Publisher’s Notes by Fredrick Zenone
The 21st Century Music Director: A Symposium
Explorations in Governance and Leadership: The Philadelphia Orchestra by Paul V. Boulian
Children’s Creativity and the Symphony Orchestra: Can They Be Brought Together? by Jon Deak
Building Leadership in a Young Symphony Orchestra by Roland E. Valliere
San Francisco: A History of Long-Tenured Board Leadership
About the Cover…by Phillip Huscher
There is much attention given these days to the fact that the musical leadership in a large number of prominent North American orchestras is changing. The New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra have designated conductors who have previously led large American organizations. The orchestras in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, and Minnesota have named music directors who are important musicians, although they have not previously been the artistic leaders of large American symphony organizations.
It seems reasonable to assume that in all those search processes, there was considerable discussion about how each organization defined and described the position of music director, and what combination of assets were needed to address the organization’s issues. For many of our symphony organizations, recent issues have included the place of the symphony orchestra in the community; the growth of the audience for symphonic music; performance of new and recent music; the current place of the arts in public education; and anxiety about our ability to fund our symphony institutions.
American symphony organizations are unique in the way they function. They are funded differently from those in other countries; their governance structures and responsibilities are different from those in other countries; and perhaps we feel somewhat differently about our roles and responsibilities in society. It is likely that decisions are made somewhat differently here than elsewhere. In the midst of all the artistic leadership change taking place in America’s orchestras, it is appropriate to ask what we want from our new artistic leaders.
In August 2002, the Boston Symphony Orchestra hosted a symposium at Tanglewood to ask important questions about the role of the music director in the orchestra of the 21st century. The Institute is pleased to publish the report of that symposium, as prepared by Thomas Wolf and Gina Perille of Wolf, Keens & Company. The symposium looks to be an important first step in a process the Institute hopes will become an ongoing discussion within and among symphony organizations. We use a constant term—symphony orchestra—to describe a constantly changing entity. It therefore is imperative to define the role of music director in ways that are appropriate for today’s orchestra organizations, as well as for those of the future.
Because we remain committed to fostering positive change in symphony orchestra organizations, it is with considerable pride that this issue of Harmony presents the report of the Symphony Orchestra Institute’s work with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The report, authored by Paul Boulian, represents the Institute’s work as part of a larger facilitated change initiative taking place within the Philadelphia organization. It details ways in which representatives of the orchestra’s constituencies examined governance, leadership, and professional development issues within the organization. The result is a set of recommendations to the orchestra’s board of directors.
The specific recommendations were designed for the Philadelphia organization. In reporting the recommendations, the Institute does not intend to put them forward as appropriate for other organizations. But we do hope the report can provide a structure to help other symphony organizations that want to examine their own thinking about governance and leadership.
When we think about the place of the American symphony orchestra as a community resource, it is inevitable that education comes quickly to mind. All our orchestras play concerts directed specifically toward young people. Sometimes those performances are didactic in nature, sometimes exploratory, sometimes entertaining. Jon Deak is a prominent American composer who, in one of his other lives, is a bassist with the New York Philharmonic. His music is widely performed and his unique, identifiable voice is one of his most remarkable gifts. He chose to try to make the symphony orchestra available to children in a new way. It is not very difficult to imagine that a composer would be sensitive to the creative process, but this composer imagined that he could guide young children through the creative process of writing music for the symphony orchestra. Along with his desire to have young children experience the joy of that creativity, he values them as composers and, as a result, they quite naturally trust that he understands their vulnerability as creators. When I read his story, my wish is to have been a child in the company of Jon Deak.
Site visits with supporting orchestra organizations have been a regular part of the Institute’s field program. These visits make certain we are familiar with current thinking and practices in the industry. About 18 months ago, I was invited to visit with the Cleveland Orchestra. At one point, while casually looking around the beautifully renovated Severance Hall, I wandered into the “rogues’ gallery,” the room in which the Musical Arts Association displays the portraits of past board presidents. I recognized the portrait of Ward Smith, about whom I have come to think as a model among symphony board presidents. There beneath the portrait, the term of his tenure was indicated. I thought it was a remarkably long term; he served as president from 1983 to 1995. But as I went around the room, it became apparent that a long term was the norm among Cleveland board presidents. It was the first time I had seen so dramatic a representation of a culture of long-term leadership in an American symphony organization.
It made a strong impression because, nearly always when I visit a troubled symphony organization, I find that tradition or bylaws have established a practice of short-term board leadership. We at the Institute resolved to look more deeply at the tenure issue. The result is the section in this issue of Harmony that puts forward the leadership-tenure culture of three organizations: two of long-standing prominence, and one which those of us with hindsight of a short 25 years might think of as a remarkable turnaround. All were asked to contribute to this issue
◆ We report the support and encouragement of the Institute’s work over the past 12 months by symphony orchestra organizations.
As I complete my first introduction to Harmony since becoming the Institute’s president in December 2001, I want to thank not only those who have generously contributed to this issue, but also the many colleagues and friends who have communicated to wish me well. The Institute is a work-in-progress—as are our beloved orchestras. My energy for the work is high, and I look forward to your input and encouragement.
Kathleen A. Byrne
We welcome Katie Byrne, who serves the Institute as communications specialist. Katie hails from Northbrook, Illinois, and holds her B.A. in English from Boston College. She served as an editor for two publishing houses in Boston for several years and has recently returned to Chicago.
Board of Advisors
Members of the Board of Advisors are active participants in or close observers of symphony orchestra organizations. They offer ongoing advice about programs, policies, and the general direction of the Institute’s work. Additionally, they foster greater awareness of positive organizational changes and advances in effectiveness within symphony orchestra organizations.
The 2002 Board of Advisors is composed of eighteen members, six of whom are new to the board and twelve who continue to serve. We extend our thanks to Carter R. Buller, Julie Haight-Curran, Justine LeBaron, and John David Sterne who completed their service in 2001.
We welcome the new advisors:
Carole Haas Gravagno
Carole Haas Gravagno is a vice chair of the board of directors of the Philadelphia Orchestra and chairs the education and community partnerships committee. She previously chaired the artistic and education committee.
She is active in civic and cultural affairs in Philadelphia and currently serves as president of the board of the National Liberty Museum and as vice chair of the Morris Arboretum and the People’s Light & Theatre Company. She sits on several additional boards, including the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the Settlement Music School, and Philadelphia Hospitality, Inc.
Carole holds a B.A. from Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina and an M.Ed. from Temple University.
Joan Greabeiel is executive director of Orchestra London Canada. She previously served as director of finance for the Calgary Philharmonic and in a similar position with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. She also served the Edmonton Symphony as director of marketing and festival coordinator. In May 2002, she will become general manager of the Edmonton Opera.
Joan holds her bachelor’s and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Alberta and has a diploma from the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna, Austria.
Bill Helmers has been a member of the clarinet section of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra since 1980. In addition to his work with the symphony, Bill performs with the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, and with Present Music, and teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has also twice chaired the Milwaukee Symphony’s orchestra committee.
In the summers, Bill has been a member of the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and has performed at the Washington Island Chamber Music Festival. He is also active in the performance and recording of new music; he gave the American premiere of John Adams’s clarinet concerto, Gnarly Buttons, in 1997.
Bill holds a B.A. from the Eastman School of Music and a M.M. from the Juilliard School. He also attended the Music Academy of the West, Tanglewood, and the Conductors’ Institute at the Hartt School of Music.
Karen Schnackenberg is chief orchestra librarian of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. She previously served in the libraries of the New Orleans Symphony, the Santa Fe Opera, the Oklahoma Symphony, and the Chamber Orchestra of Oklahoma City. She is also a violinist and performs periodically with the Dallas Symphony and other area groups.
Karen is an active member of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association and has served as that group’s president. For 12 years, she was classical music columnist for the International Musician, the U.S. trade paper for professional musicians.
She holds bachelor’s of music education and master’s of music in violin performance degrees from the University of Oklahoma.
Margery S. Steinberg
Margy Steinberg is an associate professor of marketing at the University of Hartford and also serves as executive director of the university’s Center for Customer Service. She consults in the areas of marketing research and marketing training with both corporate and nonprofit clients.
She has published and lectured extensively, and is an active member of the National Retail Federation, the Marketing Research Association Institute, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, and the American Marketing Association.
Margy is a member of the board of directors of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, which she served as president from 1996 to 1999. She also serves on the Boston Symphony Orchestra Tanglewood Committee and on the board of directors of the Greater Hartford Arts Council.
She holds a B.A. from Boston University and M.A., M.B.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Connecticut.
Allison Vulgamore is president of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. She previously served the New York Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. She began her career as a member of the first class of the American Symphony Orchestra League Fellowship program.
She is a trustee of Oberlin College in Ohio, and has regularly served on committees for the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Symphony Orchestra League. She is also active in civic affairs in Atlanta, serving on the board of the Midtown Alliance and as an advisor to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.
Allison holds a bachelor of music degree from Oberlin College Conservatory.
We extend thanks to the 12 advisors who agreed to continue their service:
Deborah R. Card
Deborah Card is executive director of the Seattle Symphony, a position she has held since 1992. She previously served as executive director for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and as orchestra manager for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
She has been active in numerous music and arts organizations throughout her career. Deborah currently serves on the board of overseers of the Curtis Institute, as well as on the boards of the Seattle International Music Festival, the Association of Northwest Symphony Orchestras, the Downtown Seattle Association, the BH Music Center, and NPower, a Seattle-based organization providing technical support in the areas of technology and e-commerce to nonprofits nationally. She also serves as a faculty member for management sessions of the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Orchestra Leadership Academy.
Deborah holds her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from the University of Southern California.
Jon Deak is a well-known composer who is also associate principal bassist and creative education associate with the New York Philharmonic. His compositions have been performed at music festivals around the world and by major symphony orchestras and chamber groups throughout the United States. His Concerto for Contrabass and Orchestra was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Jon is an avid mountaineer and is active in bringing new music to young people. He has taught in public schools in Denver and New York City and is currently developing and implementing a technique that allows elementary and middle-school students to compose directly for the symphony orchestra.
He attended Oberlin College, holds a bachelor’s degree from the Juilliard School of Music, and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois. As a Fulbright Scholar, Jon completed his graduate study at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome.
Doug Dempster is Senior Associate Dean in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas, Austin. He previously served as Academic Dean at the Eastman School of Music and was founding director of Eastman’s Arts Leadership Program.
He has published extensively in the areas of philosophy of music and music theory, philosophical aesthetics, arts and the law, and the philosophy of language.
Doug holds a B.A. from St. Lawrence University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Bill Foster is assistant principal violist with the National Symphony Orchestra, of which he has been a member since 1968. His son, Daniel, is principal violist with the National Symphony—wonderful testimony to the musicality of the Foster family.
Throughout his career with the National Symphony, Bill has been active in the overall affairs of the organization. He has served several terms as chair of the orchestra committee and has served on the artistic advisory committee. He has also served on executive director and music director search committees and on several board long-range planning committees. He is currently a member of the national Electronic Media Forum.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Oberlin Conservatory and a master’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Valborg L. Gross
Val Gross is a violist with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. She has been an active participant on the team of musicians that developed the Louisiana Philharmonic into the only fully cooperative professional symphony organization in North America. She served as president of the board of directors during the 1997-1998 season.
Before joining the Louisiana Philharmonic, she performed with the Syracuse Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Orquesta Sinfonica de Maracaibo in Venezuela, Florida Symphony, Santa Fe Opera, and the Aspen Music Festival. During summer months, Val performs with the American Sinfonietta at the Bellingham Festival of Music in Washington state.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
Carolynn D. Loacker
Lynn Loacker is the immediate past chairman of the board of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. She previously chaired the governance committee and served as a member of the executive committee.
She has been active in community service in Portland since she moved to the area in 1984 and has served on the boards of the Portland Zoo, the Franz Cancer Research Leadership Cabinet, and as a committee member for Women and Philanthropy. She is also active with conservation and wildlife organizations in the Pacific Northwest.
Anne Manson is music director of the Kansas City Symphony, a position she has held since 1999. She previously served as music director of the Mecklenburgh Opera in London.
She has performed with symphony orchestras and opera companies throughout Europe, including the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Ensemble Inter Contemporain, and the Grand Theatre de Geneve. In the United States, she has conducted the Washington Opera, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Anne holds her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and trained at King’s College London and at the Royal College of Music on a Marshall Scholarship. She was also a Fellow in Conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Robert H. Mnookin
Bob Mnookin is Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is also director of the Harvard Negotiation Research Project and chair of the steering committee for the program on negotiation. He previously served on the law faculties of the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University, where he also served as director of the Stanford Center on Conflict Resolution.
He has published extensively on the topic of conflict resolution and has mediated a number of landmark commercial disputes. Readers of Harmony are familiar with his group’s work with the San Francisco Symphony as published in the October 2001 issue. Bob has also served as a consultant to the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerning governance.
Bob holds an A.B. from Harvard College and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School.
Victor Parsonnet, M.D.
Victor Parsonnet is the Medical Director of the Pacemaker Center and the Director of Surgical Research at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. He is also chairman of the board of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
An accomplished surgeon and researcher and a pioneer in kidney and heart transplantation, coronary bypass surgery, and cardiac pacing, he has served on the boards of many professional societies and on the editorial and advisory boards of prestigious medical and surgical journals. He has published extensively and holds five patents.
Victor holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and received an M.D. degree from New York University College of Medicine and Dentistry.
Michael Pastreich is executive director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Illinois. Under his leadership, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra has become Illinois’s second largest orchestra. During his term as an American Symphony Orchestra League Management Fellow, he interned with the symphony organizations in Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis. He then completed service on the staffs of the San Jose Symphony, the New World Symphony, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Michael holds a B.F.A. from Washington University in Saint Louis and completed studies as a Fulbright Scholar at Lahden Muotoiluinstituuti in Lahti, Finland.
Ron Schneider is a french hornist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He has been an active participant in the governance of the Pittsburgh Symphony, serving as an orchestra representative to the board of directors and as chair of the orchestra committee.
He has taught at Penn State University, Duquesne University, and Chatham College and is an active participant in Pittsburgh chamber music groups.
Ron holds a bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music and completed graduate work at Northwestern University.
Thomas H. Witmer
Tom Witmer is a member of the board of advisors of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. For the past several years, he has served as a catalyst and key participant in the orchestra organization’s Hoshin and related organizational performance programs.
Throughout his career, he has been recognized for his commitment to quality, business performance excellence, and entrepreneurship. From 1982 to 1998, Tom served as president and chief executive officer of Medrad, Inc., a Pittsburgh- based manufacturer of medical equipment. Prior to that, he served as president and chief executive officer of Union Carbide Imaging Systems.
Tom continues as a director of various corporate and nonprofit organizations, including the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh and four corporations.
This report was prepared by Thomas Wolf and Gina Perille of Wolf, Keens & Company. The sessions were facilitated by Bill Keens. Grateful acknowledgment is offered to the funders that made the symposium possible: William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and David & Lucile Packard Foundation.
In August 2001, as reported at MusicalAmerica.com, Ronald Blum of the Associated Press wrote a story about symphony orchestra music directors. “Around the world, it is a season of farewells. At the end of this season, Seiji Ozawa, Christoph von Dohnányi, and Kurt Masur will leave the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, and New York Philharmonic, respectively, and Wolfgang Sawallisch will depart the Philadelphia
Orchestra after the 2002-2003 season.” Blum’s list of conductors changing in Europe included the Berlin Philharmonic’s Claudio Abbado and the London Royal Opera’s Bernard Haitink. If there was ever a time to take stock of the role of music directors in orchestras, this was the moment.
During the same month the article appeared, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) convened a symposium at the Tanglewood Music Center to grapple with the question of the role of orchestra music directors in the 21st century. The topic had been prominent for the BSO ever since it began its own search for a music director to follow the quarter-century tenure of Seiji Ozawa. The Tanglewood Music Center—the BSO’s summer home and educational arm—had discussed the topic as well in thinking about its training programs for conductors. With the broader field of symphony orchestras increasingly focused on the issue, it seemed an appropriate time to encourage and document a discussion by a group of experts.
Tanglewood has also, throughout its history, been a place where people have come together to think about and discuss important issues relating to classical music. This symposium was an extension of that tradition.
Approximately 30 music directors, musicians, orchestra administrators, managers, trustees, and funders attended the two-day symposium. Co-hosts Peter Brook (BSO board chair), Mark Volpe (BSO executive director), and Ellen Highstein (director of the Tanglewood Music Center) spoke about the importance of the symposium and the reason for convening it.
Trends and Market Forces
There are various trends and market forces changing the way orchestras operate. A number of these are external to the organizations:
◆ Audience patterns are changing and, in many places, demand for the symphony product is down.
◆ There is increasing competition from other forms of art and entertainment.
◆ Evolving technology is increasing the options for the delivery of music both within, and especially outside, the concert hall.
◆ A changing urban landscape, with new demographics, calls for new roles and respon- sibilities for orchestra institutions.
◆ In many places, there is a greater focus on education and community concerns.
◆ Orchestras currently face great economic pressures. Some of the trends and forces shaping change are internal:
◆ Power is being redistributed within orchestra institutions.
◆ Musicians are playing many roles within their organizations, beyond the traditional ones of playing concerts.
◆ There is less reliance on traditional top-down authority and leadership.
These trends have the potential to alter the role of the music director, as well as the roles of others who have the responsibility of leading orchestra organizations.
One Size Does Not Fit All
The group acknowledged that there is no single response to questions about the role of the music director in the 21st century.
◆ Orchestras are not dealing with a single monolithic problem. Each is dealing with a different mix of challenges.
◆ The realities orchestras face vary according to their size, their character, and their communities.
◆ The role of the music director, and the way that role is perceived, will differ for major international orchestras, community orchestras, and those in between.
◆ Even when the external forces shaping orchestras and music directors are similar, the responses will vary widely.
For example, what is the music director’s appropriate role in responding to community concerns?
◆ For a major orchestra, the answer may well be that this is a minor part of the job. The role of music director in such an organization focuses on maintaining and building musical excellence at the highest level. The orchestra may require many things from its leadership in the area of community outreach, but generally this will not be the primary focus of its music director, who often does not possess, nor is willing to pursue, the proper grounding for this role.
◆ In a smaller orchestra, building musical excellence is also important. But the music director of a smaller orchestra must be more involved in such other activities as building community connections, meeting with the city council or the Rotary Club, or taking an active role in educational activities.
The Cult of Personality and Evolving Leadership
We live in a society in which the cult of personality is highly developed. The music director fills the role of public personality for an orchestra. That fact feeds a number of trends:
◆ Many conductors believe that they should build their careers and name recognition by appearing widely throughout the world.
◆ There is a perception of a shortage of star talent among conductors, and also that these individuals operate in a “seller’s market.”
◆ There is competition among orchestras and communities to secure the services of the top talent.
◆ There is little pressure for the music director to “stay at home” and build the orchestra institution.
◆ Many individuals hold multiple music directorships. ◆ There is a public perception that the music director is (or should be) the “leader” of the institution.
At the same time, there is a trend among orchestras to become more inclusive in the way they are managed, governed, and led and to develop new kinds of power-sharing arrangements. This participatory culture can cause confusion in an institution in which the music director is perceived, at least publicly, as the leader.
◆ Who is really in charge?
◆ What is the relationship among the music director, the executive director, and the board chair? Does this so-called three-legged stool really work?
◆ Can someone who is present in the community only 10 to 15 weeks a year really be the sole leader of the institution?
◆ What roles might musicians play, and what new power-sharing configurations are appropriate?
◆ Are musicians willing to assume the new roles that are being contemplated for them? As an example, do they really want to be involved in peer review of their fellow musicians?
This seems to be a time when internal relationships are shifting and must be defined institution by institution. The profile, expectations, and job description of the music director must be carefully worked out in relation to others in the institution and customized for each situation.
The changing landscape has implications for training. Conducting students often receive inadequate preparation for the many roles, responsibilities, and expectations orchestras have for their music directors. Conservatories and other training institutions might address this issue, and several are beginning to modify the ways in which they prepare people for the field.
But there are challenges. It is absolutely essential for conservatories to concentrate on the musical elements of conductor training, which involves a lot of time. Conservatories cannot graduate people who are deficient in these areas, so artistry appropriately becomes the main focus of a curriculum. Conducting students must understand that musical excellence is a prerequisite for developing a career, and their teachers also want to focus on music. Even if conservatories were to provide ample opportunities to garner knowledge and experience beyond musical training, students often would not take these other areas as seriously while they are in school.
◆ One area is leadership. A music director needs to know how to inspire and lead 80 to 100 players and how to mobilize section heads and others in service of that goal. But leadership is not a central part of a conductor’s training.
◆ Another area is program planning.
◆ Others include dealing with the media, designing educational programs, and learning how to improve the level of orchestral playing through hiring, firing, promotions, demotions, and so on. Within the context of a unionized ensemble, the latter can be very sensitive.
◆ Familiarity with labor issues and understanding the overall financial structure of orchestras may also be important knowledge areas for music directors.
Most of this extra training will probably not happen in conservatories. Internships, on-the-job training, mentorships, and mid-career opportunities for learning are important. Much as lawyers who find that law school did not really prepare them for their professions, conductors (and musicians generally) may need ongoing programs of continuing education to address the real challenges they will encounter on the job. Experienced artist managers can play an important role in helping conductors understand and interpret the realities and mandates of the field. But there may be a need for more formal vehicles. Most major business schools have training for young and mid-career executives. Would something similar be appropriate for music directors, or is the making of a music director simply too idiosyncratic for any one formula?
What We Can Learn from History
Joseph Horowitz was asked to prepare for the symposium a history of the music director position in the United States. In looking at orchestras in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, as well as the Theodore Thomas Orchestra—the first full-time orchestra in the United States—Horowitz identified certain trends that were assets in orchestras of the past:
◆ Conductors stayed at home and built their ensembles artistically.
◆ Conductors served as missionary educators introducing audiences, often for the first time, both to the symphonic canon and to important new music. This music was not as widely available outside the concert hall as it is today.
◆ Conductors were regarded as the cultural leaders of their communities. This enhanced the institution’s visibility and gave it an important place in the life of the community that most orchestras do not occupy today.
Changes have occurred, and this profile of the music director no longer applies. A new structure is evolving. On the artistic side, the idea was put forward that musicians could be more involved in artistic planning. The use of a broader artistic staff, including artistic advisors and consultants, must be acknowledged as playing a larger role in supporting an often absent music director.
What is the place of musical excellence in the job description of a music director? Most agreed that it is the very core of the description, and that the fundamental responsibility of the music director must be building the musical excellence of an orchestral ensemble. Several participants who had been through music director searches recalled formulating broad profiles and job descriptions for new music directors only to realize that no one had all the desired attributes. Musical excellence, combined with real leadership ability, turned out to be the fallback and primary criterion.
One musician from a major orchestra recounted how, in the process of developing the ideal profile, desired attributes eventually gave way to this single requirement:
The committee convened and we discussed what we were looking for in a music director. The musicians wanted someone who would raise the artistic level of the orchestra even beyond what we are accustomed to. Board members were looking for someone who could walk into a room and galvanize donors to write bigger checks. Management wanted someone who would tend skillfully to personnel issues, planning seasons, and associated administrative tasks. Some people wanted a music director who would spend a lot of time in town working for the orchestra. Others said it should be someone who could communicate well in the community—perhaps an American. A few thought it might be nice to find a rising star whose stardom could grow to match that of the orchestra. But in the end, as we distilled the attributes down and when we looked at a list of 100 potential candidates, the list shrank rapidly as we decided the one most important factor we needed was a truly great musician. We could give up on a CEO, a community spokesperson, a fundraiser, but we could not give up on someone who could make music at the highest level—someone whose artistic excellence would propel the orchestra to new heights.
Two other orchestra representatives concurred:
A great conductor has the most inscrutable kind of skill, an elusive and special kind of thing. It is probably better and more important for him or her to be on the podium searching for musical truth than at the Rotary giving a speech.
We have to remember that a great conductor never stops studying and spends many hours each week with scores. It is not a situation in which one learns technique, artistry, and repertoire as a student and then the learning process is over. They are lifelong students of music.
Implications of the Musical Excellence Paradigm
If musical excellence is key, and if the growth of a musician/conductor is itself a life’s work, then there may be some obvious corollaries:
◆ The so-called “music director” may appropriately function more as a chief conductor than a true music director in many institutions, given the limited available time to attend to the myriad tasks and responsibilities required in the modern orchestra. This individual might be the one charged with preserving and enhancing musical excellence, while another person would take on the missionary role of outreach and education, as well as other functions.
◆ Given the realities of the field today, the individual will probably not be in residence for the majority of the season, thus further reducing the time available for extramusical activities.
◆ The power dynamics of an orchestra are complex, and the music director is not a CEO in the traditional sense. The perception of him or her as the single leader with total and exclusive authority must be corrected.
◆ The more extended responsibilities that one might want from a music director need to be shared among numerous individuals (assistant conductors, artistic administrators, musicians) including some who may not now be in the orchestra institution.
◆ If the mandate is musical excellence, then perhaps other things, such as giving the individual more rehearsal time, will need to change in order to make that goal easier to achieve.
Other Forms of Excellence
As the discussion of musical excellence progressed, many questions surfaced. What is the consequence of holding out musical excellence as the paramount criterion in choosing a music director? The financial investment an orchestra makes in a music director is generally considerable. Are there other returns they should seek for that investment? Should orchestras make investments in good halls, customer service, and community service, to name a few? The list of
desired attributes in a music director beyond musical excellence might also be long, and might include leadership ability, communication skills with the broader community, skill in educational programming and mentoring, and organizational management skills.
The conversation became heated when it was argued that large investments in marginal increases in musical quality might not be in the best interests of the institution because the money might be needed elsewhere, and that a diminishing number of people in orchestra audiences can even distinguish the differences between great and good. The response to this assertion was swift. According to one of the music directors present, “As soon as we start underestimating audiences, we are making a serious mistake.” One of the funders, in asserting a different point, cited recent research commissioned by the Knight Foundation that indicates that many audience members do not even list excellence of performance as a primary incentive for attending a concert. Others countered that people may think they cannot tell the difference, but often they can.
Certainly for every incremental improvement, an orchestra will have to increase its financial investment. Orchestras need artistic, financial, and institutional stability, and they should not aspire to a level of artistry that they cannot sustain. An orchestra must do the best it can with the resources it has, and it must face choices wisely and realistically.
The Commitment to Audience and Community
Audiences: It was suggested that in developing a profile for a music director, selection committees would be wise to consult more with audience members. The Knight Foundation-sponsored research cited earlier indicated that large portions of today’s classical music audiences have very little musical background. Further, the research indicates that there appears to be little correlation between audience members’ levels of enjoyment of concerts and their levels of musical training. Finally, audiences attend concerts for many reasons, only some of which relate to the singular high quality of the performance. If ticket sales are becoming a problem in many orchestra institutions, should there not be a clearer focus on how audiences can be better served? Might an investment in a music director who is less distant from audiences be more prudent in some cases (especially if musical excellence is still reasonably high)? Or is meeting audience needs someone else’s job?
The Community: This view was amplified by a funder who said that the musical quality of an orchestra is only one criterion used by many foundations in determining grants. This foundation, for example, is deeply focused on the orchestra’s role in the community, and its ability to reach out to a broad segment of that community. Perhaps this is not the music director’s job, though the community sees the music director as the institutional leader and so takes cues from the way that person behaves. Even if the music director should not be focused on community concerns, the question still comes down to resources—both financial and human. What kinds of resources will the institution devote to audiences and community? Is it more important to tour Europe with a well-known music director or to perform in local neighborhoods? In the end, it may depend on the orchestra and its priorities.
Broadening the Team
Another funder acknowledged the importance of both musical and nonmusical goals for the orchestra institution and spreading responsibility for these goals among a team of individuals:
Orchestras today clearly must have multiple goals, and they need to find multiple structures and various individuals to carry out these goals. Whenever you try to optimize on several characteristics, you won’t find someone who is A+ on all of them. Inevitably, if artistic merit has to be A+ for the music director, then you will need to find other ways to offload other functions. You don’t need to give them up.
Training and Career Development
What is the ideal training for a music director? A small subgroup from the symposium came up with an outline for discussion:
◆ Study of instruments, piano,
◆ Composition, ear training,
◆ Repertoire, including opera,
◆ Score analysis,
◆ Singing (rhythm and pitch). It is important for conductors to be able to demonstrate to the orchestra players through singing.
◆ Contextualization of musical content, with high degree of broader cultural understanding (literature, history, visual art, architecture, theatre, etc.).
Physicality of conducting
◆ Study of movement,
◆ Gestural grammar.
Podium time Understanding orchestra operations and activities including:
◆ Labor issues,
◆ Personnel issues and how to manage them,
◆ The financial structure of orchestras,
◆ Education (adults and young people),
◆ The relationships among music director, management, and board,
◆ Fostering the idea of giving back to art itself.
◆ Serving as an ambassador of an orchestra and a city,
◆ Dealing with the world of artist managers,
◆ Dealing with the media (print, TV, radio),
◆ Understanding the recording industry,
◆ New media and its potential impact on the distribution of music,
◆ Intellectual property issues,
◆ Interview skills.
Not all of this training can occur in a conservatory or even while an individual is in his or her “student” period. But there are various forms of preprofessional training possibilities including:
◆ On-the-job mentoring. (Mentoring, though rare, could be offered both by individual conductors, from an orchestra itself, and from others in the business.)
Two additional suggestions were made about connecting training institutions more closely to orchestras:
◆ Leaders of musical training institutions should be in contact with those who actually run symphony orchestras, just as law professors tend to be well- connected with firms that do the hiring.
◆ Orchestras might look to conservatories to provide cover conductors from their graduating classes. A young person coming in to cover for several weeks would learn a great deal, and the orchestra would gain a talented young person as a potential replacement in an emergency.
Recruitment and Selection
Another small group discussed an appropriate process for recruiting music directors.
Formulating a vision for the orchestra
◆ The process must begin with the orchestra clarifying its vision for the future. How does it see itself in five to ten years, and how should a new music director play a role in achieving this vision?
Process of selection
◆ The process of selection must be clearly articulated so that everyone in the orchestra institution (and those outside who are interested) understands it.
Questions to be answered might include:
◆ Will there be a selection committee? How will it be composed and who will decide who serves? What is its role?
◆ Who will make the final decision?
◆ Who will be consulted in the process and when?
◆ How will opinions be solicited?
◆ What role will musicians have—not only those on the selection committee, but others as well? (Would a conductor be hired whom the majority of musicians did not want?)
◆ Will all candidates be required to guest conduct?
◆ What information will be shared with press and public, and when?
◆ Who will be spokesperson?
◆ Who will meet with the candidates and when? (This often cannot be an ironclad rule because some candidates will not allow themselves to be official candidates until the job is offered so interviewing has to be a quiet process, often with a small subgroup).
◆ The committee is generally composed of a mix of musicians, trustees, and management.
Questions to be answered might include:
◆ Are musicians appointed by peers or selected in some other way?
◆ How are decisions made (by majority vote, consensus)?
◆ How often will the committee meet?
Job description and profile
◆ The job description describes the tasks and responsibilities associated with the position, as well as the reporting structure.
◆ The profile describes the attributes of the person to be hired.
◆ Residency requirements (if important): For some orchestras, specifying the minimum number of weeks of residence, as well as conducting, may be important.
◆ An orchestra is always looking (or should always be looking) for its next music director even when it is not in a search. This means that the selection of guest conductors has a special importance. Sometimes the current music director is not helpful in this process for obvious reasons.
◆ The press can be a detriment to a smooth process, spreading incorrect speculation, scaring off candidates, or undermining a “normal” conducting opportunity by raising the stakes so high that the candidate does not perform well.
It was generally agreed that musicians today are increasingly driving the process of music director selection and that their strong involvement can be a genuine benefit to orchestra institutions.
Institutional Structure and Authority
A third group dealt with the question of institutional structure and authority.
◆ How should orchestras be led and by whom?
◆ How does the music director fit in?
The group posed six templates of organizational structure as follows:
Musician-run orchestras. This model is found mostly outside this country in such cities as Vienna, Berlin, and London. The Orpheus ensemble in the United States, though a chamber orchestra, has attributes of this model. So do many orchestras that have been restructured from bankrupt predecessors, such as those in Colorado and Louisiana (though these have evolved toward more
traditional structures as they have moved away from their initial entrepreneurial phases to those of maturing businesses).
Conductor as CEO. This was a more common structure in the early days of orchestras in the United States. The conductor was the autocrat who commanded the orchestra, had complete artistic control, and worked with a board and manager who supported him. Birmingham, England, had something similar more recently, though does not today.
Artistic Director or General Director. This model is more common in opera companies or smaller organizations such as chamber music festivals. A single person at the top has both artistic and administrative people reporting to him or her. The individual can be a conductor, administrator, or even a scholar. In an orchestra, a general director might hire all the guests,
including a chief conductor, though perhaps not make the personnel decisions among orchestra members (this might be the role of the chief conductor).
Music Director with additional artistic support (creative chair, dramaturg, artistic administrator). With the trend toward absentee music directors, there is increasingly a need for additional people to support the artistic planning side of orchestra operations. This is particularly the case when complex, thematic, and/or highly creative programming is involved.
Three-legged stool (board, music director, executive director). This overused metaphor describes what has been the most common structure for American orchestras in recent years. It suggests a shared power arrangement among the volunteer head, the administrative head, and the musical head. There are often tensions—especially between the two latter positions—over who really has authority to make decisions that straddle the line between artistic and administrative.
Four-legged stool (musicians added into the mix). With musicians assuming greater responsibilities, the conventional three-legged stool appears to be evolving into one in which the musicians play an increasingly prominent role. Their involvement in the selection of music directors is an example of this trend.
Which of these models makes most sense for orchestras today and how does the music director’s role influence that structure?
“ With the trend toward absentee music directors, there is increasingly a need for additional people to support the artistic planning side of orchestra operations.”
◆ If the music director does not have the time to tend fully to the artistic side of the operation (especially if he or she is in residence only a short time each season), then musicians should have a strong voice in artistic policy and procedure. It should never be assumed that the music director speaks for the musicians.
◆ Wholly musician-run orchestras, on the other hand, have proven to be largely unstable organizations in the United States. The demands of fundraising and administration require specialized expertise and a lot more time than musicians can or are willing to give, generally speaking.
◆ Non-musician board members in musician-run organizations worry about the relationship between authority and accountability. (Will the musicians assume legal liability for their actions?) There is also sometimes a misalignment between empowering and enabling (i.e., are musicians qualified to do the jobs that the power structure gives them?).
◆ In the three-legged stool model, orchestras have often found a misalignment between authority and expertise. Those with the legal authority to make decisions—trustees—often know the least about the business.
◆ In the four-legged stool model, there are some inherent tensions in making “labor” a part of the governance and decision-making structure, but it has been accomplished successfully in many organizations.
If orchestras are to make the transition from the three-legged to four-legged stool model, which many at the symposium endorsed, several things have to happen:
◆ The process must be intentional. Orchestras cannot drift in the direction of musician empowerment, but must be explicit in how they will accomplish the change.
◆ The music director must understand and buy into the change and the structure.
◆ The process must be accomplished slowly through education and commitment to change on the part of all parties.
◆ The orchestra must be personalized and humanized.
◆ Change is effected more smoothly by finding ways to use the talents of musicians more creatively (e.g., through service conversion, on planning committees).
◆ There must be clear definitions of responsibility and authority.
What Needs to Change
Change is inevitable in the orchestra field, though it occurs slowly. Participants identified four areas of change that are critical to the 21st century world of music directorships:
Orchestras must develop profiles for their music directors that directly relate to the vision, needs, and capacity of their organizations. There is no single profile of the perfect music director. An individual is ideal only in relation to a specific orchestra in a specific community. The cult and prestige of a star personality is alluring. But orchestras should ask themselves the key questions: Who are we? Who do we want to be? What can we realistically achieve? What sort of person can help us realize our aspirations?
The job descriptions and expectations for music directors must be ambitious but realistic. During the symposium, participants discussed two rhetorical questions. Do we expect too much from our music directors? Do we expect too little? Both are often true. The expectations that many have built up about music directors are unrealistically molded by a time when music directors stayed at home, built their orchestra institutions, had complete artistic control, and did not have to deal with today’s harsh financial realities. We cannot have the same expectations today. But we must expect music directors to fulfill the responsibilities established by a mutually agreed job description, and we should expect the field to provide music directors with the proper preparation to do so.
The structure and authority arrangements within the orchestra must continue to evolve. Music directors are often treated as though they have enough time and a large enough mix of talents to lead an institution in multiple areas. Even in the artistic realm, this is often not fully possible. Roles and responsibilities need to shift. Musicians are taking on new and expanded roles and responsibilities in some institutions. But orchestras must also be open to the fact that new categories of people may be required in their organizations to get the job done.
The training of conductors must change. In particular, post-conservatory training must prepare conductors for the brave new world of music directorships in 21st century symphony orchestras. In the future, opportunities and structures may be required to fulfill these needs that go well beyond the training opportunities that now exist.
The symposium began with representatives of the Boston Symphony Orchestra discussing the inevitable changes that will occur as a result of the departure of a long-term, charismatic music director. As the symposium ended, other participants acknowledged that their institutions also face the inevitable uncertainty that comes with turnover in the music director’s position. What will the future hold for these orchestras? It is too soon to tell. What is clear is that changes are inevitable, and to the extent that orchestras can shape these changes, they will be blessed with stronger institutions in the decades ahead.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Music Center express their gratitude to those who participated in the symposium. Titles and organizational affiliations of the participants were current as of the date of the symposium.
J. Thomas Bacchetti, executive director, Colorado Symphony
Melanie Beene, program director, The James Irvine Foundation
Carmelita Biggie, committee member, Helen F. Whitaker Fund
Alan Black, principal cellist, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
Paul Brest, president, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Peter A. Brooke, chairman, Boston Symphony Orchestra
Gary Burger, program director, Community Partners Program,
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Peter Cummings, chairman of the board, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Roberto Diaz, principal violist, The Philadelphia Orchestra
Jo Ann Falletta, music director, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Virginia Symphony
Miles J. Gibbons, Jr., executive director, Helen F. Whitaker Fund
Nancy Glaze, director, Arts Program, David & Lucile Packard Foundation
Marian A. Godfrey, director, Culture Program, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Ellen Highstein, director, Tanglewood Music Center
Joseph Horowitz, historian, writer, artistic consultant
Edna Landau, managing director, IMG Artists
Keith Lockhart, conductor, Boston Pops; music director, Utah Symphony Orchestra
Michael Morgan, music director, Oakland East Bay Symphony
Lowell J. Noteboom, chairman of the board, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Joseph Polisi, president, The Juilliard School
Joseph Robinson, principal oboe, New York Philharmonic
Don Roth, president-elect, Aspen Music Festival and School Robert Spano, music director, Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra; music director designate, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Roland Valliere, executive director, Kansas City Symphony
Mark Volpe, managing director, Boston Symphony Orchestra
Karen Wolff, dean, School of Music, University of Michigan
Edward Yim, director of artistic planning, Los Angeles Philharmonic
Over the last several years, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra community—board, staff, musicians, and volunteers—have invested many hours in discussion and analysis of their governance and leadership
processes. Beginning in the fall of 1997, representatives of the Symphony Orchestra Institute engaged groups and individuals from the organization on topics of organizational performance and relationships among key constituencies.
In 1999, the board determined that it was time to revisit the organization’s strategic plan. As the conversations progressed, leaders of the constituencies agreed that the planning process itself should reflect a growing view that multiparty leadership was necessary for success. With that thought in mind, the planning process began in earnest in 2000.
Rather than having a designated committee develop a long “to-do” list for the next few years, planning- process leaders focused on four conceptual topics:
◆ Mission, vision, artistic direction,
◆ Marketing, and
◆ Governance, leadership, and professional development.
Work groups (representing all four constituencies) were formed for each topical area, with each group composed of at least 12 members plus a skilled facilitator. It was also determined to be wise to have a 16-member “integration group,” composed of representatives of the work groups and the process facilitators, in order to ensure that the recommendations of the separate teams would be aligned for the overall organization.
Symphony Orchestra Institute representatives worked most closely with the governance, leadership, and professional development group (GLD), and it is that story we detail here.
Because the GLD’s recommendations were likely to have significant impact on the organization’s long-term thinking, and because constituency leaders needed to have high stakes in the recommendations, the chair of the orchestra members’ committee, immediate past president of the volunteers, current and immediate past board chairs, and president of the orchestra all agreed to serve on this committee.
Laying the Foundation
Early in the process, the GLD decided it needed to understand why its assigned topic was important. Committee members reached the following conclusions:
◆ The years ahead hold significant challenges that will require the best thinking of all members of the Philadelphia Orchestra community.
◆ The most effective response to challenges requires unified leadership and multiconstituent agreement.
◆ In the current organizational environment, effective decision making and action is difficult, due to governance or leadership concerns.
◆ All agreed that they had a strong desire to create new and more effective ways of working together.
The committee also recognized that it had been given a formidable charge to improve the overall governance process of the organization, as well as that of each constituency. Committee members had also been asked to examine and improve the relationships among and within constituencies, the quality of overall group leadership, and the professional development of constituency members.
As readers should well expect, this charge was more extensive than any committee could address in six months, so the group focused its attention first on the governance process, agreeing that thoughts about leadership and professional development would follow.
An additional part of laying the foundation involved agreeing to a basic flow of work. With guidance from the facilitators, the committee agreed to the following:
◆ It would first determine the scope and boundaries of its work. All participants needed to understand what was included in the work and what was not. This step included defining terms.
◆ They would then develop a governance, leadership, and development fact base for the organization as a whole and, separately, for each constituency.
◆ They would work through the following steps sequentially for each area:
❖ Develop shared values and beliefs.
❖ Develop strategies for achieving those values and beliefs.
❖ Develop designs for action to carry out the strategies.
❖ Create a set of integrated, comprehensive recommendations.
Establishing Scope, Boundaries, and Definitions
In establishing the scope of its work, the committee understood very quickly that by agreeing to address governance of the organization overall, as well as in each constituency, they were extending accepted thinking about the topic. For example, when one says the word “governance,” most individuals immediately think “board of directors.” However, in a multiconstituent organization such as a symphony orchestra, the governance processes within individual constituencies should have great influence on the governance process of the board itself.
The committee identified several subtopics which members agreed needed to be addressed:
◆ Current and future roles of the orchestra members’ committee, the board and its executive committee, board committees, the volunteer association, staff and executive management, and the media company.
◆ Current and future roles of key individuals, including the orchestra members’ committee chair, the board chair, the president of the orchestra, the president of the volunteer association, and the music director.
◆ Decision making within and across groups, including consideration of how input is and should be sought, who is and should be involved, and what processes are currently and should be in place.
◆ The values of the various constituencies and the level of agreement within and across groups as to whether the values needed to be modified in order for the culture to evolve in a more effective way.
◆ The leadership of key individuals, including the music director, both within and across constituencies.
◆ Working relationships, including consideration of ways to develop trust and respect, and to improve relationships over time.
As they worked to locate the boundaries, committee members agreed that such important topics as collective bargaining and organization performance would be addressed tangentially, but not as core governance topics. They also agreed to working definitions of five terms: governance, leadership, professional development, beliefs, and values.
The process of defining terms provoked some lively discussion. For example, the committee did not come to immediate agreement on an operational definition of governance. Members agreed early on that governance is not about having musicians on the board, nor is it about the decision-making process at the board level alone. They ultimately agreed that governance is about what items require decisions, where, how, and when decisions are made, and who is involved in making decisions. With scope and definitions now established, the committee turned its attention to developing a fact- base.
Developing the Fact-Base
Effective strategic planning requires agreement about facts, although when the topic is qualitative (governance), what constitutes a “fact” may itself be debatable. The GLD approached this phase of its work by asking the representatives of each constituency to develop facts relating to their particular subgroup. This process required several meetings and involved assembling information that was readily available, asking questions to learn more, reporting, and discussion. The committee agreed that when all members of a constituency shared a belief, it would be viewed as a “fact.”
When the fact-base was complete, it was summarized as themes that appeared across several constituent groups. These were considered to represent a pattern of behavior throughout the organization.
Examples of facts as developed by the GLD include:
◆ There exists a high level of interest and energy to be involved in the organization’s activities in a meaningful way. However, many of these desires are not currently being fulfilled.
◆ Many constituency members do not view their participation in and input to the organization as valued.
◆ The constituencies do not currently view one another as partners, but there is a strong desire to develop strong partnerships and working relationships.
◆ In many cases, the current governance process assures that there will be reaction on the part of those groups that were not involved in the initial thinking and decisions.
◆ Many of the issues that exist within and across constituencies are due to the lack of good processes, knowledge, and skill in addressing very difficult and complex topics. They are not due to a lack of will to do a good job.
◆ There are structural and process challenges unique to each constituency.
◆ There is currently not a shared vision, set of values, and strategy within and across constituencies to serve as a coalescing force.
With the fact-base in hand, the committee turned its thinking to the process it would use to develop strategies and designs for action. The facilitators suggested a rigorous process that involved working to establish key values and shared beliefs, and only then turned attention to concepts, strategies, and designs for action.
Key Values and Shared Beliefs
Organization development professionals have demonstrated repeatedly that one way to create alignment of a team relative to the future is to establish agreement in two areas:
◆ The key values, or what the group sees as important to them relative to the future.
◆ The shared beliefs, or what the group holds to be true about the topic.
The GLD developed a set of key values related to governance that the entire organization should hold:
◆ Shared participation and broad involvement,
◆ Respect among constituencies,
◆ Commitment to artistic integrity,
◆ Maintenance and growth of financial viability,
◆ Synthesis and integration of the parts,
◆ Pursuit of excellence,
◆ Customer service, internal and external,
◆ Meeting the needs of all stakeholders, and
At first blush, these values might seem obvious. But a rigorous planning process explores current values and contrasts them with ones desired for the future. For the Philadelphia organization, the current values and those desired were, in some cases, at odds. For example, everyone agreed that the organization had currently and should continue to have “a commitment to artistic integrity.” But discussions of participation, meeting the needs of stakeholders, customer service, and diversity revealed ongoing actions that contradicted this value.
The discussion of values was often difficult. However, it provided great insight into the organization’s culture and served as a springboard as the group began
to develop a set of beliefs that would guide “outstanding” governance for the organization.
The process of establishing a set of beliefs about governance began with each committee member formulating his or her own set of beliefs. The committee then convened and reviewed all entries. The full set of beliefs was categorized and culled for duplication, and then discussion began. Over many hours, committee members worked to reach consensus and to determine the implications of pursuing each belief. When the group had agreed to a full set of beliefs, they tested their work for consistency and discussed the implications of the total set.
The agreed governance beliefs fell into three broad categories:
◆ Beliefs that focused on the overall organization.
◆ Beliefs that focused on the constituencies and the ways in which they work together.
◆ Beliefs that focused on each individual constituency.
Overall Organization Beliefs
The GLD agreed to five beliefs that would serve to guide the overall organization:
◆ Within a mutually agreed time frame, all decisions regarding direction, strategy, vision, and mission will be made through consensus-based processes that meaningfully involve all constituencies.
◆ A permeating and shared vision will energize what we do and assure that we can be outstanding.
◆ If we buy into our mission/vision at the highest personal level, we will create will and passion across the whole organization.
◆ All constituencies will respect the musicians’ legal right to “organize.”
◆ The total organization will address the great majority of issues, with a limited number of issues to be addressed in a traditional labor-management context.
The discussions that led to this set of beliefs was extended and often difficult. As an example, to reach agreement on the first belief, committee members needed to resolve several paradoxes and challenges. The board holds fiduciary responsibility for the organization, yet the staff has administrative and operational responsibility.
Current operational processes created conditions by which several constituencies became involved only after fundamental decisions had been made, which often led to polarization. Decisions were often challenged after the fact or defended as part of their presentation. The core question became: could each constituency agree to involve the others earlier and more fully in the decision-making process? In the end, the committee’s answer was “yes.”
Adoption of the last two beliefs also had deep philosophical and practical implications for all constituencies. While there was recognition of the reality of “organized” musicians as a Philadelphia Orchestra constituency, a number of GLD members were uncomfortable with that fact. Ultimately, the group worked through the tensions and agreed that the organization must have the systems, processes, and leadership to work in its actual environment.
Beliefs for Constituencies Working Together
The GLD also adopted five beliefs to guide the ways in which the constituencies work together:
◆ We will make decisions that are informed by what is “best” for the total institution.
◆ We will make better decisions and will be better able to implement these decisions by having broad involvement and participation.
◆ If people are better informed, and are able to learn about and have input into decisions, they will have a greater “buy-in” to those decisions.
◆ We are a more effective organization if each group has well-defined processes for making decisions and ways to communicate decisions within and across constituencies.
◆ When speaking to the outside world, all constituencies should speak with one voice.
The formulation of this set of beliefs also came only after extensive discussion. For example, agreeing with the first belief created two new accountabilities:
◆ To ensure that all constituencies know what is going on. That would involve developing processes to attack the exclusivity that currently existed within and across constituencies.
◆ Ensuring that decisions are made in the best interest of the whole organization.
No longer could a constituency plead ignorance, choose not to be included, or exclude others. And no longer could a constituency make decisions that did not take into account the organization as a whole.
Beliefs for Individual Constituencies
The discussion that led to the development of the beliefs for the constituencies collectively also uncovered the need to recognize that three of the constituencies are legal entities with their own charters and bylaws. That fact gave rise to the development of the following:
◆ Each constituency maintains its unique integrity, and all other constituencies will recognize that integrity.
◆ Each constituency will have decision topics that are unique and confidential.
As they discussed the ramifications of making decisions in the best interest of the whole organization, committee members recognized that this might be interpreted as usurping the integrity of an individual constituency. They agreed that under no circumstances should that threat exist. These final two beliefs recognize the tension that must exist within and across constituencies. The GLD agreed that tension, when addressed productively and positively, created excellent outcomes.
Overall, this set of beliefs recognizes that an effective organization must have excellence in information sharing, involvement of participants beyond their core constituencies, and respect for the confidentiality and uniqueness of each group as a legitimate entity.
New Governance Strategies
As we turn to a discussion of governance strategies and designs for action, readers are reminded that three additional strategic-planning work groups were simultaneously addressing the topics of mission, vision, and artistic direction; venue; and marketing. Before the GLD began its further work, the 16-member integration group convened to reflect on the work of the four strategy teams and to ensure that there was basic agreement with each group’s tentative conclusions. There was consensus that the direction being set by the GLD was correct, and the group was charged to develop specific, actionable ideas to implement the beliefs.
Beliefs form the roots of strategy. If one believes something to be true, one can develop a strategy to implement the belief. From the strategy, one can develop specific designs for action.
Over a period of several months, committee members developed six fundamental strategies. They believed that these strategies would have profound and lasting impact on the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Create systems and structures to ensure multiconstituent involvement in and information for fact-based decision making within constituencies and across the total institution.
GLD members acknowledged that in the current environment, information- sharing and decision-making processes were neither systematic nor structured. Further, working from fact—especially shared facts—was not a common practice. This strategy implied a desire for significant change.
Build common decision-making and conflict-resolution processes within and across all constituencies.
Common language and thought processes enhance the ability of groups to reach agreement, especially on difficult issues. Using identical tools for decision making, discussion, and conflict resolution gives groups the ability to work on the content or substance of differences. Committee members believed that this strategy would be required as the Philadelphia Orchestra organization addressed complex challenges in the future.
Identify individuals with governance and leadership expertise. Develop and improve their capabilities. Nurture and develop future leaders in all constituencies.
Committee members agreed that, in general, the constituencies did not have effective succession plans and had not made it a priority to develop effective future leadership. They agreed that in order to move the institution forward, this strategy was needed for the overall organization, individual constituencies, and current and emerging leaders.
Create structures for regular information sharing and for participation in decision shaping by appropriate, broad cross-departmental or organizational groups. Create visibility to the organization of the projects and efforts that are in motion.
The committee agreed that formal processes should be put in place to ensure that information was shared more on a “right to know” basis and less on a “need to know” basis. This implies volunteering information about ideas being considered or in motion and reduces reliance on the grapevine or “fishing expeditions.” Decision-shaping involvement implies that while every group may not be involved in every decision, there will be an awareness of what is being considered “before the concrete hardens.”
Create a minimum number of groups to complete the work of the organi- zation effectively.
This strategy underscored the committee’s recognition that a proliferation of groups would tax the organization’s resources and ultimately backfire. They agreed that the groups should be focused and not redundant. For example, an overall artistic committee might replace the current musician, staff, and board artistic committees.
Develop methods and processes to assess and assure the performance of individuals and groups.
Many organizations experience situations in which leaders do not meet the expectations of individuals and groups. Meeting expectations is a multidimensional process: the incumbents must understand the expectations; the expectations must be shared both among incumbents and those who have an interest in incumbents’ performance; the means of assessment against expectations must be understood; and the process must be mutually confirmed. In other words, performance assessments can be truly fair only if everyone understands the rules of the game. Committee members agreed that individual constituencies and the organization as a whole needed a more formal process for assessing performance, providing performance feedback, and providing developmental opportunities.
Members of the governance, leadership, and professional development committee understood that these strategies would test the will of the organization to make effective and meaningful change. They also recognized that successful implementation could not rest with one or two constituencies or with one or two key leaders.
Strategies are important in framing the challenge, but strategies do not drive action. So committee members took the next step and developed specific designs for action.
Designs for Action
The GLD recognized that the strategies, in their broadest sense, could not all be implemented simultaneously or the organization would choke. Yet the members also recognized that demonstrable change needed to take place. They developed designs for action intended to be both bold and accomplishable.
They separated their thinking into action designs intended for the overall organization and those intended for individual constituencies.
Recommendations for the overall organization included:
◆ Convene an annual meeting of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. This meeting is intended to be much more than an annual meeting in a legal sense. The intent is to bring together a large number of individuals from all constituencies to openly address the state of the organization.
◆ Top leaders of the organization should meet at least six times a year to discuss strategy, issues, working relations, and improvements in organizational processes. These leaders should include the music director, board chair, president, orchestra members’ committee chair, and volunteers’ chair. The GLD members recognized that in order for a multiconstituent leadership process to work, those leaders would need to meet regularly as a team to address the organization’s challenges. These meetings will set a new tone and direction for information sharing, participation, and decision making.
◆ The president and senior staff will develop an overall plan for increasing the diversity of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s patrons and advocates. Each constituency will develop a similar plan. The executive committee of the board and the cultural diversity initiative council will audit performance annually and make recommendations for improvement. This design is intended to establish shared accountability for diversity. Previously, not all of the individual constituencies were charged with responsibility for improving diversity.
◆ Identify recurring workflow processes that directly involve multiple constituencies (e.g., tours, season planning, budget) and create ways to discipline, structure, and improve these processes. Committee members acknowledged that the organization had many repetitive processes that played out in a dysfunctional way every time they occurred. Developing new ways of work would reduce negative energy and streamline decision making. For example, establishment of a tour committee that includes staff and musicians could contribute to decisions that are understood and supported from the outset.
◆ Create opportunities for informal activities which reinforce and support cross-constituency interaction. Committee members agreed that there currently existed several volunteer activities which, if expanded, could support this design for action. They added the caveat that in pursuing this design, musicians should not be asked to play “for free” at an event.
◆ Form a small task group to recommend ways to recruit, organize, manage, and lead nonaffiliated Philadelphia Orchestra volunteers. As the GLD pursued its work, it became clear that there were many individuals in the community who wished to be actively affiliated with the orchestra, but who did not want to join the board or the existing volunteer association. The committee agreed that it should be a priority to recognize these important resources.
Recommendations for individual constituencies included:
◆ Strongly encouraging the president and senior staff heads to put in place a cross-departmental staff working group composed of staff heads and key next-level employees. In reflecting on the work of the staff, and the levels of information sharing that occur both within the staff and from the staff to the rest of the organization, the GLD determined that a cross-departmental working group could both serve to link functional groups and to provide more effective overall communications.
◆ Strongly encouraging the musicians to examine their constituency’s processes toward operating more consistently with the overall governance recommendations. In discussing ways in which musicians might be connected in more effective and meaningful ways, committee members agreed that the overall organization would benefit if the musicians considered such items as assuring longer continuity on both board and other committees, the method of appointing and electing members to various positions, and ways in which decision making on non-trade-agreement items might be expedited.
Throughout the discussions of governance, the topic of committee effectiveness— both staff and board—arose repeatedly. When the GLD ultimately tackled the topic of committee structure, leadership, and effectiveness, members were well- prepared and energetic. The seeds had been sown for consideration of significant change.
Under the process that was currently in place, the board chartered committees and named their chairs. The 11 currently constituted board committees had both oversight and fiduciary accountability for their topical or functional areas (e.g., finance, marketing, public relations, development, artistic programming). However, the quality of leadership and level of involvement varied greatly across the committees. Additionally, staff department leaders found the committees to be at times helpful and at other times burdensome.
Following substantive discussion, the GLD determined that board committee activity should be separated into two types:
◆ Policy and fiduciary committees, and
◆ Oversight process and staff advisory committees. This was a decision of some gravity because it recommended a fundamental shift in thinking about committee formation, membership, and accountability.
The GLD determined that policy and fiduciary committees should provide guidance and be accountable for those topics that deal with the organization’s control and fundraising in order to ensure the short- and long-term viability of the orchestra. They specified finance, audit, development, investment, human resources, and nominating/governance committees as policy and fiduciary committees.
The committee detailed its thinking about the formation and evolution, membership and leadership, and accountability of policy and fiduciary committees. Highlights of the recommendations included:
◆ The designation of these committees as standing committees, with membership on each (excepting audit and nominating/governance) to represent all constituencies. Committee chairs will be named by the board chair, following consultation with the nominating/governance committee, and will serve on the executive committee of the board.
◆ Establishing detailed accountability standards for policy and fiduciary committees. These include providing unambiguous policy direction, reviewing and approving specific plans, ensuring that staff decisions are aligned with and support overall organizational strategies, and auditing organizational performance against objectives.
Oversight Process and Staff Advisory Committees
In an effort to streamline the organization’s functionality, yet retain board oversight of organization activities, the GLD recommended the dissolution of board marketing, education, artistic, and strategic planning committees. These are to be supplanted by staff advisory committees for the same functional areas.
The GLD further recommended that the board executive committee institute formal board oversight of staff advisory committees through appointment of a board advocate and liaison for each. This action will broaden the perception of and participation in what previously had been understood to be “governance.” Also detailed were accountability standards which parallel those established for policy and fiduciary committees.
The GLD report also included several recommendations for formation, leadership and membership, and accountability of the staff advisory committees. Among the highlights of the recommendations are:
◆ Inclusion of at least one representative of each constituency on all staff advisory committees. Staff leaders may name additional committee members from inside the organization or invite outside experts to serve. Committees will be co-chaired by the staff leader and an individual named in consultation with the constituency group leaders.
◆ Enumeration of several specific ways in which the staff advisory committees are expected to provide advice and reflection on both annual and long-term plans.
Finally, the GLD recommended that a policy-making external affairs committee be formed to advocate for the Philadelphia Orchestra with community and government leaders and groups, to develop policies and direction to guide community relationships, and to seek funds to support topics of key importance.
The recommended changes in committee purpose and accountability place key nonfinancial activities under the leadership of the staff department heads and create a committee structure designed to support and advise functional activity directly.
The GLD wrestled with the tension that existed between wanting to provide meaningful support for functional activities while still providing vehicles for board members to be involved in and connected to the organization. Ultimately, the group concluded that the merits of separating board-member education from committee activity would be in the best interests of the whole organization.
Another significant change occurred with the recommendation to include strategic planning as a staff advisory committee. In the past, the board itself had held accountability for strategic planning, but it was agreed that the results of this charge were haphazard at best. There was further recognition that the staff has regular strategic discussions as it carries out its work. Within the framework of the GLD recommendation, the staff will guide the board about strategic challenges, and the board will then decide when its greater involvement is required.
Board of Directors
The GLD recognized from the beginning of its work that no discussion of governance could be complete without consideration of board composition and membership. Due to the sensitivity of this topic, the group began by examining its beliefs about board membership, and formulated thoughts in six areas:
◆ An increase in the diversity of board membership (geographic, ethnic, gender, economic, age) will increase board strength. Board diversity will help encourage diversity in such other areas of the organization as donors and subscribers. The board should lead the organization in setting and attaining diversity goals.
◆ For the most part, board members should have the means to make meaningful gifts and the network to gain entrèe to prospective donors. The board must include individuals from “the top of the corporate world.”
◆ The board will function more effectively through membership of those who are willing to work and participate, and who know how to facilitate and encourage others. The board also requires individuals who are willing to bring their experience and expertise to the organization.
◆ Staff, musicians, and volunteers should serve on the board. These individuals should be considered full board members, not representatives of specific interests. Staff and volunteer leaders, as well as the musicians’ chair should be ex officio board members, in addition to any other representatives from their constituencies.
◆ Board members should have passion for and knowledge of the art form.
◆ The board needs to maintain its position of prestige. The nominating/ governance committee should consider the size and structure of the board, and include in its consideration such efforts as an improved emeritus group, a Chairman’s Circle, and other groups that might enhance the overall organization.
With these beliefs articulated to establish a context, the GLD approached the topic of musician membership on the board and agreed to the following recommendations:
◆ Musician membership on the board should increase from two to four, and on the executive committee from one to two.
◆ The chair of the orchestra members’ committee and the chair of the players’ artistic committee should become board members, with the chair of the orchestra members’ committee becoming a permanent member of the executive committee.
◆ The nominating committee should determine the additional musician to serve on the executive committee, perhaps in consultation with the chair of the members’ committee.
The discussion behind these recommendations was fraught with ambivalence and paradox. Increased musician involvement on the board, and particularly on the executive committee, changes musician accountability and creates greater demand on key musicians for their time and involvement. That reality may, in turn, create changes in the musicians’ governance structure. There is also the risk of tension among nonmusician board members on issues of confidentiality and equality of involvement. Raised, but left unanswered by the GLD, was an interesting question as to why there was concern about an increase in musician board membership, but seemingly no similar concern about an increase in board membership of key staff members (beyond the president). However, the GLD was ultimately satisfied with its work and submitted its recommendations to the integration group.
As this article goes to press, the Philadelphia Orchestra organization has begun the implementation of its new strategic plan. In March 2002, the board will consider the recommendations that have been developed by the four topical subgroups. But even before that consideration takes place, the Philadelphia Orchestra president, Joseph Kluger, reports that many of the governance recommendations have taken wing.
Staff and volunteers have reviewed and approved the recommendations, and musicians are scheduled to do so in the near future. Christoph Eschenbach, the orchestra’s music director designate, has expressed enthusiasm for the work of the strategic planners, and in a meeting with the management team, coined the phrase “raising the invisible curtain” to describe the organization’s future approach to making an in-depth connection between members of the audience and the performers.
Additionally, the top leaders group—defined by the GLD as the music director, board chair, president, orchestra members’ committee chair, and volunteers’ chair—held an initial meeting that was viewed positively by all of the participants.
The decision-making process is also evolving. As an example, musicians suggested, and staff members agreed, to use a “zero-base” process to plan the schedule for the 2002-2003 season. This represents a major step forward in the organization’s implementation of multiconstituent decision making.
A Work in Progress
The strategic planners’ recommendations present the Philadelphia Orchestra organization with the significant challenges of carrying on the demands of symphonic life while, at the same time, changing ways in which that life takes place. This will require that key constituency leaders remain steadfast in their support of the recommendations and willing to engage naysayers when voices rise in opposition.
In terms of working relationships, leadership, and capability, the organization is on the cusp of entirely new ways of thinking and interacting. Success will change the ways in which the organization functions. With the heightened spirit that exists in the organization’s constituencies, one can anticipate heightened results, both on stage and off.
Author’s Note: This report presents much of the government, leadership, and professional development committee’s work in summary form. Readers who wish to review detailed outlines of the planning process and recommendations are invited to visit the Institute’s Web site at <www.soi.org>.
Paul Boulian is a partner in Lodestar Associates, Inc. Since 1993, he has worked with symphony orchestra organizations to design and implement facilitated change processes. He holds B.A., M.S., and M.B.A. degrees from the University of California at Irvine and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale University.
Children’s Creativity and the Symphony Orchestra: Can They Be Brought Together?
Hang on to your hat! You are about to take a ride with Jon Deak: composer, New York Philharmonic bassist, teacher. Deak, who deems it important that musicians make themselves creatively available to the next generation, had a notion that young children could compose directly for the symphony orchestra. He has invested six years in working with grade school students to do just that.
The author shares in detail the discoveries he made about children’s creativity as he worked with students in New York and Denver. Some readers may recall Jon’s Meet the Composer residency with the Colorado Symphony, the Colorado Children’s Chorale, and the Denver Public Schools which was chronicled in the September-October 1996 issue
of Symphony magazine.
Examples of the Process
Deak then turns his attention to an explanation of the process he uses as he works with a class. From the simple beginning of one instrument and four sounds, the class moves toward a completed composition.
The way he approaches notation with students who may or may not yet read music is fascinating. The examples of compositions written by children age ten and under tell the story quite graphically. He also explains how children instinctively discover rules of harmony.
Our ride with Jon Deak ends on the stage of the New York Philharmonic. Read on to learn the details.
Let me put this question more succinctly: Can children compose directly for the symphony orchestra? After six years in the trenches—the classrooms and concert halls, the boardrooms, homes, and playgrounds—
I can answer resoundingly: yes, yes, yes!
The time for the “Very Young Composer” is now, and my hope in writing this article is that it will serve as an introduction to the subject, and be merely the first in a series to which others will contribute.
The subject is vast, important, even urgent. And fun. One mustn’t forget that. I’ve had the time of my life watching miracles of creativity unfold from the hearts of children ages five to eighteen. (For the purposes of this article, I’ll be talking primarily about grade school children, ages eight through eleven.) I can’t possibly express here the look of joy on a child’s face as she hears an orchestra perform something for which she composed every note herself.
Actually, my main, “ulterior,” motives in pursuing this activity are at least threefold:
◆ First, we get to hear, as purely as possible, what goes on in a child’s mind musically—often ideas that would never occur to a professional, and sometimes downright magic.
◆ Second, the child himself is allowed to express deep emotions usually not accessible or even “allowed” until much later as an adult, if then.
◆ And last, the symphony orchestra, or concert band, or jazz band, or chamber ensemble, benefits most importantly from having made itself creatively available to the next generation. For, despite our best and most inspired efforts, the repertoire of the orchestra—even the “new” music we play—remains rather authoritarian and distant from the child (not to mention even from many adults).
While it is true that we need our symphonic tradition of discipline and scholarship, you don’t have to hold a Ph.D. to be creative!
How I Became Involved
Not too many years ago, I was sponsored by the Cary Trust and Marin Alsop’s Concordia Orchestra to go into P.S. 3, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn to work with children. I need to state at the outset that I have no formal training as an educator, and my hat is permanently off to the professionals in this field. All the school music teachers with whom I have worked in New York, Denver, Chicago, Vermont, and other places have been dedicated, skilled, overworked, and underpaid.
Anyway, as I entered the halls of this brave but struggling school, I was immediately struck by the blazing creativity of its children. The walls were lined, end-to-end, with beautiful examples of children’s artwork. In fact, I realized that all my life I’d seen children’s visual art, painting, sculpture, poetry, drama, prose fiction valued as creative means of expression . . . and concerts. Concerts of music by adults, or at least arranged for by adults. (That, after all, was what I was going to this school to do.)
Where was children’s music? In fact, what is children’s music? Standing there at that moment, I had to confess I had no idea. Was it “Mary Had A Little . . .?” Hmmm. Was it Mozart or Mendelssohn? Not really, unless we expect our kids to become all-time supergeniuses. . . . Raffi? Disney? No. . . .
Looking again at the profound, free, beautiful artwork around me, I could see that, at least at this early, uninhibited age, no adult editing or restricting whatsoever was needed here. Nothing intruded itself between the child and his painting except a pot of paints and a brush.
Yes! That’s it! It hit me that the apparently insurmountable barrier blocking child composers was not academic knowledge, not decades of ear-training (children have marvelously sensitive ears), not even lack of knowledge about the instruments of the orchestra, since that could be overcome somehow, or so I felt at the time; the problem was . . . notation! Ha! (I may have even laughed out loud.) Notation? Big deal. I could do that myself. Let me be the paintbrush! Let my musician colleagues in the orchestra be the palette of paints!
I immediately (or so it seemed) went to John Duffy of Meet The Composer and told him, naively, breathlessly that I’d thought of a way I could enable ordinary children to write directly for the symphony orchestra. In reality, I had no idea what I was talking about. I’d never faced a class of school kids in my life, except at the Interlochen Arts Academy many years before, where I felt I’d not done the best for them, even though I liked the kids. After Meet The Composer told me to wait in line with hundreds of other applicants, I went on bended knee to the New York Philharmonic, my valued employer and beloved artistic job of more than 20 years, to try to sell the idea of an extended leave of absence to the music director, Kurt Masur. In the end, he agreed to the concept of my trying out this idea with Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony, with the aim of bringing it back to New York.
The management worked out a one-year unpaid leave, to be spread over three years (the required term of the Meet The Composer residency), which meant that I shuttled back and forth from New York to Denver every two weeks, 52 weeks a year. It was an unprecedented arrangement, for which I was grateful, but it was no bargain for me, nor for my family (my children were then six, five, and three). But I was off on a quest, and I will forever be grateful to both Meet The Composer and the New York Philharmonic for making it possible.
Children’s Art? How Cute! (Ugh!)
I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear the above comment in some form. I’ve begun to hear it as a biased slur. (The “Ugh!” is my reaction.) Why, indeed, children’s art? Of course, to really answer would take me beyond the scope of this article. But I must comment: children’s art is not only beautiful and honest, it is deep.
If you don’t believe me, go look at Picasso. Or Paul Klee. Or Jean Dubuffet and a score of other artists of this past century who appropriated children’s art—not to mention “primitive” art—to glorify their own careers. Why is it suddenly a great idea because Picasso does it? I’m not trying to put these artists down. They were onto something. To this day, psychologists and others make entire careers out of interpreting the meanings and values in children’s art. Such composers as Ravel, Berg, Prokofiev, Britten, Corigliano, and many others unquestionably understood the depth of the child, at least the child in themselves. But in the end, what interests me here is not the “inner child,” nor interpreting or reformulating the child. I’m interested in . . . the child.
First Attempts in Denver
I will never forget going into Horace Mann Middle School in northwest Denver. “What am I doing here?” I yelled at myself. “I’m not even a teacher. I should be back at home composing!” I couldn’t control the students. I had a sloppy, changeable curriculum. And even the resident music teacher couldn’t figure out what I was getting at. But somehow, when it came time for the kids to put their pieces together so that the all-city high school orchestra could perform them . . . well . . . miracles happened. Keith (age 12) and Matt (age 14) even conducted their pieces, a scary experience for each, but it seemed to temper them for further risk-taking in the realm of performing art.
And George. George went eight weeks in the class without producing anything except some self-derogatory comments. Finally, in a long private session, I asked him if he hated the class. He answered that I wouldn’t like what he had to say musically because it was ugly. How ugly? “This ugly!” And he played the ugliest chord he could play on his cello, which he couldn’t play very well, anyway. It did sound pretty awful. I nodded, and asked him to play that again. He played the same thing. And again. OK, I said, that’s your first note. What’s next? The look he gave me at that moment I will remember until my dying day. I could never hope to describe it, but I think it had something to do with permission and forgiveness. The piece that he then worked out completely by himself for string orchestra (I helped as a sort of scribe) had more depth, dialogue, and compassion than many a professional piece I’ve heard. It came out conceptually
along the lines of the second movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto where the piano tames the “wild beasts” of the orchestra. And I know that this boy had barely even heard of Beethoven, let alone this concerto.
In one class, I tried working with synthesizers. I have temporarily discontinued this, not because I disapprove of the idea, of course, but because I found that at the early stages, the students got results so quickly that they were overwhelmed by the technology, and their own ideas were submerged by it, much as some older kids become fixated by the “top 40,” and stop listening to themselves. I know that there are excellent composing programs in existence, but for now, I need these kids to work with the simple, immediate focus of what they hear in the silence of their own heads, with a pencil and with a blank piece of music paper, or even just blank paper, period, since many of the young composers don’t really even read music.
I should add here that, in fact, John Corigliano, Morton Subotnik, and a host of others have developed highly effective ways of working with children composers. In addition, Meet The Composer and Young Audiences have collaborated to sponsor a program in which I’ve participated called “Compose Yourself!,” which brings composers of widely varying backgrounds and approaches into the public schools.
Examples of the Process
By now, as you read this, you probably have many questions. I know. I still have them myself, perhaps more than ever. In fact, if there is one guiding principle I’ve learned from this process, it is that there is no principle, there is no method, no set procedure. Each child learns at a different pace, in a different way, toward a different end. Each child is unique and precious. Hmmm . . . that is sort of a principle isn’t it! I’ve found that if I take each child seriously as an artist, she will regard herself this way. Not to disparage math class, or science, or English literature, but when it comes to the kind of class I’m talking about, the fun of it is that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Everything and anything is possible. Eeeyow!
My typical elementary-school class is made up of grades three through five, children ages eight through eleven. You can imagine the effect on the kids when I tell them that I will be treating them as adults, that there is no such thing as a wrong answer or a stupid question, and that as long as you treat him with respect, there isn’t anything you can’t ask a professional musician to do, including playing right along with him.
I find it hard to choose which students get into a class such as this. Often I’ve worked with whole “homeroom” classes of up to 30 public-school children. If the class is to be an after-school elective, I just tell the principal, or whoever is doing the selection, to give us the kids who “color outside the lines” when they do homework, as well as ones who have the time to take the class seriously. I do not require the ability to read music. I also don’t mind rebels, or kids with attention deficit disorder, or special education children. Some of them have outrageously wonderful imaginations. Yes, if possible, I will work with an assistant or an associate, which always helps in extending the effectiveness of a class and addressing problems.
There is a place for improvisation and a place for written composition, and I value both. I suppose, since my background is symphonic, and since I regard a concert performance of some sort as a valuable goal and focus of energy for a class, that I will spend more class time to that end, but I still find group and individual improvisation essential, and great fun, besides. As a class moves toward a culminating performance, however, I love to spend as much time as possible with each student individually. I’ve been told that this method is impossibly labor-intensive, but, hey, ask any composer if composition is anything but labor-intensive. In fact, ask any student or teacher how much time is spent on any science project, research project, class play, or choral concert. They are all labor-intensive.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, and need to describe a typical class procedure, more for the purpose of answering questions than for setting any guidelines. Ideally, a class of 15 to 20 students meets once a week after school, for a semester. The culminating event may be a performance by an all-city high school band, a conservatory orchestra, or an ensemble of, say, eight professional musicians, perhaps including some of the young composers performing their own music along with the professionals.
In the first week, we might focus on the flute. We’ll have a brief discussion, use a simple handout describing the instrument, and play a tape. (I try to avoid too many recordings.) The assignment will be to simply imagine a minimum of four sounds you want the flute to play and to somehow write that down. Inweek two, a flutist joins the class, introduces herself, plays a short demonstration of the instrument, and proceeds to the main event: interpreting the students’ compositions. The entire class listens, watches, interacts with each classmate’s piece as it is played. This is almost invariably fun—even riotously fun—for both class and flutist. The kids, of course, will always write more than four sounds. (The only people, in fact, who ever follow that four-sound instruction have been in my adult classes!) Toward the end of the class time, the next week’s instrument is introduced as above, and that is how the course proceeds.
Notation? Yes, part of the fun is interpreting the child’s notation, which can range anywhere along a line from near professional to a fantasy of swirls, syllables, and pictures. It is also true that the visiting instrumentalist needs a healthy amount of patience, humor, and simple care for just what it is that the child is trying to
communicate. And, as an aside, I might say that not all of the miracles occur in the juvenile department; I have hired more than one professional musician who has come in stiff, contemptuous, and authoritarian, and in the process of helping uncover nascent music, been utterly disarmed and transported.
What, for example, would a musician make of a child’s manuscript? It might be in standard notation (Illustration 1);
Or it might be an utterly original graphic (Illustration 2);
It may be fanciful and story-telling (Illustration 3);
It may show development during the course of the class (Illustration 4);
And some children, of course, write out their own scores (Illustration 5).
But the general point is, since the child takes the work seriously, so should we. Every note that a child writes is precious.
The last example might prompt a question: Music theory, counterpoint, and orchestration are such complex subjects that even great composers continue to study them all their lives. How can we expect a child, who has trouble locating
middle “C” on the piano, to navigate through all this and write for an ensemble, let alone an entire orchestra? Indeed, even seconds after I say out loud that the money-back g
uarantee is that the children have written every note of what the audience just heard, I get the inevitable questions. “Yes, but who did the arranging? Who wrote the actual music? What I just heard sounds like an orchestra. I took eight years of piano lessons, and I could never do that!” And the answer is, of course: “Oh, yes you could.”
As to how children do it, I don’t really know. I’m working with an associate right now, a fine composer named Melissa Shiflett, who just yesterday said to me, “Jon, I don’t understand how these kids are doing this. You just give them an assignment and they come back with all these wonderful little pieces, for more and more instruments now, playing together. It seems like a kind of magic.” Well put, Melissa. It certainly is, and it renews my faith in the human spirit every time we have a class or an individual session. (Well, sometimes we do have really rotten days, it’s true.) But the kind of “magic” we’re talking about here is not like seances, or Wingardium Leviosa! (for you Harry Potter fans), or talking to the dearly departed. When you think about it, you can see how it’s possible.
Take music theory. How can children know the rules of harmony? I allow them to develop their own, instinctively, as they feel the need. I am inspired by Leonard Bernstein, who said that as a small child he developed his own names and language for chords: “governing chord” and “vice-governing chord” for dominant and sub-dominant. Bernstein’s genius aside, I thought to widen that to the sheer experiential colors of chords.
For example, when I was young (and decidedly not a genius!) I heard a strange chord just by itself in the introduction to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, asked my piano teacher to play it for me (it turned out to be an augmented triad), and played it endlessly with the pedal pushed down, imagining that my house had become a space ship, gliding over the sand dunes of northern Indiana. Was I so unusual? Hardly, I think. So I thought: what do other kids hear in these intervals, these triads? Sure enough, when I play, for example, a major triad in various keys on the piano, or as arpeggios on my bass, I get widely varying responses, usually (not always) exhibiting a trend: “a sunny day” (high register), “a sunset” (low register). But also, “hard.” “A wedding.” “Teeth.” Or even “hate”! Remember, there are no wrong answers.
One of my favorite responses to a high register diminished triad was: “My cat scratching the furniture.” And to the low register: “And now he’s scratching it down near the rug!” What fun this game is! Do we honestly think that children do not go through incredibly complex emotional responses to music? And that this is not retained on some cellular level deep in the wordless parts of their minds? Kids just need permission to use these feelings, in an atmosphere of respect from their peers and teachers. But that is the subject for a book, not this article.
For the mechanics of getting down on paper the composition from a child who does not know standard notation, I follow a simple rule of thumb: If the child can sing, hum, tap, clap, play on a recorder, keyboard, or other instrument something three times in a row the same way, I’ll write it down. They soon realize I’m taking them seriously, and a focus will take place in even the most attention-deficit-disordered child. (Indeed, it is in precisely these children that this quality appears most strikingly.) If the students don’t tell me what octave to put the trumpet in, it doesn’t go in at all. “Make the trumpet play this note, where it sounds like it’s growling at you.” OK. Now we’re talking. But how loud? How long? And no multiple-choice answers, either. Kids, as any of us, can easily deny their own judgements in the presence of professionals and say, “Yeah. Like the one you just said.”
The line between enabling and spoon-feeding is tricky to perceive, just as is the temptation to edit, rather than leave alone. How many times have I had to bite my tongue not to say to a child, “It would sound so much better if you just . . .”? And how many times have I breathed a sigh of relief that I resisted, because what the child came up with was so much more fresh and original than what I, knowing the “rules” would have done.
The Colorful Variations and a Conclusion, of Sorts.
Even before I completed the Denver residency, I’d begun to take the ideas of kids composing around to other locales and to New York, as was intended in the agreement with the Philharmonic. Back in Denver, the Colorado Symphony had performed at least one work by a very young composer each year. The citywide and critical reactions to this music were very warm (particularly those of Marc Shulgold of the Rocky Mountain News, a father himself).
But I don’t think even I realized what was going on until October 16, 2019. On that date, on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall, during a New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concert, 14 students from P.S. 199, ages 8 to 11, sat with their legs dangling off the downstage lip. They represented possibly the youngest composers in the 157-year history of the New York Philharmonic whose compositions were played by the orchestra.
Yes, there was Mozart, I said, but he never showed up for rehearsals. With the help of Polly Kahn and Tom Cabaniss of the Philharmonic, and the staff of P.S. 199, I mentored these students, as they wrote a theme-and-variations piece which they themselves entitled “The Colorful Variations.” It was a lot of work. They supported each other, fought and cheered each other on, as a team. Yes, they wrote every note, and yet the look of awe and delight on each child’s face as he or she raised a hand when his or her variation was being played was something I later learned had moved many in the audience beyond the parents to tears. The symphony orchestra had suddenly been made accessible to these children, and to every child in that audience.
Jon Deak is a well-known composer, and associate principal bassist and creative education associate with the New York Philharmonic. He is also a member of the Symphony Orchestra Institute’s Board of Advisors. Jon attended Oberlin College, holds a bachelor’s degree from the Juilliard School, and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois. As a Fulbright Scholar, he completed his graduate study at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome.
Special Section: Long-Tenured Board Leadership
To stimulate thought and discussion about the leadership patterns in symphony organizations, we highlight in this issue long-tenured board leadership. It is a dimension we have explored indirectly in our roundtable discussions with members of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (Harmony, April 1997 and October 2001), and as Institute President Fred Zenone explains in “Publisher’s Notes,” a site visit to the Cleveland Orchestra prompted us to take a closer look.
Tom Morris, executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, begins with observations about the ways in which nonprofit organizations differ from those in the for-profit world. He then explores the “Bermuda Triangle” of orchestra organization leadership. He concludes by sharing his thoughts about symphony organizations that function successfully despite the structural ambiguities.
To long-time observers of the symphony orchestra world, the Kansas City Symphony can be described as a successful turnaround (see Harmony, October 1998). Roland Valliere, the symphony’s executive director, describes the ways in which a relatively young organization has consciously worked to build continuity of board leadership. He then details the initiatives the organization has undertaken in recent years. Valliere also shares with readers the delineation of trustee responsibilities that the organization has developed.
The final entry in our special section is a conversation with Nancy Bechtle and Brent Assink of the San Francisco Symphony. Nancy served as president of the organization’s board for 14 years, and Brent is the executive director. They share their insights about ways in which long-tenured leadership has been important to the organization, both internally and externally.
Symphony Orchestra Boards and Board Leadership
What makes an orchestra a successful and enduring organization? Having searched for answers to that question in my work as an orchestra professional, consultant, and teacher, I have come to believe that, while there are many elements that go into creating success, the one which increasingly seems central is to have a strong and effective board, with strong and effective board leadership.
Boards of nonprofit organizations differ in several critical ways from those in the for-profit world, from which most orchestra board members come.
◆ In the for-profit world, the hired executives are not only required to lead, but are also part owners of the company. In the nonprofit (orchestra) world, the hired executives—the music and executive directors—are in reality hired hands and in no way owners. What a mistake, therefore, to assume they are the institution, whether in marketing, responsibility, or attitude. Music or executive directors who refer to “my” orchestra just don’t understand this!
◆ In the for-profit world, the board has responsibility for policy and financial oversight. In the nonprofit (orchestra) world, it also has responsibility for raising and giving money. In other words, the board actually has a significant operating function to perform, which in itself mandates assuming ownership for the organization. Thinking that fundraising can depend totally upon work by hired executives will fail.
◆ The key responsibilities of a nonprofit (orchestra) board are to set overall policy; to determine an overall sense of vision that outlines what kind of orchestra the community wants; to hire music and executive directors accountable for fleshing out that vision and implementing it; and to raise and give the funds necessary to support that vision.
Orchestras are and always will be owned by the communities in which they reside. Each community must feel a tangible need for the orchestra and find value in its very existence. The community owners are represented by the board, and an orchestra without a strong board, and even stronger board leadership, will not and cannot flourish. The greatest music director, the most cohesive internal culture, the strongest executive director, and the most money will never be enough. Success takes leadership from the very top.
It is also well to remember that leadership is different from management. Tom Peters has said, “Management with its attendant images—cop, referee, devil’s advocate, dispassionate analyst, naysayer, pronouncer—connotes controlling, arranging, demeaning, and reducing. Leadership connotes unleashing energy, building, freeing, and growing.”1 Warren Bennis and Bert Nanus define “Managers as people who do things right; leaders as those who do the right things.”2 And for an orchestra, enlightened leadership always starts with the board.
For the Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell was a miraculous leader, and rightly deserves much of the credit for shaping the success and style of the orchestra, a musical personality that persists to this day. But he did not do it alone. I give even greater credit to the board and board leaders who in 1946 decided, on behalf of their community, that Cleveland needed an international orchestra, and then hired the music director to lead it, supporting him and fulfilling their own responsibilities in making that dream a reality.
The triangular structure of an orchestra organization’s leadership—often called the “Bermuda Triangle”—consists of the lay board leader at the top, supported by the music and executive directors, among whom exist the most important organizational relationships in the entire institution. While the titles of these three positions may differ among orchestras (see discussion below), the essence of the structure exists in all American orchestras. Despite its seeming simplicity, it is a structure fraught with inherent ambiguities.
“ The greatest music director, the most cohesive internal culture, the strongest executive director, and the most money will never be enough. Success takes leadership from the very top.”
◆ The lay board leader is usually the legal CEO as defined under the bylaws. This despite the fact that the board leader is an active member of the community who holds another vocational position, who has no professional training for being CEO of a performing arts organization, and who usually has little formal musical training. This leader is required to spend almost one-third of his or her time on orchestra business.
◆ The music director is the institutional leader in the minds of the public, as evidenced by conducting a majority of performances and having his or her image prominently featured in all publicity. However, the music director is physically present with the organization less than half the year—and often much less. The music director is vested with final artistic authority, including the significant personnel issues of hiring and firing musicians, a responsibility for which most music directors have little or no training.
◆ The executive director is physically present all the time and hears the orchestra perform more than any other single individual. By default and circumstance, the executive director, therefore, assumes many artistic responsibilities—usually implicitly—without being granted any formal authority. Many executive directors have little artistic training or expertise which forces such implicitly assumed artistic matters to be delegated, usually to an artistic administrator.
Can it be any surprise, with this total mismatch of training, position, physical presence, authority, and responsibility that numerous organizational tensions and conflicts arise?
A recent development among American orchestras has been granting the title “president” to the executive director, to recognize more formally the position’s chief executive role and to convey the position’s status to the community. This title change is usually not accompanied by any explicit structural change, and if there is an explicit structural change, it is usually not accompanied by any actual change in duties, responsibilities, or reporting. A further action has been granting the title of “chair” to the lay board leader. Experience shows these title changes in no way mitigate the organizational tensions outlined above and may exacerbate them by seeming to remove the lay leader from some fundraising responsibilities.
Artistic vision is not the exclusive province of a music director, nor has it ever been in a successful orchestra. It must be embedded into the very fabric of the institution and all of its constituents, and ultimately owned and demanded by the board, regardless of the process by which artistic vision is defined. A strongly articulated vision is never enough. It must be deeply felt, widely held, and given reality in practice. Vision can only be articulated if it actually exists; it never exists merely because it can be articulated.
◆ A clear vision forces us to remember who we are, and why we do and do not exist.
◆ A clear vision provides a strong institutional context for shaping decisions.
◆ A clear vision mitigates any structural ambiguities inherent in the organization.
◆ A clear vision inspires.
What conclusions can be drawn from the above observations? There are clearly definitional problems with the structure of orchestra organizations and, therefore, many significant governance and leadership crises in the field. However, despite these same structural ambiguities, there are also situations in which organizations function successfully. Why?
◆ The three individuals who occupy the three positions are the right people.
◆ There exists a strong and understood vision for the organization, which serves to bind the organization and its actions together, providing a clear context for decisions and strategies.
◆ The term of office of the lay leaders is usually five years or longer.
It is this last fact on which I wish to elaborate. Achieving longer-term stability in lay leadership appears to provide the continuity of leadership at the very top of the organization that can ensure that a proper and compelling vision is permeated through the organization. Yes, there are other issues involved with making an organization successful, but a key factor that must be acknowledged appears to be longer board-leader terms.
Look at the success of the Boston Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1950s and 1960s, when strong, long-tenured board leaders dominated the organizations. Or the San Francisco Symphony, whose board president recently completed an extraordinary 14- year term. Or the historical success of the Cleveland Orchestra, where the average tenure of all board presidents is more than nine years.
What reasons are advanced against considering longer terms? Most orchestras that have two- or three-year nonrenewable terms for board leaders offer the following:
◆ It is easier to recruit a board leader if he or she knows it is for a short term only.
◆ It is good for the community, and for the board, to rotate board leadership so more community leaders can take their turns.
◆ Revolving board leadership helps to eliminate awkwardness in getting rid of less-than-effective board leaders.
To me, these are far from compelling reasons to maintain this practice. Those orchestras that expect longer terms have not demonstrated insurmountable difficulty in recruiting able candidates. In many ways, the longer term expectation demands a recruiting process which is defined with more care and diligence, knowing that the candidate will have to make a longer commitment to lead the institution.
Further, since the board leader—legally the CEO—is not professionally trained in running an orchestra, one can correctly anticipate a learning curve before he or she can carry out responsibilities comfortably and with knowledgeable assurance. A three-year term means the lay leader will relinquish the position just as he or she gains that comfort level. Any leader should remain in place long enough to be able to rectify the consequences of his or her own decisions. Staying only three years makes this impossible, which may encourage either reckless or tentative decision making. In short, one must stay long enough to clean up one’s own mess!
Successful organizations do not flourish under regular and frequent changes in leadership. Is there a successful for-profit organization with planned CEO changes every three years? Of course not!
To the argument that it is easier to replace an ineffective leader if the term is short, I would offer the following. Most orchestras with longer-term lay leaders elect officers for one-year terms, renewable annually. The board and leaders expect, however, that the succession of one-year terms is to last for a certain, extended period. The provision of annual elections provides exactly the kind of check and balance against the wrong leader becoming irrevocably entrenched, provided the board then exercises diligence in not reelecting a problem leader.
There are no easy answers, and this essay does not address the difficulties in recruiting board leadership, regardless of term, title, or responsibility. Community leadership is changing, particularly in the corporate sector with the craze of mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, and the emergence of the so-called “new economy.” As a result, the traditional template of “corporate leader” is being replaced with seemingly interchangeable individuals without deep ties to the communities in which they work and whose focus on short-term profitability and their own personal survival has replaced the traditional model of long service and commitment to the company and to the community.
It is clear to me, however, that orchestras would be wise to examine the option of longer terms for board leaders since that appears to be a significant factor in certain success stories. As Joshua Kosman recently wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, “It is the board that sets financial priorities and makes sure— or fails to make sure—that management follows them. It is the board that creates a culture in which artistic excellence is fostered or not. And it’s the board that is responsible, above all, for forging the all-important relationship between the orchestra and its community, without which the musicians might as well be visiting artists in town for a series of tour dates.”3 Leading such awesome responsibilities takes long-term commitment, not the revolving-door variety.
Thomas W. Morris is executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra. He holds an A.B. from Princeton University and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
1 Peters, Thomas J., and Robert H. Waterman. 1982. In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper and Row.
2 Bennis, Warren, and Bert Nanus. 1985. Leaders: Their Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper and Row.
3 Kosman, Joshua. 2001. The muscle behind the music. When orchestras get into trouble (or thrive), blame (or praise) the board. San Francisco Chronicle, December 2.
Someone once said that leadership is the ability to convince others to do what you would like them to do. To that I would add: to do so willfully, consistently, and over time. At its core, leadership is about articulating a vision and leading others to accomplish desired results. It is the oxygen that sustains organizational life. Without it, organizations flounder or die. Continuity of leadership is a defining characteristic of organizations
that consistently excel: General Electric, Hallmark, the Cleveland Orchestra.
Symphony orchestra organizations require leadership from many sources: the board chair, the executive director, the music director, the musician who chairs the orchestra committee. But above all, a superior board chair is vital to success. The simple truth is that a strong leader attracts other strong leaders. Strength begets strength.
Kansas City Symphony
Relative to the majority of U.S. orchestras, the Kansas City Symphony is young, having been formed in 1982 following the demise of the Kansas City Philharmonic. From 1982 until 1995, the emphasis was on creating a new institution and ensuring its financial and artistic stability and success. During those years, four men—each a highly regarded civic leader—chaired the board with tenures ranging from two to five years. They achieved what they had set out to do and by 1995, the Kansas City Symphony was, indeed, a stable organization seeking to move forward in ambitious ways.
The Kansas City Symphony aspires to be a great, enduring organization. To become such an organization takes time. In recent years, we have made significant progress.
No one has been more central to the progress we have made than Shirley Bush Helzberg, who became board president in 1995 and continues in that capacity. Harry Truman might have had Shirley in mind when he said, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”1
She is the embodiment of what Jim Collins, in his brilliant new book, Good to Great, calls a “Level 5 Leader,”2 a person of compelling modesty, yet unwavering resolve, who sets the bar incredibly high and stands firm, even in the face of daunting challenges. The kind of leader whose ambition is not for her or himself, but for the organization and community.
Under Shirley’s stewardship, the Kansas City Symphony has undergone a cultural transformation (that is still very much in progress). As stated in our strategic plan, this is a transformation toward “a caring and compassionate organization with an overriding commitment to innovation and artistic and organizational excellence operating through a collaborative organizational culture.”
Through her deeds, Shirley has taught us what IBM chairman Louis V. Gerstner articulated so well when he said, “You can’t talk a culture into changing. You can’t just exhort people to be different. You’ve got to point to fundamental strategic changes you’re going to implement in a company and then drive the execution of that strategy. And it is in the execution of the strategy that the culture begins to change.”3
But trustee leadership in the Kansas City Symphony is by no means a one- person production. Our board is relatively small—the maximum number of members is 24, including 4 musicians. The executive committee now has five members, four of whom have served together for seven seasons. Such continuity was made possible a couple of seasons ago by a change in the symphony’s bylaws.
Revisiting the Bylaws
As is the case in many symphony organizations, our bylaws provided that a trustee could serve a maximum of two consecutive three-year terms before being required to rotate off the board. After rotating off for a year, a trustee could be invited to serve again. Recognizing that the organization was growing at a very rapid pace (for example, our budget has nearly doubled since 1995), we addressed the question of leadership stability and what would serve the institution best.
In explaining how the board’s thinking evolved, I like to use a sports analogy. Imagine that you have a winning team, along the lines of the Boston Celtics circa the 1960s. What do you want to do? You want to keep winning championships! And the best way to do that is to keep the team together as long as it continues to be effective. There will come a time when you need to enhance the team to meet certain needs, or when it is time for someone to move on (as was true even for the great Bill Russell). Why break up a team—business, sports, or an orchestra—in order to accommodate some self-imposed restriction, such as a set of bylaws? That seems counterintuitive and counterproductive.
And so, the Kansas City Symphony board amended its bylaws, allowing officers of the board to serve without term limits.
What we now have is a wonderful blend of talent and backgrounds, with a net result of the whole being greater than its individual parts. Three vice presidents bring different specialties to the board. One is a former city manager in Kansas City who presently serves as a senior vice president of Hallmark. He also brings to the board a lifelong interest in classical music. Another is chief administrator of a prominent Kansas City foundation and serves on a number of nonprofit boards. The third, who brings a wellspring of business acumen to our organization, is the chief financial officer at Sprint, a corporation that is a major supporter of the arts in Kansas City. The secretary-treasurer is a managing partner at Ernst & Young LLP. He has chaired our finance committee for several years and is involved with a number of charitable organizations.
Our general manager and I meet monthly with the executive committee, and, along with our music director, round out the leadership team.
The Effects of Leadership Continuity
For the Kansas City Symphony, board leadership continuity has been the engine behind a number of initiatives that have built and changed this institution. Since Shirley Helzberg became board president in 1995, we can point to a number of key institutional benchmarks. (My tenure as executive director began in 1995, not long after Shirley’s began as president.) Shortly thereafter, we completed an organizational assessment and undertook an intensive strategic planning process, facilitated by Wolf, Keens & Co., that helped give focus, clarity, and inclusiveness to the entire organization. The plan was adopted by the board in March 1997
and was significantly revised last season. We conducted a thorough music director search and engaged Anne Manson. As reported in the October 1998 issue of Harmony, we successfully negotiated a nine-year evergreen contract with our musicians which has proven instrumental to our growth and success. And today, the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation is well into the planning stages for a new $300 million performing arts center, scheduled to open in 2006, that includes a world class symphony hall primarily for use by the Kansas City Symphony.
A healthy board must constantly find, select, groom, and train new leaders who are willing to contribute their time, their financial resources, and their expertise. For the Kansas City Symphony, the process of selecting board members is a very deliberate one. In fact, we developed a one-page description of trustee responsibilities that
we share with individuals who are being considered for board membership. We sometimes have board slots that are not filled because we have not yet identified individuals who can bring to the institution the talents and interests that will propel our continued forward movement.
Kansas City Symphony: Trustee Responsibilities
The Board of Trustees of the Kansas City Symphony is an elected body of a public trust. Its charge is to establish policies which assist in the successful implementation of the Kansas City Symphony’s mission.
In addition to setting policies, Board membership entails the following personal obligations and responsibilities:
Meeting Attendance and Committee Participation
The Board of Trustees meets five times annually. Board members are expected to attend as many meetings as possible. Board members are expected to participate actively on committees on which they are asked to serve.
Board members are responsible for the fiscal health of the Kansas City Symphony. It is expected that the Kansas City Symphony shall be a significant beneficiary of each member’s charitable giving, and that each member will contribute an annual gift according to his or her personal ability. Additionally, Board members are expected to utilize their individual, corporate, and foundation contacts to help in the solicitation of funds for operating expenses, special projects, and endowment on behalf of the Kansas City Symphony, with the aid of the staff and other Board members.
Attendance at Concerts
In order to familiarize themselves with the broad range of the Kansas City Symphony’s activities, Board members are urged to attend as many different events as possible. Board members are encouraged to invite others to attend as well.
This approach to trustee selection may strike some as odd. But our small board offers opportunities for leadership beyond the executive committee. We have very few standing committees and function from a premise of keeping committee meetings at a minimum. Rather, we conduct our work through ad hoc committees or task forces which have very specific assignments to complete. So trustees have opportunities to participate in ways that truly matter to the organization.
In summary, the Kansas City Symphony is a relatively young organization with aspirations for enduring distinction. Under enlightened board leadership, we have achieved dramatic growth and success. But we are very much a work in…
Attendance at Fundraising Events
Board members are expected to attend as many of the Kansas City Symphony-sponsored benefits as possible and to assist in selling tickets for these events.
Advocacy and Community Relations
It is the Board member’s role to be a representative and advocate of the Kansas City Symphony and to assist in expanding the good reputation of the organization. Additionally, Board members may be asked to use their alliances within the government, corporate, or foundation sectors to assist the Kansas City Symphony on specific issues.
Addressing Strategic Issues of Critical Importance to the Symphony
Board members bring their insight, expertise, and abilities to the task of solving truly important issues that affect the viability and health of the Kansas City Symphony. In our Board, we tend not to get overcommitted with the routine, but rather to focus on issues that truly matter.
In summary, a member of the Board of Trustees is the Kansas City Symphony’s fiduciary, special advisor, support, and ambassador. With the administrative staff, musicians, and volunteers, Board members work as part of a team to ensure the well-being of the institution.
Members can expect to learn about the issues facing the music world today, and in turn, utilize their expertise to help the Kansas City Symphony continue to develop as a major cultural resource for Kansas City and the Midwestern region.
…progress. Whether we have experienced a halcyon period or have sown the seeds of long-term success only time will tell. We believe the cards are stacked in our favor.
A Caveat for the Field
Although this pattern of long-term board leadership has served the Kansas City Symphony well, I want to emphasize I am not suggesting that ours is necessarily the “correct” way of doing things. In my experience, there is no “cookie cutter” route to success. As Barnett Helzberg, Shirley’s husband, has told me, “There is my way, your way, and the right way.” Each orchestra organization needs to discover what works best, distilling what it can from the experiences of others.
Roland E. Valliere is executive director of the Kansas City Symphony. He holds a bachelor of music degree in percussion performance from the New England Conservatory, an M.F.A. from Brandeis University, with additional studies at Harvard University.
1 Collins, James C. 2001. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap —and Others Don’t. New York: HarperBusiness.
2 Ibid. 3 Lohr, Steve. 2002. He Loves to Win. At IBM, He Did. New York Times, March 10,Section 3, p. 1.
In December 2001, Nancy Bechtle “retired” as president of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) following 14 years of service. She continues as a member of the orchestra’s board of governors. As part of our exploration of long- tenured board leadership, the Institute engaged Nancy and the SFS executive director, Brent Assink, in conversation. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
Institute: Nancy, in order for our readers to have a context in which to read this conversation, give us a few “vital statistics” about the board.
Bechtle: The board is composed of about 85 people and it meets four times a year. The executive committee has 21 members and meets six times a year in addition to the regular board meetings.
A number of years ago, we engaged McKinsey & Company to help us with a study to determine what type of board structure would best serve the San Francisco Symphony. We ultimately decided on a structure of three- year terms for board members, with unlimited opportunity for reelection. We also decided to cut the size of the executive committee from more than 30 to 21.
As part of the study, we considered a structure that would have required individuals to rotate off the board for a year after a specified number of three-year terms. That’s a pattern one can find in a number of other orchestras. We decided against that idea because we did not want to lose people who were very valuable to our work. We feared that people would perceive their service to the orchestra as, for instance, a nine-year term and then move on to something else. The pattern of a specified number of terms also encourages complacency on the part of the nominating committee, in that board members are allowed to serve for nine years whether or not they are fulfilling their obligations.
One result of the study was rewriting our bylaws. It is important to have bylaws that fit the organization, not an organization that tries to conform to an existing set of bylaws. Bylaws are not immutable! Institute: Does the board have an active committee structure?
Assink: It certainly does! And that’s where the work actually gets done. We think that’s the key to a successful governance structure.
Bechtle: There are five committees—executive, finance, investment, administrative compensation, and audit—that are elected by the voting members of the San Francisco Symphony, not the board. Voting members are people who donate at least $350 annually and subscribe to at least three concerts in any regular season series. These are committees that can act on their own on behalf of the board. The other standing committees, such as marketing, artistic, development, and so on, are more advisory in their work.
Institute: Now that we know a bit about the current structure of your board, let’s turn our thinking to this question we have about long-tenured board leadership, particularly that of the board president. Is there a history of long- tenured leadership in San Francisco?
Assink: The orchestra was formed in 1911, and the board has had 16 presidents. So that’s an average tenure of nearly six years. Interestingly, on the entire list, there are two women, and they hold the distinction of having served the longest. Leonora Wood Armsby served from 1936 to 1953, coinciding almost exactly with the tenure of Pierre Monteaux as music director. And, of course, Nancy, who served from 1987 to 2001.
Bechtle: I had been on the board for three years when I was asked to become president, and I agreed to commit to five years as president. In the San Francisco Symphony’s more recent history, board presidents have served between five and seven years. I’m not sure I know exactly how I ended up serving for 14 years. The best explanation I can give is that there was always something ahead, and Brent, or his predecessor, Peter Pastreich, would say, “Nancy, you can’t leave now.”
Over the past 14 years, we have faced some major challenges. We addressed the acoustic problems in a relatively new hall we didn’t own. We searched for a new music director. We dealt with a strike and the healing process afterward. We conducted a major endowment campaign. And the board considered it unfair to saddle a new person coming in with something very complicated.
Institute: When you became board president, were there other board members you knew you wanted alongside you in leadership positions?
Bechtle: You mean my “indentured friends”? There were a couple of people without whom the job would have been very hard to do. Particularly the board members who have headed the areas of finance and development.
Assink: There are some people who stayed on or joined the board because of prior working relationships with Nancy. But what has been a hallmark of Nancy’s tenure are the strong relationships she built with people she met after they came on the board or during the interview process for coming on the board. Clearly there has been a recognition that close relationships among the board leadership group are important, and a recognition of Nancy’s investment of enormous amounts of time and passion. She is a leader from whom it is very difficult to walk away!
Bechtle: My style of leadership is really very collaborative. Although I was, as provided in the bylaws, the CEO, I understood that one cannot be a dictator in a symphony organization. There are so many constituencies that need to be brought together, to want to be together.
Institute: When you agreed to become president, were your expectations of the time that would be involved realistic?
Bechtle: Not really. I think what happens is that when you find something in which you are truly interested, you spend more and more time on it. And you don’t notice how many hours you are adding. There were times when we had big projects under way that it was really a full-time job.
Institute: Nancy, characterize for us the organization as you saw it when you became president. And then describe how it has changed over the years.
Bechtle: When I took over, I thought the organization could not go any higher. I thought the San Francisco Symphony had high artistic standards and aspirations. We had a great music director in Herbert Blomstedt. Our ticket sales were astounding, which at that time was probably true throughout the country.
But then the stock market crashed. San Francisco had a major earthquake. These events were external to the organization, but they were real eye openers. They challenged us to stay on target for the symphony.
Over the past 14 years, our budget has increased from $21 million to $47 million. And I’ve already mentioned some of our major projects—acoustic improvements for the hall, the endowment campaign. But what was important to me was to make sure that we were not just always adding. We needed to consider what we were doing and why, and it was entirely proper to decide that there were some things we were not going to do anymore, or do differently.
For example, the San Francisco Symphony spends nearly $2 million a year on education and outreach programs. But the programs we fund today are very different from ones we used to do. Continuous assessment throughout the organization is an important board responsibility.
Assink: It has always been something of a mystery to me that the symphony orchestra field uses budget growth as a measure of success. To my mind, the most significant characteristic of Nancy’s tenure as board president has been the artistic development of the orchestra. She is too modest to say it, but her dogged persistence in working to engage Michael Tilson Thomas as music director fulfilled an important vision that she had for the orchestra.
Institute: We’ve talked about why long-tenured board leadership can be important to an organization internally. Is it important that the external world also see the continuity?
Assink: I’ll answer that one. There is no question that members of this community needed to see continuity within the board leadership in order to make the commitments they have made.
And I’d like to add a thought on the internal side, too. Long-term board leadership also sends a message to the musicians. We hear a constant refrain in the symphony orchestra field that it is the musicians, and they alone, who hold the institutional memory of the organization. And while, in many places, that is true, it is not true here. We have board members who have served for 40 years with distinction. That fact introduces a whole new dynamic to the relationship which I think is a healthy one.
Long-term service of a board president and other board leaders allows a trust to develop. Musicians and board members know one another. They have worked together under all kinds of circumstances. Our musicians know that they can contribute to the organization in areas that affect them most, such as tour planning or scheduling. And while they are certainly willing to pitch in on our fundraising efforts, they understand that the board will take the lead on governance and development. There is much more interaction between board members and musicians than ever before.
Institute: Let’s turn our thinking to the ways in which you recruit new people for the board. Is long-tenured leadership a factor here, too?
Bechtle: It is very difficult to get someone to join a board when an organization is in trouble. That’s true for any nonprofit organization. However, when the organization is doing well, when the newspaper headlines are positive, you can start recruiting good people. I also believe that one has to be very clever along the way and work to identify and recruit the up-and-comers before they become the heads of their companies. Although we were not always successful, we did have that success at the Bank of America and Chevron. I would also note that when you have formed a board that the community recognizes as composed of real leaders, others are eager to join.
Then, of course, you need to keep these people engaged. Real leaders don’t just want to have their names on the letterhead. They want to be involved.
Institute: It sounds as though you have mechanisms in place for planned succession.
Assink: Nancy knew when she was going to step down several years before it actually happened. She had built strong support for her successor among her “kitchen cabinet.” Those people were the opinion leaders on the board, so the transition has been absolutely seamless. I would go so far as to say one hallmark of strong board leadership is succession planning.
As some of your readers will know, I was general manager with the San Francisco Symphony when Nancy was president, and I subsequently left for another orchestra. When I interviewed to come back in 1999, one of the first things Nancy said to me was that she planned to step down in 2001 and it was likely that John Goldman would be her successor. John was on the interview committee, and when he and I sat down together, the conversation was one that recognized ours could be a board president to executive director relationship at some point.
Bechtle: Succession planning is important at the committee level, too. Although our bylaws suggest that committee chairs serve for only three years, they do not place an actual limit. I believe that committee chairs who are organizational leaders and have the trust of the entire organization should have long tenure. For example, our finance chair is in his seventh year. Although he is ready to move on, John Goldman asked him to stay as chair for one more year because we were all uncomfortable with losing the continuity.
Institute: Nancy, are there other aspects of your long tenure as board president that might be valuable for our readers to know?
Bechtle: I met every week for two hours with the executive director to talk through all of the issues that were coming up for the orchestra, because it is important that the working relationship between the board and management be a collaborative one.
Assink: That’s important from my side of the desk, too. At a basic level, it’s planning. It is wonderful to be able to sit down and not feel rushed, to be able to talk about dreams and aspirations, to imagine what things will be like for the San Francisco Symphony several years down the road, and to consider what steps we will have to take to get there. The weekly meetings also give me both reason and opportunity to gather my thoughts, and to be clear in my thinking about what I need from the president of the board.
Bechtle: Those meetings also provided a regular way for me to give Brent feedback from the community. We like to think we are responsive to what we hear in the community, and it is very helpful to have a built-in way to share that information.
And let me add a couple of other ideas for your readers to consider as they think about long-term leadership. I have attended meetings for many years with people who chair the boards of orchestras all over the country. It is my observation that board chairs who serve for only two or three years will never have a major impact on their organizations because they can’t. Moving an orchestra is somewhat like moving a tanker. It takes a long time and a steady hand on the wheel to change direction. To really change the way an orchestra thinks about itself and does its work requires serious, time-consuming commitment from the board leadership.
My final thought on this topic has to do with risk. The fact that I served for a long time allowed us to take some risks that I don’t think could have been taken if we
had changed leaders every couple years. The one that truly stands out in my mind is the acoustic renovation of Davies Symphony Hall. We raised $12 million for a project that was initially very unpopular in the community because the hall was less than 10 years old, and everyone wanted to know why we hadn’t gotten it right in the first place. Our board really put its reputation on the line. And the outcome has been an unqualified success for the San Francisco Symphony. So although I have now handed over the reins, I am happy to make the case for board presidents to have long tenure.
Institute: We thank you both for your time in helping us to explore long-tenured leadership. It is quite apparent that the San Francisco Symphony has changed a great deal as an organization over the last 14 years. May the next 14 hold equally positive outcomes.
Beginning in February 2001, we have posted on the Institute’s Web site at <www.soi.org> regular installments in a series reviewing the theory and practice of organization change. The principal author of this review has been Laura Leigh Rolofs, 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 has completed her work on the series, and we thank her for her continued leadership.
In Harmony #12 (April 2001) and Harmony #13 (October 2001), we reviewed the first four content installments:
◆ Roots, Growth, and Development. An overview of pre-World War II birth of organization-change ideas and studies.
◆ Branches and Blossoms. A discussion of the growth of the field of organization change over the past 35 years, with a review of emerging themes.
◆ Open Systems Concepts. A review of the broadly strategic orientation to organization change that began to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s.
◆ Open Systems Applied. Use of an open system model to help understand and assess orchestras as systems.
Since publication of Harmony #13, we have posted three additional installments on aspects of the concept of organizational culture. We present here an abbreviated review of those postings, and encourage you to visit the Web site to read the articles in their entirety.
Over the past 25 years, the concept of organizational culture has gained wide acceptance as a way to understand human systems. This way of looking at organizations borrows heavily from anthropology and sociology and uses many of the same terms to define the building blocks of culture. A prominent theorist of organizational culture, Edgar Schein, an emeritus professor at the Sloan School of Management of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers the following definition:
The culture of a group can now be defined as: A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.1
In other words, as groups face the basic challenges of integrating individuals into an effective whole and adapting to the external environment, they engage in a type of collective learning which creates the set of shared assumptions and beliefs we refer to as “culture.”
Another well-known theorist, Gareth Morgan, a professor at the Schulich School of Business of York University in Toronto, describes culture as “. . . an active, living phenomenon through which people jointly create and recreate the worlds in which they live.”2
Elements of organizational culture may include:
◆ Stated and unstated values.
◆ Overt and implicit expectations for members’ behavior.
◆ Customs and rituals.
◆ Stories and myths about the history of the group.
◆ Shop talk. The typical language used about and by members of the group.
◆ Climate. The feelings evoked by the ways members interact with one another, with outsiders, and with their environment.
◆ Metaphors and symbols.
Morgan identifies four essential strengths of organizational culture as a method to assess human systems:
◆ It focuses attention on the human side of organizational life and finds significance and learning in even mundane aspects, such as the setup of an empty meeting room.
◆ It makes clear the importance of creating appropriate systems of shared meaning to help people work together toward desired outcomes.
◆ It requires members—especially leaders—to acknowledge the impact of their behavior on the organization’s culture.
◆ It encourages the view that the perceived relationship between an organization and its environment is affected by the organization’s basic assumptions.3
Schein posits that cultural analysis is especially valuable in dealing with aspects of organizations that seem irrational, frustrating, and intractable. “The bottom line for leaders is that if they do not become conscious of the cultures in which they are embedded, those cultures will manage them.”4
Note Schein’s use of the plural, “cultures.” As we have learned from open- systems theory, members of a group culture may also belong to subcultures within an organization. This is certainly true in many orchestra organizations, in which the subcultures have had different experiences over time, and group learning has produced very different sets of basic assumptions. Because organization members interpret the behavior and language of others through their own cultural biases, each subculture’s set of beliefs, values, and assumptions becomes that group’s “reality.” Behavior which a subculture perceives as inconsistent with its own biases is considered irrational, or even malevolent.
The organizational culture model suggests reinterpreting conflicts as products of different sets of experiences. Rather than starting with an assumption that something is “right” or “wrong,” an approach using the organizational culture model would suggest that subcultures examine the assumptions that underlie their behavior, honor the experiences that led to those assumptions, and then investigate whether those assumptions still work well.
Because culture is so deeply rooted in an organization’s history and collective experience, change requires a major investment of time and resources. As many orchestra organizations have discovered, assistance from a facilitator outside the system may be advisable because it is difficult for insiders to view their “reality” as something they’ve constructed and to see meaning in things they take for granted.
Participants in orchestra organizations that have undertaken serious change processes will be the first to agree that this is difficult, time-consuming work. The report in this issue of the process facilitated by the Institute with the Philadelphia Orchestra outlines a detailed example (page 18).
Any change process must include several basic steps (and may include many more):
◆ Uncover core values and beliefs. These will generally include stated values and goals, but a thorough process must work to uncover values and beliefs that are embedded in organizational metaphors, myths, and stories, as well as in the behaviors of members.
◆ Acknowledge, respect, and discuss differences in core values and beliefs among the organization’s subcultures.
◆ Find the incongruities in conscious and unconscious values and beliefs and resolve by choosing those to which the organization will commit.
◆ Establish new behavioral norms (and even new metaphor language) that clearly demonstrate the desired values.
◆ Repeat these steps over a long period of time. As new members enter the organization, ensure that they hear clear messages about the culture they are entering.
It is difficult to identify organizations that have “completed” successful culture change. And perhaps that is just as well, as culture change should be an ongoing process. But one can cite many examples of change-in-progress. In the symphony orchestra field, we have reported on several in”Harmony:
◆ Milwaukee Symphony (October 1996, with an update in April 2001), ◆ New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (April 1997, with an update in October 2001),
◆ Hartford Symphony Orchestra (October 1997, with an update in October 2000),
◆ Pittsburgh Symphony (October 1998, with an update in October 2000),
◆ Kansas City Symphony (October 1998),
◆ Oregon Symphony (October 2000),
◆ San Francisco Symphony (October 2001), and
◆ The Philadelphia Orchestra (April 2002).
The metaphors individuals use when speaking about their organizations provide a rich source of information about organizational attitudes and beliefs. Metaphors are also a potent way for those attitudes and beliefs to perpetuate themselves. Long-standing metaphors can function as emotional anchors. As they are passed on to new members, they help maintain a sense of “how things are around here,” for better or worse.
Some theorists and practitioners of organization change believe that one can use metaphor as a powerful point of influence, recreating or reframing less functional imagery so that it aligns with the values and direction of a changing organization.
For example, it may be helpful to introduce an entirely new structural metaphor into an organization in order to look at old issues in new ways. Most orchestral organizations still retain the conventional structural metaphors of the corporate world—those strongly vertical images of pyramids and ladders. These metaphors are not a very good fit for an orchestra organization because they tend to reinforce the idea that one group is permanently on the bottom.
One orchestra organization that deliberately embraced a new metaphor is the Oregon Symphony. As detailed in the October 2000 issue of Harmony, the Oregon Symphony began a change initiative with the help of Professor Saul Eisen of Sonoma State University. At Eisen’s suggestion, the organization adopted a “starfish” metaphor to represent its structure and relationships. With its implications of interconnections among equally important parts, the starfish became a concrete symbol of the organization’s emerging core values. The metaphor also dramatized the vital importance of communication: if a starfish’s central nerve ring (the organization’s communication system) is severed, its arms will react independently and it won’t be able to function at all.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) adopted a change process that is, itself, a compelling metaphor: Hoshin. The highly structured planning process, developed in Japan, means literally, “shining compass needle.” This is a rich image, with implications of journeying together toward a desired destination, guided by a navigating instrument that is visible to all. As PSO volunteer Linda Sparrow said during the roundtable, which was published in the October 2000 issue of Harmony, “Hoshin has become much more than a planning technique for the Pittsburgh Symphony. It has also become synonymous with our culture.”
Consider the metaphors you use to describe your overall orchestra organization and its subcultures. Are they accurate? Positive? Organizations can move toward positive culture change by rethinking or replacing older, less functional metaphors and creating new imagery.
For lists of recommended readings on these and other organization change topics, please refer to the Organization Change section of the Institute’s Web site at <www.soi.org>. To receive “Key Notes,” the Institute’s periodic e-mail bulletin which will alert and link you to interesting material recently posted on the Web site, just e-mail your name and orchestra affiliation (or other affiliation) to <email@example.com>.
1 Schein, Edgar. 2001. Organizational Culture and Leadership. In Classics of Organization Theory, edited by Jay Shafritz and J. Steven Ott. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt College Publishers, pp. 373-374.
2 Morgan, Gareth. 1997. Images of Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, p. 141.
3 Morgan, p. 149. 4 Schein, p. 375.
If you look closely at the score reproduced on the cover of this issue, with its gigantic orchestra (including quadruple woodwinds and eight horns), offstage brass, two choruses, children’s choir, and seven soloists, you might logically guess that this is Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, not unreasonably known as the Symphony of a Thousand. That nickname was coined by a Munich impresario (much to the composer’s annoyance) as a marketing ploy in advance of the premiere there in 1910. In fact, it was surprisingly accurate: Mahler ended up using 858 singers and 171 orchestra members, for a total of 1,029 musicians.
When Mahler died the year after the premiere of the Eighth, the official inventory of his estate predicted that “in view of the colossal size of the work and huge number of performers it requires it must be assumed that it will be performed only rarely and in exceptional circumstances.” But on March 2, 2019—less than five years after Mahler’s death—Leopold Stokowski gave the American premiere of the Eighth Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra (and five combined choruses). Stokowski even outdid Mahler in the sheer size of his forces, commanding 1,069 performers (including himself). What is remarkable about the Stokowski performance, however, is not the extraordinary army of musicians he amassed, but the mere fact that the piece was done at all.
Today we don’t think of Leopold Stokowski primarily as a champion of new music. He’s more likely to be remembered for his brilliant showmanship, his glamorous private life (he courted Garbo and married Gloria Vanderbilt), and for making records and motion pictures. Generations of music-lovers know him best in silhouette, shaking the hand of Mickey Mouse in Walt Disney’s 1940 Fantasia, in which he conducted everything from Bach to broomsticks. Stokowski was one of music’s great showmen, to be sure. He paid great attention to his podium attire and experimented with special lighting effects to show off his expressive hands and his regal profile. But he was also a very serious musician with a taste for the new and unusual, and with a genuine curiosity about the avant-garde.
In his years of conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, from 1912 to 1941, he not only polished the fabled sound of this great orchestra, but he made Philadelphia a center of important new music. The list of American premieres Stokowksi gave in Philadelphia is staggering, with Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde coming only nine months after the Eighth Symphony. The 1920s brought Shostakovich’s First Symphony; Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Symphonies by Sibelius; Webern’s Passacaglia; and the world premieres of two landmarks by Varèse—Ameriques and Arcana. In the 1930s Stokowski introduced America to Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto, Copland’s Dance Symphony, Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto, and Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and led the world premieres of Copland’s Dance Symphony and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody and Third Symphony.
He and the Orchestra even devoted Wednesday mornings to reading through new scores that couldn’t be included in concerts. In 1933, the Philadelphia board asked Stokowski to play “no more debatable music,” but he was unmoved. He premiered Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto and Stravinsky’s Mavra the following year and gave the world premiere of Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto a few seasons later. Never one to back down, Stokowski clearly didn’t mellow with age: when he became music director of the Houston Symphony in 1955, he insisted up front on the right to lead a premiere at every concert.
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.