic 1910 to 1930 jazz, and specific works of classical music inspired by it, juxtaposing pieces by King Oliver, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, or Jelly Roll Morton with compositions by Stravinsky, Ives, Copeland, Shostakovich, and Gershwin. These back-and-forth performances are real crowd-pleasers and they appeal to the orchestral players as well, because the musicians get to hear the actual jazz pieces and styles that inspired classical masterpieces.
Thanks to these concerts, I have had an unparalleled opportunity to see orchestras from behind the footlights. My “research” is drawn from concerts with state-based orchestras such as the New Jersey Symphony or Delaware Symphony; urban orchestras such as the Winston-Salem, Toledo, Greenville (South Carolina), or Youngstown symphony orchestras; musician-managed orchestras such as the Louisiana Philharmonic; community orchestras such as the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra in Oregon; smaller groups such as the Princeton Chamber Symphony; and orchestras that straddle several categories such as the Boston Philharmonic.
No Evidence of Crisis
What impressions have I gained from exposure to these and other orchestras across the land? Above all, I have seen absolutely no evidence that there is a “crisis of classical music” in the United States. On the contrary, we’ve encountered only engaged and interested audiences who respond heartily to good music, and even difficult music, when it is played with commitment. Maybe such evidence exists, just as the abominable snowman may be wandering around somewhere. But more than two score-concerts have failed to produce a sighting. Until I have such an encounter, I must assume that Norman Lebrecht, the London Daily Telegraph reviewer who wrote Who Killed Classical Music?: Maestros, Managers, and Corporate Politics, was not writing about America. In other words, if there are problems with symphony orchestras, don’t blame them on the music, or on the audience.
Don’t blame the musicians either. Sitting on the stage next to the orchestral musicians, one can take a kind of CAT-scan of the players and sections that make up an orchestra. Rehearsals provide particularly revealing insights into their abilities and attitudes. Of course, no orchestra is perfect and every one has its relatively weaker sections. But the overwhelming impression I have gained is that America is bursting with brilliant instrumentalists who are so eager to indulge their love for great music that they will put up with truly miserable salaries to do so.
As a clarinetist, I can be forgiven for paying particular attention to the woodwind players, just as the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble’s brass players hone in on their classical counterparts in the orchestra. But we are also rubbing elbows (or bows) with the violinists and cellists, and our classically trained bassist, Walter Payton, father of Grammy Award winner Nicholas Payton, listens like a hawk to the basses. We all agree that American orchestras, from the most humble to the most renowned, have a surfeit of talent, and that whatever alienation exists among the musicians—on which more anon—it has nothing to do with their attitude towards the music.
Some Evidence of Problems
But this is not to say that we saw no evidence of problems. Several of the orchestras with which we have performed were teetering on the brink of financial insolvency, while others had only recently recovered from near-death experiences. Since this journal devotes itself to the diagnosis of these issues, I will limit my comments only to those things I have actually observed in the course of my visits as a guest artist. Several of the problems fairly leap out at one.
First, far too many American orchestras are performing in ghastly halls that are acoustically dead and about as inviting as a public restroom. In some cases, these are vast old movie theaters saved by preservationists and turned over gratis to the local orchestra because no one else will use them. In others, they are beloved local halls in wretched parts of town and in still others they are handsome barns that kill sound like an acoustical Boston Strangler. Technically speaking, the hall in which an instrument is played is part of the instrument. Hence, in a squalid acoustical environment, a Stradivarius ceases to be a Stradivarius and a Mozart symphony ceases to be a Mozart symphony. Why do our orchestras put up with such persecution and misery?
Similarly, few orchestras seem aware of the fact that audiences want to see them as well as hear them. The important visual element in an orchestra’s presentation is almost always ignored. Why does no one shout out when audience members can only see a few first violins and cellos and the conductor’s hind quarters, or when the guest artist is placed so as to upstage completely the rest of the musicians? On the basis of our experience we would put every orchestra in the land on risers, so the interplay between guest artist and orchestra, and between musician members and sections of the orchestra, could be seen by all.
Quite a few orchestras have taken us up on our standing offer to play free for a postconcert fundraising party or dance. Such events raise real money, and everyone has a great time. But all too many orchestra staffs are simply too busy keeping up with the weekly press of events to take advantage of such opportunities, even though a good party could benefit their organizations.
This points up another problem we observe, namely, that the management and marketing personnel of most orchestras are not up to the task. These are nearly always hard-working men and women, but they face insurmountable odds. They are understaffed and underpaid, and neither the orchestra players nor board members seem to understand the opportunity cost they are paying for skimping in these areas. We see this clearly when preconcert publicity fails to get across the week’s program in an engaging manner, or when someone is too busy to make the phone call that would produce the free publicity in the form of radio or television interviews. We see it when management staffs are so harried they can’t contact a potential sponsor to pay for our transportation and we end up making the call for them.
Beyond this, we note with distress that important programming decisions are often made through haphazard processes or not at all. How often have orchestra managers called us a month before the concert to check whether we are doing Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk or Kunnecke’s Concerto Grosso fur Jazzband mit Grosses Orchester, even though both decisions had been made at the time we signed the contract? How often has a guest conductor called us two weeks before the concert to announce changes in the program, changes which, we later discovered, were never discussed with the orchestra, communicated to the manager, or even made known to the librarian?
The Importance of Programming
Programming involves risk. A successful program can win lifelong devotees and a poor one can alienate whole segments of the audience for years to come. We have participated in wonderful programs that repeatedly bring the entire audience to its feet. Some of the best programs entailed the biggest elements of risk. In a healthy organization, risk is shared by all those with a serious stake in the group’s success, which in the case of an orchestra means the music director, orchestra players, management, and audience. But orchestras generally assign all the risk solely to the music director or even the orchestra manager. As a result, the rest of the stakeholders share neither the thrill of triumph nor the learning that comes from failure.
As guest artists, it is obvious to us when orchestra members have had a role in setting the program. They are engaged and show it. As the last notes of the concert are sounded they are asking “How was it?” as if the answer really concerns them. It is equally obvious when our orchestral hosts have consciously taken their audience’s tastes and interests into account. In these cases—which are all too few—the orchestral musicians seem also to be asking a second question: “How did our audience like it?” I have often wondered what would happen if audience members could evaluate each concert as it takes place. After all, even university professors now receive student course evaluations at the end of every semester, and the best teachers really benefit from the blunt truths that student evaluations provide. Where is the orchestra with guts enough to try this?
The division between “serious” and “pops” programs reflects the prevailing disdain that orchestral organizations have for their audiences. Even though the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble has spent 20 years exhuming lost classics of New Orleans jazz and performing them in original formats on period instruments, and then discovering specific works by classical composers inspired by them, the fact that we are playing jazz consigns us all too often to the “pops” category. This usually means that our concerts are handled by an assistant conductor. Some of these rising lights are excellent. Others are not. Unfortunately, it is all too clear that both orchestral musicians and audiences know when they are in the hands of the understudy rather than the first-string conductor.
The Role of the Conductor
This brings me to the most important truth that our concerts with symphony orchestras have brought home to me: leadership counts. Like it or not, the skills and personality of the conductor set the tone for the ensemble as a whole and, in some cases, for the entire organization. Name any orchestra that is “punching above its weight” and you will find a conductor who is cajoling and inspiring them to do so. Unfortunately, the converse is also true: underperforming orchestras invariably have underperforming conductors.
An obvious point? Perhaps. But then why have the American Symphony Orchestra League and even the Symphony Orchestra Institute devoted relatively little attention to the terms and conditions for these crucial appointments? And if the conductor’s role is so important, why have so few of them taken any serious part in any of the recent debates over the fate of American symphony orchestras?
My experience as a guest artist has convinced me that the United States is richly supplied with talented conductors of all ages, men and women. Surprisingly, however, many of the best that we have encountered are quite unheralded nationally, and for the simple reason that they have made a serious commitment to their orchestras and their communities. They know their players’ strengths and weaknesses and can design and rehearse programs so as to bring out the former and overcome the latter. Equally important, they know their audiences because they live among them and raise their children among them. I revere these committed conductors, for they are the very heart and soul of American orchestral life today.
Unfortunately, I have seen that in many of the most upwardly striving orchestras, the conductor’s commitment to the organization and to the community is less than that of the musicians, the management, or the trustees. Worse, the orchestral system systematically rewards such conductors for their infidelities with other orchestras. Not only does it overcompensate them in a way that exceeds even the worst abuses of corporate America, but it also adds insult to injury by cutting out orchestral musicians, managers, and the public from any serious role in the key decisions on programming. Show me an orchestra where they address the conductor as “maestro” and I’ll show you an organization that is profoundly out of balance.
And yet it is clear that even the best of these star conductors is not equally good at everything. One may excel at conducting the works of Shostakovich, but brutalize Haydn or Mozart. Another may have a sixth sense for Brahms, but be worse than useless at conducting the kinds of 20th century music we include in our programs. The musicians and audience know this, of course, but I have yet to encounter a conductor who recognizes his or her own areas of weakness. Instead, they treat whatever they do not know or do well with condescension.
Is there a solution to this problem? Over the past half-dozen years of touring, I have come up with two partial answers. First, with some notable and well- known exceptions, the “star” conductors do not earn their keep. Ambitious orchestras would do better to search out the very best young conducting talent and stick with them, hoping that commitment will be matched by commitment. If a richer orchestra eventually buys away that conductor, so be it. The first orchestra’s integrity will still be intact, and so will the morale of its stakeholders.
Second, if star conductors practice infidelity, why shouldn’t the orchestras do so as well? They could hire the “star” conductor for a fewer number of concerts and put the money saved into an account for hiring exciting guest conductors. For this to work, an orchestra must break the music director’s stranglehold on programming decisions. Let the musicians and audience have a voice in deciding which works to perform, then let the orchestral players look around and decide what conductor they would most like to conduct a particular program.
In the case of our programs, for which a knowledge of both jazz and 20th century music is essential, a half-dozen superb conductors come to mind. None would charge “star” fees, but all would bring to the performance an electricity that would engage orchestral musicians and audience alike. And instead of hearing just one guest artist—our jazz ensemble—the public would hear two, and could judge for itself how much the guest conductor is able to elicit from the orchestra.
A Positive Note
These reflections began with a positive assessment of American orchestral life and will end with a positive note as well. My experience as a jazz musician appearing with the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble on orchestral programs has led me to four main conclusions.
◆ America’s orchestral life today is far deeper and richer than any of the more dyspeptic critics can imagine. Moreover, orchestral talent is far more decentralized than at any previous time in our history.
◆ Artistic leadership in orchestral organizations is important, and among the best tests of leadership is commitment—commitment to the orchestra, to the players, to the health and viability of the entire organization, and to the musical life of the community it serves. Too many orchestra organizations ignore the issue of commitment or, worse, misunderstand it. Instead of rewarding commitment on the part of their conductor they ask why he or she hasn’t moved on to a more illustrious post. In short, they rely too heavily on the judgment of people with no link to their orchestra and too little on those most committed to its success.
◆ In cases where a star or would-be star conductor has his or her eyes set on the next big assignment rather than on the welfare of the local orchestra and community, a simple solution is at hand: reduce the commitment to that person to a level commensurate with his or her commitment to you. Then bring in a series of talented guest conductors to perform the music they do best.
◆ Under any circumstances, a 100-piece orchestra, no less than a small jazz band, is a team. When all members of the team are engaged, it is reflected in how they play, and in how they sit, how they take bows, how they interact with each other, and how they relate to the audience. The task of management is to engage all the team members and bridge whatever distance separates them.
A jazz band (like a string quartet) is a singularly independent and interdependent group of individuals. When a performance by my New Orleans- based band falls short, we blame ourselves, not the conductor, management, or board, since we have none of these. Least of all can we blame the music or the audience, for we know that we have the power to shape both. As a jazz ensemble, we rise or fall on the basis of our teamwork.
The nine New Orleans musicians who make up the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble have been fortunate to perform with many splendid orchestras from coast to coast. We are expert at discerning when a group of musicians is “cooking” and have been thrilled to discover how many of our orchestras can do just that. As a result, my jazz musician colleagues have become some of the most ardent fans of America’s symphony orchestras. On the basis of their experience in scores of concerts, they know for sure that most American orchestras can truly “cook” if the impediments are removed. The biggest impediments that we have observed are mainly in the areas of teamwork. Link the parts of an orchestral organism more closely, and it will “cook” to the audience’s (and players’) delight.
S. Frederick Starr is chairman of the Central Asia Institute in the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and is a founding member and clarinetist of the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble. He is also former chairman of the Knight Foundation “Magic of Music” Advisory Committee.
In the April 1998 issue of Harmony, American composer Soong Fu-Yuan shared his thoughts about “Restoring the Ecosystem of American Classical Music through Audience Empowerment.” Shortly after that issue went to press, the Institute learned of two programs which, while not identical to what Soong proposed, advanced the thought of player and audience involvement in the assessment of new music. In the October 1998 issue, we presented information about both the Masterprize International Composition Competition and the competition that the Philadelphia Orchestra planned as part of its centennial celebration in the year 2000. We are pleased to bring you an update.
Knight Foundation Issues Challenge Grant for New York Chamber Symphony Project
In late 1998, Soong’s article came to the attention of the New York Chamber Symphony’s executive vice president, Omus Hirshbein, and music director Gerard Schwarz, who co-founded the orchestra 24 years ago. They engaged Soong to develop a musician-selected and audience-judged competition of new music for the orchestra.
The New York Chamber Symphony, WNYC Radio in New York, and National Public Radio (NPR) formed a partnership to broadcast various stages of the competition throughout the country.
In June 1999, the orchestra received a $100,000 challenge grant for this project from the Knight Foundation, with the challenge to be met by June 2001. WNYC radio received a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. To date, the project has received grant commitments from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust. In a recent interview, Soong said he felt sure the challenge would be met.
From entries submitted, 10 semifinalists will be selected by musicians from the New York Chamber Symphony. Segments of the semifinalists’ music will be recorded by WNYC Radio and broadcast on NPR’s Performance Today program, carried by more than 200 radio stations across the country. The NPR radio- listening audience nationwide, along with the orchestra musicians, will then vote to pare the list to four finalists. Winners will be selected by the concert-hall audience and radio listeners during a live concert currently scheduled for June 2002.
In a further twist, the identities of the composers will remain unknown until the winners are selected. Although WNYC Radio and NPR will include profiles of semifinalist and finalist composers during broadcasts, those profiles will not be associated directly with a musical work. Soong explained, “We want to challenge the audience with something of a guessing game.”
Although Gerard Schwarz has resigned his position as music director of the New York Chamber Symphony, effective sometime after the next season, he has committed his intention to see this project through to completion.
Following the successful completion of a 1998 competition, Masterprize 2001 is well under way. Entries closed in November 2000 for this international composing competition which was conceived as a catalyst to bring listeners and composers together. The current competition received 1,151 scores, submitted from 62 countries. The United States led the way with 220 entries, followed closely by the United Kingdom with 198 entries.
An international panel of 12 judges, primarily conductors and composers, has recently completed selection of the 12 semifinalist pieces. Beginning in late April, these compositions will be broadcast by BBC Radio 3, BBC World Service, and other participating broadcasters. In June, five finalists will be selected. These works will be distributed as a complimentary CD with the September issue of BBC Music Magazine.
The overall winner of the competition will be decided on October 10, 2019, during a gala for which the London Symphony Orchestra will perform the five finalist works. Following the performance, the public vote will be combined with that of a celebrity jury. Weighting to determine the final winner will be:
◆ 45 percent from a worldwide public vote cast prior to the concert through BBC Music Magazine, the Internet, and by telephone;
◆ 10 percent from members of the London Symphony Orchestra;
◆ 5 percent from those in attendance at the gala; and
◆ 40 percent from the celebrity jury.
Readers wishing to keep track of this year’s Masterprize International Composition Competition are invited to visit the Web site at <www.masterprize.com>.
We can also report that the Philadelphia Orchestra’s centennial competition, which included an administrative partnership with the American Composers Forum, concluded on October 5, 2019. During the first half of the special concert, the orchestra performed the three finalist works which had been composed by a Colombian-born American now based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, an Indiana native who teaches in New York, and a Chinese-born American college senior. These had been selected from 330 entries.
“Sinfonia” by Ann Arbor-based Kevin Beavers was selected to receive the $10,000 cash prize by a vote of audience members and orchestra musicians taken during intermission. The composition was then performed twice more in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall.
About the Cover
The music on the cover of this issue, the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, is perhaps the most famous victory music ever written.
This sudden blast of C major, marking the first appearance of trombones in a symphony, arrives after an extraordinary transitional passage of suspense and high drama. This was one of Beethoven’s greatest masterstrokes, and the path from strife to conquest had never before been so graphically depicted in music.
Theodore Thomas picked Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural concert in 1891. Like the C major triumph of Beethoven’s finale, Thomas’s success in Chicago
was hard-won. According to an often repeated story, when Thomas was first asked if he could be lured to Chicago to establish a resident symphonic ensemble, the celebrated conductor replied, “I would go to Hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra.” By the end of his first season as music director of the new Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he may well have thought he had done just that.
Chicago’s cavernous Auditorium Theatre was filled with music lovers on October 17, 2019, eager to listen to the 86 players Thomas had hand-picked to make up his new orchestra. Without any intended irony, Thomas began the inaugural concert with Wagner’s rarely performed Faust Overture, inspired by the famous tale of a man who bargained with the devil to get what he wanted. Next came Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and then, after intermission, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Dvorák’s Husitská Overture—the first of many long and challenging concerts Thomas would conduct in Chicago.
The concert was a resounding success and a signal moment in Chicago’s burgeoning cultural life, but the rest of the first season was rough going. Chicagoans who knew Thomas from the light summer concerts he had given there with his touring orchestra were not prepared for the serious and demanding programs he now had up his sleeve. (He gave them difficult music right off, programming a new horn concerto by the young Richard Strauss). The public did not immediately warm to Thomas’s dictatorial manner or his Germanic taste in music, and when Brahms’s Third Symphony won a spot on the Request program, they accused him of stuffing the ballot box. The press, too, was tough on Thomas, criticizing his conducting as fussy and his interpretations as “conventional and safe.” Clearly incensed, Thomas finally issued a statement saying that he no longer read his reviews, “as I find in them nothing that either gives me assistance, knowledge, suggestion or encouragement in my art.” Attendance was spotty all season long, reaching a demoralizing low for an all- American program by little-known composers in April. By the season’s end, the deficit had reached $53,000.
But Thomas was a man of ambition, daring, and great vision, and he was persistent. He knew that he had created a brilliant orchestra in Chicago, and he believed that people would eventually see things his way. (When he was told that his audiences didn’t like Brahms, he replied, “Then I will conduct him until they do!”) Most of all, he knew that once people had tasted great music they would not be able to live without it. The power of music, he said, is immeasurable. “I care not from what station in life come the thousands who sit before me,” he later told a reporter. “Beethoven will teach each according to his needs.”
Thomas had just 14 seasons with the Chicago Symphony, and several of them were marked more by strife than success, but he gave the city a great orchestra, an invaluable legacy of high standards and inventive programming, and a brand new concert hall, which opened just weeks before his death. What did Thomas conduct on the dedicatory program? Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the music of victory.
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.