Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
Building an Institution: The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra
A New Direction: Transforming Relations within the San Francisco Symphony by Robert Mnookin, with Gary Friedman and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld
London Symphony Orchestra: New Vision and New Policies through Self Governance by Frederick Zenone
Improving Organizational Behavior through Good Practice
Field Activities and Research
Small Orchestra Organizations: Issues and Challenges
Reflections of a Seasoned Manager
About the Cover…by Phillip Huscher
With the highly diverse, always changing, seasonal nature of their core activities, orchestra organizations are very dynamic. This dynamism is heightened by the constant flux in participants and roles within these human networks. Board and board committee membership and leadership rotate regularly. There is a steady turnover in executive and staff employees. The composition and leadership of volunteer groups shift often. Music directors and conducting staff come and go. And, although the membership of the orchestra itself changes to a lesser degree, orchestra committee participation and leadership quite often change annually.
Despite this flux, the organizational support of the Institute is steadily broadening, and with the cooperation and assistance of all supporting organizations, the mailing list for Harmony is steadily being updated and expanded.
For these reasons, we estimate that at least one out of twelve readers of this sentence will be perusing his or her first issue of Harmony. Welcome! We hope our insights and ideas will heighten your awareness of the organizational issues and potentials within your own symphony organization, and will motivate you to do all you can to improve the health and effectiveness of your organization.
Other readers who are “old hands” to Harmony, may remember our report on the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) organization which appeared in Harmony #4 (April 1997). At that time, the NJSO organization was well along in a program of organization change, but acknowledged some major challenges and risks ahead. In our update, readers will discover how the NJSO leaped over those hurdles and what new challenges it has identified. Special thanks for discussing this story go to roundtable participants Victor Bauer, Karl Herman, Victor Parsonnet, Jonathan Spitz, Susan Stucker, Karen Swanson, Lawrence Tamburri, Christine Terhune, and Bob Wagner.
Many industry participants realized by early 1999, that a significant change in interpersonal and intraorganizational relationships had taken place within the San Francisco Symphony organization. This change came about in connection with the 1998 negotiation of a longer-term collective bargaining agreement between the orchestra and its employer. Professor Robert H. Mnookin and two colleagues were instrumental in the processes which were involved and have chronicled this story starting on page 13. I have preceded his report with a special publisher’s note.
The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is one of the world’s leading examples of a self-governed orchestra, a configuration which dates back to 1904. Through the application of long-standing self-governance processes, a set of carefully designed, member-guided, nontraditional work practices were put in place over recent years and have successfully met the test of time. With the cooperation of the LSO’s leadership, Frederick Zenone has studied these achievements, and reports on them within the context of the historical development of this unique and renowned orchestra.
Our series on Organization Change, which is authored principally by Laura Leigh Roelofs and posted regularly on our Web site, has been the central focus of our periodic e-mail bulletin, Key Notes from SOI. We introduced this Web- site series in February and summarized the content of the early installments in the April 2001 issue of Harmony. As of September, we had posted three additional installments, the latter two dealing with open systems concepts and their application to symphony organizations. The series to date is summarized beginning on page 43. Reading and links related to the topics are provided on our Web site following the text. By the distribution date of this issue of Harmony, we anticipate the posting of a new installment. To ensure that you will regularly receive Key Notes from SOI, please refer to the inside back cover.
We are also posting on our Web site—and drawing attention to these postings via Key Notes—insights into research, ideas, and organizational behavior practices which will help symphony organization participants contribute to more satisfying and effective workplaces. Extractions from this posted material appear on pages 53 through 58.
A brief update on the Institute’s Field Activities and Research follows, beginning on page 59.
Of all of the symphony orchestra institutions in North America, a clear majority have annual expense budgets under $2 million. For some time, we have been thinking about the particular organizational challenges and issues these institutions face, and how these settings compare with those of larger organizations. On pages 62 through 75, we put forth an analysis and some preliminary conclusions, punctuated by the comments of participants in the Jackson (Michigan) and South Bend (Indiana) orchestra organizations. We invite critique of these insights from those who work and volunteer in smaller organizations. In a companion piece, we interview Peter Smith, a well-known, retired executive director who has long experience and leadership in medium- sized and smaller organizations.
You, the knowledgeable student of symphonic music, may already have identified the historic composition and its composer which are represented by the score fragment on the cover of this issue of Harmony. Has the personality most closely associated with this music also crossed your mind? Even if you know these answers, it is unlikely that you know all the other interesting tidbits in this special story prepared by Phillip Huscher. So, first come up with your answers, then verify your knowledge (or uncertainty) on page 80.
In the pages which immediately follow these Notes, we report:
◆ The announcement of a leadership transition within the Institute.
◆ A continued growth in Advocates of Change—a commitment by indi- viduals from all over North America to foster better and more sustain- able orchestral institutions. We encourage you to join now!
◆ The steady support and encouragement of the Institute by some 150 symphony orchestra organizations.
◆ The financial status of the Institute for its most recent fiscal year.
Since the activation of the Institute in 1995, at least 1,000 people have had some form of relatively direct and personal contact with this organization and have encouraged its development. Behind that group stand thousands of others who have read and gained some benefit from Harmony, our Web site, our research, our field work, and other Institute efforts. Since this will be my last message as Publisher of Harmony, let me genuinely thank each of you for your interest in and support of the Institute and its effort to foster positive change in symphony orchestra organizations. I know you will provide your continued support of and encouragement to the Institute’s new leadership.
Seven years ago, I began the intensive effort of founding and developing the Symphony Orchestra Institute. Over recent months, I have been turning the reins over to very capable people who have been part of the Institute since its inception, permitting me to retire from active operations by year’s end.
I am pleased to report the election, effective December 1, of Frederick Zenone as president of the Institute. Fred has been a close associate since the Institute’s founding, a member of the board of directors since 1997, and vice chairman for the last two years. He embraces the mission, principles, and programs of the Institute and is held in respect throughout the industry. Fred will bring vigorous and fresh leadership to the Institute’s continuing efforts and will provide an ongoing impetus to improving the organizational dynamics and effectiveness of North American symphony orchestra organizations.
Within his overall Institute leadership, Fred will especially concentrate his efforts on the development of activities in the field. This will include institution improvement programs with individual organizations, forums and workshops involving representatives of several organizations and roles, and other face-to- face educational and consultative efforts.
The publication of Harmony will continue under the editorship of Marilyn Scholl, whose duties will expand to include content and author identification and development. In addition, Marilyn will assume oversight of content for the Institute’s Web site and Internet communications, with the intent of increasing the integration of print and electronic media.
Marilyn’s husband and business partner, David Scholl, who has designed and produced Harmony since its inception, will add to his responsibilities oversight of operational and administrative support for all Institute programs, particularly electronic and print communications services.
Also, let me thank Debbie Flitman and Diana Durkes for their faithful service to the Institute.
Though I will no longer be involved in the day-to-day operations of the Institute, I will continue as chairman and will oversee the Institute’s financial and legal administration.
Please make a note that the mailing address of the Institute and telephone numbers of key personnel will change November 1. You will find new information on the inside front cover of this issue.
Finally, I extend my thanks to everyone who has enthusiastically supported and encouraged the work of the Institute for the past seven years.
Paul R. Judy
Founder and Chairman
Four and one-half years ago, in Harmony #4 (April 1997), we featured a roundtable discussion with members of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO). In a preamble to the discussion, we presented a brief history of the orchestra, including some of the trials the organization had endured, and outlined the elements that contributed to the NJSO’s 1991 “turning point.” Readers who would like to refresh their memories of that discussion are invited to visit the Symphony Orchestra Institute’s Web site at <www.soi.org> and follow the Harmony link.
In a brief coda to the 1997 roundtable, the Institute offered the following thought:
It is generally agreed that the NJSO would not exist today without the new levels of communication, involvement, participation, trust, and leadership initiated five years ago. Long-standing and high orchestral artistry continues to be a primary asset. As a total organization, the NJSO appears ready for its large external challenges. It is a reasonable bet that this organization will be successful.
Was it a reasonable bet? The Institute recently held an update roundtable discussion with NJSO musicians, staff, and board members, several of whom had participated in the original conversation. An edited transcript of the roundtable follows.
Institute: Please introduce yourselves and describe your roles with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Victor Bauer: I am a trustee of the orchestra and vice chairman for finance. I have been a trustee for about nine years.
Karl Herman: I am principal clarinet and have been a member of the orchestra since 1979.
Victor Parsonnet: I have been chairman of the board for 10 years and have served a total of 15 years on the board.
Jonathan Spitz: I am principal cello and have been a member of the orchestra since 1984.
Susan Stucker: I joined the orchestra in 1989 in operations and am now general manager.
Karen Swanson: I joined the orchestra right out of school in 1986 in operations. I have served in a number of positions, including general manager, and am currently director of development and external affairs.
Lawrence Tamburri: I have been the executive director of the NJSO since 1992. Christine Terhune: I am a violist in the orchestra and am completing my 25th
Bob Wagner: I am principal bassoon and chairman of the orchestra committee. I joined the orchestra in 1979.
Institute: So let’s just jump right in. What do you consider to be the most important things that have happened since you last shared your thoughts?
Parsonnet: The most important thing that has happened was the opening of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The opportunity for the orchestra to perform in a marvelous hall has created enthusiasm at all levels. The move changed the perception of the NJSO in the community, the size of our audiences, the number of our subscribers, and the quality of the orchestra.
Institute: In our 1997 roundtable, you were all anticipating the move, but you expressed some anxiety about what would actually happen.
Parsonnet: One of the anxieties was whether the audience would show up. And the audience has shown up big time. In the first three years, three million people have come into the city for various concerts and events at the Performing Arts Center. The city of Newark is exploding around the center. There are new restaurants. A park is being built along the river. There is so much happening and it all relates to the opening of the building.
Institute: From an organizational point of view, have things been equally positive since our last conversation?
Tamburri: Organizationally, two important things have transpired. Right before the opening of the hall, we settled on a new three-year players’ agreement and last year we settled on another three-year contract, which would be interesting to talk about. The NJSO is also one of the original seven orchestras selected to receive important funding from the Mellon Foundation’s Orchestra Forum program, and that grant and the work the orchestras are doing has accelerated the levels of cooperation within the organization.
Wagner: Interestingly, the Harmony roundtable itself has had an effect on our organization. Other orchestras learned a lot about what we had been through, what we were facing at the time, and how we had resolved things to that point. Ironically, I was chair of the orchestra committee when we last talked and I am again. Many of my fellow orchestra committee chairs around the country have been in touch with me to talk about what we do in the NJSO. That helps me keep things in perspective as we try to take our organization to new levels.
Institute: Larry, you mentioned that you have completed two three-year musicians’ contracts since we last talked. Let’s explore those processes.
Tamburri: The year the hall opened was going to be the first year of a new agreement with the orchestra. Traditionally, that would have given the musicians excellent leverage by waiting until the very last moment to begin serious negotiations. But that’s not what happened. The musicians actually came to us early on and wanted to negotiate because there were so many other things we wanted to accomplish in moving to the new hall. We had very good discussions during the negotiations and were able to announce at our last subscription concert in May 1997—three months before the contract was up at the end of August—that we had reached a three-year agreement.
The process worked well and actually set the stage for our more recent negotiations which occurred 18 months ago.
Wagner: Larry, I think it is important to give Harmony readers the background for our negotiations. There is no question that our conversations were stimulated by the fact that four of us—two staff members and two musicians—had just attended an American Symphony Orchestra League Leadership Academy at Lake Arrowhead, California. We had a positive experience in which we forged substantial bonds. Then we literally came off the mountain and went right to the negotiating room. All four of us had experienced something that we needed to share with our colleagues during the negotiating process.
Institute: Explain to us who was in the room and how you proceeded.
Wagner: There were seven members of the union committee plus the president of our union local. Larry, Karen (Swanson), and Susan (Stucker) were there from the staff, and Victor (Bauer) was there from the board. Victor had been part of the negotiations three years earlier and we found it valuable to have him there because we were actually talking with the board more directly. And Victor also always keeps us on process and on task.
There were no lawyers in the room, a decision to which we all agreed before the process began. There was also no table in the room. We found that we would rather sit in a circle without a table because we could share things more openly, not feeling that we constantly needed to make sure that an opinion expressed was from either the staff or the musician side of a table. We started our discussions by focusing on the major issues our organization was facing.
Bauer: It really was a rather unique process. I have been involved in all kinds of negotiations in corporate life, and this one was different in that, from the start, it was very collegial. We had several sessions in which we talked about the general, overall future of our orchestra, what our problems are, and what we wanted to accomplish. At the same time, small groups—usually one staff member and one musician—were asked to address specific items, write some language, and be prepared to present the ideas later to the larger group.
On virtually the last day, when we really got down to talking numbers, we were all of the same mind on the nuts and bolts of the finances of the contract, and it did not take long.
Tamburri: We had a signed agreement in December 1999, eight months before the current agreement expired.
Terhune: I want to underscore the importance of having been part of such a successful experience. Having been here 25 years, I’ve seen the dark side of what life in an organization can be like. We need to help others understand the importance of learning to bring conversations down to a more human level and really work on that level. While not everybody is on board yet, the fact that we have started to work in this way and shown it to be successful is important. It is something viable and we can take it further into the organization.
Wagner: There is one final thought that I would like to add. Our union local president attended every session with us. After six sessions in which we had discussed issues, but negotiated nothing, he took me aside to express his disappointment with the way things were going. He thought we were probably wasting our time and wouldn’t get far. After we came up with a package, presented it to the players, and it was ratified, he apologized for his skepticism. He said he had really been enlightened on a way of negotiating.
Institute: Christine, you have touched on something that we should explore a bit further. All of you in the room have become quite close through your participation in a process. But let’s take a look at the challenges of getting this philosophy to ripple out further in all of the constituencies of the organization.
Parsonnet: That is an interesting direction to explore. We had our annual board retreat last night, and that very subject came up during the course of the evening. The 25 board members who were at the meeting are completely sympathetic and understand our culture. But we have 45 board members, and not all of them even begin to understand what we are trying to do. Broader communication is a problem, and I’m sure the same problem exists in the orchestra, on staff, and in the volunteer organization.
Spitz: From the orchestra’s perspective, I think many of the musicians do buy into seeing the big picture and the way we work with the staff and the board. But there is a vocal set of our musicians who are really resistant to working in a collegial way. Historically, part of our culture is a sense that we will only get the most for ourselves financially by taking a more traditional, adversarial approach in negotiations. This does create a divide, and I think it is our biggest obstacle to moving ahead.
Herman: Jonathan, I don’t believe the group of 20 or so people you are talking about confine their negative view of a new way of working to just the orchestra. I believe that they probably exhibit this kind or perception and behavior in every aspect of their lives, not just with the orchestra.
At the retreat last night, one of the things I mentioned was the ability of the players to address new concepts and new ways of working, to adapt to new situations in the organization. To my way of seeing it, the sections of the orchestra that have a higher turnover of personnel—whether these players are fresh out of school or have years of experience—seem to have the greatest collegiality. They also demonstrate the best ability to address changes, new concepts, and new ways of working together. Where there has been little personnel change is where I find the greatest resistance. That’s just my observation after 20 years.
Wagner: To graphically illustrate what Karl just said, he and I joined the orchestra in the same week. When we came to work here, we didn’t actually come to work because we were on strike. That was our first experience in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra—being on strike. We were taught that the culture here was “we hate the manager, we hate the conductor, we hate the staff, and we’re on strike.” Those things made perfect sense to us in our first professional experience.
Now as new members come into the orchestra, the orchestra committee sits down and explains some of our history, the evolution of relationships, and the new ways we are trying to look at things. The point is not to forget about the past, but to understand the evolutionary track we have followed, and that we are in a different place now. Our feedback from the musicians with whom we have taken time to share both history and forward outlook has been very positive.
Parsonnet: What I would like to see happen is for every individual in this organization to stop and think about what it feels like to be in the other person’s shoes. I always have the feeling that there are some musicians who have never stopped to think about what it feels like to be a trustee and to hold certain responsibilities. Similarly, I think many board members have not stopped to think what it feels like to be a musician who has to worry about making a few dollars and keeping a roof over his or her head. If we could get everyone to think this way, things would be smoother, and I truly believe we can do it.
Tamburri: In terms of staff, we do have orientation, and certainly the senior staff is involved in this entire process. Generally, the tenure of the staff is less than that of either the musicians or the board, and in certain positions, employees may have no background in music or nonprofit organizations. So it is a constant issue to bring them into our culture.
And I would like Harmony readers to understand a few other things that are important about our culture. We are in a competitive marketplace, the most competitive in the United States. The quality and level of playing among our musicians is extremely high. That is one characteristic of our orchestra. Another is that we play subscription concerts in seven locations. The travel can be tedious. The acoustics in each hall are different, so our musicians must be able to adjust. The concept of flexibility runs deep within our culture. People don’t stay long if they are not flexible. The concept of flexibility has a great deal to do with what is happening in our organization and the way it works.
Institute: We’ve talked a good bit about where the NJSO is and how it got here. Let’s turn our thoughts toward the future. What’s currently on the organization’s plate?
Bauer: We have an interesting opportunity because our music director is in his final contract with us. This gives us the chance to consider how we should arrange governance and artistic leadership for the future. Members of the orchestra, staff, and trustees are meeting individually and together to toss around some new and fresh ideas as to how we might be structured. There are no decisions yet and probably not even a consensus on direction. But it is certainly an opportunity to look at things that range from remaining in a traditional structure to having quite different possibilities for the future. But the process itself is one of the things that helps us with the idea of communicating a culture and values throughout the organization.
Swanson: Although we may not know where this is going to come out or have a strong consensus around any one particular structure, I do think there is strong consensus around developing opportunities to increase musician empowerment and ownership of the orchestra. We have worked hard to develop collaborative, flexible relationships.
Terhune: Picking up on what you just said, Karen, the musicians are in the throes of trying to figure out what exactly it means to be members of an organization, as well as being members of the orchestra. As musicians, we have been used to showing up, playing the concert, and that’s it. But it’s more than just showing up and playing, and I think people are beginning to see that the boundaries of our particular jobs, as they are described in our contracts, need to be blurred in order to have growth. People are beginning to learn exactly what it means to keep an organization viable and to grow, develop, and change the organization.
Spitz: The other side of what Christine just said is still the question of how we are going to bring in and include the players who are really mistrustful of change, mistrustful of collaboration. There are artistic ramifications in that. If we are even going to consider a structure that includes some musician self-management, we have a ways to go to make it really work.
Tamburri: For the last year, somewhat initiated by being in the Orchestra Forum, we have been involved in the process of looking at our core values, revisiting our mission, looking at our vision, and creating BHAGs—Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. Several people have mentioned the board retreat we had last night and I think we should discuss that a bit. Our board retreat has traditionally included members of the orchestra, members of the staff, and members of the board together. We broke into five cross-constituency groups to look at potential BHAGs, and last night each group made a presentation about what directions the BHAGs might take us and what the next steps might be.
Bauer: Just as an example, one of the BHAGs we discussed last night states: “To be perceived as the leading orchestra in the industry in the empowerment of and collaboration with its musicians.” But the one that struck me most, because it was one of the most highly rated among the musicians, which I did not expect, is the BHAG that states: “To have every musician recognize and accept responsibility for the artistic integrity of the orchestra.” That, I think, is encouraging. It is in the direction of musicians taking on the responsibility for their own careers and for the growth of their organization. That strikes me as powerful.
Swanson: I want to talk a bit about how the proposed BHAGs already affect day-to-day operations around here. About six months before we went public with the announcement of Zdenek Macal’s final contract as music director, we were aware of it internally and assembled a group of trustees, five musicians, Larry, and me to explore the whole issue of artistic leadership. We did go rather far down the path of looking at alternative structures and thinking in terms of not replacing the music director per se. I think we’ve come to the conclusion that it is most important to find the right fit and keep our options open. But one of the strong values that came out of those discussions was a commitment to significantly increased involvement from the musicians in the decision-making processes of artistic leadership. Yes, we are looking for the best musician to lead this orchestra artistically. Yet at the same time, we are also looking for somebody who can work within the culture of this organization which includes the empowerment of musicians in a way different from what some music directors have come to expect.
Tamburri: We are also trying something else that is new to us. As an experiment, we have created a task force, and we have encouraged musicians to be part of it, to help with planning the 2002-2003 season. The task force will work for six months and we will see how it goes. Their next job will then be to evaluate what the process was like and how well it worked. Then we will know whether we have a model that we can use into the future when we do engage artistic leadership.
And there is something else that I need to add here that gets to a really important issue. That is Abraham Maslow’s model of self-actualization. If your life in an orchestra is sitting in the middle of a section and playing, self- actualization becomes a difficult goal. It is possible, but it is hard to do. The idea of people taking responsibility for their own futures adds a great deal of meaning to people’s lives. One of the ideas that we talked about in our negotiations was finding ways that musicians can feel engaged in the organization and why that concept is important.
Institute: It is our understanding that you have used part of your Mellon Foundation support to pursue areas of professional development. Please explain that for our readers.
Wagner: With annual funding of $75,000, we have established a program under which both staff and musicians can submit proposals for personal, professional, or leadership development. Several musicians have received grants to study their instruments with teachers of their choosing.
Bauer: We also have one musician who is working toward a Ph.D. as part of this program, and a second who is working toward a certificate in arts administration. So individual development does not specifically need to be development as an instrumentalist.
Tamburri: One of the proposals that was most interesting to me came from a member of the woodwind section who brought the entire section together for a day to discuss communications and teamwork.
Stucker: There is another program that we should mention. And that is our REACH program which stands for Resources for Education and Community Harmony. We developed that program for a couple of reasons. It was a way to add a week of work for the orchestra, and it was also a way for musicians to design what that work could be. The musicians have input and submit proposals that include everything from regular chamber music concerts to outreach programming. We now have so many projects going on that we’ve had to hire a staff person to help manage this program.
Swanson: One observation that I would make about REACH is that it is challenging to change the culture of “doing what you’re told to do.” Musicians are given schedules that say “show up here, play this,” and so on, in an environment that involves a lot of hustling for freelance activity on the side. To find the time to be creative and to take control of their artistic lives in the REACH program has been a real challenge for many members of our orchestra. The program is now in its fifth year and I think we are still in the early stages of the potential development and realization of that part of the goal.
Stucker: When we started the program, we modeled it after the Saint Louis Symphony, which is a full-time orchestra. The incentive there was the opportunity for musicians to do something different. Because the NJSO is not a full-time orchestra, we have found it difficult to motivate some of the musicians to initiate their own programs.
Spitz: Let me comment on that, Susan, as a younger musician in the group that is meeting today. There are things that I do want to do, and knowing that the funding was there, I thought I would be someone who was particularly motivated to try something. But the reality is that right now I can’t. And my resistance is not philosophical. I am a parent. I work all the time. And I just cannot add one more thing to my schedule. I would also add that there are a few musicians who do have a philosophical objection to a program that has the potential to put us in a more entrepreneurial role.
Institute: As we come toward the end of our time together, let’s go around the table and ask each of you to consider the one or two things that you would most like to see the NJSO organization accomplish in the next five to ten years. Victor, let’s start with you.
Parsonnet: We have talked at length today about some positive and comfortable things that are well on their way to being woven into the fabric of this orchestra. The uncomfortable position is our finances. That is a constant worry. We are about to begin an endowment campaign and when we achieve our goal, this institution will be much more stable.
The other dream I have is to increase our season to become a full-time orchestra. I just curdle when I hear someone say part-time orchestra because it conjures up the image of being here one day and not the next. And this orchestra does not deserve that image. So the next time we meet, I hope we are all telling you about our full-time orchestra!
Wagner: My dream for the future goes beyond just the New Jersey Symphony. There are a lot of lessons and a lot of positives that the entire orchestra industry can learn from what we have done here. I would like to see the culture that we are working to establish here saturate other organizations as well. I am the ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians) delegate from this orchestra. ICSOM was founded with an important set of goals to raise the level of musicians in symphony orchestras in terms of the level of respect they received from both their managements and from the union. Over the years, ICSOM has achieved almost all of its goals. Our lives as symphony musicians are so different now. We next need to search for new dialogue, new levels of trust, and new goals that will make our institutions strong and thereby make us strong.
Bauer: Listening to my colleagues, I feel the need to make a background observation. In our organization, as is the case in so many, crisis was the start of change. Going back a decade, this orchestra was in bad shape. We brought in Victor Parsonnet as board chairman and Larry Tamburri as executive director. With them came the collegial ideas to change things. Then, in 1993-1994, we were virtually insolvent and that brought everyone together. What astonishes me is that we can now build on these things without a crisis. We have passed enough barriers that this process can sustain itself.
As to a 10-year vision, I am a pragmatist by nature. I think we have all the ideas we need and lots of people who are interested in doing them. But it is finances that will ultimately allow us to move quickly or slowly. So I still say the challenge is finances and what we can accomplish will come out of how well we do in improving those finances.
Stucker: I will certainly echo Vic in saying that the finances give us the freedom to do things. But my dream is to see the number of players we have on contract grow. We need to make that number larger in the next five to ten years. Also, I would like to see the artistic reputation of the orchestra be recognized nationally.
Terhune: Often, when I walk down the street, someone will say to me, “What’s in there? A machine gun?” When I explain that it is a viola they usually say, “Cool.” Then they ask what organization I play in. My dream is that when I answer that I play in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra they will know exactly what I am talking about. I guess my dream is that we are not only recognized nationally, but also recognized in our own communities.
On a smaller level, my other dream would be to have much more of an investment in really fine children’s programs. That is one of the areas that needs to be built up.
Tamburri: First, I truly believe that, as an organization, we can accomplish anything if we can replace, in everybody’s mind, negative energy with creative energy. So that’s one thing I would like to see happen. And then I think we have to finally build an institution. That means we need a real home for the symphony where everybody in our institution can feel the pride of going into our home and activities can take place constantly in that location. We need to have a major endowment fund to be an institution. We need to have a proper lifestyle for our musicians, to be able to pay the money necessary for a proper lifestyle. And we need to greatly expand our education programs. I guess dollars are on my mind today, too.
Herman: One of my great hopes is that over the next 10 years the orchestra can help individual players address what they need for artistic growth, not just over a season or two, but throughout their careers. The ability to do that comes from working with other people in other situations. I have had the opportunity to work with another fine group for an extended period of time, almost two years. While I was not playing here, my career commitment was certainly still to the New Jersey Symphony, and I learned so much from my time away that I was able to bring back here in a positive way. I am thinking about writing a Mellon Foundation grant proposal to explore this idea for others, and I really wish we could figure out how to address this idea in a contract. Our contract provides for leave of absence, but creating exchanges between organizations is not addressed in a concrete way. So my vision of the future would include symphony orchestra organizations talking with each other about opportunities for players to trade places among different groups.
Spitz: It’s hard to be near the end of the circle and to have listened to so many positive ideas which I share. But let me add this. At this point, our success as a culture has much to do with the individuals involved: both Victors, Larry, Bob, Karen, and Susan. These individuals have been instrumental in our ability to make the progress we have made. My hope is that in 10 years the sense of trust, communication, and collaboration will be so ingrained that it won’t depend on specific individuals. Only individuals who embrace our ideas will want to work here as musicians or staff, or to join our board. Positive culture will be depersonalized and institutional.
Swanson: As the last one to answer, I thought for a minute there that I was still going to have something to add that had not been said. But it was not to be. So let me agree that the biggest blip on my radar screen is the concept of developing an institution. Part of that is developing a culture, as Jonathan has said, that lives beyond all of us. An institution also leaves behind patterns that have grown out of crisis management and becomes one that consistently functions well and communicates well. We have a strong sense of family with the orchestra and trustees, and to a lesser extent with the staff. But there is still a lot of head room with our donors to create a family of pride, of total belief in this institution. That would be palpable and would feed some of the recognition ideas that Chris talked about.
Wagner: I know I have already had a turn, but as we have gone all the way around the circle, it is interesting that no one mentioned the artistic aspect of what we are doing. Maybe we just take that as a given. However, I think it is something on which we always need to focus. Certainly as musicians, it is our goal when we sit down to play every night to strive to higher artistic levels. We may just assume that fact, but it needs to be said.
Institute: This has been a very heartening conversation and we thank each of you for your time. Your hopes and aspirations, and your determination to collaborate and communicate serve as models for the entire industry. We congratulate you and all of your colleagues on working to build a fine orchestra, a fine organization, and a fine institution.
A New Direction: Transforming Relations within the San Francisco Symphony
A few years back, I expressed to Robert Mnookin the hope that someday he might chronicle the transformative developments within the San Francisco Symphony organization, a process of change
in which he and two colleagues played an important consulting role. Bob responded that he did intend to write about the San Francisco experience, and that when he did, he hoped the story might be published in Harmony. He was true to his word, and we thank him and his colleagues for permission to publish this article. Special thanks, too, to all participants in the San Francisco Symphony organization, mentioned and unmentioned, for sharing their organizational experience and learning with the industry at large.
The story Bob tells centers on the step-by-step process through which a collective bargaining agreement within a major symphony organization— one with a history of conflict—was successfully completed using mutual- interest principles as applied in a design created and implemented by the consulting team. The nominal culmination of the process was a trade agreement with which all parties were highly satisfied. But the new approaches taken in the negotiation were intended to have a much broader and more enduring effect. As the author says, “[As] consultants . . . our goal from the outset was to make ourselves dispensable and to help the symphony develop the internal capacity to renew itself as a learning organization.”
Getting true organization change started is itself a tremendously challenging task which can take many forms, each requiring, as the author points out, a substantial, genuine, and mutual commitment of time and energy. But then come the tasks—perhaps even more challenging—of maintaining if not increasing momentum, addressing previously undiscussable topics, and creating truly innovative and even more highly effective organizational behavior patterns and performance. From what we hear, this is taking place within the San Francisco organization.
In December 1996, the 105 musicians of the San Francisco Symphony walked out on strike. They demanded better pay, a new pension plan, longer vacations, greater limitations on out-of-town tours, and the continuation of generous health benefits. They emphatically rejected management’s requests for additional Sunday concerts and greater flexibility in scheduling. They would not return to work for 67 days, forcing the cancellation of 43 concerts. The strike had no winner, only losers.
After forfeiting nearly 10 weeks of wages, the 105 musicians disintegrated into squabbling camps. Overriding the recommendation of the majority of their own negotiating committee, which wanted to hold out longer, the players narrowly accepted a settlement that differed little from a prestrike offer. As for management and the board, they maintained fiscal discipline, but they suffered a public-relations disaster. The strike elicited ridicule from the public and the San Francisco press. Concertgoers canceled subscriptions and cut donations.
This terrible strike was the impetus for a transformation of the way the San Francisco Symphony—musicians, management, and board alike—addressed their differences. In less than two years, head-butting antagonists became effective problem solvers. By late 1998, having learned to do business together, the musicians and management sat at the negotiating table again. This time the result was a true collaboration, one that won management ongoing fiscal health and a more flexible concert schedule, and won musicians better pay and pension benefits, a continuation of excellent health-care coverage, and an innovative system of “string relief” to reduce the risk of repetitive-motion injuries to string players.
The contrast is stark. During the 1996-1997 strike, management refused to pay for the musicians’ health insurance, in part to pressure them back to work. Bassoonist Rob Weir responded by holding his ill two-year-old son in front of television cameras to shame management. In January 1999, negotiations on the new contract were completed nearly a year before the old contract expired. Showing unusual unity, the musicians voted to ratify this new contract with a six-year term, twice the usual three-year term. The new agreement, extending to 2005, was announced at a joint press conference that was a virtual love-fest involving musicians, managers, and board alike. Within weeks, bassoonist Weir actually kissed the board president, Nancy Bechtle, on the cheek.
In this article, we summarize what we learned from our work with the San Francisco Symphony during this transformative period. As will become apparent, we are hardly disinterested observers. For two years, thanks to the generosity of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we designed and implemented a program to augment the San Francisco Symphony’s capacity, at both the individual and organizational levels, to resolve conflicts in a constructive way. Through a combination of activities, musicians, board members, and management were introduced to interest-based bargaining. They then worked to develop their negotiation skills to resolve conflicts in a more constructive way.
The Old Negotiation Culture
One experienced labor arbitrator has suggested that symphony musicians have “the reputation among many of being the angriest and most militant group in the whole field of entertainment and the performing arts.”1 While not true of all orchestras, in many of America’s top symphonies, musicians and management have long had contentious labor relations. Over the years, elite players in major orchestras have struck—in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, as well as San Francisco. Never mind that these gifted violinists, cellists, flutists, and trumpeters don’t fit the mold of typical union activists. Never mind that, as top symphonic performers, they rank among America’s elite musical talent, with reasonably generous pay, short workweeks, roughly 10 weeks of vacation per year, and substantial job security.
In the San Francisco Symphony, relations between the musicians and management had a deserved reputation of being, if anything, even more contentious than most. Between 1967 and 1997, six of ten contract negotiations resulted in rehearsals or concerts being canceled. A new agreement was rarely completed by the date in November when San Francisco’s three-year labor contracts expired. Players might sometimes “work and talk,” but there would typically be some sort of work stoppage before a new deal was signed. In 1984, there had been a two-week strike, and three years later, a twelve-day work stoppage. In 1993, a four-day strike caused the cancellation of music director- designate Michael Tilson Thomas’s only scheduled appearance. The orchestra was to have performed Tilson Thomas’s own composition, “From the Diary of Anne Frank,” with excerpts from the Diary to have been read by Debra Winger.
Over the years, San Francisco management and musicians made brinkmanship a way of life in their triennial contract negotiations. Each side developed targets in advance and then boldly overstated opening positions. Parties characteristically committed to these positions early and publicly and then channeled negotiations through a spokesman. There was often an attempt to keep the other side off balance, to mobilize support from constituents, and to develop tactics designed to divide the constituents on the other side.
If an agreement was reluctantly accepted—after hard bargaining extending beyond the expiration of the old contract—this was taken as a sign of success. And how else could management and the board assure fiscal discipline that until 1994 had achieved an unparalleled 15-year record of running the organization in the black, while steadily improving its musical quality? How else could musicians know they were getting their due from management and, in particular, from Peter Pastreich, one of the most capable symphony orchestra managers in the United States?
Peter Pastreich became executive director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1978. In the years that followed, he played a remarkably productive role in the symphony’s development. At the time of his arrival, the symphony was running a deficit and shared an orchestra with the San Francisco Opera, then a more prestigious local institution. The symphony’s concerts were held in the Opera House. After his arrival in San Francisco, the symphony split from the opera, added many gifted young musicians, established a 52-week salary for its players, and moved into Davies Symphony Hall, a beautiful new concert facility. For the first time, the symphony regularly undertook both national and international tours.
For Pastreich, rough-and-tumble negotiation with the musicians, with the possibility of a short strike, had become part of business as usual. It was a game he knew and even enjoyed. In his own mind, and in the opinion of many others, he had the stamina and courage to be good at hard bargaining. With some pride, Pastreich noted that the San Francisco musicians once even passed a resolution forbidding bargaining past midnight for fear that Pastreich would wear down musician negotiators.
Nor did Pastreich view the threat or use of strikes by musicians as unfair or dysfunctional. His brother was a well-known and highly effective labor organizer, and Pastreich himself was not unsympathetic to the musicians’ plight. Indeed, in 1981 he wrote that one should not “. . . underestimate the value of grievances, negotiations, and even strikes as a safety valve for . . . frustration. . . . Why should the musicians be denied their tri-annual opportunity to talk back, even shout back, to management, and through management, to the conductor and the board?”2 Because orchestra boards and managements always had to raise the dollars to make up the gap between ticket proceeds and the amount musicians were paid, Pastreich suggested that before symphonies were unionized, managements and boards “ . . . did the minimum necessary, believing correctly that the musicians would continue to play, whatever they were paid.” He added: “[T]his situation continued until musicians realized that their orchestras had become important enough so that strikes would be a social embarrassment to the boards and managements.” Some years before, he had concluded that the system of collective bargaining in the symphony world, notwithstanding hard-bargaining and strikes, “. . . works remarkably well. . . . [S]trikes are generally resolved without very much effect on the orchestra or community.”3
But the 1996 symphony contract negotiations were hardly business as usual at all. The musicians came to the table to get more than their financial due. They were united in wanting to gain more respect from management. Some musicians wanted to exact retribution for what they perceived as assaults on their dignity by Peter Pastreich. The musicians’ negotiating committee hired I. Philip Sipser, an experienced labor lawyer, known to be as tenacious and tough as Pastreich. Sipser was counsel to the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and had organized and represented symphony orchestras throughout the country.
In May 1996, after expressing skepticism about management’s announcement that staff had to be laid off because of a deficit, Sipser and the committee opened the bargaining. They presented Pastreich with a list of 65 demands that would have sweetened nearly every aspect of the 25-page contract.
How had the negotiating committee come up with these demands? The San Francisco contract (like that of other major orchestras) is an extensive document spelling out in remarkable detail rules governing rehearsals, scheduling, touring conditions, auditions, parking, orchestra size, the tenure process, and the like. In addition the contract contains provisions dealing with salary, pension, and various conventional benefits. Each musician in the orchestra received a questionnaire with a long list of possible topics for the 1996 round of bargaining. A member of the six-person committee then interviewed each musician with a copy of the old contract in hand. Each person was asked, among other things, “What are the 10 most important things that you think should be changed in the next negotiation?” Not surprisingly, the committee came up with an extensive list of desired changes. The old contract limited bus travel time on tours to a maximum five hours. Some players thought the maximum should be reduced to three hours. The old contract provided a fee related to radio broadcasts of $30. Some musicians wanted it increased to $40. The old contract provided a supplementary payment for out-of-town concerts of $26. Some musicians wanted it raised to $50. If overtime started after 15 minutes, some asked that instead it start after 10 minutes. Some musicians hated long rehearsals; others hated playing on Saturdays.
Pastreich was appalled with the laundry list of demands the committee compiled.4 He asked the committee, “Which of these things really matter?” He reports that the response was, “All of them matter to us.” “Well, wait a minute,” Pastreich said. They can’t all be of the same importance. Which ones are the most important?” The committee refused to respond, saying (according to Pastreich), “No, it’s not our job to prioritize. . . . It is our job to deliver what [our colleagues have] asked for.”5
Pastreich ended up responding in kind. He submitted a counterproposal with an almost equal number of counterdemands. As he had found in earlier negotiations, the only way to get many of the minor items off the table was not to argue them off. “I have to trade them off,” he reported. Pastreich says he was trapped into the following kind of conversation: “You want overtime to start at 10 minutes? We want it to start at 20 minutes. Eventually, we’ll get back to 15 minutes, which is where it was to begin with. You want to increase radio fees by
33%? We want to decrease them by 33%. And so on. It couldn’t have been more positional. Because they’ve taken 65 positions, we’ve taken 65 counterpositions.” In the end, Pastreich concluded, “The only way to see what was really important to them was to see what they would strike about and vice versa. It was a game of chicken to see if the other side was willing to drive off the cliff.”6
The resulting collision led to a calamitous negotiation failure. Both management and the players limped away from the clash bloodied. There were deep conflicts among the musicians themselves. Tom Hemphill, a percussionist who was chairman of the players’ committee, later reported: “Following the strike, there was a profound split among the musicians and tremendous bitterness and a sense of betrayal among colleagues.”7 Some musicians believed that if they had been willing to hold out longer many more of their demands would have been met—a failure of solidarity was the reason that so little had been accomplished, notwithstanding the high cost. Others felt that a majority of the negotiating committee had led the musicians astray by adopting an unnecessarily adversarial negotiation strategy that had ended in catastrophe. At the same time, both militant and conservative musicians resented management in general and Pastreich in particular.
As for Pastreich, the experience was searing. He later reported, “I’ve had a number of strikes in my life and I don’t think a strike is a terrible thing. Sometimes a strike is the only way to get what you are after. . . . But this strike wasn’t just a strike. It was an outpouring of anger and frustration and it was terribly damaging and essentially pointless. . . . I hated the idea of retiring—leaving the symphony field with that as my last major act—an act of destruction.”8
A New Start
This painful strike provided the impetus for change, not just for managers and board members, but also for the leaders of the musicians. In the aftermath of the 1996-1997 strike, Tom Hemphill met with Peter Pastreich to explore what might be done to begin the process of rebuilding relations. As a short-term fix, Hemphill pointed to about a dozen pending grievances. Could they get them resolved promptly?
About this same time, Melanie Beene, the Hewlett Foundation program officer responsible for the performing arts, met with Pastreich, expressed concern about management’s relations with the musicians, and suggested that the foundation had a long-standing interest in conflict resolution. As a result of this conversation with Beene, Pastreich suggested to Hemphill that together they visit the Hewlett Foundation and explore seeking assistance. Hemphill agreed enthusiastically, and in mid-July 1997, Pastreich, Hemphill, and Linda Lukas (a flutist who was a new member of the players’ committee) met with Beene and Stephen Toben, the Hewlett Foundation program officer responsible for the conflict resolution program. Toben suggested he would do some research about the availability of appropriate consultants who might work with the symphony.
Later that summer, Toben contacted Robert Mnookin at the Harvard Law School. Toben indicated that the foundation was interested in supporting a project that, in Toben’s words, “would teach the people at the San Francisco Symphony a better way to negotiate.” Mnookin initially expressed reluctance. His schedule was full. As teacher, scholar, and mediator, he had substantial experience in the field of dispute resolution. But he had no experience working with symphony orchestras and did not consider himself a collective bargaining expert or a specialist in labor-management negotiations. Most important, he asked: What evidence was there that the musicians, the management, and the board were motivated to learn better ways of managing the tensions in negotiation? Although the symphony could hardly say “no” to the Hewlett Foundation, a major donor for many years, Mnookin could not move ahead unless the critical stakeholders were genuinely willing to put in the necessary time and effort to work on changing the organization’s negotiation culture.
At Toben’s request, Mnookin made a preliminary visit to the symphony during the fall of 1997 to learn more and see for himself whether this was a project that he wished to undertake. He met with Tom Hemphill and the full players’ committee; with Peter Pastreich and his management team; with board president Nancy Bechtle and several key members of the Board of Governors; and with Michael Tilson Thomas, the music director. The wounds created by the strike were plainly visible, and there was a great deal of mutual suspicion, resentment, and distrust. But Mnookin was impressed by their expressed commitment to try to find some better way.
Out of that visit and ensuing conversations, Mnookin suggested the creation of a San Francisco Symphony Conflict Resolution Program, with Hewlett funding. He insisted, however, that any Hewlett grant application should come not from Mnookin but from the symphony itself—management and musicians—and that the grant should be administered jointly by the players’ committee and management. Together the committee and management could then hire Mnookin, and a small team he would assemble, to provide services to the program, services that he would spell out in an accompanying letter. Moreover, the committee and management would retain the right to fire Mnookin and his team if the program did not serve the symphony’s interests.
The six members of the players’ committee, reflecting a broad spectrum of opinion within the orchestra, very much supported the idea of the new conflict resolution program. But they were worried about the perceptions of their constituents, the other members of the orchestra who had not participated in these discussions. Tom Hemphill was later to report: “Given the profound split among the musicians, the tremendous bitterness and the sense of betrayal between colleagues, asking the orchestra to explore ways to develop a collaborative relationship with management seemed a nearly impossible stretch. It would probably have been easier to sell the orchestra on the idea of building up a huge strike fund for use in three years.”9 Wouldn’t some musicians believe that any program acceptable to Peter Pastreich or the board must, by definition, be bad for the musicians? Might others who had never heard of interest-based bargaining question whether it was somehow inconsistent with the collective bargaining process? Might some fear it would undercut the union and its effectiveness in representing the musicians? Pastreich was also somewhat skeptical, but for another reason: Did Mnookin have enough experience in the collective bargaining arena and did he understand enough about the special challenges facing major symphony orchestras?
To answer these questions and to involve more musicians in the initial process, Mnookin assembled his team and made a second trip to the Bay Area. The team included Gary Friedman, an experienced Bay Area mediator who for many years had worked with Mnookin both at Stanford and at Harvard, and Joel Cutcher- Gershenfeld, a labor-relations expert who is now a member of the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and part of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation.
During this second visit, Mnookin and Friedman met with the orchestra at an open session arranged by the players’ committee. In the meantime, the members of the players’ committee had laid the groundwork for this session by spending many hours discussing with their colleagues the idea of a conflict resolution program. The full orchestra, a few days after the open session, voted (with some dissents) to accept the players’ committee recommendation of participation in the creation of this new program. Throughout this process, members of the players’ committee exhibited political courage and real leadership for, in Tom Hemphill’s word, some musicians viewed the committee’s supportive stance as a “betrayal.”
On November 24, 2019, a grant application was sent to the Hewlett Foundation proposing the creation of the program. It was jointly submitted by the board, management, and the players’ committee on behalf of the orchestra, and indicated that the program’s purpose was to:
. . . strengthen the institution’s capacity to manage the process of conflict resolution between musicians and management, particularly in the areas of contract negotiation and administration. Our goals are to improve relations between board, staff, and musicians, and to create a more effective, cooperative team within the San Francisco Symphony.
In the accompanying letter, the Mnookin team endorsed these goals, described the activities that had been discussed, and suggested the “assumptions about negotiation” that would underlie their work.
◆ We assume that labor and management have both common and competing interests; that in negotiations there are both opportunities to expand the pie and create value and distributive issues that involve dividing the pie.
◆ We assume that important negotiations occur at the table—between labor and management, and behind the table—among the players and within the management team.
◆ We assume that there are many internal and external stakeholders whose interests need to be considered in the context of dialogue on dispute resolution and labor-management relations in the orchestra.
◆ We assume that there are unique aspects of a premier orchestra that will require adapting existing approaches to interest-based bargaining and labor-management relations.
The application to Hewlett was signed by all the members of the players’ committee, by Peter Pastreich as executive director, and by two board members— Nancy Bechtle, the board president, and Leonard Kingsley, the vice president who had served as head of the labor relations committee. Not surprisingly, a Hewlett grant was forthcoming. Equally important, the very process of applying for the grant laid a helpful foundation for the project that was created: the stakeholders had “bought into the process” and key leaders discovered they could work together to design and ultimately control a program that served their needs. They could modify its design and assure that the team was responsive to their concerns. From the team’s perspective, empowering these stakeholders in this way served to underline the stakeholders’ ultimate responsibility for changing the symphony’s negotiation culture.
Our Theoretical Perspective
A negotiation theory underlay the grant application and our work during the months that followed. In our view, negotiation requires the management of three discrete tensions:
◆ the tension between opportunities to expand the pie (by creating value) and the inevitable necessity of dividing the pie (i.e., distributing value);
◆ the tension between communicating with empathy and communicating with assertiveness; and
◆ whenever an agent is negotiating on behalf of a principal, the tension “behind the table” between the person or group doing the negotiation and the actual constituents.10
None of these tensions had been managed well by either side during the 1996- 1997 negotiations.
During the 1996-1997 negotiations, both sides focused exclusively on claiming as large a slice as possible of what they saw as a fixed pie. They often exhibited a zero-sum mindset, and negotiated as if whatever benefits the other party gained must necessarily hurt themselves. The exclusive focus on distributive gain typically inhibits the sharing of information that can lead to value creation. It can also lead to the use of hardball tactics and the escalation of conflict. Each side employed a variety of hard-bargaining tactics in the attempt to influence the other. These tactics included:
◆ extreme demands followed by small, slow concessions;
◆ take-it-or-leave-it offers;
◆ personal insults and feather ruffling;
◆ bluffing and puffing; and
◆ turning the negotiation into a game of chicken.
Nor was the second tension managed well in the 1996-1997 negotiations; the quality of communication between the two sides was poor. Both parties adopted highly competitive postures, and their communication with each other was very ineffective. Partly as a result of our training, leaders on both sides learned the importance of utilizing good listening skills in the context of collective bargaining. Peter Pastreich later reported: “I came to understand how important it was for me to listen to the other side. . . . It became clear to me that one of the things that the musicians were angry with me about was they felt . . . I wasn’t even listening to what they were saying. And I think it is true. Nor do I think they were listening to us.”11 At its core, according to Pastreich, the 1996-1997 negotiation went as follows:
We [management] said, “We have a serious deficit so we are not going to be able to give you a really good contract. We’re not going to be able to give you anything special this time because we have a financial problem.” And they said, “We don’t believe you. We don’t think you have a deficit. We don’t think you have a problem.” And they came in and said, “We are working harder than any other orchestra in the country and we are getting sick and injured as a result of all that so we need some serious relief.” And we said, “We don’t believe you. We don’t think that injuries have anything to do with overwork, we don’t think you work harder than anyone else.” So with respect to the two most contentious issues we didn’t believe one another. . . . Each side knew that the other side didn’t really believe them. . . . A kind of desperation set in on both sides where each of us said to ourselves, “We’re not going to get anywhere with these people. They don’t even hear what we are saying.” And that turned into great anger.12
The principal-agent tension proved extraordinarily difficult to manage in the 1996-1997 negotiations. The San Francisco musicians’ negotiating committee was well intentioned and wanted to be responsive to varying views within the orchestra. But the committee failed to agree on clear priorities and then failed further in leading a consensus-building process within the orchestra. Instead, the committee pushed for a long laundry list of demands. It engaged in positional bargaining by staking out extreme positions and then receding slowly. When management responded in kind, the committee mobilized its constituents largely by stoking the already widespread resentment of management, and in the process secured an almost unanimous vote to strike. The final result was a costly war of attrition, which ultimately resulted in the players voting to return to work over the objections of a majority of the committee. In the aftermath, relations among the musicians were badly frayed. On the management side, the “behind the table” tensions, while less conspicuous, also existed. Some board members were critical of Pastreich’s approach to the negotiations.
Our key challenge was to help those responsible for labor-management negotiations at the San Francisco Symphony learn how to manage all three tensions more effectively.
Initial Workshop Activities
During the initial months of the program, our goal was to introduce the symphony’s stakeholders to our theory of negotiation and to work to develop the negotiation skills of those responsible for negotiating and implementing the symphony’s collective bargaining agreement. Two two-day workshops were held at a Marin County retreat facility owned by San Francisco State University.
All the members of the players’ committee, Peter Pastreich and his key staff, and selected board members, including Nancy Bechtle and Len Kingsley, attended the first workshop. This same group, plus the newly elected musicians’ negotiation committee, attended the second. The purpose of these workshops was to introduce the participants to a new way of thinking about negotiation and to help them identify and develop relevant negotiation skills. Through negotiation simulations and exercises—none of which dealt directly with symphony orchestra issues—the participants were introduced to the first two negotiation tensions. Using simulated exercises having nothing to do with the symphony world gave the participants a sense of safety that made learning easier.
A number of our training exercises related to helping board members, players’ representatives, and management better understand and manage the tension between creating value and the inevitable need to distribute it. Much of our advice concerned the critical importance of adequate preparation; the need to focus on interests and not simply formulate “positions” or demands; and the importance of paying attention to process. Positions and demands are what people say they must have, while interests are the underlying reasons, needs, or values that explain why a person takes the position in the first place. Adequate preparation requires consideration not only of your own interests, but also those of the other side. In San Francisco, we suggested the importance of “brainstorming” as a process to permit parties to work together to search for value-creating opportunities.
We made an important distinction between “forcing” and “fostering” strategies in bargaining and emphasized that each may sometimes be necessary.13 When there are many common interests and the possibility of easy trades, fostering strategies and collaborative activities such as joint brainstorming work well. A more complicated challenge comes when there are issues that one side wants to bargain over but the other side wants to avoid. We pointed out that even interest-based bargaining will involve some of these issues that one side or the other would rather not even see on the agenda, let alone be driven toward agreement on. In such circumstances “forcing” is inevitable, but we observed that it is essential for the dialogue to be grounded in interests and data. We demonstrated how difficult distributive issues could be treated as “a shared problem,” with the parties being hard on the problem, not each other.
Our initial workshop activities also emphasized the second tension, that between empathizing with the other side, which requires demonstrating an understanding of the other party’s interests and point of view, and asserting effectively one’s own views, interests, and concerns. Why the tension? When faced with conflict, many negotiators may have a tendency to undervalue one or both of these essential negotiation skills. The implications of this tension for good negotiation practices are profound. Effective communication is an essential part of good negotiation, and this requires both empathy and assertion. The best negotiators can both speak persuasively and listen well. Good negotiators are masters of the art of persuasion and getting people to see things their way.
They also have the capacity to demonstrate an understanding of the other side’s needs, interests, and perspectives—what we mean by empathy. The best foundation for problem-solving negotiations exists when both sides have a mastery of these two basic communication skills.
As an element of our first workshop, we helped each participant, through a simple pencil-and-paper exercise, learn more about his or her own conflict tendencies. In the face of conflict, some tended to be competitive—to emphasize assertion without necessarily doing much to demonstrate understanding of the other side. Others tended to be accommodating—to find it easy to demonstrate that they understood the other side’s point of view but to have difficulty, once they understood, to continue to assert their own interests. Some learned they had a tendency to be conflict avoiders—finding conflict distasteful and therefore withdrawing and neither asserting nor demonstrating understanding. Our goal was not to typecast anyone, but instead help all participants think about how they might broaden their negotiation repertoire by becoming better listeners and more effective advocates.
Additional Exercises and Activities
There is an adage in labor relations that it takes three agreements to get one: one behind the table among the workers and their representatives; a second behind the table between management and the board; and a third across the table between labor and management. Our third tension relates to the first two behind-the-table negotiations, and exists whenever an agent negotiates on behalf of a principal. In symphony negotiations, a negotiating committee (and perhaps its counsel) is the agent on behalf of the unionized musicians, who as a group are the principal. Similarly, a manager acts as the agent of management, representing the board. This process of internal bargaining has long been recognized as one of the most difficult challenges in collective bargaining,14 and recent scholarship has identified the even greater importance of managing this tension during interest-based bargaining.15
A stated goal of the program was to improve working relationships “behind the table” between agents and constituents. Much of the program’s work was aimed at helping both labor and management leaders better manage the principal-agent tensions each side faced behind the table, and to be more sensitive to the tensions faced behind the table by the leaders of the other side.
We engaged a variety of activities aimed at achieving this goal. Some of our efforts sought to repair frayed relations among the players that had come about because of the 1996-1997 strike. Gary Friedman facilitated open meetings during which musicians could discuss among themselves their feelings about the 1996- 1997 strike and learn more about their interaction with their leaders and their relationships with each other. Playing a leadership role as a player is time- consuming, unpaid, and a job for which the musicians normally receive no training whatsoever. Much of our initial consulting work involved helping the players’ committee manage the understandable differences within the committee, and helping the committee think through how it could provide more effective leadership in the future.
As an element of this work, the players’ committee redesigned the process by which the musicians elected the negotiating committee that would be responsible for the next round of collective bargaining. Previously, these elections were held in a perfunctory way; there was no real opportunity for those musicians who had been nominated to describe to other orchestra members how they intended to approach the negotiations and what they saw as their role. A new process was developed and implemented in which, before any balloting, each nominee was asked to address a meeting of the orchestra as a whole. Several nominees made a point of suggesting their commitment to interest-based bargaining, and all were asked whether they were prepared to participate in the program’s training.
In June 1998, using this more refined process, the musicians elected a new negotiating committee. Its members had differing views about the 1996-1997 strike, but all had expressed an interest in further negotiation training. In July 1998, we held a second two-day negotiation workshop attended by the negotiating committee, members of the players’ committee, Peter Pastreich and his management team, and key board members.
This second workshop focused on the special features of collective bargaining. It placed the first two tensions into a labor-management context, and highlighted how each side had constituents and therefore had to manage the principal- agent tension. We used an extended negotiation simulation in which mixed teams of board members, management, and musicians role-played union members or company officials in a labor-management negotiation. Those participants who were union representatives had to meet with and deal with their constituents; company management had to deal with its board; and the two sides then had to negotiate with one another. The simulation demonstrated the connection between what is done “behind the table” with one’s own constituents, and what happens across the table with the other side. In this exercise, many of the stakeholders played unaccustomed roles. Some musicians played management roles; some board members played union roles. This increased their sensitivity to the perspectives of the others, a key piece of any negotiation training.
In this exercise we contrasted traditional collective bargaining tactics—which focus almost exclusively on distributive issues—with a problem-solving approach that aimed to create value as well. We suggested that the objective of collective bargaining should instead be to secure agreements that effectively address the interests of the union, the employer, employees, and other key stakeholders in an employment relationship, and that provide a foundation for constructive future relations. A key aspect of this requires the representatives on each side to broaden the narrow positions of various constituents, reframe them as interests, and negotiate based on those interests.
A New Round of Negotiations: Initial Preparations
Although the contract ratified after the 1996-1997 strike would not expire until November 1999, both management and the musicians’ negotiating committee expressed interest in completing negotiations of a new contract well in advance of that deadline, perhaps by the end of 1998. For this reason, during the July 1998 workshop, the last half-day was spent discussing this possibility. Throughout the training program, we emphasized the importance of preparation. What preparation must be done separately by each side? What preparation might best be done jointly?
The group decided that to prepare for a new round of negotiations, joint task forces, which included members of the negotiating committee and management, might helpfully develop basic factual information, define some underlying issues, and perhaps generate some options. The use of joint task forces to better prepare for negotiations is not typical in traditional bargaining, but recent survey results suggest that approximately one in five labor negotiations do use joint task forces as part of preparations.16 In this case, several joint task forces were created by the end of the summer of 1998.
One task force was charged with developing the basic factual information about the latest contractual terms of other major American orchestras. This information is critical to both sides, since some issues, such as minimum weekly salary, are negotiated by reference to what other orchestras received in their most recent negotiations. Having common, agreed-upon information would avoid needless arguments about basic facts.
A second task force was created to do preliminary work relating to pension and retirement issues. For some years, a number of musicians had wanted the symphony to switch from its own defined-benefit plan to the pension plan sponsored by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). Others wanted the AFM plan to be offered as an alternative to individual musicians. Analyzing this issue was difficult for several reasons. First, while some musicians might well benefit from the shift, there were others who might be better off under the existing symphony plan. Second, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), moving to the AFM plan for some or all of the musicians would require that the existing benefits under the current pension plan be “frozen.” Freezing the San Francisco plan would require IRS approval and would accelerate certain funding obligations of the symphony. Because the financial, accounting, and legal questions relating to various pension alternatives raised complex, technical issues, the parties decided that each side should retain its own pension consultant who would also be part of a joint pension task force that included musicians and management.
A third task force was created to investigate the possibilities of string relief. String players spend more time on stage playing their instruments than do other orchestra members, and many have claimed that, as a consequence, they are much more prone to developing serious stress-related injuries. String relief had been a difficult and contentious issue for several years and was complicated by the fact that within the orchestra itself, bargaining for such relief had been a priority for string players but not for some other musicians. Given the competitive internal process for generating issues among the players and the adversarial process at the table, the issue had not advanced very far in the past. Careful consideration within a task force, together with extended discussions within the orchestra led by the members of the negotiating committee, laid a foundation for approaching this problem in more creative ways.
The musicians’ negotiating committee invested a great deal of time thinking about how they might best involve the orchestra as a whole in the process of preparation. Within an orchestra, the preferences, interests, and orientation of different musicians typically vary widely. How could the committee best decide what issues should be put on the table and what the priorities should be in the new round of negotiations? As representatives, how could the committee play a leadership role, be responsive to the orchestra, and build a foundation that supports interest-based negotiation across the able? While no easy task, the committee did a superb job.
The negotiating committee used the following process to establish its priorities. First, during the summer and early fall, the committee spent many hours together discussing and refining its own sense of the underlying interests of the musicians that should inform collective bargaining, and of the issues that should be the subject of the next round of negotiations. In the process, the committee members learned how to solve problems within the committee— to negotiate effectively with one another. One strength of the committee was its composition; its membership included individual musicians with diverse points of view. Chris Gilbert, the chairman of the negotiating committee, came to understand that it was essential for the committee itself to work by consensus and not simply decide by majority rule. Operating by consensus means that everyone makes a good-faith effort to meet the interests of all the committee members. Consensus is ordinarily reached when everyone agrees they can live with whatever is proposed after every effort has been made to meet the interests of all stakeholder parties. While consensus building aims at seeking unanimous agreement, it does not necessarily require unanimity. Unanimity would allow an individual member to hold-out and veto a course of action. Instead, consensus building requires that everyone’s viewpoint be taken seriously and that every effort be made to meet everyone’s interests.17
Based on its own hard work, the committee reached preliminary conclusions about what the issues should be and what interests lay under those issues. The committee then sent a document to the orchestra as a whole. This survey laid out the committee’s own recommendations and asked for specific feedback. Because this was so well done, it bears quoting at length. The preamble to this orchestra survey stated:
After many hours of active discussion, we have come up with a list of areas/issues, which we believe are the most important to the orchestra. We then divided this list into categories: Class I, issues that are of primary importance to this negotiation; and Class II, issues that we will address vigorously, but are of somewhat lesser importance. . . . Also, in keeping with our commitment to an “interest-based” bargaining process, we have identified what we believe are the orchestra’s underlying interests for each area/issue.
The survey asked each musician to indicate whether he or she agreed or disagreed that compensation, pension, string relief, and health benefits should be the Class I issues, and whether they agreed or disagreed with the committee’s characterization of the underlying interests. For example, for the issue of compensation two interests were identified:
◆ compensation commensurate with industry standards in light of our artistic achievement; and
◆ ability to attract and retain the best players.
The survey similarly listed the Class II issues, and asked whether the respondent
◆ agreed with the Class II characterization;
◆ thought the issue should instead be Class I; or instead
◆ thought this was an issue that need not be included in the bargaining.
Respondents were also asked to add other issues to the negotiation list, along with an explanation of underlying interests.
The survey results and orchestra meeting confirmed that a substantial majority agreed with the committee’s priorities. The committee concluded that compensation, pension, and string relief would be Class I issues. Because the players were satisfied with their existing health plan, the musicians would not bring this issue to the table, “but recognize that if management brings it to the table, it will be a Class I issue.”18 The Class II issues were scheduling, auditions, the treatment of past retirees, the possibility of personal leave, and the use of the San Francisco Symphony’s name in a way that made it clear that it included the musicians and not simply the corporate body. Management accepted this classification of issues, and asked that health insurance be discussed because of management’s concerns about costs.
In addition to this critical preparatory work establishing priorities and building a mandate, the negotiating committee also carefully considered what role it wanted its lawyer to play in these next negotiations and what lawyer might be
retained to play that role. In the 1996-1997 negotiations, the musicians had hired an outside attorney to be their primary spokesman and to be the principal negotiator. For this negotiation, the committee decided that it would prefer that the committee itself be primarily responsible for negotiations, and that the committee members and the management deal directly with one another, and not act through counsel. After confirming that management also found this approach acceptable, the committee decided it should retain a lawyer who supported the concept of interest-based bargaining and who was prepared to act primarily as an advisor and coach, but who would find it acceptable not to be at the table. After interviewing candidates, the committee retained an experienced labor lawyer who later comfortably played just that role. This proved to be a significant decision for the committee, since it confirmed both to the orchestra itself and to management that the negotiating committee would be in control of the bargaining process for the musicians.
Negotiations Across the Table
During November 1998, the parties met together for two full days to set the stage for the substantive negotiations, in meetings facilitated by Mnookin and Friedman. At these November sessions, the parties set out the precise issues that would be subject to negotiation, developed a detailed schedule for the negotiations, and agreed on basic ground rules concerning confidentiality, statements to the press, etc. Five full days in December were set aside to focus on the core issues. The two parties’ shared goal was to try to complete negotiations before the end of the year, so that a new contract might be ratified by the full orchestra before the orchestra left on tour in January. Because everyone recognized this might not prove possible, it was further agreed that if this goal were not met, negotiations would thereafter be suspended for several months and would only be resumed later in spring or summer 1999.
In November, at these sessions, the parties also reached substantive agreement concerning two Class II issues relating to “past retirees” and the use of the symphony’s name. The musicians perceived that the name—San Francisco Symphony—was being used to apply to the organization but not to the orchestra itself. By agreement, the parties decided that, in the next contract, language would be added to frame the issue as follows: how can the various stakeholders of the San Francisco Symphony “show greater appreciation” of the contributions of the various symphony stakeholders?
The parties also collaborated effectively in laying a foundation for later finding a negotiated resolution of the nettlesome issue of string relief. At our suggestion, during one of these November sessions, everyone present was arbitrarily assigned to one of three groups, with each containing both musicians and staff. The groups were charged with an identical task: create a statement of the goals of string relief in the form of a preamble to a hypothetical document detailing the methods of providing relief. As a result of this process, after each of the three groups shared preliminary statements, an agreed-upon joint statement of goals was created:
The goals of string relief are to raise morale, promote a sense of physical and mental well being, and improve the already high level of performance of the San Francisco Symphony’s string players. Solutions will be sought to reduce the time on stage and physical demands on string players and to make stage time more rewarding. All elements of the symphony, including the music director, musicians, staff, and board will work together to accomplish these goals.19
The entire group then engaged in brainstorming to expose a variety of options that might contribute to string relief. Two ground rules for this brainstorming session were adopted: no evaluation and no ownership. In other words, during the process of generating options, no evaluation of any option would take place, and any person suggesting an option would not be tagged with responsibility or ownership of its wisdom.
Through brainstorming, many different creative ideas were generated. Based on this work, three different types of action were seen as possibly contributing to the same goal:
◆ modifying the repertoire and/or string count, possibly to reduce the demands on strings;
◆ modifying the physical environment to provide string relief; and
◆ increasing the number of available string players.
Both the negotiating committee and management expressed interest in a deal that would establish a target for string relief, perhaps measured in terms of time on stage. To the extent that the target could be reached by changes in the repertoire, all concerned thought this would be highly desirable. But it was agreed that there would be no attempt through the collective bargaining process to control the repertoire, which was seen largely as in the music director’s discretion. Instead, the parties would aim for a deal that would provide for substitutes to the extent the target was not met. It was agreed that both musicians and management would develop, before the December negotiations, two or more different proposals for string relief.
During the scheduled December sessions, the parties successfully and efficiently negotiated all the terms of a new six-year agreement. Mnookin and Friedman facilitated these meetings and acted as mediators. The following anecdote, relating to the pension, illustrates the problem-solving spirit with which both sides approached these negotiations.
On behalf of management, Peter Pastreich expressed a preference for simply retaining the symphony’s current pension plan because of the incentives that it created for retirement at a reasonable age. But unlike his approach in 1996- 1997, he indicated an openness to adopting the AFM plan, provided the total pension costs to the symphony during the next six years were comparable to what the costs would be if the existing plan alone were maintained at an improved level. For purposes of analysis, the parties reached a tentative agreement that “X” dollars would be a reasonable increase in benefits under the existing plan if it alone existed during the next six years. The following questions were then put to the expert consultants on both sides: Suppose the symphony were instead to “freeze” its existing plan? Under ERISA, what would be the necessary future contributions to this old plan during the next six years to maintain it after it was frozen? And after these amounts were subtracted from “X” dollars, how much would be left to contribute to the AFM plan?
As it turned out, the experts agreed that the costs of freezing and then maintaining the existing plan were so substantial that very little would be left over to contribute to the AFM plan. In light of this information, the negotiating committee quite reasonably concluded that the musicians would be better off simply sticking with the existing symphony pension plan. When one committee member expressed the obvious concern that some members of the orchestra might be disappointed, another member said, “We’ll have to explain our thinking and show some leadership.”
In the final stages of the negotiation, after it was clear that the parties had narrowed their differences on the two critical money issues, management suggested to the negotiating committee that any of three different alternative combinations of salary and pension (with essentially comparable costs) would be acceptable to management. After briefly caucusing, the negotiating committee chose the option that it believed best served the interests of the musicians. A great cheer went up in the room, and a cork was popped. Everyone in the room knew the essential deal was done.
By the end of the year, the parties reached a basic understanding on all the details, and the new proposed contract was presented to the orchestra on January 9. The musicians, voting three days later, overwhelmingly ratified the new contract, which, among other things, provided a $2,000 minimum weekly salary in year six of the agreement. These salaries placed the San Francisco Symphony among the half-dozen best paid in the United States. Pension benefits under the
San Francisco Symphony’s plan would increase, over the life of the contract, from $42,000 to $53,000 a year. The new agreement also contained innovative provisions relating to string relief. Scheduling changes included the conversion of a one-week individual vacation for each musician to a collective week vacation for the whole orchestra, and an option to schedule a family subscription concert on a Saturday. The increased costs of the new contract averaged 4.2 percent over the life of its term and did not jeopardize the fiscal health of the symphony. Finally, in a symbolic act that helped to promote a greater sense of unity and inclusiveness among all members of the San Francisco Symphony family, the labor contract was reworded to characterize its agreement as between the administration, composed of board and staff, and the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony.20
Our experience with the San Francisco Symphony suggests four important lessons.
Negotiation skills can be taught and organizations can change the way they manage conflict. We’ve long been committed to the notion of the relevance of theory to practice, and our experience with the symphony has served to reinforce these ideas. The workshop participants embraced the importance of managing the three tensions of negotiation: looking for ways of expanding the pie and creating value and not simply focusing on its distribution; demonstrating understanding as well as being assertive; and managing the principal-agent tensions behind the table.
The workshop participants uniformly reported that they had learned or had reinforced important negotiation skills as a result of the workshops, skills that served them well later. The three negotiation skills mentioned most often were:
◆ Listening actively. Demonstrating to opposing negotiators your understanding of what they are saying, what their perspective is, and what their needs and interests are while remaining prepared to have them correct you;
◆ Framing what is important to each side in terms of interests rather than specific positions or demands; and
◆ Generating numerous options through “brainstorming,” which suspends all evaluation until a subsequent stage of negotiation.
Preparation for a negotiation is of vital importance. Both separately and together, each side spent substantially more time preparing for the 1998 negotiation than time at the table actually negotiating. This preparation paid off. The parties negotiated a process: they discussed together which issues they would consider at the table and what their schedule would be, what role lawyers for each side should play in the process, how they would use consultants, and the extent to which they wished to have members of the Mnookin team serve as neutral facilitators during the actual negotiations. Joint task forces developed critical facts.
The negotiations behind the table—with each side’s constituents—are critical to the success of interest-based negotiation. To bargain effectively, the musicians’ negotiating committee had to establish priorities. Because symphony musicians have diverse interests, building a mandate to support problem solving at the negotiation table is challenging. A negotiating committee must show leadership and must demonstrate consensus-building skills. In dealing with the full orchestra, the committee must both be responsive and demonstrate a genuine understanding of minority views, but must at the same time avoid being hamstrung because a small minority, notwithstanding the committee’s best efforts, remain dissatisfied.
Motivation is a key to organizational change because change requires a substantial commitment of time and energy. A critical number of musicians, key managers, and board members all demonstrated openness to change and a genuine commitment to try to find a better way of doing business together. That this motivation was mutual, and was seen by both sides as mutual, proved very important. In San Francisco, the trauma of 1996-1997 strike provided part of the motivation for change. This kind of trauma is in no sense required. Other orchestras, with less adversarial traditions, might also improve the way they deal with conflict, provided key members of the orchestra, management staff, and board become committed. But “buy in” to a new process by the principal stakeholders is indispensable. Motivation is not something that can be created from the outside. It needs to come from inside the organization and be real.
Conflict is inevitable, whether between nations, among businesses, within families, or in the workplace. The goal should not be the elimination of conflict, but instead more effective ways of dealing with differences and resolving conflict. In our culture, what typically makes headlines are negotiation failures—families torn asunder, disruptive strikes, costly courtroom battles, and wars. What less often gets attention, and celebration, are the successes, when parties effectively and constructively create value through negotiations, not destroy it.
The success of the San Francisco Symphony in transforming its labor-management relations was the product of farsighted leadership and hard work on the part of musicians, management, and board alike. The six-year contract that was ratified in January 1999 deserves to be celebrated. But for us, the most important achievement of the San Francisco Symphony is the demonstration that parties to conflict have the power to change. Relationships once marked by adversarial contention, anger, and distrust can be transformed, but only through hard work and learning. Motivated parties can learn how to engage in collaborative problem solving.
This transformation took time, commitment, and considerable effort over an extended period and did not result from a few days of clever mediation at the bargaining table. It was instead the result of a process that extended over many months, a process made possible in part through the generous support of the Hewlett Foundation. While many organizations will not have the luxury of a foundation grant, the lessons we have outlined remain valid. Indeed, the leaders of the San Francisco Symphony believe that even if there had been no grant and the parties had simply shared the program’s costs, the time savings for the musicians and management and the benefits of their improved relationship would have more than justified the expenditure.
Transforming labor relations of the San Francisco Symphony remains, of course, very much a work in progress. While our lead role as consultants is now over, our goal from the outset was to make ourselves dispensable and to help the symphony develop the internal capacity to renew itself as a learning organization. New leaders are now at the helm. Brent Assink has replaced Peter Pastreich as executive director; John Goldman will take over from board president Nancy Bechtle; and a new players’ committee has been elected. These new leaders are deeply committed to reinforcing a problem-solving orientation to managing labor-management relations. They all recognize that changing the negotiation culture of an organization requires ongoing work. There is no one-shot quick fix. Success, instead, requires an ongoing commitment of energy to manage the tensions inherent in negotiation.
Robert Mnookin is the Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he chairs the Program on Negotiation. He holds an A.B. from Harvard College and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School. Gary Friedman is a lawyer-mediator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld is a visiting professor at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the director of MIT’s Engineering Systems Division.
Symphony organizations are always in the process of change. If the impetus for change does not come from within, then certainly as the external world changes, symphony organizations must respond and adapt to their environments. In retrospect, one can observe that throughout history, symphony organizations have been dynamic, not static. Composers’ requirements change the orchestra, societies change, and the orchestra itself—as a social system— changes from within.
The Institute has an ongoing interest in exploring the ways in which different symphony orchestra organizations have changed and are changing to become more effective. The Institute’s focus is on helping North American symphony organizations become better functioning. However, from inception, we have taken the view that there is something to be learned from symphony organization practices developed in other parts of the world. Of course, one must take into account environmental, legal, and cultural differences. But for the most part, the processes and structures within all organizations are ultimately determined by the will, energy, thought, and behavior of the people within the organization itself.
Organizational life would be much simpler if evolution were always a gentle process, but sometimes crisis intervenes. Crisis can be the condition that so distracts an orchestra as to divide its members, create impossible work loads, and discourage its supporters. However, if met with vision, imagination, and devotion, crisis can also be the provocateur of positive change and growth.
One example of such positive change is found in the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). The developmental processes which have taken place and are continuing within this organization are significant. The organization has undergone positive change in its artistic vision while preserving much of its long-standing culture of individual self-determination among its members. This remarkable accomplishment has manifested itself in a unique system that could be of interest to North American orchestras that wish to take advantage of opportunities for individual performance growth available in our large urban areas. The LSO system also allows sufficient flexibility for choice about work load to permit options unknown in U.S. orchestras.
A Brief History
The LSO was formed near the turn of the 20th century out of a pool of players from the Queen’s Hall Orchestra (QHO). Because the orchestra pay alone was not sufficient to provide a living wage, the QHO had established a deputy system whereby players could send substitutes when there was better-paying work available outside the orchestra. Subsequently, in an attempt to abolish the deputy system, the members were offered a guaranteed salary in exchange for abandoning the deputy system. The material and artistic rewards of that offer were not sufficiently persuasive and in 1904, 46 members broke away to form their own self-governing orchestra, an organizational construct that gave the musicians the freedom to organize their professional and personal agendas.
Almost a century later, in 1984, long after the LSO had risen to international prominence, the orchestra found itself faced with bankruptcy and possible extinction. In the midst of that crisis, Clive Gillinson was appointed managing director. At the time of his appointment, Gillinson had been a cellist with the orchestra for 15 years. Because he knew the organization so well, he and the self-governing orchestra had a unique relationship with which to address their life-threatening problems while, to the extent possible, marrying those solutions to the orchestra’s long-standing culture that allowed its members broad freedom of choice in managing their artistic, personal, and material lives.
The LSO is governed by a 14-member board of directors. Nine members of the board are players in the orchestra, one member is the managing director, and four are individuals from the business community. According to the organization’s constitution, both the chair and vice-chair are required to be players. The board operates with two parallel streams of authority and responsibility. The players are responsible for all internal processes, including personnel decisions, discipline, and scheduling. The managing director and his staff handle relations with government agencies and corporate sponsors and take the initiative on artistic matters such as programming, tours, recordings, and those matters that determine the orchestra’s competitive strategy. The nonplayer members of the board are resources in the management of government, corporate, and community relations. They rarely make monetary contributions, but offer guidance on issues of a commercial nature, not on internal management processes or artistic decisions. There is no music director with responsibilities comparable to that position in North America. There is a principal conductor, but the managing director handles the artistic plan, and personnel matters are handled by the players. The principal conductor is responsible for conducting 16 weeks of the 48-week season.
The initial years under Gillinson were difficult. The LSO has always been highly dependent on public funding, primarily through the Arts Council of Great Britain (funded by the British government) and the Corporation of London. The LSO had to compete with four other orchestras in London for funding, audience, venues, recording opportunities, film and television sessions, and tours. The 1980s were also a difficult time economically in Great Britain. Additionally, the Arts Council had ceded many of its funding decisions for all British orchestras to local and regional agencies. As a self-governing and self-managed organization the musicians had to examine their organizational priorities.
The orchestra had developed a substantial audience at the Barbican Centre, but those box office receipts provided for only a small part of the budget. The Barbican concerts, although artistically the most important work, paid less than outside work such as film, recording, and television. That meant that players had to give preference to work that paid well but that was not as important artistically to the orchestra or to its individual members. Some members felt that the orchestra needed to examine its priorities and redefine its artistic mission.
The members of the LSO believed that a heightened artistic goal was central to the orchestra’s salvation. In reaching for that higher goal, they knew they would have to modify their culture of individual choice. In the early 1990s, grants by the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Corporation of London provided the bridge over which the orchestra was able to establish its new plan for development.
The LSO has always engaged in a broad menu of performance activity. Because the symphonic agenda had been augmented by a wide range of alternative musical activity that in fact paid better, orchestra members had supported their artistic ambitions by the fruits of their more commercial activities. The new plan called for a realignment of the pay differential between the artistically important work and the work that had previously brought higher pay because of its commercial value. Concert pay was raised, thereby signaling a new alignment between the heightened artistic goals and their material reward. Gillinson noted that, “The artistic mission in the past drove only a few; [the orchestra as a whole] had mixed motives. [Now players] know what they are here for, it is now why they join, they primarily believe in the artistic goal.”
The organization’s heightened artistic ambitions required other significant organization changes. Whereas the LSO had been a core of 80 musicians, augmented, when needed, by associates who were the substitutes most frequently used, the players, deliberating within their process of self-governance, decided that the goal was to have a full roster of members with double (shared) principal players. With the new plan they were persuaded that they now could,
and therefore now would, engage the finest musicians for every position. String sections were expanded, player compensation was raised, and the roster grew to 115 permanent members. The orchestra chose to establish sufficient flexibility for members to be able to plan their performing lives in ways that would enable them to fulfill their creative potential while remaining members of the LSO. With a well-planned system that would permit members to select varying amounts of work, they saw that they could attract to the existing core the highest-quality musicians in London, for whom orchestra membership would previously have meant abandoning chamber music careers and other high-quality, artistically fulfilling endeavors.
This new system provided players with great flexibility while controlling the cost to the organization. LSO musicians have defined categories of pay rather than individually negotiated personal contracts. Rates of pay for principals, co-principals, sub-principals, and categories within the strings are incremental, but pay within each category is uniform. Rather than having rigid weekly or monthly schedules and regular pay schedules, the LSO has no maximum number of services for each player in any given period. The players might not perform at all for weeks, then have a schedule of two and three calls a day for many weeks. In fact, there were 550 occasions last year when the orchestra had need for members’ services. Those occasions required the service of varying numbers of musicians and for a wide range of types of music. Clearly, no one individual can play that many services. The new uniform alignment of pay per service requires the organization to pay only those who play any given service.
Having changed the compensation system, the organization could now put in place a system that provided equal pay to members who chose the same percentage of work, while allowing other members who wished to reduce their percentage of work to do so without jeopardizing the rest of the section or artistic standards. One can imagine the flexibility this system provides for those who wish to pursue other performance and professional development opportunities, for those who would elect a gradual path toward retirement, and for parents of young children.
The LSO plays 50 concerts a year at the Barbican Centre. That module is the basis for the distribution of all of their many kinds of work. In the string sections, members are asked to choose the percentage of Barbican concerts they will play. They may choose a minimum of 50 percent to a maximum of 88 percent. Nobody may choose more than 88 percent. Once a player has chosen the Barbican concert commitment, he or she is offered the same percentage of all other types of work (e.g., film, recording, light classical, etc.). Choosing more than 88 percent of Barbican services would—when projected out into a like percentage of the other work—create a load that would threaten artistic quality.
Non-string player percentages vary from section to section. Since the orchestra operates a double principal system in which two players share one job, in the strings it is a straight 50/50 split and the principals are left to decide who does what, as long as they each do broadly 50 percent and the position is always covered by one of them, with all repeat performances being tied. In the winds and brass, the system is not as rigid, with players sometimes “sitting down the line” when they are not playing principal.
The members agree that section sizes and release procedures are based on the premise that it should always be only LSO members playing in the orchestra. In order to reach that goal, the members had to make some modifications to their long-established policy of individual choice for vacation periods. There are now fixed vacation periods in August and December. While there is substantial room for individual choice in the rotation policy, the release procedure is a very strict one. Many decisions can be made on a case- by-case basis, but the needs of the orchestra, and the need to have only LSO members performing, are paramount.
Other Performance Opportunities
LSO Discovery is the orchestra’s education and outreach program and serves also as an expanded performance opportunity program for the members. It is the LSO’s attempt to make music available as widely as possible across the whole of society. For example, the orchestra has purchased an unused church near the Barbican in a less advantaged part of London. By December 2002, they will have remade St. Luke’s into a venue for education work, rehearsals, concerts, lectures, and small-ensemble presentations. They will have installed technology for recording, television, and the Internet. The organization has developed high- level education presentations which are ready for CD and Internet presentation. It is their intention to present concerts, rehearsals, interviews with conductors, and social histories of scores on the new arts channels. St. Luke’s will also be the venue for members who wish to broaden their performance opportunities beyond the full orchestra through small ensembles. LSO Discovery is not part of the mandatory rotation system.
LSO Live is the Orchestra’s own recording label. They record live concerts from the Barbican series when the occasion allows repeat performances. Those recorded performances are then immediately augmented with a patch session to edit obvious flaws. The recordings have been successfully marketed as live concerts, and the LSO has currently released 10 CDs. The latest, Berlioz’s Trojans, has quickly risen to the top of classical sales in Great Britain. Collectively, the orchestra decided that in order for the recording project to work, none of the players would take a fee up front, but only take a share of the profits once the start-up costs were covered.
Today, the London Symphony Orchestra is harvesting the rewards of their devotion, good judgment, and hard work. The LSO has moved forward beyond crisis and, over the years, has invented an artistic and operational system that uniquely fits its needs. The musicians’ investment of time in self-governance, consultation, and debate has been key to arriving at solutions that preserve important parts of the organization’s culture while allowing the flexibility to meet changing circumstances.
Though the orchestra continues to face external challenges, the LSO’s commitment to a thoughtful way of work is well summarized by its chairman:
This process, applied over many years now, has given the individual members of the orchestra a sense of being part of creating their own future, a stake in their own destiny. It means that the orchestra has an incredible ability to move with the exterior forces affecting it, whilst still keeping its eye firmly on its artistic goals. It is flexible but never loses sight of its first principles, quality and innovation in everything it does.
Fred Zenone is vice chairman of the Symphony Orchestra Institute. For the thirty years prior to his retirement in 1999, he was a cellist in the National Symphony Orchestra.
Conversations with Clive Gillinson and Jonathan Vaughn of the London Symphony Orchestra contributed to this article.
The author is grateful to Erin Lehman for sharing her research on the London Symphony Orchestra.
In February, 2001, on our Web site at <www.soi.org>, the Institute initiated an educational series reviewing the theory and practice of “organization change,” along with applications of this discipline to symphony organizations.
In connection with this review, the Institute also launched “Key Notes from SOI” as a method to alert Internet-connected readers of Harmony to the organization change series and to other fresh, brief, and substantive content being posted on the Institute’s Web site between issues of Harmony . (For more about “Key Notes from SOI,” see the inside back cover.)
As noted in the background, introduction, and first two Web-site content installments and as sum- marized in Harmony #12 (April 2001), promoting “organization change” within symphony institutions has been at the core of the Institute’s mission “to improve the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations by fostering positive change in how they function.”
As our journey into the background, meaning, and applications of this discipline commenced, and to assist readers to better understand our presentations, we put forth the following 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.
In our review of organization change, we have tried to be academically accurate, but at the same time to select and write content that is reasonably brief, useful, understandable, and thought-provoking to members of symphony boards, staff, orchestras, and volunteer groups. As we move forward, we will also relate the insights of this discipline to the structures, processes, and practices currently followed in most symphony organizations, and to the possibilities
these institutions have for positive change. For those interested in deeper study, references and suggested readings are noted at the end of each installment.
The principal author of our Web-site review is Laura Leigh Roelofs, former assistant concertmaster of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra and a candidate for a master’s degree in organization change at American University/National Training Laboratories. Laura is assisted by Institute and Harmony staff and by outside advisors. We thank Laura for her continuing leadership in this journey.
Organization Change: Roots; Growth and Development
The first two installments in our review of organization change summarized the historical development of the discipline from the early 1930s through about 1960. This content was reported in Harmony #12 (April 2001).
As a reminder, in our first installment, we reviewed the pre-World War II birth of organization change ideas and studies by such people as Mary Parker Follett, Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger (Hawthorne studies), and Kurt Lewin. Lewin’s pioneering work in the 1930s bridged over into the postwar period until his death in 1947.
In the 1960s, as noted in our second installment, there was a flowering of organization change concepts and applications. Overall, we identified four interrelated orientations providing the foundation to the discipline by that time:
◆ Laboratory training /T-groups (Kurt Lewin and colleagues);
◆ The “Action Research Model” (Lewin, carried forward by other NTL founders Ron Lippitt, Ken Benne, and Lee Bradford, and influential members such as Chris Argyris);
◆ Sociotechnical systems theory (Tavistock studies of Eric Trist and colleagues, with roots in the Hawthorne studies of Mayo and colleagues; and,
◆ Theory X and Y (Douglas McGregor).
This period saw significant advances by Lippitt, Benne, Bradford, Argyris, Trist, and McGregor, joined by Lester Coch, John French, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Robert Blake, and Herb Shepard, along with Rensis Likert, to name the leaders.
We urge readers who are interested in this background, and who did not have occasion to read these first two installments, to do so either on our Web site or in Harmony #12 (April 2001), pages 30 through 36. The Harmony article is also available on the Web site in PDF format.
Organization Change: Branches and Blossoms
Built on the foundation described above, a branching and flowering of approaches to organization change has characterized the past 35 to 40 years of development.
One of the main themes, participative management, can be traced back to ideas introduced early in the century by Mary Parker Follett. This concept also drew on a body of sociotechnical research including the classic 1948 study by Lester Coch and John French on resistance to change which concluded 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. His classification was not value-neutral; for Likert, the “participative” system represented the ideal.
In a later book, New Patterns of Management, Likert described in detail how such a system 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 quickly gained wide acceptance as ideals, and their application in practice is still growing.
Most early organization change applications were internally focused, despite the theoretical models of Lewin, Trist, and others, which described organizations as systems interrelated with their environments. But from 1960 to 1970, as organizations faced ever more turbulent social, economic, and technological environments, a broadly strategic orientation to organization change began to emerge and to be called systems theory. This new orientation placed a greater emphasis on the organization’s relationship with its environment and will be explored in more depth below.
Another area of interest for organization change scholars and practitioners since the 1960s has been the dynamics of power and influence within organizations. The early work of Raven and French (1959) established a definition of the bases of power; later authors, including James March and Jeffrey Pfeffer, continued to explore the management of power relationships.
Early theorists, from McGregor to Likert, referred to aspects of what we now call “organization culture,” or the shared values, assumptions, and patterns of behavior within an organization or subgroup. The study of organizational culture became widely popular by the mid-1980s, when analysis of group culture and its effects on organizational success dominated the literature. Perhaps best- known among the scholars of organizational culture is Edgar Schein.
As gender, racial, and ethnic diversity has increased in U.S. workplaces, much has been written about the effect of human differences on the power structures and cultural climates of organizations. Bailey Jackson, Rita Hardiman, Taylor Cox, and Judith Katz are just a few of the prominent contemporary theorists of diversity issues.
Leadership is critical to successful change in organizations and has become a distinct area of study. Many authors, including John Kotter and Rosabeth Moss Kanter, have articulated the attitudes and skills leaders need in order to manage a major change process.
James McGregor Burns pioneered the idea of the “transformational leader,” someone who could “look for potential motives” and “engage the full person” of his or her followers. Robert Greenleaf defined what he called servant-leadership, in which the leader’s task is to make it possible for subordinates to achieve their best and, in turn, to serve others. The ideal of participative management leads naturally to a broad definition of leadership which is independent of formal authority; everyone in an organization can develop and use leadership skills in their interactions with others.
Over recent years, ideas and insights about organization change have proliferated almost exponentially. Contemporary organization change practitioners have an ever-growing number of theories and methods from which to choose as they work with organizations, influencing change processes through “interventions” in their roles as “change agents,” “facilitators,” or “process consultants.”
Organization Change: Open Systems Concepts
As noted above, in the period from 1960 to 1970, a broadly strategic orientation to organization change began to emerge which placed special emphasis on the organization’s relationship with its environment. The approach is based on a 1956 work by Ludwig von Bertalanffy describing the nature of biological and physical systems. These ideas were based on the assumption that performance can be improved by aligning the mission and design of an organization with its environmental constraints and demands. This orientation encouraged change agents to pay attention to economic factors, in addition to psychological and sociological ones, in their analysis of organizations. This thinking was broadly described as “systems theory” or “open systems theory.”
What is an “open system”? An open system is any distinct entity—a cell, a person, a forest, or an orchestra organization—that takes in resources from its environment, processes them in some way, and produces output. To survive, such a system depends on its environment and on interactions between its component parts or subsystems. When taking an open-systems approach, we look both inward and outward. We are interested in relationships and patterns of interaction between subsystems and their environments within the organization. We also look for relationships and reciprocal influences between the organization and the environment outside its formal “boundary.”
How does an orchestra fit this model?A symphony orchestra organization is a complex set of interdependent subsystems. It takes in resources and information and processes them in a variety of ways, returning a range of cultural services and products to individuals and systems in its environment. It is highly dependent on that environment for sustenance and survival.
What are the boundaries of a symphony orchestra organization? Assigning boundaries to any organization is somewhat arbitrary, and symphony orchestra organizations are no exception. Traditionally, the Institute, and the industry overall, has drawn the boundary to include members of the orchestra, administrative and conducting staff, the board, and direct-service volunteers. But perhaps we should examine our assumptions about how far the system extends. For example, are audiences part of the system, or are they part of its environment? What about contributors, individual and institutional? To what extent should we view symphony organizations as subsystems of their communities? Or as subsystems of the symphony industry? Or of the entertainment industry? An orchestra organization’s programming, marketing, and even its governance structure and overall strategy will depend on the answers to these questions, either implicitly or explicitly.
Within the orchestra organization, the various subsystems are usually assigned very distinct boundaries, based on job function: orchestra, staff, board, volunteers. Some of these groupings or “constituencies” may be divided yet further (sections within the orchestra, departments within the staff, committees within the board). At the individual level, participants may belong to more than one subsystem inside the organization (as when musicians serve on boards), and they will inevitably belong to other systems “outside.” All of this adds complexity and blurs boundaries.
An orchestra organization’s placement of its internal boundaries, and its choice about how permeable those boundaries will be, can help determine its success in its environmental context.
How does the idea of “input-process-output” apply to an orchestral system? Orchestra organizations take in financial resources from their environments in two basic forms: earned income (e.g., ticket sales and fees-for- service) and contributions. These organizations also depend heavily on their environments’ human resources to sustain a pool of donors and volunteers, replace departing musicians, recruit new board and staff members, and obtain the services of guest artists and conductors. In addition to being “personnel intensive,” orchestra organizations require special, costly fixed assets, most notably concert venues and unique and valuable instruments. Another vital form of input for orchestral systems is information—for example, market research data or political, business, and music industry news.
The most obvious output of an orchestra organization is live musical performance for a live audience. Another output is recorded music in various forms, which can be reproduced for broader impact over a longer period of time. In recent years, the output of most symphony organizations has come to include some forms of music education services in their communities.
But suppose we also consider less tangible outputs? What about the organization’s effect on its participants’ quality of life and attitudes, which then
spread via their families into the wider community? Should we consider the long-term impact of an orchestra organization on the overall cultural development of its community, or the impact of the organization on its community’s economy and sense of pride? The success of this kind of output is difficult, but not impossible, to measure and may help determine how well an orchestra organization is functioning as a system.
Between inputs and outputs, there are processes or “throughput.” In a typical orchestra organization, the subsystems have very specialized functions, and the work includes a number of processes which are both distinct and interdependent. For instance, the musicians and the music director receive input in the form of sheet music and scores; through individual practice and group rehearsal they turn printed notation into live music. The marketing department uses research data to create effective advertisements, with the intent of generating a full house. Our readers will have no trouble thinking of other specific examples, as well as ways in which the separate functions may be interdependent.
Another kind of organizational throughput, which is no less critical to success, is the work of coordinating individual and subsystem efforts toward the goal of producing output. This work may be done through formal processes, such as staff meetings, committee meetings, or rehearsals. It can also take the form of informal interactions backstage or in the hallway. What if an orchestra organization considered such informal interactions between individuals to be vital throughput? Such an assumption would clearly affect the way it organizes its human resources, as well as the way in which it structures and uses its physical space.
What happens after the “input-throughput-output” cycle is complete? Completing the cycle, the orchestra organization receives feedback from the environment about its products and services in the form of sales figures, attendance numbers, music reviews, even the strength of applause. Individual subsystems may also receive feedback from their immediate environments inside the organization. All this information becomes new input and becomes part of a new cycle, potentially shaping future actions.
The Application of an Open Systems Model
There are several well-established conceptual frameworks available to help understand and assess orchestras as systems. One of the most applicable models was developed by Lawrence and Lorsch (1967). This model grew out of a study comparing organizations in different industries, with different products, operating in different environments. Lawrence and Lorsch found that organizations which had stable, predictable environments were most efficient and productive when they used a traditional hierarchical structure. However, those exposed to rapidly changing environments or technologies were more successful if they pursued more flexible structures in which authority and control were decentralized. The authors also found that the higher the level of external change and uncertainty, the more subsystem specialization was necessary. More specialization, in turn, created a need for more communication and cooperation among diverse groups within an organization.
Applying this framework to the typical symphony orchestra organization, we might first consider the characteristics of the environment. No two organizational environments have exactly the same characteristics, but it is fair to say that there are some widely acknowledged environmental forces that affect most orchestra organizations. Just a partial list, with many correlations, would include:
◆ an aging audience base,
◆ reductions in arts education in schools,
◆ shifts in listening habits from live to recorded music,
◆ less willingness to commit and subscribe to distant-future concerts,
◆ more choice in, and thus a higher valuation on, personal time expenditure,
◆ intense competition from a wide variety of entertainment forms and leisure-time services,
◆ the explosion of Internet technology, and
◆ the challenge posed by increasing cultural diversity to the preeminence of a largely Eurocentric classical tradition.
In other words, the external environment for orchestra organizations has become—and the outlook continues to be—highly uncertain, unpredictable, and risky!
According to Lawrence and Lorsch, an organization in such an uncertain environment should maximize its flexibility with a decentralized authority structure and highly developed lines of communication. The organization should be able to coordinate the work of individuals and subsystems with different specialties, and have the capacity to understand (and even constructively use) the inevitable friction that will arise between these subsystems.
A further consideration is that each subsystem of the organization operates within its own subenvironment. These subenvironments may differ in some significant ways, even in a single organization, and those differences need to be recognized and accepted.
In an orchestra organization, certain subsystems routinely work across “boundaries.” For example, executive leadership, development staff, marketing staff, and so on, are constantly exposed to the boundary between their organizational system and the external environment. For them, the external environment is, to a large extent, their subenvironment. Ideally, such subsystems will be structured with a minimum of hierarchy and a great deal of cross- communication among task groups.
In many ways, the immediate environment of the board of directors subsystem is even more predominantly the external environment of the symphony organization. It is only through functional board committees (which can be viewed as sub-subsystems) that some board members begin to share the subenvironments of staff members. How to structure the board subsystems of a symphony organization, taking into account the importance of external environment participation, to effectively span into internal environments, is a fundamental challenge to symphony institutions.
Conductors and players, on the other hand, traditionally work far inside the boundary of their organizational system. They are insulated by other task groups from contact with the system’s environment. Although they play and even speak in front of audiences, they rarely interact with them. In fact it is unusual for musicians to interact with anyone outside their institutional boundaries in an “organizational” (as opposed to an “individual-professional”) capacity. Their technological environment is relatively stable; the tools, methods, and practices by which they create sound, rehearse music, and perform for audiences have changed little in the past century. From an intellectual point of view, their environment is dominated by “music.” In such a subsystem, according to Lawrence and Lorsch, the most effective structure is a traditional, hierarchical one, and that is, in fact, the pattern we see followed within the subsystem of the orchestra.
But here’s where we find the rub. While these subsystems may function acceptably within the context of the organization itself, the challenges of coordinating different sets of needs and values, and of creating an overall organizational structure that can respond to the environment, still may not be met. The system as a whole may even function well for a given set of outputs (for instance, presenting full-orchestra programs of Romantic music in large halls). At the same time, it may not have the capacity to change these outputs effectively in response to environmental forces.
A student of the systems approach to organization change would encourage orchestra organizations to examine:
◆ their structure—at both the whole-system and subsystem levels,
◆ the fit of each system’s structure with its own level of environmental uncertainty, and
◆ the possibility of integrating differently structured groups with somewhat different priorities.
This discussion and review might result in:
◆ redrawing some boundaries,
◆ creating new organization-wide pathways for communication, and
◆ generating strategies for using conflict productively.
Only then can a symphony organization effectively address environmental challenges, either by adjusting its outputs or influencing its environment.
With the need for communication and conflict management, the “engineering” approach of systems theory intersects with what, as we mentioned earlier, Douglas McGregor called “the human side of enterprise.”
It is interesting that some earlier Harmony articles have dealt with open systems ideas as they relate to symphony organizations. Specifically, in his excellent essay in Harmony #8 (April 1999), Bernard Kerres described how orchestra organizations interact with their environments in a complex series of interactive and interrelated loops which can be schematically diagrammed. In Harmony #6 (April 1998) and #8, Robert Spich and Robert Sylvester discussed the extensive impact of environmental factors on symphony organizations and pointed out how organizational success depends upon an adaptation to and alignment with a changing environment.
It is our plan, with the assistance of Laura Roelofs, and possibly with some guest contributors, to continue this educational review of organization change concepts and applications into further subsectors of the discipline. For instance, by the time we distribute this issue of Harmony, we hope to have posted on our Web site an additional installment covering another main theme in current organization-change thinking.
If you are not currently a recipient of “Key Notes from SOI” and have an Internet e-mail address, please refer to the inside back cover for instructions on how to receive this periodic bulletin and stay abreast of our organization change review!
In the course of many conversations with people who are involved in all constituencies of symphony orchestra organizations, the Institute has heard a recurrent theme of concern about communications and related behavior. This concern is shared by musicians, staff members, board members, and active volunteers.
Communications difficulties often exist within individual symphony constituencies. In some orchestras, musicians can become so factionalized over issues as to have difficulty even speaking with one another. Boards can become so divided that members can hardly sit together in the same room. Staff communication tensions can lead to near administrative dysfunction. And many orchestra organization participants can relate tales of the communications and behavioral difficulties that exist between executive and music directors. Prominent also are communications breakdowns between members of the orchestra and management, whether in anticipation of or during contract negotiations.
Recently, we alerted recipients of “Key Notes from SOI” and posted on the Institute Web site some interesting thoughts relating to organizational behavior which might help to improve communications and relationships throughout orchestra organizations. We wish to share some of those insights with all readers of Harmony, and we encourage our readers to consider and use them daily.
In a recently published book, In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work,1 authors Don Cohen and Laurence Prusak posit that there is no substitute for regular, informal, face-to-face, collegial communications. They view these traditional, old-fashioned, and very commonplace personal exchanges as being central to the building of “social capital” within an organization. They also express concern about the emerging popularity of distant, time-spaced communications. How many of us spend entire days communicating predominantly by voice mail, e-mail, and fax? In the authors’ opinions, “Telling and listening to stories, chatting, [and] sharing a little gossip are the main ways that people in organizations come to trust and understand one another.”
So how do orchestra organizations fare in using face-to-face communications to build social capital? In the first issue of Harmony, published in October 1995, Institute founder Paul Judy put forth some thoughts. He suggested that the lives and work of orchestral musicians are characterized by “togetherness.” That togetherness includes the unifying aspect of orchestral scores, as well as the physical closeness and face-to-face communication of players on stage—in rehearsal and in concert—augmented by backstage and touring interaction.
Because musicians also have generally much longer institutional service than staff members, board members, or active volunteers, they as a group tend to have the highest level of “institutional memory.” They can relate what has and what has not worked within the organization over the years, and engage quite naturally in storytelling or “organizational narrative.”
In his essay, Judy also pointed out that musicians’ physical work spaces are usually quite separate from office and meeting room space used by staff, board, and volunteers. One consequence of these physical arrangements is an inability across constituencies to share stories and exchange ideas informally.
If one agrees that informal exchanges are an important step toward building trust within an orchestra organization, there are many actions that can be taken to better mix personnel—both physically and intellectually—and to provide conditions which are conducive to informal, recurring, personal communications among all organizational participants. The Institute encourages each orchestra organization to consider ways in which they might implement more face-to- face communication and storytelling.
Group versus Individual Decision Making
The Institute has regularly encouraged symphony organizations to become less hierarchical and generally to employ more group processes involving participants from various constituencies. Many resist this idea because they believe that consensus or committee decision processes, despite having some virtues, are inherently slower than individual decision making and result generally in worse decisions.
Two Princeton University professors recently conducted some interesting experiments comparing the results of group versus individual decision making.2 The results of one experiment, using the same conditions and incentives, indicated that groups of five individuals, solving a statistical game problem and acting jointly, reached decisions just as quickly as those solving the same problem individually. Further, group decisions were more “accurate.” Groups were less likely than individuals, by a significant difference, to arrive at incorrect outcomes. And whether the groups operated by unanimous consent or majority rule did not appear to make any difference in group decision-making results.
In a second experiment addressing decision choices within a small-scale microeconomic model, groups once again made decisions equally quickly as individuals, and more accurately.
One of the researchers, Alan Blinder, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “What the results suggest is that the interaction that takes place in a group does improve the decision making, so a group should not just have one person decide.” 3
Again, the Institute encourages leaders within all constituencies of symphony organizations to consider experiments with group decision making. The complete text of the Princeton professors’ research can be found by following the link in the Good Practice section of the Institute’s Web site at <www.soi.org>.
People enter into interpersonal interactions and communications with sets of assumptions about life in general, the world around them, their experiences, and their work. When they are challenged, they vigorously defend these assumptions, consciously and unconsciously, through words and with body language.
Assumptions operate in people’s minds as they communicate. A group “discussion,” in fact, consists of everyone in some way presenting his or her opinion. Discussion literally means “breaking things up.” Everyone presents a different point of view, with each being analyzed and compared. By reason of authority and power, some opinions or viewpoints are given more weight than others. Through “negotiation,” parties agree to tradeoffs and temporarily resolve differences.
However, fresh, collectively developed insights and creative solutions seldom emerge from discussions. Rarely is everyone heartily enthusiastic. Few, if any, fundamental changes in relationships or actions result. Discussions can also become debates, with winners and losers (it is perhaps instructive that the word “debate” literally means to beat down). Discussions are often characterized by hard-hitting and conflicting points of view (again perhaps instructive, especially in the orchestral world, the word “discussion” has the same root as “percussion”).
Discussions often don’t get to the bottom of things. They don’t get into serious, personal, underlying assumptions. Participants talk around or avoid certain lines of inquiry because some of their opinions and beliefs are so nonnegotiable, so untouchable, so unquestionably self-evident as “truth” that they are just not open for review. It is very difficult to expose deeply held thoughts to evaluation by others.
As a result, the real, underlying meaning of what people say is often obscured. Meaning is based on key assumptions which are not revealed. As a result, discussions often leave all participants with feelings of frustration, if not anger, because the whole story was not really out on the table.
Is there an alternative? With conscious effort, yes. The word “dialogue” comes from “dialogus,” which literally means “through the meaning of words,” or more imaginatively, “a stream or flow of meaning among communicators.” Dialogue might more expansively be defined as a process of human communication and interaction in which the basic assumptions of participants are revealed, suspended, shared, examined, and appreciated. Thinking together takes place, participants reach new understandings, envision new possibilities, and create and share more complete knowledge.
Patterns of dialogue rather than those of discussion/debate characterize the intergroup communications found in highly effective organizations. Shifts from discussion/debate patterns to more dialogue-based communications clearly characterize the organization change which is taking place in some symphony organizations.
On the Institute’s Web site, we have posted some key concepts underlying the dialogue process and some sustaining procedures. We share a few below and encourage readers to visit the Web site for further ideas.
◆ In a dialogue, there is no (or a minimal) agenda, no leader, nor any intended conclusion. The communication process is open-ended.
◆ Participants are all equal. Each brings to the interaction his or her experience which is equally legitimate with that of all other participants. To symbolize this equality, participants quite often sit in a circle.
◆ Each participant is free to express any point of view, argument, position, or other form of expression, to share in-depth opinions, beliefs, and feelings, or to be silent.
◆ When basic assumptions and opinions are revealed, their meaning is examined, shared, and appreciated by all participants—those holding them and those not—without reaction, without believing or disbelieving, without anyone convincing anyone else of the rightness or wrongness of such opinions.
Think about it. Imagine what positive outcomes your symphony organization might experience if it consciously moved discussion toward dialogue.
In the Institute’s roundtables with symphony orchestras undergoing positive change, the word “trust” has arisen with great regularity. “We didn’t trust the numbers.” “It took us a long time to learn to trust one another.” And in a postscript to our first roundtable with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Executive Director Larry Tamburri suggested, “Trust is much more than being truthful when queried; it cannot be built on passivity. Trust implies relying on one another and taking chances.”
At its root, trust is interpersonal; it exists in some state between two people. Within a group, interpersonal connections multiply exponentially. In symphony organizations, the quality of a wide range of interpersonal relationships— especially between and among formal leaders and their close colleagues— depends significantly on the degree of trust that exists. The aggregate status of “organizational trust” in turn strongly influences the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the institution.
So just what is “trust”? Dictionary definitions include:
◆ Confidence in, or reliance on, some quality or attribute of a person or thing, or the truth of a statement.
◆ Accepting, or giving credit to, without investigation or evidence.
◆ The confident expectation of something.
The July 1998 issue of the Academy of Management Review included several articles about trust. One set of authors defined trust as “. . . the willingness to be vulnerable under conditions of risk and interdependence.”4 Another suggested that trust included having “. . . confident positive expectations regarding another’s . . . words, actions, and decisions.”5
As the Institute has often noted, symphony orchestra organizations operate in relatively unpredictable external environments and have complex and risky internal dynamics. Trust is associated with the expectations and predictability of human behavior, which, in turn, can be influenced by the stress of environmental conditions. Trust varies by degree between people and depends on the immediate situation. The likelihood of positive outcomes also affects trust. Conclusion: trust comes in degrees and can be fragile!
Two of the Academy of Management Review authors categorized trust as “conditional” or “unconditional.” They suggest that in a state of conditional trust “. . . both parties are willing to transact with each other, as long as each behaves appropriately, uses a similar interpretive scheme to define the situation, and can take the role of the other.” According to these authors, unconditional trust “. . . characterizes an experience of trust that starts when individuals abandon the ‘pretense’ of suspending belief, because shared values now structure the social situation . . . [and] each party’s trustworthiness is now assured, based on confidence in the other’s values . . . .”6
The advancement of interpersonal and intraorganizational trust is inextricably a part of movements toward positive organization change and development within symphony organizations.
Most would agree that managerial behavior can have a considerable impact on the condition of trust within an organization. Managers may be reluctant to make the first move toward engaging in trustworthy behavior, preferring to impose tight control and to monitor behavior. However, if they wish to reap the significant organizational benefits of trust, managers are, indeed, encouraged to make the first move.
Symphony orchestra organization participants who wish to pursue more in- depth thinking about the topics broached here are encouraged to visit the Institute Web site at <www.soi.org> where reading lists are posted.
1 Cohen, Don, and Laurence Prusak. 2001. In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
2 Blinder, Alan S., and John Morgan. 2000. Are Two Heads Better than One: An Experimental Analysis of Individual versus Group Decision Making. Washington, D.C.: National Bureau of Economic Research, working paper 7909.
3 Krueger, Alan B. 2000. A Study Shows Committees Can Be More than the Sum of Their Members. New York Times, December 7. Section C.
4 Rousseau, Denise M., Sim B. Bitkin, Ronald S. Burt, and Colin Camerer. 1998. Not So Different After All: A Cross-Discipline View of Trust. Academy of Management Review. Vol. 23, No. 3: 395.
5 Lewicki, Rot J., Daniel J. McAllister, and Robert J. Bies. 1998. Trust and Distrust: New Relationships and Realities. Academy of Management Review. Vol. 23, No. 3: 439.
6 Jones, Gareth R., and Jennifer M. George. 1998. The Experience and Evolution of Trust: Implications for Cooperation and Teamwork. Academy of Management Review. Vol. 23, No. 3: 531.
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Over the last three years, the Institute has consulted extensively with the Philadelphia Orchestra (PO). The work emerged through the recom- mendation of a public task force formed at the behest of the mayor of
Philadelphia following the orchestra’s work stoppage in 1996. The Institute’s involvement with the PO was initiated by forming a group of musician, board, staff, and volunteer leaders. This group worked on relationship building and finding ways for the constituencies to engage each other effectively.
As an outgrowth of that work, the group addressed leadership and governance topics. In a parallel activity, efforts were initiated to streamline staff workflow processes in the areas of development and finance. Further activity was commenced to create more integrated activities across the areas of public relations, development, marketing, and artistic programming.
In late 1999, the constituencies agreed to begin a “strategic planning process.” This process was finally fully activated in late 2000, with the formation of four strategy groups: Vision and Mission; Marketing; Venue; and Governance, Leadership, and Development. The strategy groups had three members each from the board, staff, musicians, and volunteers. Four representatives of each constituency (sixteen in total) met as liaison to ensure that the efforts and thinking of all strategy groups were aligned and consistent.
Today, the groups’ recommendations are in the early stages of constituent review, with a final set of recommendations slated for approval in late 2001. Governance recommendations are in the early stages of implementation, and the Institute plans to report the work of the governance strategy group in the next issue of Harmony.
Toronto Symphony Orchestra
In mid-2000, Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) board members, staff, musicians, and volunteer leaders asked for the Institute’s assistance as they addressed the aftermath of a work stoppage and began, in a unified way, to
grapple with difficult financial issues. Through the balance of 2000, the Institute worked with all constituency groups to address short- and longer-term social, organizational, and community challenges. Institute representatives spent one to one and one-half days each month with as many as 100 members of the TSO community, as well as with representatives of government, to address the future of the organization and to mend wounds. Throughout this period, the financial condition of the symphony was difficult, but through the efforts of many members of the TSO community, the orchestra was able to complete its season with excellence.
Following a change in executive management in late 2000, the large-group work was ended in January 2001. A small, multiconstituent task group was then formed with the goal of launching a major fundraising campaign. This group augmented a board-chaired campaign committee and focused on creating constituency support, understanding, and involvement in the campaign.
In May 2001, the Institute and constituency leaders determined that our joint effort should be suspended pending an ongoing reevaluation.
Musician Leaders’ Conference
Over the past several years, through field activities and visits with many orchestras, Institute representatives have had conversations with individual musicians about the challenges and rewards of being part of a symphony organization. Several themes emerged from these conversations, and we became persuaded that there were leaders who were prepared to engage with colleagues from other orchestras in a facilitated discussion of shared experiences and common issues.
In April 2001, the Institute hosted a one-day conference of 18 musicians from 5 U.S. symphony organizations. The five orchestras represented a sample of symphony organizations that are developing new ways to address the challenges they face. The meeting was designed to identify and develop strategies and practices by which musician leaders can increase musician participation in and contribute more effectively to the development of outstanding orchestra organizations. We were also interested to learn if there were common themes among those leaders as they considered musicians’ roles in a hypothetical “outstanding organization.” Three areas of common interest emerged from the extended discourse:
◆ The musicians’ role in artistic deliberation and decision making in the organization.
◆ The musicians’ role in governance.
◆ The musicians’ role in determining organizational policies that affect personal growth and development.
The participants and the Institute are committed to continue this dialogue and ultimately to include leadership representation of other constituencies.
American Federation of Musicians
In early and mid-2001, Institute representatives met with U.S. and Canadian staff members of the Symphonic Services Division (SSD) of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) to explore industry issues and trends, especially as they relate to orchestral musicians. A further purpose of the meetings was to become better informed as to AFM/SSD thinking and field activities and to communicate more directly the goals, beliefs, principles, and practices of the Institute. The first meeting also included the chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the presidents of the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) and the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC).
Over recent months, the Institute has made further advance in the Conductor Evaluation Data Analysis Project (CEDAP) and has a plan to complete this research in the coming months. The project has involved the analysis of thousands of conductor evaluation reports collected from a large number of orchestra players in many ICSOM orchestras for the 10-year period from 1988 to 1997. Preliminary findings of an overall analysis were published in Harmony #7 (October 1998).
Since that time, we have collected data on a subuniverse of orchestras and conductors and are in the process of evaluating whether there are significant correlations in the data from the evaluation reports, on the basis of orchestral and conductoral factors. The work on orchestral factors is complete and the work on conductoral factors is under way. A description of the methodology of this second phase of the project and findings are now expected to be published in 2002, probably on the Institute’s Web site.
In the orchestra world, we tend to dwell on celebrity, size, and hierarchy. Most orchestra staff members, and many board members and orchestra musicians, know which orchestras are included in the “Big Five.” Many have
favorite candidates for replacement in this group or for clear membership in the “Second Tier.” Many industry participants are familiar with “The Ten” and “Meeting Group 1.” The “52-week” orchestras are especially admired. On an international basis, there is a certain worship of Berlin and Vienna, the Concertgebouw, the London Symphony Orchestra, and other international “brand name” orchestras. Music critics generally reinforce our titillation with the big and the famous.
But does the orchestral world start and end with such a few highly recognized orchestras and the organizational systems of which they are a part? Obviously not. In fact, there is a broad spectrum of orchestral institutions of all sizes and shapes, not only in North America, but in many nations. And many of these orchestras, and their support systems, are perhaps more vital to the maintenance and advancement of musical culture in their communities than are the big orchestras which are generally centered in and serving major metropolitan areas.
The Institute’s effort to bring about positive change in the ways in which North American symphony organizations function has received growing support from orchestral organizations of all sizes. In the last few years, smaller orchestra organizations, which we would broadly define as those with annual expense budgets of between $500,000 and $2 million, have been increasingly supportive. Some 90 of the more than 160 organizations which currently voluntarily support and are clearly interested in the work of the Institute are in this budget range. This interest and support has caused us to think more comprehensively about the organizational issues these smaller institutions face.
But, just how small are these organizations, both in relative and absolute terms?
◆ The orchestra itself tends to be smaller, often built around a core group of 25 to 40 players, but sometimes more. Even so, these orchestras often list their membership in the 60- to 85-player range, and at times 100 musicians or more might be on stage for certain repertoire. So, the orchestra component of a smaller orchestra organization might have an average membership equivalency of 75 players, as compared with 90 to 110 for orchestras we identify as large.
◆ With few exceptions, all orchestras have music directors who are the principal conductors. In a smaller organization, this person would likely be the only member of the conducting staff. The engagement of guest conductors is limited.
◆ Administrative staffs for smaller orchestra organizations run from one or two to perhaps ten people, quite often measured on an equivalent full-time basis, since the use of part-time employees is relatively common. Smaller orchestras often depend on volunteers to do staff work.
◆ Boards, on the other hand, are not that much smaller in size than those of larger organizations and can often involve 30 to 50 persons working through an executive committee and a set of functional committees.
◆ A smaller orchestra may have a relatively large volunteer support group.
And so just how small is the “smaller orchestra organization”? Not very! Such an organization can easily include 125 to 150 active participants, compared with 250 to 300 participants in a major organization. A small orchestra organization is not a “mom and pop” business. It is a much larger, more complicated, and sophisticated entity than many small businesses. As a service- providing organization, it has many of the same organizational challenges which face institutions with more prominence, operating budgets significantly larger, and usually ample endowment capital.
As with the larger institutions, all constituencies need to work in a unified way to address many of the same difficult environmental challenges and organization complexities. In the smaller organization, there is still a basic need for vision and strategy, musical artistry, community outreach, administration, revenue development, and financial integrity, along with such intangibles as commitment, coordination, leadership, participation, and communication.
What follows is an effort by the Institute to highlight what it believes are some primary organizational attributes and characteristics of smaller orchestra organizations. It is our belief that some of the differences between the very large and the quite small organizations are reasonably distinct. Other differences are more subtle and, in some cases, imperceptible.
To bring real-life dimensions to these observations, we interviewed a select group of participants from two smaller Midwest organizations, the South Bend (Indiana) Symphony and the Jackson (Michigan) Symphony. Our interviewees included board members, the executive directors, and orchestra musicians. In reporting their comments, we should note that:
South Bend Symphony Orchestra
The South Bend Symphony Orchestra (SBSO) was founded in 1933 by Ella Morris in the county seat of St. Joseph County, Indiana, which has a population of about 265,000, some 40 percent of whom live in South Bend.
The SBSO is governed by a 47-member board of directors that is currently ably chaired by Ernestine Raclin, daughter of the symphony’s founder. Board membership includes two players elected by the orchestra. The board is supported and operations are carried out by a staff of 10 full- or part-time employees (about 7 equivalent full-time) under the excellent leadership of Mack Richardson, executive vice president and managing director. The orchestra’s artistic leadership and principal conducting is provided by Tsung Yeh, music director. The volunteer group of the SBSO consists of 150 members with June Edwards as president.
The orchestra comprises 80 contracted professional musicians and operates under a collective bargaining agreement between the SBSO and the South Bend AFM Local #278. Approximately 15 percent of the orchestra’s members live in the Chicago metropolitan area, which is located 90 miles to the west. The orchestra committee normally has a membership of six players. For the 2000-2001 season, the orchestra committee chairperson was Nicholas Orbovich, the orchestra’s principal second violin.
The symphony season consists of 15 programs: 6 masterworks, 3 pops concerts, 3 chamber concerts, 2 family concerts, and a holiday concert. The primary orchestral performances are presented in the city-owned Morris Performing Arts Center, a large movie theater built in the 1920s and converted for musical presentations in 1959. A two-year renovation was completed in February 2000, with acoustical, functional, and cosmetic improvements. The venue has a seating capacity of 2,200 of which symphony performances usually fill 50 to 75 percent.
Chamber and family concerts are held in various other venues in the county. Education programs include orchestra player ensembles performing in schools, young people’s concerts, the family concerts, a young artists’ competition, a Side-by-Side concert, and a week-long summer honors academy for chamber music.
The SBSO’s annual operating budget is currently about $1.5 million. The recent level of endowment was about $5 million, with a program underway to increase this amount to $7.5 million. At this increased level, about one-third, or $2.5 million, would be set aside in a distinct fund for the purpose of orchestra compensation enhancement. Procedures are still being developed for the management of this novel program, but the basic concept is to have the SBSO become more geographically competitive in attracting player talent and to provide incentives to players who give priority to SBSO service.
◆ We have attributed only organizational roles to the interviewees in order to emphasize the more general versus personal character of the observations.
◆ We heard many insights that could apply to symphony organizations of all sizes; many of those we report, however, contain nuances especially applicable to smaller organizations.
◆ As in all organizational commentary, differences in opinion exist.
◆ Our opinion sample is very small, but we think it is still instructive.
As will be noted at the end of this report, the Institute especially welcomes the insights and critique of participants in smaller organizations about the analysis and comments which follow.
Boards of Directors
Boards of directors, as a group and individually, have a relatively high and very significant role—in both absolute and relative terms—in the total work, functioning, effectiveness, and sustained existence of smaller symphony organizations.
◆ Generally operating in relatively smaller communities, boards of small symphony organizations often include a major portion, if not all, of the civic, commercial, industrial, social, and minority-group leaders in the community—not just a small sample or representative group of such persons.
◆ Because they have relatively less competition from the multitude of other musical arts institutions of all sizes so prevalent in large metropolitan areas, many smaller symphony organizations are the “classical music hearts” in their communities; to serve on the board of such an institution is considered an honor.
◆ Board members must take highly significant and intensive roles in fundraising and personal giving.
◆ Some board member (or a small group) is quite often quite directly involved—or has close oversight of—the organization’s financial operations: disbursements, receipts, cash balances, investments, and financial condition; there is an active interest in “the bottom line.”
◆ As in larger institutions, boards of smaller symphony organizations utilize executive committees to work especially closely and operationally with their executive directors.
◆ Board development—composition, recruitment, orientation, solicitation, training and motivation, succession, etc.—is perhaps even more important to the vitality and continued existence of the smaller symphony organization than it is to the larger institution.
◆ Although this is not a traditional pattern, board members of smaller orchestra organizations appear to be moving toward more concern with artistic programming and its effects on audience attendance, and with community education and outreach efforts, especially in light of perceived shorter-term financial implications of decisions in these areas.
Below are a range of comments made by participants we interviewed from the South Bend and Jackson organizations that offer real-life insights into the above generalizations.
The board is selected by itself and is self-perpetuating. It is a directorship organization as opposed to a membership organization. (A board member.)
Fundraising is our basic purpose. [We try to recruit the] talent that we need to run the enterprise. Other than the fundraising and giving, the board is advisory regarding the operation of the business. (A board member.)
We meet with [new board members] and give them the committee structure, the financials, etc. [Then] we let them know that part of their duty is to give money to the symphony and to raise money. (A board member.)
People don’t get mad at you when you ask them for money. I’ve been doing it for years. . . . It’s just a matter of training. (A board member.)
You need people on the board who have a commitment. . . . You need to find people who have talent, who are willing to spend time, and who are connected in the community so that when it comes time to raise money, you can use them in that role. (A board member.)
We have extensive orientation [for new board members]. Every staff member in charge of a certain area works with the chairman of that committee and presents a report [after which] we add people who would like to be on that committee. . . . It is very important to involve these members as quickly as possible. (A board member.)
Our orchestra has a role in the community above and beyond playing nice music on Saturday nights three or four times a year. (A board member.)
It is important for the board to be involved to some degree on the artistic side. We have not traditionally been very involved there but we are going to become more involved because we see a definite relationship between programming and attendance. . . . We need programs that will sell. (A board member.)
Our marketing committee will now be the program and marketing committee because we need to listen to what the people want. (A board member.)
The board has a very important fiduciary responsibility, but it also represents the community. It has to let the orchestra—the players and the music director—know not only what the community wants but what the organization can afford. At the same time, the board must be receptive to developing a certain trust in the community to explore new things and to come up with the funds. The board needs to say to the community, “This is worthwhile. There are reasons why you should support this.” Ultimately the board is responsible for the hiring of the music director and the executive director, making policy, and being sure the staff and all other resources are coordinated in a proper way. If there is a problem, the board members are the ones who are going to solve it. (An executive director.)
A symphony is very complicated. The elements are so different from other organizations. . . . It is much more complicated than most, but much more interesting. It is much more of a challenge. People do love a challenge and there is so much to learn. (A board member.)
Administrative staffs are very small; a small number of employees and volunteers must focus rather intensively on fundraising and a multitude of shorter-term operational tasks; there is an opportunity, and usually a need, for all-around creativity, drive, and entrepreneurial leadership in the role of the executive director.
As earlier described, small symphony organizations are often at least half the size of highly prominent organizations in terms of the overall number of active participants. They face environments and organizational complexities almost as challenging as those of their larger counterparts. From a financial point of view, however, their operating budgets are as little as 1/50th to 1/10th the size of larger organizations. This disproportion is reflected organizationally in two ways: much lower staff budgets with many fewer staff positions and, as is addressed later, significantly lower orchestral budgets. These conditions lead to certain organizational patterns and challenges.
◆ Of necessity, the executive director of the smaller organization must be a generalist—very capable of multitasking, hands-on, and operational— with heavy emphasis on directly supporting board members in their fundraising, overseeing a few paid staff, especially in development, and motivating and directing volunteers as well as part-time staff.
◆ The role of executive director has many characteristics similar to those of the medium-sized-business owner or manager, or the lead person in a small professional services partnership, who operates with a few…
Jackson Symphony Orchestra
Since 1950, the Jackson Symphony Orchestra (JSO) has provided classical music performances and other musical services to citizens living in and around Jackson, Michigan. Jackson County has a population of 150,000 and is located 75 miles west of the Detroit metropolitan area.
The orchestra has 75 members, including 25 professional contracted musicians and 25 students, with the balance made up of enthusiastic and talented amateurs. Additional players are retained when needed for larger- scale works. The JSO is governed by a 30-member board of directors supported by the combination of one full-time staff person, various part-time employees, and volunteers composing an equivalent full-time staff of 4 to 5 people. The JSO’s volunteer guild has 200 members. The JSO’s operating budget is more than $500,000, and the orchestra has an endowment of about $1 million.
In a somewhat exceptional arrangement, Steve Osmond, the entrepreneurial executive director of the JSO since 1978, has for those years also served as the orchestra’s music director and principal conductor. The current board chair is Frederick Davies. Tom Spring, second trumpet, is the recently elected chair of a four-person orchestra committee, each of whom is also a member of the JSO board of directors. Ms. Pat Beffel, Jr., is head of the JSO Guild.
The orchestra presents five subscription concerts, a summer pops concert, a holiday concert in December, and a family concert in February. The orchestra regularly performs in the auditorium of the Jackson Community College located five miles from the center of Jackson. The auditorium seats 1,500, has quite excellent acoustics, and ample parking. In recent years, 95 percent of the JSO’s concerts have been sold out via subscription or advanced sale.
The JSO also operates an outstanding community music school. Now in its 11th year, the school offers private instrumental and small-ensemble instruction to 350 students of elementary and high school age through 30 teachers who are primarily members of the orchestra. The school also offers unique early childhood musical training, adult individual and ensemble training, master classes, Suzuki string instruction, a summer string program, and an in-school program. Forty to forty-five percent of the JSO’s operating budget is devoted to the operation of the music school, offset in part by user fees and designated contributions, with the balance financed out of the JSO’s general fund.
In 1999, working with the auxiliary of Jackson’s Foote Hospital, the JSO came out with “Babies In Tune.” Drawing on selections from archived recordings, and with the assistance of an early-childhood expert, the JSO created a CD with segments for different child-development purposes, along with a booklet to help parents introduce music to their children. More than 6,000 Jackson County children have enjoyed this CD which is now in its third edition.
…trusted key associates. The executive director, as the senior executive partner working with an inner board circle, is expected to “run the business.”
◆ The shorter-term viability of the smaller symphony organization tends to depend rather heavily on the executive director’s leadership, drive, and creativity, supported and enhanced by an active inner circle of the board.
◆ The need, toward multiple objectives, to become increasingly involved in community music education and outreach efforts is as much (if not more) a concern for many smaller symphony organizations as it is for those in larger metropolitan areas; this adds to the direct workload of managers and volunteers in these organizations.
◆ Smaller orchestra organizations, as in the case of the small business, often can develop, test, and pursue innovative and entrepreneurial ideas on a timely basis and can be somewhat more nimble than their larger counterparts.
◆ Though it is a given that musical performance must take place and meet certain artistic standards which might grow over time, maintaining the very existence and financial integrity of the organization on a shorter- term basis is of perhaps greatest importance in the minds and on the work agendas of central board members and the executive director of many smaller organizations.
◆ Smaller organizations provide an industry entry point for generally well- educated, but inexperienced, younger persons seeking careers in orchestral management, and management turnover can be a challenge for such organizations.
Pertaining to these generalizations, South Bend and Jackson participants offered these comments:
One of the keys to our success is having the right executive director. (A board member.)
Our executive director manages this organization. . . . He is a jack of all trades. (A board member.)
The executive director has to know what is going on everywhere. (An executive director.)
To me, one of the biggest issues for orchestras at this level is that one or two people have so much power. If you’re unhappy with the way one of those people is doing his job, how do you fix that? (An orchestra member.)
You can go just so far with volunteers [working as staff]; I think we are probably now banging our heads against the wall. (A board member.)
Our part-time staff is working well. Some are retired, some are moms who had careers, and some have families but also want to have sort of mini-careers going. We’ve been able to tap into this resource in a very positive way. . . . [These volunteers] bring an enormous amount of dedication to their work. It has had terrific results and hasn’t cost us an arm and a leg. (An executive director.)
The steps we’ve taken have been realistic enough that people in the organization have been able to sort of test things out a bit before we have to make a huge commitment. Eliminate surprises, especially fiscal ones. (An executive director.)
The commitment schools have made to music other than a marching band—public schools in particular—has been pretty disastrous. This leaves us to pick up the rest. (A board member.)
We try to identify needs and opportunities. What does the community need? How can we help fill that need? What are some opportunities that are going to give the orchestra wider recognition in the community and, at the same time, improve the musical product? (An executive director.)
The challenge is to maintain fiscal responsibility in the face of all kinds of demands. (An executive director.)
Even though all orchestra organizations exist in order to support and present an ensemble of musicians who are collectively “the orchestra,” this organizational group, and its individual members, has generally and relatively less stake and involvement in, commitment to and from, and dependency upon, its employer in many smaller symphony institutions as compared with larger counterparts.
This phenomenon is rather easy to understand when we consider the economics of smaller orchestra organizations, as we have defined them. For these institutions, the annual orchestra personnel budget might run between $250,000 and $900,000. This means that the annual income of many members in such an orchestra might run between $3,000 and $10,000. In addition, this income might be less predictable, more variable, and relatively less secure than that of members of larger orchestras. The work is essentially part-time, involves careful scheduling, and, in most instances, clearly takes on the character of a “gig.” Musicians with smaller orchestras are often members of several orchestras within commuting distance. They play commercially, have extensive teaching work, depend on working spouses, or have essentially full-time or extensive part-time employment in non-performing occupations, or some mix of these various methods of earning a living, while still playing great symphonic music.
Some generalizations about the role of the orchestra, as a constituent group and with respect to its individual members, as participants in smaller symphony organizations, might be stated as follows:
◆ As a group, unless special arrangements, conditions, or mutual commitments exist, the involvement of the orchestra in the overall direction and functioning of smaller symphony organizations is much less than might be expected and in most cases exists in larger organ- izations which have year-round or extensive seasons, full-time or close to full-time work, and much higher compensation.
◆ Most players, as much as they might enjoy their musical participation with a particular organization, must develop a number of organizational relationships and activity commitments in order to make a living, and cannot normally afford—or be expected—to give one organization much singular commitment of time, energy, or loyalty.
◆ A sizeable portion of the orchestra members in a smaller organization might not even live in the orchestra’s town or city, and thus would not normally and naturally share that organization’s reaching out to that community.
◆ Despite the barriers to high orchestral involvement, many smaller organizations establish and encourage musician representation on their boards and involve musicians in other organizational activities. Some musicians do participate in these matters, despite economic and travel impediments.
◆ To retain players of special merit in their orchestras, in competition with the various choices and needs such talented people have for alternative musical or nonmusical work, smaller orchestra organizations can provide special financial and non-financial incentives.
◆ Musicians in smaller orchestras have many of the same aspirations as their colleagues in larger orchestras—to improve their personal musical competency and the artistry and capability of their orchestras as a whole—and they have the same feeling of pride when they sense real advancement toward these goals.
Here are some comments by South Bend and Jackson Symphony participants about the challenges of building and maintaining excellent orchestras and about orchestra members’ involvement in an organization:
In orchestras of our size and budget, the pay is not very good, the work is harder than any other, and for some of the players, the commute is very difficult. There are various things the organization can do for musicians to compensate for this. Some smaller-sized orchestras do these things very well. The musicians get other rewards out of the whole experience beyond their checks. We wouldn’t be doing a long commute if we didn’t like what we do, but we don’t necessarily like it all the time. (An orchestra member.)
There are many players in our orchestra who make their careers and entire livings from playing in a number of orchestras and perhaps teaching or something else related to music. They are piecing together full-time jobs out of perhaps three or four parts. It is very difficult. It is a matter of constantly shifting schedules. We need to structure things that work best for the orchestra as a whole. (An executive director.)
There’s a group of about four or five different symphonies which draw from the same pool of players. For the most part we try to work things out to avoid conflict, but there is always going to be some. Certain times are harder than others to find people who you want to fill a particular spot. (An orchestra member.)
This past year we put together a chamber music series [which] was possible only because we made a commitment to additional funding for some principal players who were involved. They are of course key in our educational program. It cements them as players into the symphony. (A board member.)
Two things we do are really appreciated by our musicians. They get paid immediately after a performance and we also feed them well. At break, we have treats, and when we have a rehearsal in the afternoon and a concert that night, we have dinner in between. Little things like that let them know that they are appreciated. (An executive director.)
We know the staff here and when we need something desperately and call, they are very helpful. You don’t have to go through 25 people and tons of red tape if you have a problem. You know that you have people who care. (An orchestra member.)
There has been an effort to get our input as to pieces we might like to perform. (An orchestra member.)
My biggest problem with our programming is that it doesn’t really take into account the strengths of the orchestra and program to them. I’ve voiced my opinions, but I don’t know that they have been heard. (An orchestra member.)
There really isn’t much that goes on between the orchestra and the board. We have representatives on it, but they feel out of place and are afraid to say what they think. It’s as if they’re guests even though they are voting members. (An orchestra member.)
There is some really fine music making but there are limitations as well. As long as you don’t think it is has to be the New York Philharmonic, there is really terrific music making here. (An orchestra member.)
It would be nice at the end of a season to be told, “Thanks for a great year.” (An orchestra member.)
Volunteer support groups of smaller symphony organizations—in many cases the Guild, Women’s Association, or Symphony Society—are energetic organizational entities which perhaps are more vital to the total functioning of the typical smaller versus larger symphony organization, given the relative size of paid staffs.
In many smaller symphony organizations,
◆ There is usually only one group of such volunteers.
◆ The volunteer entity very often has its own distinct historical roots and traditions and maintains a legal separatism from the orchestral entity which it has supported through the years.
◆ Volunteers quite often perform unpaid staff services and, as in the case of larger organizations, are heavily involved in community outreach and educational programs.
◆ Coordinating the energy and activities of the volunteer group with the work of the board and management is often a special organizational challenge.
Our interviews in Jackson and South Bend provided very good examples of these generalizations, as can be seen in the following commentary:
At one time our guild acted as its own entity. It was an exclusive group, by invitation only. Some of us thought, “Let’s throw this thing open to as many people as possible.” This would help do the organization’s job to be advocates in the community. It was a tough sell. But it is much more integrated now. (A board member.)
About every five years, you’ve got to revamp your strategic plan and the guild has done the same thing. They have developed their own strategic plan in keeping with the symphony’s. In fact, they adopted the symphony’s strategic plan and added in what they felt they could do in the community. So our guild has become a vitally important arm of the organization. (A board member.)
Our guild has also been very intentional and effective in recruiting representatives from minorities. . . . They’ve brought into the symphony prominent members of the minority community . . . who are donating support . . . which gives ownership. This is something that really escaped us in the past. (A staff member.)
Our guild president reports to the board, provides information about the different things the guild is doing, and gets feedback. The guild must check with the symphony board so that efforts don’t overlap. Otherwise, too much fundraising would bombard people interested in the symphony. In their enthusiasm, the guild may not realize what the symphony board is trying to do at the same time. (A board member.)
The outstanding organizational differences between smaller and larger symphony organizations are in the nature, relationships, and relative significance of the primary constituencies, deriving in good part from the relatively modest financial resources of the smaller organizations.
Assembling and supporting a symphony orchestra is the central purpose of all symphonic institutions. However, the amount and scheduling of time for orchestral performance and preparation in smaller organizations results in orchestra members—as a group and individually—having a smaller stake in the organization’s total life and affairs than do their counterparts in larger organizations. In parallel, there is less institutional commitment to the particular people who make up the orchestra. Board members and volunteers, given smaller orchestras’ modest staffs, take on much greater working roles in many organizations’ total operations. Likewise, the work of smaller-organization executive directors tends to be broadly and intensely operational, with the organization’s financial viability quite dependent on his or her leadership and drive.
Readers will note that we have not yet described the role of the music director in the smaller organization, including the way it relates to other constituencies and the way it compares with the counterpart role in major symphony organizations. We have relatively limited knowledge and feel in this area, especially as to the role of the music director in orchestra personnel matters. Also, in our interviews, we did not gain as much insight into these areas as in others. However, here are some tentative generalizations and hypotheses:
◆ In an orchestra-by-orchestra review of music directors in smaller organizations, it would appear that there are wide differences in background, experience, age, and career status, and the music director’s role within these organizations might tend to vary widely and be relatively highly personalized.
◆ However, it is generally thought that music directors of smaller organizations are more often resident in their orchestras’ communities, not traveling extensively to conduct other orchestras, and are more available for assistance to board, management, and volunteers for fundraising and community activities.
◆ At the same time, because of the more intermittent performance schedules of the smaller orchestras, music directors must often have other connections to make a suitable living and to gain conducting experience and visibility. This is not conducive to providing time and energy to just one organization and community.
◆ Finally, as has been mentioned earlier, it appears that the boards and executive directors of smaller organizations are becoming more involved in music programming, traditionally the province of the music director.
Small Orchestra Organizations: Issues and Challenges
This is the Institute’s first effort to foster a discussion of the organizational issues and challenges of smaller orchestra organizations toward a better understanding of how they function and might better function. We welcome comment and critique.
This report was written by Paul Judy with helpful suggestions from Frederick Zenone. The Institute wishes to thank Diana Kodner for her assistance in planning and interpreting the field interviews which she so ably conducted. Special thanks also go to participants in the South Bend and Jackson Symphony Orchestra organizations for the time, thought, and enthusiasm they brought to these interviews. The Jackson participants were Frederick Davies, Arthur Henrie, Hannah Holman, Philip Mason, Stephen Osmond, and Mary Spring. The South Bend participants were Bruce Bancroft, Gerald Brann, Ricardo Castañeda, Ernestine Raclin, and Mack Richardson.
Many executive directors throughout the symphony world know Peter W. Smith. In 1998, Peter retired as the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, after 13 years at the helm of that organization and
following 22 years of prior orchestra management service. Since its founding, he has been a cheerleader for the Institute. We asked Peter if he would share some of his organizational wisdom with our readers, particularly as it might help or be helpful to managers and supervisors in medium- and smaller-sized organizations.
Institute: Peter, how did you become an orchestra manager?
Smith: As with many people on orchestra staffs, symphony music has been part of my life since I was a child. I grew up in a small town, as a member of a family full of amateur musicians. I can remember attending the Buffalo Philharmonic’s children’s concerts, and, of course, I took piano lessons. Later, as a music history major at the University of Michigan, I attended many orchestra concerts. One night, it occurred to me that those people on the stage couldn’t possibly do everything that was necessary for the concert to happen! It was at that point that I knew I wanted to be an orchestra manager.
After Michigan, I was in the service and had the opportunity to do various volunteer jobs—librarian, stage manager, personnel manager—for a small orchestra in California. Thanks to the generosity of that orchestra’s board president, I was able to take leave and attend the American Symphony Orchestra League’s one-week course in orchestra management in New York. Later, after my service, Helen Thompson, who was then head of the League, accepted me into an internship program and “assigned” me to what is now the Minnesota Orchestra. But my first “real” job was as assistant manager with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. From there, I moved through several management positions with various orchestral organizations until I joined Grand Rapids in 1985.
Institute: Grand Rapids is a fine organization, and it has a fine orchestra, but did you ever aspire to move “onward-and-upward”?
Smith: I think, as a younger person early in an orchestra management career, it is good to move “onward-and-upward” and to take advantage of new opportunities wherever they crop up. I certainly did. But, later, there may come a time when, for professional and personal reasons, settling down and staying put makes sense. Grand Rapids was a good place in which to settle down—for me personally, and for my wife, the symphony, and the community. Professionally, I was able to continue to grow within the organization, increasingly delegating tasks I had enjoyed over the years, but finding new challenges. On a personal basis, Grand Rapids is an excellent community in which to live. The quality of life is high, and I could pursue my outside interests with great satisfaction. I don’t think I could have been happier or more productive elsewhere.
Institute: You have been a member of the management of a number of orchestra organizations and have observed orchestra management in an even wider range of other institutions. Are there qualities that you would characterize as particularly important to effective orchestra management?
Smith: Over the years, I have worked for some people who were very controlling. I believe in hiring people smarter than I am and letting them do their jobs. And I’ve come to find mentoring and team building more and more enjoyable and
fulfilling. Part of that interest stems from starting out as an intern myself, and in the 20-plus years I was in Fort Wayne and Grand Rapids, I hosted 14 League fellows. Let me note, however, that I have always wished that there were, somewhere, a “curriculum” in orchestra management. There was no such curriculum when I was a student and there is not one today—at least of the length, depth, and quality that I feel is needed. To a large extent, we have been able to learn only by doing.
Another aspect that is important in management is the idea of institutional vision. The artistic product may bear the stamp of the music director, but the symphony as an organization reflects the vision of the executive director. For example, I have always been very concerned about every extra-musical aspect of the concert experience. I became notorious in Grand Rapids as the toughest of all proofreaders! It was important to me that brochures and program books be accurate and excellent. Our goal should be that the entire concert experience is at a level that matches the quality of the music coming from the stage.
Other qualities I consider important? I would certainly see compassion as a desirable leadership characteristic. I think an executive director needs to be a very good team builder with a deep-seated passion for music and for the symphony orchestra. I think an orchestra’s musicians are community treasures and that it is vital for an executive director to deal with musicians honestly and sincerely.
Institute: Many readers know that since your retirement from Grand Rapids, you have extended your management career into the rather novel role of “interim executive director.” How does that work?
Smith: Shortly before retiring from the Grand Rapids Symphony, I began to have conversations with a friend who is a symphony marketing consultant about the plight in which orchestras sometimes found themselves when there was a prolonged vacancy in the executive director’s position. It was clear that orchestras without an executive director could get into a great deal of trouble when searches were getting under way or taking longer than expected. So, within a few months after I retired, I took on the interim executive directorship of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, and in the last three years, have completed five engagements.
Institute: For this rather unique role, have you developed some special insights and philosophies about orchestra organization leadership and change?
Smith: Yes. My first thought going into each new situation is: do no harm. You must especially work through the board and the staff, because you cannot become established in the community in the way a permanent executive director would. You can advise and consult, but you must leave people time and room to do their jobs. You need to let them know that you are not there to be a hatchet man; you make changes in personnel only when absolutely necessary.
It is easy and fun to help staff people when they want help, but very difficult to be effective if you have been forced on them. There should be staff involvement in the decision to engage an interim executive director, but that can be difficult because orchestras that need interim management often have serious staff problems, too. You need to understand that not everyone may be happy that you are there, and you must deal with it wisely.
As an interim executive director, I often work with troubled orchestras. The more I do so, the more convinced I am that only financially healthy orchestras can positively and effectively address change. If professional and volunteer leaders are preoccupied with meeting the next payroll, they have little time or energy to figure out how to pursue longer-term change. The situation tends to spiral downhill until it reaches a crisis level.
An executive director may leave a healthy orchestra to take a better position or to retire. If he or she leaves for any other reason, there are probably organizational problems. When I go into an interim assignment, I must quickly determine what the problems are and the extent to which I can deal with them in a brief amount of time. The board leadership that retains me often cannot identify or describe the problems. Sometimes the board leadership itself is the problem. And, yes, it is frustrating to leave an orchestra, after a few months, in no better shape than when I arrived. But, I try to fill the gap as best possible and provide a bridge to more permanent executive leadership.
Institute: Are there any other thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Smith: As a matter of fact, in thinking about our discussion, I was reminded of an observation which a very thoughtful musician made to me many years ago. It has always been quite helpful to me.
He pointed out that a musician’s entire life is experienced in increments of time—a note, a measure, a rehearsal, a performance. In the context of these increments of time, a musician produces a product that ceases to exist within the instant it was created. To the extent that, as managers, we can understand the nature of this life experience—or try to—we should be respectful of the challenges musicians face day in and day out.
As an executive director, or a corporate manager serving on the board of an orchestra, we take on the responsibility to do the job—in whatever time it takes. We don’t do two and one-half hours. We don’t do one note. We do the job. We have a completely different concept of work and time.
To bring together these perspectives, and to have people collaborate to become one culture, is difficult. It requires a great deal of understanding and sensitivity on the part of all involved.
Institute: Thanks, Peter. We wish you well.
About the Cover
It was probably at some point during perfor- mance of the score fragment reproduced on our cover—the now-famous series of thundering chords—that conductor Pierre Monteux sensed that a riot was breaking out in the audience behind him. This passage comes early in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, but as the composer would later recall, the crowd grew restless and noisy almost as soon as the ballet began. Eventually there were catcalls and fistfights, and the entire theater “seemed to be shaken by an earthquake.”
May 29, 2019, the night The Rite of Spring opened at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, is now remembered for the most notorious premiere in the
history of music. Sergei Diaghilev, the great impresario who had commissioned Stravinsky to write the score for his Russian ballet, flipped the house lights off and on to quiet the crowd. Vaslav Nijinsky, the celebrated dancer who was making his debut as a choreographer, stood on a chair in the wings shouting directions to his dancers. And all the while Monteux continued conducting. “He stood there apparently impervious and as nerveless as a crocodile,” Stravinsky recalled. “It is still almost incredible to me that he actually brought the orchestra through to the end.”
This was classic Monteux—the epitome of grace under pressure. Thirty- eight years old, Monteux was already a seasoned pro—he had recently conducted the historic premieres of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, and Debussy’s Jeux—and his long career had only begun. He was born in 1875, the year Bizet’s Carmen opened; he knew Saint-Saëns and played chamber music for Grieg and Brahms. Although he started out as an orchestral violinist and violist, as soon as he picked up the baton at the turn of the century, he was hooked.
In 1910, he organized his own orchestra, the Concerts Berlioz, and the following year he became Diaghilev’s resident ballet conductor. Over the next five decades, he worked with some of the world’s great orchestras, including the Boston Symphony (which he rebuilt nearly from scratch his first season, following a particularly brutal musicians’ strike), the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and the San Francisco Symphony (where he served as music director from 1936 to 1952). When he was in his 80s, he took on one last job, as music director of the London Symphony. (He signed a 25-year contract.) He kept conducting until his death in 1964, at the age of eighty-nine, surpassing even Toscanini, who retired at eighty-six.
Stravinsky recalled that of all the conductors he knew, Monteux was “the least interested in calisthenic exhibitions for the entertainment of the audience and the most concerned to give clear signals to the orchestra.” Monteux once compiled a list of rules for conductors that is a model of common sense—don’t stop in rehearsal for obviously accidental wrong notes; don’t stare at players during tricky passages. He was a born teacher, and in 1943, the year after he became an American citizen, he organized an important conducting school at his home in Hancock, Maine, to perpetuate his self-effacing, no-nonsense approach to music making. As Stravinsky remembered from their time together preparing The Rite, “He never looked for his own glory in it.”
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.