Publisher’s Notes by Fredrick Zenone
Paul R. Judy Awarded Gold Baton
About the Cover by Phillip Huscher
The Wolf Report and Baumol’s Curse: The Economic Health of American Symphony Orchestras in the 1990s and Beyond by Douglas J. Dempster
Orchestra and Community: Bridging the Gapby Penelope McPhee
Collaboration and Transparency: The Oregon Symphony Music Director Search
Explorations of Teamwork: The Lahti Symphony Orchestra by Robert J. Wagner and Tina Ward
Field Activities and Research
Improving the Effectiveness of Small Groups within the Symphony Organization by Robert Stearns
A New Avenue for Musicians’ Outreach: Music and Wellness by Penny Anderson Brill
Book Review: by Robert C. Jones, William L. Foster, Margery S. Steinberg Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances
Once again, America’s symphony orchestra community is in a state of heightened anxiety about the fiscal condition of many of our orchestras. Over the past two years, worrisome fissures have surfaced in some of our gold-standard organizations, and in some smaller orchestras, these fissures appear to be of life-threatening proportions. From time to time, perhaps with a sense of déja vu, it can be helpful to take a long look backward in order to see ahead more clearly. What have we learned? Are we repeating mistakes of the past? Did we ask the right questions in the past? Are we asking the right ones now?
In the world of the performing arts, it is sometimes said—quietly to be sure— that members of the academic community do not understand, or perhaps care very much, about our world of applied arts. But there is increasing evidence that there are thinkers who are committed to using academe’s unique resources and position to influence policy and cultural affairs.
Douglas J. Dempster is such a citizen of the academy. Doug is currently senior associate dean of fine arts at the University of Texas at Austin. He formerly served as dean of academic affairs at the Eastman School of Music. There he created the Orchestral Studies Program in collaboration with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He is committed to developing orchestra musicians who are not only accomplished performers, but who also have an awareness and curiosity about our orchestra organizations as institutions. For years, he has included the Wolf Organization’s report, The Financial Condition of Symphony Orchestras, as part of his curriculum.
In 1990, the American Symphony Orchestra League commissioned the Wolf Organization, Inc., to study the financial condition of America’s orchestras. Thomas Wolf delivered the findings of that study during the League’s 1992 conference, and ever since, the study has been referred to throughout the industry as the “Wolf Report.” It was for years the subject of vigorous debate, not only for what its implications seemed to be for the future, but also for some of the Wolf Organization’s hypotheses for future change. In this issue of Harmony, 10 years after the Wolf Report’s publication—Doug Dempster, having the perspective afforded by time and the advantage offered by the extensive discussion the report initiated—takes a new look at the study. It is a serious look, it is thoughtful, and it is provocative.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has a long history of being among the most interested and generous supporters of the performing arts and the manner in which arts organizations relate to their communities. Ten years ago, the Knight Foundation began to consider a new initiative which, two years later, became known as the “Magic of Music.” At yet another 10th anniversary, the Knight Foundation, in order to see ahead more clearly, is having a good hard look at what its funding has accomplished.
Penelope McPhee is the foundation’s vice president and chief program officer and occupies a learned place from which to comment on the field of symphony orchestras. In April of this year, Penny delivered a speech to a convocation of Knight orchestra grantees in Portland, Oregon, and we are pleased to share that speech with Harmony readers. She is eloquent about lessons learned and she brings a sobering reality to those lessons. She conveys the foundation’s deep commitment to our art and to our organizations. Transformational change is slow and difficult, but it must happen. Sometimes difficult lessons feel like tough love.
Two years ago, in Harmony #11, members of the Oregon Symphony family shared with enthusiasm the results of their work to change their organizational practices. In this issue, we again converse with members of that organization about their recently concluded search for a new music director. They make a compelling case that the changed practices have taken the organization to an even higher level of participation in making important decisions. Their search process provided for broad participation and meaningful delegation of responsibility, and fostered a level of energy they say would not have been possible otherwise. Bravo to the Oregon Symphony for finding a unique process that worked so well for them as they searched for a new music director. And our thanks to roundtable participants Niel DePonte, Kathryn Gray, Lynn Loacker, Mary Tooze, and Tony Woodcock for sharing the story.
Some participants in and observers of our industry think symphony organizations ought to be structures created to allow artists to go about their art without concern for more secular matters. They often describe the seemingly “ivory tower” conditions of European orchestras for which, historically, private funding has not been an issue. Robert Wagner and Tina Ward are American symphony orchestra musicians who thought we might all learn something by observing the practices of a selected group of European orchestras. Funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation made it possible for Tina and Bob to visit with members of those orchestras to learn firsthand about their organizations. One of the orchestras they visited was the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland. There they found some enlightened practices which were made even more interesting to the Institute by the fact that Osmo Vänskä, the chief conductor in Lahti, is the music director designate of the Minnesota Orchestra. My reaction to Bob and Tina’s Lahti discovery is a new resolve to watch developments at the Minnesota Orchestra closely.
Many of the positive organizational change practices that have been put forward in Harmony have involved initiatives undertaken at the overall- organization level. In Harmony #7 and Harmony #11, Robert Stearns related the success he had demonstrated as the “Hoshin guru” of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. But Bob has a more diverse tool kit. In this issue, he shares ways in which organizational change can also proceed from microcosm toward macrocosm. If a single constituency within an orchestra organization seeks ways to function more effectively, the efforts can eventually permeate the overall organization. Bob uses specific examples from projects he has facilitated to elaborate on this thesis.
In this issue’s final essay, Penny Anderson Brill brings to our attention a way in which bad personal news led to leading-edge organizational practice. We each try to deal with personal crises as best we can while continuing our commitments to our work and to those with whom we work. Penny, an orchestra musician, did better than that. She addressed a serious illness by engaging her deepest discipline and need for music with her longtime participation in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s evolving organizational practices. The result has been a remarkable discovery of yet another way in which an orchestra can serve as a valuable community resource.
From time to time, the Institute recommends new publications we think have relevance for our readers. J. Richard Hackman, a professor of social and organizational psychology at Harvard University, has been a friend of the Institute from its beginnings. In the Institute’s earliest years, he chaired the Research Advisory Board. Richard has published important research about symphony organizations internationally and continues to be a vigorous observer of symphony orchestra organizations in the United States. In July of this year, Harvard Business School Press published his new opus, Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. It is not a book about symphony organizations, but as I read it, I began to feel—as a lifelong member of symphony organizations— that maybe Richard was speaking to us, too. At the Institute, we thought we should test my reaction. We invited three people to review Leading Teams—one from the vantage point of an experienced executive director, another from that of an orchestra musician, and a third through the lens of a former board chair. We thank Robert Jones, William Foster, and Margery Steinberg for their thoughtful commentary.
On page 54, we update information on the Institute’s field activities, and on the conclusion of the Conductor Evaluation Data Analysis Project (CEDAP). On page 78, we report the financial status of the Institute for its most recent fiscal year.
If you read music, you have probably identified the score fragment on the cover of this issue of Harmony, at least in its most well-known form. But can you identify its full orchestral connection? And identify what the composer and the Institute’s founder have in common? Phillip Huscher explains all beginning on page xiii.
In the pages immediately following these notes:
◆ We celebrate Paul Judy’s receipt of the Gold Baton award during the American Symphony Orchestra League’s national conference.
◆ We acknowledge and extend our heartfelt thanks to the nearly 160 symphony orchestra organizations that have offered support of the Institute’s activities this year.
◆ We recognize the commitment of individuals from every constituency of North American symphony orchestra organizations who have made contributions to the Institute as Advocates of Change.
In the course of these notes, I have twice referenced others who have looked back in order to move forward. As the Institute enters its eighth year of activity, I have done a bit of looking back myself. The list of individuals who have authored material for Harmony is long and distinguished. The publication’s readership is loyal and encouraging of our efforts. The list of those who have served on the Board of Advisors includes some of the most forward-thinking participants in the industry. The list of orchestra organizations that have undertaken serious organizational development activities is showing signs of growing exponentially. I extend a personal thanks to each of you who has contributed to and guided the Institute’s work for the past seven years. While not discounting those worrisome fiscal fissures I mentioned in the opening paragraph, we now look ahead to continue those activities that the Institute does well, to discard a few noble experiments that have failed, and to direct our energies toward the continued development of our symphony orchestras as effective organizations.
During the 57th National Conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League, which was held in June in Philadelphia, Paul R. Judy, founder and chairman of the Symphony Orchestra Institute, was awarded the League’s Gold Baton.
The award, the League’s highest, has been presented annually since 1948, and honors distinguished service to music and the arts. The Gold Baton recognizes institutions and individuals whose contributions to the American orchestra world extend beyond a single orchestra to influence and advance the cause of orchestras and symphonic music throughout the country. Past recipients include Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Carnegie Hall, Aaron Copland, and Isaac Stern.
Paul Judy formed the Institute in 1995 to foster positive change in the ways symphony orchestra organizations function, to enhance their value in their communities, and to help ensure their preservation as unique and valuable cultural institutions. In December 2001, he stepped back from the Institute’s day-to-day activities, but continues as the organization’s chairman.
The award was presented by Robert Levine, principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and, at the time of the presentation, chair of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). Robert’s words of presentation and Paul’s words of acceptance follow.
It is a great honor to be able to present this award to Paul. I have presented batons before, generally to conductors who accidentally lobbed them in my direction. But I’ve never been happy doing so; it feels too much like giving them a second chance to hit the target.
I first met Paul Judy in 1994, when he was visiting orchestras and people in the field to learn about the state of our business and to figure out what he could do to make a difference.
Three things struck me about him, aside from the obvious force of his personality. The first was that he asked good questions, the kind of questions that were hard to answer because they were questions I should have been asking myself, but could not see clearly enough to do so. The second was even more unusual; he listened very carefully and very intently to my attempts to answer those questions. It was actually quite daunting to be listened to with that degree of attention. The third thing that became clear to me about Paul was that he was driven not only by a desire to make a contribution to our field (which many of us share), but also by a curiosity about why things happen the way they do—a curiosity as strong as my own. It was as though I had just met another member of a very small secret club. Paul had, of course, a different perspective, in the strictest sense of the word, from mine. But the fascination with the uniqueness of our field was the same.
It’s been most interesting to watch the co-evolution of Paul Judy and his Institute. I’ve benefited directly from his search to find ways to influence the field for the better. Few musicians get to work with their fathers so publicly as Paul invited my father and me to do in the pages of Harmony. It was an opportunity that meant even more to my father, perhaps, than it did to me, and something for which I will always be grateful.
It was probably inevitable that someone with Paul’s long history of making things happen, rather than simply studying why things didn’t happen, would move towards an active effort to encourage change. And it was equally inevitable that, with his fascination for organizational dynamics, the change that he would try to encourage would be systemic institutional change, rather than just trying to show us how to do what we were doing better than we had.
When we talk about institutional change, it’s important that we try to understand why we should talk about change at all. It’s easy to turn change into a panacea. In a sense, it’s a truism that, as the bass sings in the great aria in part three of the Messiah, “we shall all be changed,” whether we wish it or not. But the kind of change that Paul and the Institute study and work toward is not a panacea, nor is it inevitable. In some ways, orchestras are among the most static institutions in Western civilization. I have no doubt that if I were transported back in time to, say, the premiere of a Beethoven symphony and handed a viola, I could sit down in the viola section and manage not to get noticed for at least a movement or two. Of very few professions or institutions in Western society could that be said.
We have some profoundly successful and stable orchestras in this country that, frankly, don’t need to change to survive; they will survive anything short of a large asteroid. And we have a few orchestras which no conceivable institutional change will rescue from a permanent state of crisis or worse. For some orchestras, institutional change is a necessary condition of survival. But the others either don’t need it to survive or it won’t help.
And for no orchestra is institutional change a sufficient condition for survival. Such change—if successful—will make orchestras easier to lead. But it will not obviate the need for leadership, on all levels and within all constituencies. Leaders may be made and not born, but the making is still a black art at worst and a very labor-intensive process at best. I learned most of what I know about leadership from spending almost two years in the pocket of a very gifted labor leader during a horrible period in my orchestra’s history. The rest I learned from making lots of mistakes and getting very frank feedback from those who were affected by them. Is there any other way to learn leadership except lots of practice and one-on-one instruction?
The real imperative for institutional change isn’t, at the end of the day, practical; it’s a moral imperative. There is a scene in a book I grew up with that makes this point wonderfully. The book is Hornblower and the Atropos by C. S. Forester. The scene is one in which young Captain Hornblower has just been presented to the King by Admiral Lord St. Vincent, First Lord of the Admiralty. Hornblower is taking his rather nervous leave of St. Vincent.
St. Vincent stood looking at him from under his eyebrows.
“The navy has two duties, Hornblower,” he said. “We all know what one is—to fight the French and give Boney what for.”
“Yes, my Lord?”
“The other one we don’t think about so much. We have to see that when we go we leave behind us a navy which is better than the one in which we served. . . . Choose carefully, Hornblower, if it ever becomes your duty. One can make mistakes, but let them be honest mistakes.”
I believe we have a moral obligation to leave our orchestras better than we found them—especially when there’s so much room for improvement. And that means we need to change our institutions. Just looking from where I sit, we’ve created workplaces where orchestra musicians enjoy a living wage or better, wonderful benefits, lots of time away from the workplace for leisure or other professional pursuits, and tremendous job security. We owe a great debt to those who made this possible—board members and funders working together (although some would be surprised to hear it) with the trade union activists among us who practiced activism when it was very unpopular with our employers and even our own union.
But what we haven’t created is a workplace that the musicians enjoy. And given the nature of the work—using the skills we learned for the sheer joy of playing to experience some of the greatest creations of the human mind—that is quite sad. If I don’t speak of the equivalent challenges and waste of human potential among staff members, volunteers, and even those who stand above us with baton firmly in hand, it is only because I don’t fully understand them.
So there is lots to do yet, even within the limits posed by the fundamental nature of the orchestra (not to mention human nature). But one more thing needs to be remembered if we are to be successful. Ken Pfaff, head of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, told the first-ever joint conference of the American Federation of Musicians’ Player Conferences in 2000: “Union reform is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” Institutional change, like playing an instrument, is a wonderful topic for daydreams. Making it happen, just like getting to Carnegie Hall, takes lots of time and lots of work, some of which will be far from enjoyable. Paul’s personal commitment to the future of the Symphony Orchestra Institute is the same message of endurance and commitment simply said in a different language.
But as systemic institutional change comes to our field, I believe few will be seen to have been more instrumental in making it happen than Paul Judy and the Institute that he created. With that in mind, before I actually hand over the Gold Baton to Paul and you all give him the applause he so richly deserves, I would ask you to consider a more concrete gesture of support and appreciation. I would suggest you visit the Institute’s website, as I did a few months ago, and join the Advocates of Change. It’s a small step for an orchestra manager or a board member or a musician. But, if enough of us do it, it will begin to look like a giant step for our field.
Congratulations, Paul, and thanks.
Paul R. Judy:
My thanks, Robert for your thoughtful words and your long-time support of the Institute. And thanks, too, to Henry Fogel and the League board, as well as Chuck Olton and the League staff, for their roles in selecting me to receive this award. My thanks also go to Neil Williams and Cathy French for their early support of the Institute and to Fred Zenone for his long assistance, support, and succession in the work of the Institute.
I am very pleased, flattered, and humbled to receive this award! I do so on behalf of all symphony organization participants in America and Canada who are dedicated to healthier, more personally and professionally rewarding, more effective, and more sustainable symphony institutions.
You in this room—and all other attendees to this League conference—compose an important portion of that dedicated group. You are joined by many other symphony organization participants who are not with us today, especially many key board members and orchestra musicians. All together, we must find ways for symphony institutions—as total networks of employees and volunteers—to become more collaborative, more collegial, more inclusive, more robust, and more joyful.
The symphonic institution, as a central musical arts organization, is vital to the cultural development of its community. We must advance this cultural development. To do so, we must become advocates of organizational change, adaptation, and innovation. We must question and challenge many inherited and imbedded patterns of symphony organizational behavior, practices, policies, and structures which reduce our effectiveness and sap our strength. We must find fresh and invigorating alternatives.
We must find ways to unleash the enormous levels of intelligence, energy, and passion which exist in our symphony organizations. Organization development principles and methodologies to help in this process of change have already been created. We must study, understand, and then apply these insights to the wonders and complexities of the symphonic workplace and to the range of activities and community services which flow from it.
We can handle this challenge. We have the human capacity to change, individually and organizationally. Some organizations and participants are already in the process of doing so. Others are on the verge of action. Let’s broaden and accelerate this progress! We can do it! Or, perhaps more directly, you can do it!
Once again, my very warmest thanks for this wonderful award!
About the Cover
If you look closely at the score on the cover of this issue, you will notice a fanfare woven into a page of symphonic music. The fanfare is one of America’s best-known pieces, Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and the symphony is his Third, which Leonard Bernstein called a great American landmark, “. . . like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial.”
Copland wrote the fanfare first, in 1942, on a commission from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra—he was one of ten composers asked for works to begin each of the orchestra’s concerts that season. The other nine fanfares are now forgotten, but Copland’s quickly became one of his signature
pieces. It has enjoyed many lives, from wartime morale-booster to television theme music, and it still knows no peer when it comes to conveying uplifting, spine-tingling patriotism. (It has also inspired its own “feminist” sequel in Joan Tower’s series of Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman.) But Copland knew that it was too good to be doomed to the existence of a mere curtain-raiser, so he put it to good use to open the finale of his Third Symphony, his major postwar composition.
Copland’s fanfare belongs to the long tradition of short pieces composed to open concerts, dedicate buildings, crown royalty, launch military battles, start stag hunts, announce presidents, and, in general, make a festive noise for a special occasion or person. He dedicated his fanfare to the everyday people among us who, each in his or her own way, make extraordinary things happen.
And so why have we picked Copland’s fanfare for this issue? It is our way of paying tribute to Paul Judy, the latest recipient of the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Gold Baton, which Copland himself received in 1978. Paul is, of course, a man of decidedly uncommon strengths and ideals, from his grand vision of a Symphony Orchestra Institute right down to the idea of putting a piece of orchestral music on the cover of Harmony when he founded this publication in 1995. Paul, this fanfare’s for you!
The Wolf Report and Baumol’s Curse: The Economic Health of American Symphony Orchestras in the 1990s and Beyond
A decade ago, the report of a study commissioned by the American Symphony Orchestra League was presented during the League’s
national conference. The subject matter of the study, and the report, was an analysis of the economic status of the symphony orchestra industry in 1991. Harmony readers who were involved in the industry at that time will recall the hue and cry prompted by “The Financial Condition of Symphony Orchestras.”
Author Douglas Dempster, in the pages that follow, revisits the 1992 report. He begins with a recapitulation of the report’s history and conclusions. He then adds to the mix an explanation of “Baumol’s Curse,” the classic analysis of performing arts economics published in 1966, and an underlying tenet of the report’s conclusions.
The author next fast-forwards to the current year and inquires, “Where does the orchestra industry find itself 10 years after Thomas Wolf’s address to the League?” He then proceeds with a detailed analysis.
In the 1992 report, Thomas Wolf called for a “paradigm shift” in the way orchestras did business as the only possible solution to the dire future he foresaw. Dempster suggests that such a shift did not occur and explains why.
The author completes his analysis with a discussion of what has gone right for the industry over the past 10 years, and what has gone wrong. He concludes with a tantalizing question.
This essay is, indeed, technical. We are fortunate that Douglas Dempster is a talented analyst who makes the material easily comprehensible. The topic is worthy of consideration by all symphony orchestra organization participants. We encourage you to read on!
Ten years ago, in June 1992, Dr. Thomas Wolf stood before the national meeting of the American Symphony Orchestra League and delivered the bad news. America’s orchestras were in trouble, trouble with a capital
“T”—a “T” that rhymed with “D,” for deficits.
If orchestras could not learn to pursue their art and deliver music to their audiences in a fundamentally different fashion—Wolf called for a “shift of paradigms”—then the industry would continue to sink, inexorably, beneath a tide of growing deficits, aging audiences, and increasing cultural isolation and irrelevance as classical music became an elite and unaffordable cultural tradition.
Without “changes . . . in the way orchestras do business—changes that are substantial and systemic . . .”—including significant downsizing of the core orchestra, reduction of concerts and services, consolidation of municipal orchestras into regional orchestras, a move away from performing in grand venues in city centers, and even de-emphasizing the live-concert experience— the Wolf Report projected that the industry would, by the year 2000, have sunk over $64 million into deficit2— twice the aggregate deficit of orchestras in 1991.3 This “status quo” trend projected deficit spending accelerating relative to revenue growth: the report projected total industry revenues, into 2000, at just over $946 million for the industry as a whole,4 a 40 percent increase over total industry revenue of $675.7 million for 1991.
Wolf’s dire projections were based on a simple extrapolation from the five years preceding the 1990-1991 season. Yet, as the report clearly pointed out, economic conditions could change, government support could become more generous, labor negotiations could become more amicable, private giving could save the day; any number of conditions that aggravated the economics of orchestras during the 1980s could, over the short run, delay the outcomes projected by the report.
However, the report took a long, historical view of orchestra economics and argued, from sound cultural economic theory, that the trends sooner or later…
How Many? How Much? How Representative?
The American Symphony Orchestra League (League) estimates a “world” of 1,800 American orchestras. That number includes youth, student, collegiate, and community orchestras. Approximately 900 of these are members of the League. Of these, nearly one third are wholly nonprofessional orchestras. The remaining two thirds, 625 members, are, in some sense, “professional” orchestras. The League Statistical Survey categorizes these orchestras into eight “groups” by size of budgets. In a typical year, approximately 200 of these professional orchestras respond to the League’s statistical survey. The statistical survey for 2000-2001, includes responses from 190 orchestras, whose expenses range from as little as $26,000 for the season to as much as $70 million. The League, in monitoring the economic status of the industry, must extrapolate from self-selecting respondents to the entire range of professional orchestras.
An overwhelming percentage of the measurable economic activity among professional orchestras is attributable to a comparatively small number of the largest-budget orchestras: approximately 70 percent of all expenditures and revenues in the industry are generated by the largest 55 orchestras—fewer than 10 percent of all professional orchestras. Because of the lopsided nature of the data, most discussions of the economic health of the industry focus on these top 10 percent of orchestras. But it would be a huge misrepresentation to equate this top 10 percent with the orchestral culture of the United States. These 55 orchestras, though economic heavyweights, produce only about one third of the annual professional orchestral concerts in the United States. Obviously, were we to add in the concerts of nonprofessional orchestras, the overwhelming majority of all U.S. symphonic concerts would occur outside the scope of these economic analyses.1
1 Membership data provided by League Research Department.
…would lead to the same place: artistic expenses, inexorably, outpacing earnings; private giving less and less capable of closing the widening gap between earnings and expenses; and public support for the arts continuing to wane. The Wolf Report was uncertain on the question of “when,” but was utterly unequivocal on the question of “whether” the industry faced this crisis. Without a “paradigm shift” in the way that orchestras were doing business, growing deficits would erode the viability of the industry and threaten the culture of orchestral performance.
The Wolf Report was a thorough economic analysis that was also very sensitive to the realities of the orchestral culture. It was based on the American Symphony Orchestra League Statistical Survey, the best and most extensive data available on any one segment of the performing arts world. The economic theory underlying the analysis, William Baumol and William Bowen’s seminal work5 on the economics of the performing arts, is accepted wisdom for the field. The lead researcher, Thomas Wolf, took an unbiased view of the orchestral industry and was motivated by a lifelong passion for the legacy and future of the American symphony orchestra.
It’s all the more puzzling, looking back 10 years later, to realize that none of the report’s simple projections was even close to being right. The financial health of American orchestras improved steadily throughout the 1990s. For the 1999-2000 season, the League reported total revenues of $1.267 billion, a $591 million increase over aggregate revenues in the 1990-1991 season, as reported in the Wolf Report. More importantly, the industry enjoyed this expansion and prosperity while restraining its appetite: the League reported an industrywide $84.5 million surplus, above expenses that grew at a comparatively slower pace than revenues.6
Of course, growing prosperity and restraint have been balanced by comparatively bad seasons in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002, as the economy entered and worked through a recession. The coming season, 2002-2003, for various reasons that will be discussed later, is likely to be as, or even more, challenging than the past two seasons. All this needs to be considered in reflecting back on the Wolf Report and looking forward to the future economics of the industry.
How was the crisis averted? Did the orchestral industry shift its paradigm? If not, how did it avoid the sobering forecast of the Wolf Report? Did the booming 1990s simply forestall the inevitable outcomes predicted by Wolf? And will the current downturn in the economy unleash the crisis once again? Alternatively, how could so thoughtful an analysis as the Wolf Report seem to get it so wrong?
History of the Wolf Report
In 1990, The Wolf Organization, Inc. was contracted by the League to do an analysis of the economic status of the symphony orchestra industry. Everyone knew that the analysis was not likely to bring good news: orchestras had struggled through the 1980s with many labor disputes and financial challenges. By design, the analysis by Wolf and his associates was intended as “Phase I” of a three- phase reform program instigated and led by the American Symphony Orchestra League. The Wolf Organization’s report—which is formally titled “The Financial Condition of Symphony Orchestras,” but has been known since its completion as the “Wolf Report”—was to be followed by a more forward-thinking investigation of ways that the industry might reform itself. This second phase was completed and the results were published as Americanizing the American Orchestra.7 These first two phases were intended to provide the research and
blueprint needed for a third and final phase that would lead to sweeping reforms supported by external funding.
The strategy never came to fruition. The Wolf Report and the Americanizing document touched off such controversy that no major, national funding initiative grew out of the effort. A feel for this controversy can be found in reactions to the Wolf Report. Some, like Deborah Borda, then managing director of the New York Philharmonic, read the Wolf Report as a call to arms for the industry:
Therein lies the first and crucial step. The “Holy Deadlock” that exists today between most boards, orchestras, and staffs must be broken. If we can’t find a more productive way of working together toward genuine change, we will eventually drive off that cliff. For any of the valid issues and questions posed by Wolf to be addressed so as to create meaningful change in our industry, we must begin to consider some fundamental changes in our governance functions. We must create a new protocol.8
Older hands like Peter Pastreich, then executive director of the San Francisco Symphony, took the unflappable view that crises come and go; that orchestras need to respond, but not panic:
We do have a critical financial problem. The orchestras are spending more than they are taking in, and if they don’t stop doing that soon there will be some disrupted seasons and lowered living standards for musicians and administrators. But the situation is not critical, not serious, and music will survive. What we don’t need to do is to allow the financial problems which have developed from over optimism, poor management, and admirable generosity to drive us to “solutions” which are worse than the problem. What we do need to do is balance our budgets: take in more money and spend less. And continue to be an innovative, living force in the American cultural scene.9
The reliably cranky critic Samuel Lipman had this to say in the New Criterion about the League’s efforts through the Wolf Report and Americanizing the American Orchestra: “[S]o great is this disgrace that it provides ample grounds for the dissolution of the American Symphony Orchestra League. The League clearly does not have in mind either the interests of our beloved symphony orchestras and their audiences or the future of great music.”10
Though the initiative represented by the Wolf Report and by Americanizing the American Orchestra never led to a third, funding phase of reforms, it would be a mistake to underestimate the influence of the reports. Both reports were broadly disseminated and digested. They set off a widespread debate and, without a doubt, had an enormous influence on the expectations of managers, musicians, board members, funders, training programs, and others with a stake in the orchestral culture and business of the country.
The Wolf Analysis
The Wolf Report made a simple argument based on excellent data and sound economic theory. Professional orchestras had managed to cover approximately 40 percent of their operating expenses out of earned income, including ticket sales, fees for performances, and recording income. The balance of operating expenses were covered by private and foundation gifts, public subsidies, and endowment income.11 However, the Wolf Report’s analysis showed an increasing earned “income gap” over a 20-year period. In 1971, earned income provided 44 percent of the cost of providing 13,000 concerts, leaving an income gap, per audience member, of $2.78 that had to be raised from other sources. By 1981, earned income had sunk to 37 percent of expenses for 20,100 performances. Combined with revenue and expenses that had nearly tripled in 10 years, this left a per-audience-member income gap of $7.95 that had to be raised. In 1991, earned income had improved as a percentage of expenses, coming in at 39 percent, yet revenue and expenses, again, more than doubled over that 10-year period, creating a per-audience-member gap of $15.91 to be covered by unearned revenue.12
On the face of it, this trend would seem to be reason for celebration: the numbers revealed a rapidly growing nonprofit performing arts industry with a record of being able to generate additional revenues to fuel growth. Beneath the surface, however, the Wolf Report saw that the industry was dependent on revenue growth, both earned and unearned, that would somehow have to keep pace with very large, annual cost increases. The report was soberingly pessimistic about those traditional revenue sources being able to continue the same rapid growth that was affecting orchestras on the expense side.
Government spending on the performing arts showed only faint signs, in 1991, of any growth. The “Culture Wars” had so politicized public support for the arts that there was, at that time, every reason to think that the public sector might get out of arts sponsorship altogether.
In spite of spectacular growth in general philanthropy through the 1970s and 1980s, the report worried about the trend toward symphony orchestras and the performing arts generally receiving a shrinking share of that overall giving. If philanthropy overall were ever to flatten or decline, orchestras could expect declining revenues from individuals, foundations, and corporations.13
Finally, the report foresaw few prospects for ticket prices, expanded services, or endowment growth to close the growing earning gap.
Why not assume that orchestras, like other businesses facing diminishing income, could control expenses? Why, in 1991, did the Wolf Report’s analysis not project that orchestras would and could react to growing deficits and the growing income gap through constraining costs? The answer to this is complicated.
In the Wolf Report’s analysis, the growing gap between earned income and expenses was a trend being driven largely by artistic expenses. Why, exactly, the report came to this conclusion is puzzling; the supporting data are, at best, ambiguous. The report admitted that “. . . the real growth of artistic personnel expenses over the past five years [i.e., 1986-1991] was about the same for expenses overall.”14 The report went on to say, however, that:
The figures provided represent aggregate totals for the industry and there are many individual orchestras in which artistic personnel expenses did drive overall expense increases. This was particularly true for larger orchestras where artistic personnel expenses kept significantly ahead of inflation. . . . The largest orchestras (those with budgets in excess of $8.5 million) saw real growth in average weekly salaries of 6.2% between 1986 and 1991 after adjusting for inflation.15
Given that fewer than 10 percent of member orchestras in the League make up more than 70 percent of all economic activity in the industry, a highly inflationary trend in the compensation of musicians in top orchestras was reason for genuine concern.
The report also speculated that the increasing cost of other expenses such as marketing and fundraising, though they kept pace with artistic expenses, were also, in effect, artistic costs. “The decision on how many concerts to play seems not to be established by audience demand, but instead by the collective bargaining with musicians.”16 Better compensation for musicians has meant extended seasons and more services, which have in turn required expanded marketing, more savvy programming, civic partnerships, and greater fundraising to create or find audience demand or, simply, to stimulate more giving. The picture painted by the report is of an industry expanding under pressure from the supply side—musician and union insistence on expanded contracts—rather than being drawn into growth by expanding audience demand.
What’s puzzling about this analysis is that even through 1991, the industry had done pretty well at managing a very rapid…
Comparing Apples and More Apples
Comparing figures on the orchestral industry is tricky business. The American Symphony Orchestra League Statistical Survey collects financial data for orchestras grouped by size of expenditure. Averages, medians, and ranges in this survey are a consequence of which orchestras choose to respond. Large, well-staffed orchestras are more likely to report, other things being equal, than smaller orchestras or orchestras facing financial hardships. Any orchestra with good news is more likely to report than an orchestra with bad news. Response rates in the statistical survey are high for high-budget orchestras—virtually 100 percent for Group 1 orchestras— and diminish for smaller-budget orchestras. Fewer than 15 percent of the lowest-budget professional orchestras responded to the League’s statistical survey for 2000-2001.
The Wolf Report, which aggregated data from 20 years’ worth of surveys, included 254 professional orchestras, including the largest orchestras, but avoided the dicey business of generalizing to a larger population. The League does some aggregate financial reporting on the overall industry in its “Quick Orchestra Facts,” but these aggregate figures are based either on samples different from those selected by the Wolf Report or on “extrapolations” from those samples. The author’s review of the 2000- 2001 statistical survey included 190 participating orchestras with extrapolations being made to a population of approximately 625.
In sum, comparing aggregate numbers that have been derived by different methods, from different surveys, with different groups of self- selecting, respondent orchestras is inherently error-prone. Nevertheless, by exercising caution, some broad tendencies and trends are conspicuous enough.
…expansion as measured by aggregate budgets, number of orchestras, number of concerts, and the aggregate size of the audience. Even deficits, which grew during the 1980s, were kept comfortably in scale with the expansion of revenues.
To be sure, aggregate deficits grew rapidly between 1986 and 1991, calling for some strong fiscal medicine. But the spectacular expansion of the professional orchestral industry in the United States dates back at least to the mid-1960s. In fact, the Wolf Report’s own analysis shows aggregate deficits for the industry— taken as a percentage of aggregate revenues—growing insignificantly over that 20-year period (see Table 1). Deficits actually declined between 1971 and 1981, the industry’s period of most rapid expansion, proving that orchestras were capable, at least during that period, of rapidly generating revenues to match the rapidly increasing costs of expansion.
Part of the reason for interpreting these industry trends in a most pessimistic fashion has to be found outside the data themselves. William Baumol and William Bowen published their classic analysis of the economics of the performing arts in 1966.17 Among many observations, their most important insight was to explain a feature of the economics of performing arts organizations that they referred to as the “income gap,” but which has since come to be called “the cost disease,” “productivity lag,” or sometimes just “Baumol’s Curse.” The Curse foresees that “performing organizations typically operate under constant financial strain—that their costs almost always exceed their earned income,”18 and that “rising costs will beset the performing arts organization with absolute inevitability.”19
While Baumol and Bowen’s explanation is elaborate, the underlying idea is simple enough. Orchestral musicians have supremely specialized talents that have been developed, typically, over a lifetime of training. Nonetheless, as Baumol and Bowen observe, over time, orchestras draw from the same talent pool as universities, hospitals, software developers, automobile manu- facturers, or the mining industry, for that matter. Some professions are more remunerative than others, but Baumol and Bowen’s insight was that the cost of talent in any one of these industries is affected by the comparative cost of talent in other industries. Electrical engineers don’t, of course, compete with bass players in orchestral auditions. But in the long run of an economy, the orchestral industry competes with other industries in attracting talented, young people who have a choice of professions.
Some sectors of an economy, especially manufacturing industries, are able to achieve great advances in worker productivity through technological innovation. Greater productivity, to an economist, is simply more units of output, whether that’s goods or services, per unit of labor input. Obviously, industries that achieve greater productivity per labor unit are able to generate more income for some fixed amount of labor. That greater income affords the opportunity to raise wage or compensation rates in a competitive labor market. Increasing compensation rates in one industry have, then, an indirect effect on the compensation rates in other industries—whether or not those industries have been able to achieve comparable gains in productivity. Industries that are not able to improve the comparative productivity of their talent pools are faced, as a result, either with a deterioration of the talent attracted to the industry or with the need to increase compensation rates without offsetting gains in earned income. Whence the “income gap.”
Radio, the LP, CDs, and the Internet all stimulated the audience and market for classical music. As technological innovations, they also presented a gigantic potential for gains in economic productivity for orchestras. A large concert hall can accommodate a few thousand patrons, but a radio broadcast or CD can reach tens of thousands or even millions. Alas, you can’t put “potential” in the bank. Orchestras, notoriously, have had a terrible time realizing any direct income from electronic media. There may be some consolation in knowing that the same is true for the overwhelming percentage of all commercial recordings: few break even regardless of musical style or format, even without the huge overhead costs of recording an orchestra. However, for many professional musicians, electronic distribution of their work is more nearly a marketing cost that enhances concert attendance and ticket prices. Viewed as such, these technological innovations may greatly enhance the productivity and perceived value of an orchestra.
Baumol and Bowen considered all “service industries,” (e.g., education and food preparation, as well as the performing arts) as opposed to manufacturing, to be vulnerable to the Curse.20 (More recently, Baumol has called these the “stagnant services.”21) They single out the performing arts as the very best example of a stagnant service industry that benefited very little, in terms of productivity, from technological innovations. A string quartet still requires four musicians a fixed amount of time to perform, regardless of 250 years of technological innovation since the genre became well defined.
So, in sum, the cost of talent rises “inevitably” in a growing economy, yet the unit productivity of performers does not. Ergo, the cost of presenting a performance to an audience inevitably outstrips the earning potential of that performance. Trouble with a capital “T.”
Now this is, of course, a vastly oversimplified account that should, properly, raise all sorts of questions and challenges. Radio, various generations of recording media and playback devices, and more lately, the virtually mediumless distribution of music over the Internet have created enormous potential for increased productivity in various entertainment industries, including orchestral music. Larger concert halls and summer festival venues are, in effect, technological innovations that increase the
audience capacity for a concert or an orchestra. Educational and other programming formats that tend to require less rehearsal preparation are also ways of increasing the productivity of an orchestra.
Be that as it may, whatever innovations may marginally improve the productivity of orchestras, Baumol and Bowen argued that, as an industry, the performing arts were at a technological disadvantage relative to other industries, and that this was enough to ensure that the performing arts would struggle with an ever-growing gap between earned income and expenses.
In many ways, the Wolf Report was simply a case analysis of the orchestral industry viewed through the prism of Baumol and Bowen’s theory of the economics of the performing arts, and it confirmed, 25 years later, their pessimistic forecast for the performing arts.
Ten Years Later
Where does the orchestra industry find itself 10 years after Thomas Wolf’s address to the League? For the 1999-2000 season—the season for which the Wolf Report projected a $64 million deficit—the industry posted, according to the League, an estimated $84.5 million surplus (extrapolated from 203 responding orchestras to approximately 1,800 orchestras). Total revenues and expenses for the season were, respectively, $1.267 billion and $1.183 billion.22 The Wolf Report projected 2000 revenues at $946.5 million and expenses at $1.01 billion, greatly underestimating the prospects for growth in the industry.
“Extrapolations” and “self-selecting respondent orchestras” are likely to cause suspicion among statisticians. Deficit trends, perhaps in different sectors of the industry, may be hidden in industrywide, aggregated averages. However, when the League controls for that kind of error, the outcomes are equally impressive. When the League looked at a constant sample of reporting orchestras over the nine years between the 1990-1991 and the 1999-2000 seasons, there were 109 orchestras that, in aggregate, produced an overall surplus in 1999-2000 of $12 million. That same group of orchestras, in 1990-1991, reported an overall deficit of $26.7 million.23
The Wolf Report’s surplus/deficit projections were clearly mistaken. Given the controversy that swirled around the report, that’s the outcome that will matter most to many reading this article. However, it could easily distract us from a more important, if less salient, prediction: the report was remarkably accurate in predicting the scale of growth that the industry enjoyed through the decade of the 1990s. The Wolf Report calculated that industry revenues and expenses, in nominal dollars, grew nearly 800 percent in the 20 years between 1971 and 1991, a period of spectacular growth. By contrast, between 1991 and 2000, in nominal, non- inflation-adjusted dollars, the industry grew only 90 percent over a nine-year period, a healthy but much slower rate of growth than in previous decades. The Wolf Report clearly anticipated the trend toward deceleratinggrowth, which may, in the end, prove far more significant to the industry than its periodic slumps into modest deficits.
The 30-year trend toward growth and prosperity seemed to continue through the 1990s, with expenses growing rapidly, and revenue, in the form of earned and unearned income, keeping pace. Over this period, according to the League,24 income from ticket sales (i.e., part of overall earned income) rose more than 50 percent. By 1999-2000, individual giving had doubled the rate of a decade earlier, growing from $90.5 million to $188.5 million. Business and foundation giving improved very significantly, though not at the huge rate of individual giving. Public subsidies, not surprisingly, seem to have shrunk for orchestras during the 1990s from the approximate range of 9 percent of total revenues reported by the Wolf Report for the 1990-1991 season to approximately 7 percent for the 2000-2001 season (see Figures 1 and 2). But even this has to be understood against the background of orchestra budgets having nearly doubled through the decade. Though public subsidies shrank as a percentage of budgets, total public funding for orchestras grew very substantially through the 1990s.
This growth and prosperity, so at odds with the forecast of the Wolf Report, might be chalked up to a booming economy throughout the 1990s, which surged, as a matter of good luck for all, right through the season of 1999-2000, the arbitrary year chosen for the Wolf Report’s projections. We might wonder, naturally enough, whether the underlying reality of a growing income gap was just waiting to wreak its “inexorable” deficit havoc once the economy leveled off or declined.
There’s no need to speculate about this. The 1980s ended with a slowing economy that entered a genuine recession in 1990 and 1991, which influenced, in part, the projections of the Wolf Report. The economy of the 1990s behaved very similarly, surging into the second half of the decade and cycling, we now know, into a recession in the first three quarters of 2001.25 In fact, the last two quarters of 2000 saw a dramatically slowing economy, even before entering the 2001 recession. Consequently, this weak economy fell, without warning, on the entirety of the 2000-2001 season and fiscal year, making it the most challenging season in the previous 10 years.
How did orchestras fare? In spite of bad news from Toronto, St. Louis, Baton Rouge, San Jose, and most alarmingly, at the fiscal gold-standard for the industry, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one would have to conclude that the orchestral industry as a whole managed very well. All together, orchestras did suffer an aggregate deficit for the 2000-2001 season, but they did not come close to the 7 percent deficit (i.e., expenses in excess of revenues) projected by the Wolf Report in 1992. The 190 participating orchestras in the League’s 2000-2001 statistical survey reported a cumulative deficit of $17.5 million, only 1.6 percent more in expenditures than revenue. Most impressively, of a total $1.083 billion in revenues, those 190 orchestras earned $488.5 million through concert income and other services.26 That’s fully 45 percent of total revenue from earned income, a significant improvement over the 41 percent earned income for the 254 orchestras represented in the Wolf Report (see Figures 1 and 2). The largest 25 orchestras, which constitute 71 percent of all the measured economic activity in the industry, earned 47 percent of their expenses during the 2000-2001 season.
That’s not quite the same thing as increasing productivity, in the strict sense of the economist, but it is a clear indication that orchestras are resisting a fate projected by the Wolf Report and foretold by Baumol’s Curse. Contrary to the warnings of the recent Rand report on the performing arts,27 the author’s analysis of earned income among orchestras responding to the 2000-2001 statistical survey showed no special disadvantage for mid-sized orchestras. If anything, it’s the smaller orchestras that seem least able to cover their expenses through earned income.
The news is not all good, of course. Orchestras are performing many more concerts than ever in order to reach the same number of audience members. According to League estimates, total audience attendance for orchestra concerts has grown little, if at all, over the last several years. By contrast, the number of concerts performed, again according to League estimates, has grown and continues to grow by leaps: by as much as 23 percent since the 1995-1996 season and by as much as 45 percent since 1990-1991.28
On the face of it, that represents an extraordinary loss of productivity that would have to be offset by rapidly increasing ticket prices or other sources of income. Indeed, average ticket prices increased 70 percent between 1985 and 1995.29 The truth, however, may not be so alarming: the real measure of productivity is in the number of performance services orchestras require to generate a fixed number of concerts or ticket sales. Performances that require less rehearsal time, or programs that can be frequently repeated, allow an orchestra to increase the number of concert events without increasing underlying costs. Nonetheless, it’s certainly not a good thing that many more concerts are required to reach the same size audience, especially not if that comes only with less variety in programming, with fewer rehearsals, and at a higher cost to the audience.
The decline in public subsidies for orchestras is worrisome, but no surprise (Figures 1 and 2). Between 1991 and 2001, tax-supported revenues for orchestras shrank from 9 percent to 6 percent of total revenues for the industry. This was in spite of the fact that total government appropriations for the arts grew steadily through the decade of the 1990s. However, as has been well understood for some time, larger appropriations are being divided among more and more constituencies through the very politicized process of public arts funding. That orchestras have even held onto such a large share of these subsidies (even while that share shrinks as a percentage of rapidly growing budgets in the industry) is a political and economic success for the industry.
A much greater concern—perhaps the single greatest concern—is that endowment and investment income has declined relative to other sources of revenue (Figures 1 and 2). Between 1991 and 2001, endowment and investment income for all orchestras declined from 18 percent of total revenues to 12 percent, fully a one-third reduction. The author was not able to obtain data on orchestra endowments. However, the fact that endowment income did not grow at the pace of earned income or private giving suggests that too little revenue has been invested for future income, even when private sponsorship was at all-time highs. The industry has to be concerned that orchestras may have been balancing budgets, even during a boom economy, by drawing too aggressively on their endowments. Now, as the economy recovers from a recession, with the threat of decreased public and private support, orchestras may not have the endowment resources they should in order to cushion against imminent declines from these other sources of income.
Having weathered the 2000-2001 recession, the orchestral industry, though having the advantage of being on guard, is likely to face worse in the next two seasons. The 2001-2002 season was, of course, rocked by the disaster of September 11. In the end, however, the economic effects of September 11 will prove less significant than many other factors. As this article is being written in the summer of 2002, personal income has recovered very rapidly after the 2001 recession. Consumer spending remains strong and consumer confidence is recovering, with vacillations, from a hard fall after September 11 and a recession. Inflation is modest. New claims for unemployment are going down. Manufacturing inventories are climbing again. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that much of the unearned income raised by most orchestras is threatened from an equities market that has lost as much as one-third of its value over the last 18 months. Individual, foundation, and corporate contributions and sponsorships, influenced by the value of these equities, will, with certainty, go down or take longer to be realized. Orchestra endowments, which are not as large as they should be after a decade of strong economic growth, will have grown little or will have even shrunk over the last year. Unless orchestras have a very conservative investment and endowment- spending discipline, short-term loss of income from endowments will be very painful.
State and local tax revenues, a very significant part of all public subsidies for orchestras, have been stagnant since 2000.30 For fiscal year 2002, for the first time in six years, total appropriations to state arts agencies decreased from the previous year, from $446.8 million
in 2001 to $411.4 million in 2002.31 The industry as a whole, then, can expect reduced tax-supported income in 2002-2003. (The bad news about reduced overall public funding for the arts has to be balanced against the good news that a majority of states have actually increased appropriations for the arts, and that the National Endowment for the Arts has seen the single largest increase in its appropriation in more than 15 years, an initiative that came out of the U.S. House of Representatives.)
Many orchestras are struggling to contain deficits incurred in 2001-2002. Early anecdotal indications are not encouraging. However, costs and deficits are much more containable than they were 20 years ago, just by virtue of the much greater size and diversity of many orchestral programs and operations. Though painful and regrettable, orchestras can make up large savings by reducing administrative staffs, cutting noncore programs such as tours or recording projects, controlling operational overhead, and scaling down marketing costs. All of this can be done before cutting into the core artistic and/or educational mission of the orchestra. Admittedly, these can be drastic remedies with a potential for setting off a spiraling decline; the perils of cost reduction have to be weighed prudently against incurring deficits and carrying debt burdens. But the important point is that an economic downturn for the industry needn’t trigger a trend toward the uncontrollable income gaps and deficit spending predicted by the Wolf Report and Baumol and Bowen’s economic theory of the performing arts.
Did the Paradigm Shift?
To avoid, or forestall, the fulfillment of Baumol’s Curse, Thomas Wolf, in 1992, called for a “paradigm shift” in the way orchestras did business. Did that paradigm shift occur? Is that why orchestras enjoyed nearly 10 years of growth and prosperity and seem to be weathering an economic recession in comparatively good health? Did the Wolf Report help avert the Curse?
The most obvious and straightforward answer is a simple “no,” nothing like the called-for paradigm shift happened. In fact, the last decade seems to have been business as usual, just more so. The size of full-time “core” orchestras has not shrunk noticeably. Greater productivity has not been achieved, as Wolf urged in 1992, by shrinking the number of concerts or consolidating municipal orchestras into regional orchestras. In fact, the number of concerts presented has grown nearly 50 percent over 10 years, rather than shrinking, even though total audience participation has been stagnant. In Tokyo, Japan, two of the city’s nine major professional orchestras, the Japan Shinsei Symphony Orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic, did merge in 1999. The only comparable merger in the United States is the recent decision to combine the Utah Symphony and the Utah Opera.
Perhaps most surprising, the grand, centrally located, urban concert halls— shining palaces for the performing arts—have not become the victims of suburban sprawl, as suggested by Wolf and others. If anything, constructing grand concert venues has become more crucial to the marketing strategies of orchestras than ever before. Indeed, for many cities struggling to remedy the loss of business and retail anchors in the urban core, arts and entertainment, including grand concert halls for classical music, have provided an answer. Heidi Waleson, in a recent article on the subject in Symphony magazine, concludes that “. . . after decades of moribund development and suburban flight, downtown is hot again— and concert halls are a prime component of the turnaround.”32 A 1993 study by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters showed that fully one-third of all performing arts venues in the United States had been built between 1980 and 1993, with the pace of construction apparently accelerating in the 1990s.33
New, major concert halls, often in multipurpose performing arts centers, have been recently completed or are in various phases of planning and construction in Newark, Seattle, Philadelphia, Fort Worth, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, Kansas City, Austin, Nashville, and Denver. Many other major concert halls across the country, such as Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, are being planned for major renovations. The early success of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Verizon Hall, part of the recently completed $265 million Kimmel Center, will not be lost on other orchestras and their communities. The Philadelphia Orchestra reported, as a result of resold subscription tickets, 102 percent attendance for concerts presented in the new Verizon Hall34 (concerts overall for the season reached 99 percent of capacity), in spite of the fact that top price for single tickets in 2001-2002 was $110 and next season will go to $130.35 As early as June 2002, the orchestra reported a 78 percent subscriber renewal rate for the 2002-2003 season.
Orchestras have also been largely frustrated in their efforts to reach larger audiences through electronic media, one of the imperatives of Wolf’s new paradigm. Very few orchestras can any longer attract recording contracts that satisfy union pay scales. The recording industry, which is seeing shrinking profit margins on the few recordings that can get beyond a break-even point, is more reluctant than ever to subsidize high-cost recording projects with symphony orchestras. The core symphonic repertoire, which makes up the backbone of classical recording sales, has been exhaustively recorded by orchestras around the world, overwhelming record buyers’ appetites for collecting.
It’s worth pointing out as well that the quality of carefully performed and engineered recordings is generally so high, that for the vast majority of the record- buying public, there’s an indiscernible difference in interpretation and quality of performance between one performance of Ein Heldenleben and the 72 other recordings currently available through the Amazon.com listing. For the vast majority of the listening public, there’s insufficient product differentiation in orchestral recordings to justify the abundance of choices.
There’s little doubt that the total “extended” audience for classical music— and by that I mean the radio-listening, CD-buying consumer, as opposed to that special class of listener, the live-concert attendee—has grown enormously as a result of electronic access to a diverse range of high quality, “classical” music. That vastly increased audience is a pool of at least minimally literate listeners: listeners who are familiar with Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. While the aficionado may denigrate the “casual” listener, at least the casual listener hears differences and similarities in these compositional and performance styles, though he or she may have trouble expressing these observations. More importantly, even the casual listener will have, however naïve, preferences for music within the tradition—“I like Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein, but you can keep that ‘modern’ stuff.” These naïve preferences are the stuff that more sophisticated musical appreciation—and perhaps even an appetite for live-concert experiences—are made of. Cheap, abundant, electronic access to high-quality classical music has been a huge stimulus to the culture and industry of classical music. Orchestras are, in spite of the frustrations of turning a buck on classical recordings, clearly enjoying the economic benefits of that enlarged audience base. To that extent anyway, the industry has “shifted” in the direction pointed out in the Wolf Report. But marketing and performing through radio and recordings hardly seems an innovation for the industry.
Thomas Wolf proposed other important aspects of the industry paradigm shift:
◆ greater ethnic diversity among orchestra players, management, and board members;
◆ more innovative programming strategies;
◆ educational programming designed around more thoughtful pedagogical assumptions;
◆ the need for orchestras to pursue more creative community partnerships; and
◆ the importance of greater player involvement in orchestral governance and strategic planning.
Progress toward these goals has been mixed. The ethnic diversity among orchestral musicians, managers, and board members seems to have changed little if at all over the last 10 years, in spite of various efforts among training programs and orchestras. With the sponsorship of organizations such as the Knight Foundation, programming strategies, at least among the prosperous organizations that can afford to experiment with their audience bases, have become more inventive. Orchestras are investing much more in educational programming. They are reforging strong community partnerships that have, with little doubt, been key to the prosperity of many. And orchestral governance and organizational culture are subjects of broad discussion and occasional innovation.
Progress is progress, even if modest, and as such, worthy of recognition and applause. But these modest advances hardly seem so sweeping as to constitute a “paradigm shift” in the industry, hardly seem a change in the fundamental way of going about the orchestral business, and hardly seem an explanation of how the industry averted the grim projections of the 1991 Wolf Report. That’s the simple answer, anyway.
What Went Right? What’s Gone Wrong?
The more complicated answer is that the Wolf Report, and the subsequent Americanizing report, very likely did much to frighten the industry into fiscal sobriety. Looking back to the American Symphony Orchestra League’s national meeting of 1992 and the exchange between Thomas Wolf and various orchestra representatives, Peter Pastreich’s veteran advice seems to have called it closer than anyone. The industry was facing a challenge and not a crisis; orchestras were spending more than they were taking in. In Pastreich’s sober judgment, they would all have to cut that out. Not a paradigm shift, but shrewder management; more aggressive marketing and fundraising; program innovations; cost controls; and more efficiency where efficiencies were possible. More and better concerts; better programming; better business.
The most important and remarkable fact is that orchestras have, somehow, done what accepted theory in cultural economics seems to say they should not be able to do. Stagnant service industries, Baumol warns us,
. . . suffer from a rise in their costs that is terrifyingly rapid and frighteningly persistent . . . as financial stringency becomes more pressing, it is understandable that spending on these services is cut back or, at most, increased by amounts barely sufficient to stay abreast of the overall price inflation in the economy. But since the costs of the stagnant services are condemned to rise, persistently and cumulatively, with greater rapidity than the rate of inflation of the economy, the consequence is that the supply of these services tends to fall in quantity and quality.36
Orchestras have, indeed, seen nearly a doubling of average annual expenditures over the past 10 years. That would be terrifying but for the fact that the percentage of total expenditures covered by earned income has actually increased over that period. Baumol and Bowen’s theory predicted that the earned- to-unearned income ratio would inevitably decrease as the income gap steadily widened.
The theory would also lead us to expect that the expense of artistic personnel would steadily grow in comparison with other aspects of an orchestral operation, such as financial management, marketing, stage operations, fundraising, and education, all of which can benefit from technological efficiencies. But that hasn’t happened either. The cost of artistic personnel in orchestras has remained stable at 51 percent of total expenditures for many years. In fact, the largest and most prestigious orchestras (League Group 1 Orchestras, with average budgets of $30 million)—those in which the cost of artistic personnel is not only the highest but also the most critical to the orchestras’ success—spent, on average, only 48.7 percent of total expenses on artistic personnel in 2000-2001.37
In the face of such facts, the theory would predict a deterioration in the quality of the talent and concerts, or in the quantity of performances offered by the industry, as a result of the industry’s constraining the cost of artistic labor in a competitive labor market. But the opposite seems to be true.
Clearly, there’s something wrong with the underlying theory. Or, more likely, there’s something wrong with the assumption that the orchestral industry is a “stagnant service” industry. In fact, if we take the theory seriously, it would be something of an economic enigma that there is anything like a 150-year-old orchestral industry at all. One would expect the business to have wasted away long ago due to the long-term debilitating effects of the cost disease.
While the performance of a Beethoven symphony takes the same number of musicians the same number of minutes (within a few musicians and minutes, anyway) to perform as it did 200 years ago, greater productivity may have been achieved in other ways. For instance, orchestras may be finding ways to decrease the rehearsal time required to prepare and stage a concert. Or the absurdly large number of American music students (i.e., something on the order of 8,000 music students graduate from accredited music programs each year) being trained for the profession of orchestral performance, and trained at higher and higher levels, is infusing orchestras with extremely high-caliber musicians. This bears more careful study.
Or perhaps the theory is neither ill-conceived nor mistaken in its assumption about the “stagnancy” of the orchestral industry. After all, being a “stagnant” service industry means only that an industry cannot achieve gains in productivity comparable to other industries competing for talented employees. There’s little question that the orchestral industry is “stagnant” relative to computer manufacturing or pharmaceuticals, and even in comparison with other enter- tainment industries, such as spectator sports, which have achieved enormous productivity—albeit one-time gains—through the mass media.
The real problem may not be that Baumol and Bowen’s theory is mistaken in some fundamental way. Indeed, their work made a compelling argument for the performing arts not, as a rule, ever being able to flourish without subsidies that exceeded their earning power. Indeed, without that understanding, there would be no orchestral industry in this country to speak of.
In the end, the problem with the theory—and with the Wolf Report that applied the theory—is not that it is mistaken so much as that it explains so little, as a theory, about the economics of the orchestral industry and other performing arts. The orchestral industry is “stagnant.” It does suffer from the cost disease. In spite of that, it has prospered and grown, steadily, over a 40-year period. Few orchestras of any importance have dissolved over that period, and those that have, such as the San Diego Symphony, were, in short order, reorganized and revived. Rather than a theory that explains how vulnerable and nonviable these organizations are, we need to understand why they are so durable and resilient— in spite of the validity of Baumol and Bowen’s theory. In spite of Baumol’s Curse, most orchestras have been able to close the income gap through unearned income that has managed, somehow, to keep pace. But “somehow” explains little. We need to better understand how these nonprofit, high-culture performing arts organizations have cultivated such generous, and growing, private and public subsidies and what the long-term prospects are for this trend.
Most important, orchestras have managed to keep the income gap, as a percentage of total revenue, from growing over the last 10 years. In fact, the industry has gained some ground, improving the ratio of earned to unearned income by better than 10 percent over the period. There are several reasons for this, but one of the clearest and most significant has been the ability to pass along highly inflationary costs to the audience through greatly increased ticket prices. The performing arts, like education and health care, have grown not through greater productivity, but through greater perceived value. In each case, consumers have proved a willingness and the wherewithal to spend a larger and larger portion of their incomes on these “stagnant services.”
The key to understanding the economics of symphony orchestras and other performing arts is not in understanding the perils of productivity lag. Baumol and Bowen explained that. The key is to understand how these organizations control the perceived value of their service in order to keep pace with highly inflationary costs so as to sustain growth in earned income, as well as in private and public subsidies. How and why this is happening needs an explanation. The future depends on it.
Douglas Dempster is Senior Associate Dean and Marie and Joseph D. Jamail Senior Regents Professor of Fine Arts in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas, Austin. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.
1 Thanks to Dr. William Glade for his advice on economic theory and data. I am indebted to Dr. Thomas Wolf for his candid and thoughtful reflections on the 1992 American Symphony Orchestra League report, The Financial Condition of Symphony Orchestras (known throughout the industry as the Wolf Report), and on the recent economics of symphony orchestras. Thanks are also due to Jack McAuliffe and Jan Wilson of the American Symphony Orchestra League for their trust in sharing the League’s proprietary data. Paul Judy and Fred Zenone of the Symphony Orchestra Institute deserve our thanks for their support of Harmony and the Institute as a forum on the past and future of the American symphony orchestra.
1 Thanks to Dr. William Glade for his advice on economic theory and data. I am indebted to Dr. Thomas Wolf for his candid and thoughtful reflections on the 1992 American Symphony Orchestra League report, The Financial Condition of Symphony Orchestras (known throughout the industry as the Wolf Report), and on the recent economics of symphony orchestras. Thanks are also due to Jack McAuliffe and Jan Wilson of the American Symphony Orchestra League for their trust in sharing the League’s proprietary data. Paul Judy and Fred Zenone of the Symphony Orchestra Institute deserve our thanks for their support of Harmony and the Institute as a forum on the past and future of the American symphony orchestra.
2 The Wolf Organization, Inc. 1992. The Financial Condition of Symphony Orchestras (the Wolf Report). Washington, D.C.: American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL), vi, 24.
3 Wolf Report, A-13.
4 Wolf Report, 24.
5 Baumol, William J., and William G. Bowen. 1966. Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma. New York: The Twentieth Century Fund.
6 American Symphony Orchestra League. 2001. Quick Orchestra Facts for the 1999-2000 Season. New York: ASOL.
7 American Symphony Orchestra League. 1993. Americanizing the American Orchestra: A Task Force Report. Washington, DC: ASOL.
8 Wolf Report, B-3.
9 Wolf Report, D-2.
10 Lipman, Samuel. 1993. Who’s Killing Our Orchestras? The New Criterion, September. At the time, Lipman’s comment was quoted approvingly by the editor of Senza Sordino, the newsletter of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). Vol. 32 (1). October 1993.
11 As performing arts organizations go, orchestras tend to do better at earning expenses than most other performing arts, with the exception of theater companies and commercial music companies. See: McCarthy, Kevin, et al. 2001. The Performing Arts in a New Era. <http://www.rand.org/ publications/MR/MR1367/> Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 83.
12 Wolf Report, 13-15.
13 Wolf Report, A7-8.
14 Wolf Report, 12.
15 Wolf Report. Emphases in original.
16 Wolf Report, A-7.
17 Baumol and Bowen. Op. cit. 18 Baumol and Bowen, 161. 19 Baumol and Bowen, 169. 20 Writing in 1965, on the brink of the “information age,” Baumol and Bowen did not anticipate the gigantic efficiencies achieved in various service industries through the use of digital technologies.
21 Baumol, William J. 1996. Children of Performing Arts, the Economic Dilemma: The Climbing Costs of Health Care and Education. Journal of Cultural Economics (20): 183-206.
22 Quick Orchestra Facts for the 1999-2000 Season.
23 Quick Orchestra Facts for the 1999-2000 Season.
24 Quick Orchestra Facts for the 1999-2000 Season.
25 U.S. Department of Commerce. Bureau of Economic Analysis. 2002. <http://www.bea.gov/bea/dn/nipaweb/TableViewFixed.asp#Mid>: Table S.1.
26 American Symphony Orchestra League. 2002. Statistical Report for 2000-2001. New York: ASOL.
27 Performing Arts in a New Era, xxiii.
28 Quick Orchestra Facts for the 2000-01 Season.
29 Cited in Performing Arts in a New Era, 89; attributed to “data provided by the ASOL.”
30 U.S. Census Bureau. Governments Division. 2002. National Totals of State and Local Tax Revenue, by Type of Tax. <http://www.census.gov/govs/qtax/table1.html>.
31 National Association of State Arts Agencies. 2002. Legislative Annual Report: FY 2002.
32 Waleson, Heidi. 2002. Downtown, Where All the Lights Are Bright… . Symphony: July-August, 40-49.
33 Performing Arts in a New Era, p. 74.
34 The Philadelphia Orchestra. 2002. Press release. June 11. <http://www.philorch.org>.
35 Dobrin, Peter. 2002. Orchestra Tops—In Ticket Prices. The Philadelphia Inquirer June 12: A01.
36 Baumol, Children of the Performing Arts, 196.
37 Statistical Report for 2000-2001.
Orchestra and Community: Bridging the Gap
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has, for eight years, funded a symphony orchestra initiative known as the Magic of Music program. The focus of the initiative has been the connection between the art and audiences.
Currently, 15 orchestras are involved in the Magic of Music. They include the Brooklyn Symphony, Charlotte Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Kansas City Symphony, Long Beach Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, New World Symphony, Oregon Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, and Wichita Symphony.
Penelope McPhee, the foundation’s vice president and chief program officer, has played a pivotal role in the conception and development of the Magic of Music. Earlier this year, she addressed representatives of the 15 orchestras at the group’s annual retreat. The Institute is pleased to publish excerpts from her remarks.
After outlining the values and beliefs that were the basis of the Knight Foundation’s initiative, McPhee spoke of the assumptions that the foundation had made. In very straightforward language, she explained why some of those assumptions were faulty. She then offered her audience an equally blunt discussion of orchestral mission. Her concluding thoughts outlined seven lessons learned.
In his Publisher’s Notes, Fred Zenone describes Penny’s remarks as an example of “tough love.” We encourage you to consider carefully what she had to say, and to let us know where you agree or why you disagree.
Iwant to speak from a personal perspective about what Knight Foundation has learned over the course of our Magic of Music symphony orchestra initiative. I want to share what I see as successes and talk frankly about our failures. Eight years and $10 million into this initiative, it is time to set ourselves to the difficult task of assessing what we’ve learned and figuring out how to apply and share those lessons.
My goal here is to look at the big picture—to talk about shared values; about assumptions, right and wrong; and about mission, implicit and explicit.
Knight Foundation brought to the creation of our orchestra program several fundamental values and beliefs that formed the bedrock of the initiative. The first is that symphonic music is a powerful art form, with timeless appeal, that can bring joy and spiritual renewal to human beings everywhere, therefore, its creation, production, and dissemination should be supported. Certainly, musicians and other orchestra professionals share that value.
The second belief is that to be whole and healthy, a community must have a symphony orchestra. One of Knight Foundation’s most firmly held values is the belief in the importance of community. Our orchestra initiative grew out of our deep concern that if we allowed struggling orchestras in our communities to die, the communities would be diminished.
Today, I would argue vehemently that a community doesn’t need an orchestra just for the sake of saying it has an orchestra. The mere existence of an orchestra in a community does not contribute to the community’s vitality. Communities need vibrant, relevant orchestras that give meaning to people’s weary, humdrum lives.
I am increasingly convinced that orchestras that are not relevant to their communities do not contribute to community health and vitality. I’ll go even
In the October 2000 issue of Harmony, readers were introduced to the successful organization development efforts the Oregon Symphony had undertaken.
During the course of that roundtable, participants discussed briefly the unusual process that was being used in the orchestra’s search for a music director to succeed James DePreist, who had announced his decision not to renew his contract when it expired in 2005. DePreist (who is known in Oregon as “Jimmy”) has led the Oregon Symphony for more than 20 years.
This past May, the symphony orchestra world learned that the search process had concluded two years earlier than planned, with the appointment of Carlos Kalmar as music director designate. Kalmar will assume the music director position in the 2003-2004 season. The Institute was curious as to how the search process had unfolded since our last conversation and invited members of the search committee to join us for a roundtable discussion. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Institute: We are delighted that you have agreed to share the details of the process the Oregon Symphony used to select a new music director. Let’s begin by asking you to introduce yourselves and describe your involvement with the symphony.
Niel DePonte: I am the principal percussionist in the orchestra and have been here for 25 years. I was also chair of the orchestra committee, though not on the search committee, at the time James DePreist was selected in 1980, so this was my second music director search.
Kathryn Gray: I am a member of the violin section and have played in the orchestra for about 25 years. I served as a member of the search committee that recently selected Carlos Kalmar to be our next music director.
Lynn Loacker: I am past chairman of the board and have been on the board for 12 years. This was my first music director search.
Mary Tooze: I am currently serving on the foundation board and was a member of this music director search committee. I also served on the symphony board of directors for seven years in the 1970s and was a member of the search committee that selected Jimmy DePreist.
Tony Woodcock: I’m president of the Oregon Symphony, and I’ve been here nearly four years.
Institute: Tony, give our readers a refresher about the formation of the music director search committee.
Woodcock: When I arrived at the Oregon Symphony, it was already known that Jimmy was in his last contract extension, which was due to expire in 2005. So, naturally, one of the first questions that I got from everyone was: what are you going to do about a music director search committee? I decided to tackle the question right away, and in December 1998, invited the entire orchestra to have lunch with me. The agenda for that meeting was much broader than just the music director search. As you will recall from our earlier conversation, the board was very interested in improving relations throughout the organization— musicians, board, staff, and foundation. And the music director search committee was certainly part of the conversation.
The board agreed with my recommendations and authorized me to offer two things. The musicians would be the majority shareholders, holding seven of the thirteen seats on the committee, and, at the end of the process, the entire orchestra would vote to select its new music director and present that recommendation to the full board for approval.
Loacker: Among those who were on the board in 1998, only a few had been involved in the previous music director search. To help us decide where to begin, Tony, who had been through several music director searches before he came to Oregon, explained why musicians have a strong interest in determining who will be their artistic leader. His thoughts made sense to us, and the board agreed that musicians should constitute the majority of the search committee.
Institute: Kathryn or Niel, explain how the orchestra selected the seven search committee members.
DePonte: The orchestra committee that was in place at the time had very good representation from the various political positions within the orchestra. I would even describe it as an enlightened committee. They saw a need
for balance on the search committee of both the artistic interests of the various sections of the orchestra and the differing points of view that members hold about offstage matters. The orchestra committee put in place an election system that allowed us to accomplish both goals. The orchestra was divided into seven groups representing a section or collection of sections, and each group elected one member of the search committee.
Gray: I would add that the orchestra committee also encouraged several members of the orchestra to nominate themselves. That was an important element in achieving the balances that were required for the process to succeed. I would agree with Niel’s description of the orchestra committee as “enlightened.” And as the process played out, it was probably fortuitous that our personnel manager, who is also a violinist in the orchestra, was elected to the search committee.
Woodcock: The choices for the six other members of the search committee were pretty obvious. Lynn Loacker was the current chair of the association board. Mary Tooze not only represented the leadership of the foundation, but brought long experience, including a previous music director search, and a wonderful knowledge of symphonic music. The marketing director, the general manager, the artistic administrator, and I represented the staff. Jean Vollum, a major supporter who endows the music director chair, served ex officio.
Institute: One of the first activities of the committee must have been the establishment of search criteria. Describe how the criteria were established, and how each constituency contributed.
Woodcock: The committee began its work by brainstorming. We literally wrote down everything we could think of that should be included in the criteria. We came up with a list that remained pretty consistent throughout the search process. We agreed that the new music director must:
◆ Inspire the orchestra, board, and staff.
◆ Be the orchestra’s, therefore the search committee’s, preference.
◆ Be an experienced music director.
◆ Have a depth of knowledge of classical period repertoire.
◆ Be a collaborator.
◆ Understand the American symphony system and the very strong need to connect with the audience.
◆ Be seen as a community leader.
Gray: We all recognized that this was an ambitious list. But throughout the process, I think we all understood the centrality of artistic musical excellence, of the inspiration we needed, and the desire to engage someone who would work to take the orchestra to a higher artistic level.
DePonte: There was also a mutual education process that took place. The musicians were quite clear about what they thought artistically. They had a good gut sense of what the orchestra needed to move forward artistically and technically. The board had a clear consensus about where the institution needed to go from a business model standpoint. The musicians on the search committee came to learn, and to share with our colleagues in the full orchestra, that our responsibilities went beyond the characteristics that a music director might exhibit in a rehearsal or concert, and needed to include the overall vision of the institution for which we all work. Both the musicians on the search committee, and the orchestra as a whole, should be credited for making their decision based on a complete body of knowledge about what the institution needed at this time in a music director.
And I want to add one other thing. I don’t think an orchestra organization can come to this type of music director search process unless it takes some of the steps we had taken earlier. Those steps had to do with developing trust. For us, the series of steps was quite direct: an inclusive strategic planning process; collective bargaining negotiations using Interest-Based Bargaining techniques; a music director search. But I do not think we could have done this search this way if we had not taken the other steps.
Institute: We have learned from some of the background materials that you provided that your initial list included 72 candidates for the music director’s position. How was that list established?
Woodcock: Absolutely everyone contributed to the list. We threw the gates wide open and asked people to give us their ideas. Contributions came from every constituency. I put those names into three categories. The first I called “Dream On.” It included people such as Claudio Abbado, and one or two music directors who have been dead for years! At the other extreme was “You’ve Got to Be Joking.” And, of course, I won’t name names there! But in the middle was a central core of terrific talent that we decided to take very seriously.
Institute: So the initial list actually shortened itself. Tell us about the due diligence activities you undertook.
DePonte: The musicians on the search committee divided up the group of candidates and began calling their musician friends all over the world. We sought musician- to-musician commentary about artistic areas, orchestra relationships, hiring-firing practices, and artistic growth patterns that each candidate had, or had not, been able to achieve during his or her tenure. The phone bills were worthy of note.
Gray: The first wave of phone calls also involved many staff members. For example, our artistic administrator called many artists’ agents to determine if the candidates were in our financial ballpark, and if they were interested in us. Everyone on the committee did due diligence. Once the list became smaller, we undertook more detailed due diligence. We contacted a variety of constituencies, always looking for a balance of opinions about each candidate. We went back in time beyond candidates’ current positions, in some cases 10 to 12 years, to try to get a complete picture.
Woodcock: Our due diligence became incredibly scientific. People devoted a huge amount of time to it. At one point, we realized Kathryn had become nearly a full-time due diligence officer. We used an approach through which everyone received the same questions, which allowed us to research everyone in exactly the same way. The reports that came back to the search committee were incredibly detailed. I should also add that several of us made trips to watch our candidates conduct.
DePonte: As the group of candidates became smaller and smaller, whenever we heard anything that was in the negative, we were extremely careful to research any bias that might exist for any reason. Knowing how difficult relations can be at times between musicians and conductors, we took a lot of comments with grains of salt. There is no question that this was a musician-driven process, and musicians’ opinions were being filtered in from many, many sources.
When musicians hold the responsibility for an important process, they can be very fair-minded. When they hold the responsibility for artistic leadership, they take that role seriously and are not capricious with their judgments.
Gray: And I think it is important to add here that throughout this process, which involved musicians all over the world, there was a very high level of confidentiality. The information that came to us stayed with us. Mary Tooze was very instrumental in making sure we all understood that.
DePonte: None of the information that the search committee received went back to the full orchestra. Only when we were ready to present one candidate to the orchestra did we discuss our due diligence, and then in only very general terms.
Tooze: If I made one contribution to this process, having served on the previous search committee, it was to help everyone understand that every word that was said in a search committee meeting stayed in that room. There were several other music director searches under way at the same time, and they were being played out on the front pages of the local newspapers. Which I thought was dreadful. We decided we wanted no part of that. For two years, my role was to say to every committee member: say anything you want, but keep it in this room. There was an enormous amount of information—positive and negative—shared in our meetings. And I am very proud to say, not one word did leave the room.
DePonte: There is no question that the confidentiality requirement puts stress on the musician members of a search committee. We were often approached by members of the orchestra who wanted to know what was going on. You know, the water cooler conversation. We had to be really tough about not talking about any of this, which can create some interesting interactions. On the one hand, the musicians saw us as their representatives. On the other hand, they did not always understand the importance of extreme confidentiality. And our concern for confidentiality included not sharing information with the orchestra committee. The orchestra committee came to understand that they were out of the loop once they empowered a search committee. If any other orchestra wants to undertake a similar search, that’s an important point to understand.
Institute: It is our understanding that the Oregon Symphony conducted a very public music director search and involved community members in the process. Tell us about those activities.
Woodcock: The involvement of the community was in our thinking right from the word go. To understand that, your readers need to understand our context, that Jimmy DePreist has been the Oregon Symphony’s music director for more than 20 years. He is a wonderful local icon. He is synonymous with the orchestra. He has a huge, fantastic personality. We could say, intellectually, in our brochures and in our press releases, that change was coming. But our big concern was that people would not understand emotionally what was coming. None of our 10 final candidates had previously conducted the orchestra.
We began our community involvement by very publicly declaring who our candidates were. They were listed as candidates in our season brochure. We told the media who they were. We told our colleagues in the industry who the candidates were. And we took a lot of criticism. To go public involved some interesting conversations with artists’ managers.
We were quite straightforward from the beginning in working with the artists’ managers. A couple of the managers actually came to visit us to learn firsthand what we were doing. And after we sat down together, their response was: yes, this is right for Oregon. The fact that we had 10 candidates says that an orchestra can, indeed, conduct a search in this way. Two other candidates chose not to continue the process because of its public nature, which was fine with us.
We also made it very clear that a candidate’s visit was not just a podium stop. It was an interview process. Candidates could expect to be interviewed by the media, be introduced to members of the board, have lunch with both board members and the search committee, and attend postconcert receptions to meet major donors. Our candidates did not have a single spare moment when they reached town. Our assessment was intense both on and off the podium.
DePonte: Contemporary music directors need to act in flexible ways to meet the needs of many stakeholders within the orchestra institution. We expect artistic vision and technical ability, of course. But the new breed of music directors will take advantage of the creative potential of all members of the orchestra institution and find ways for those members to express their creativity in service of both the artistic and strategic goals of the organization.
Tooze: Comparing the last search committee on which I served with this one, I have had the opportunity to witness and participate in growth in music democracy. I am not a young woman, and I want to say this is good growth. Perhaps some of the best growth in this country.
Woodcock: In terms of involving our community, we went even further. At every single concert that was conducted by one of our music director candidates, over two seasons, we put out an audience survey. We also put the survey on our website. When we began, we had no idea what was going to happen. In fact, the surveys were snapped up like hotcakes. With each conductor’s visit, we were getting up to 700 surveys back. Our audience members were taking this seriously. They not only checked off the boxes as we asked, they wrote to us as well. We asked for their opinions, and we received essays and drawings. We had a lot of information.
Loacker: We got comments about everything from baton technique to the styling of the candidate’s hair!
Woodcock: We surveyed the orchestra after every candidate’s visit, which provided central information to the search committee. When we compared the orchestra’s response to a candidate with the audience’s response to the same candidate, we learned that when a conductor excited the orchestra musically, it showed in the audience survey.
Gray: That was a wonderful affirmation that we were on the right track. The congruence of the opinions of the orchestra, the audience, the staff, and the search committee gave us a great deal of confidence about what we were doing. There had not been a music director search for a very long time. This process of player involvement was unfamiliar to the orchestra. Tony provided a great deal of leadership. He brought the board along; he set this process in place for every constituency.
DePonte: Let’s don’t shortchange the importance of surveying the orchestra after each candidate’s visit. The surveys were quite detailed. They asked all the standard technical questions, but they also invited the orchestra members to give us their comments. Throughout the process, we tabulated the surveys, including pages and pages of comments. It was very important when we came to make a final recommendation that we had both numerical and descriptive data that had been collected immediately after performances.
Institute: Were there points along the way when you questioned what you were doing?
Woodcock: Absolutely. We knew we were blazing a trail, and we knew there would be risks associated with that.
Loacker: From the beginning, we were criticized for undertaking a five-year search process. We were constantly questioned by our colleagues about what we were doing. And yet, we know that in many American orchestras, concerts are being planned, and conductors are being engaged, three years ahead of time. We watched other orchestras announce the appointment of new music directors who would not begin their tenures for three years. So we were able to say that what we were doing wasn’t so crazy.
Gray: Because it had been so long since this orchestra had undertaken a music director search, every group involved had a great deal of learning to do. Not one of our candidates had conducted here before, and we had no prior relationships built. The orchestra had not played for such a regular procession of guest conductors.
DePonte: There are many orchestras in this country that would contend that having the board lead a music director search is a more efficient process than the one we used. But being more efficient is not necessarily being more effective. Even with the risks that we knew were attached, an open, inclusive process was right for this orchestra.
Institute: So you spent two seasons getting to know your candidates. Then, in May 2002, the pace of the process changed. Explain to our readers what transpired.
Woodcock: Jimmy DePreist asked to have lunch with our board chair, Jack Wilborn, and me. He offered to consider changing his role with the orchestra if it would be helpful to the search process. He put forward the idea of assuming a new title of music director laureate which would allow us to accelerate the process of finding his successor. Jack and I took his offer to the board and to the search committee, and recommended that each group consider it seriously.
Our search was actually coming along very well. We were at the point of homing in on three final candidates, each of whom, as we knew, was also a candidate elsewhere. We needed to consider whether we could afford the luxury of taking another two years to make up our minds when other orchestras might be better positioned to make a selection. We concluded that Jimmy had provided us with a wonderful opportunity, and that we should take that opportunity and run with it.
Institute: We know that in a matter of weeks after you received Jimmy’s offer, Carlos Kalmar was named music director designate. That seems amazingly quick work for a symphony orchestra! Again, describe the processes that were used to bring the search to its conclusion.
Woodcock: Because we had been so intent on maintaining confidentiality during our search process, we were ironically in the position to be accused of not having communicated. We were suddenly faced with the reality that we needed to speed up communication as if there were no tomorrow.
The first thing that we did was to put the search committee in the same room with the full board. We asked David Hyslop, the president of the Minnesota Orchestra, to join us to facilitate the discussion. David has been through several music director searches, and he did a magnificent job of taking us through the whole process and answering questions. But the most convincing part of that meeting was when the musicians spoke to the board. They spoke with passion. They spoke with commitment. And they spoke with a tremendous sense of responsibility as to what they had been doing and what they were looking for.
Loacker: Up until that point, the board had been given general progress reports about the process. The joint meeting with the search committee was an opportunity to clarify what had been going on, to give board members the background they needed to feel comfortable and confident that the process had been conducted in a
professional manner. Board members asked many questions to satisfy themselves that adequate due diligence had been done. They wanted to determine if those of us on the search committee had learned enough about our candidates, not only on the podium, but as representatives of the orchestra in the community.
I would add that David Hyslop’s participation was most helpful. It was wonderful to have affirmation about our process from an outside source. Not that we don’t trust Tony, but to hear someone who had not been involved in the process tell us that we had done it right was very reassuring.
DePonte: It felt very good to be able to engender trust from the board members who had not been part of the search process by letting them ask their questions. Interestingly, we did not talk about individuals in that meeting. We talked only about process. We talked about how the criteria we had established early on played a central role in what we had done. By the end of the meeting, everyone was on board in agreeing that the search committee was on the right path.
Tooze: By the end of that meeting, thanks to the very professional presentations that Tony, the musicians, and David Hyslop made, the entire board was comfortable. They felt that they were in the loop enough to be comfortable, and they wanted to be part of bringing the search to a conclusion.
Woodcock: Following the search committee’s meeting with the board, we held several major meetings with the orchestra. The first was a press conference on the stage for Jimmy’s announcement of his changing role. Many members of the orchestra were shocked. They had no idea what was coming.
The same day as the press conference, I invited the entire orchestra to have lunch with me. I gave a presentation as to where we were with the search process, and the fact that we were down to three candidates. After nearly one and one-half hours of discussion, the musicians requested another meeting in order to hear more from the search committee members. I agreed to that.
The meeting with the search committee was absolutely seminal. Several of the musicians on the search committee spoke about the process and about what they had spent the past three and one-half years doing. The questions were very direct, and they were answered very honestly. After the meeting, many of the musicians said they now understood what we had been doing. They were relieved and reassured.
At the final meeting, which was to present the search committee’s recommendation, we again asked the musicians on the search committee to talk, in a general way, about due diligence, to present a very clear, detailed picture that would then allow the orchestra members to vote. Which they did, affirming the search committee’s recommendation.
Institute: Kathryn and Niel, describe these meetings from the perspective of musicians who served on the search committee.
Gray: I would describe both the board meeting and the final meeting with the orchestra as tense and challenging for the committee. Though both groups had information, they were looking for a more personal communication. They needed to hear committee members describe their criteria, their efforts, and show that the process was thorough and exhaustive. They needed to hear that we were passionate about our recommendation. I felt a tremendous responsibility to be convincing in my remarks.
DePonte: I would agree with Kathryn that the meetings were tense. That’s to be expected when critical decisions are being made that affect large numbers of people. In the final analysis, we were fortunate that there was congruence among the recommendation of the search committee, the judgments expressed by orchestra members through the surveys, and the opinions of our audience members.
Woodcock: And, of course, following those meetings, and after the orchestra had taken its vote, as we had planned from the beginning of the process, their recommendation was presented to the full board for approval.
Institute: Although, as we have this conversation, it has only been three months since Carlos Kalmar’s appointment was announced, what are your assessments of the process as it played out?
DePonte: I think we have thoroughly debunked the myth that this kind of process is too cumbersome and won’t get the job done. The agility that this organization demonstrated—across every constituency and involving large numbers of people—to bring the process to a conclusion following Jimmy’s announcement says loud and clear that an orchestra organization can be simultaneously thorough and quick.
As the process we were using became known in the orchestra industry, we were all told that our transparency would discourage the best conductors from considering the Oregon Symphony. I think we have debunked that myth, too. Truth be told, there are many wonderful, talented conductors out there. We think of our organization as a learning organization, a collaborative organization, and we were not particularly concerned about “losing” someone who did not agree with our modus operandi.
Woodcock: There is yet another myth to debunk. We hear too often in this industry that you cannot trust musicians to make the right decision. That if you put musicians in the position we put those on the search committee, they will select the least challenging candidate. Our search committee, in fact, recommended a very challenging candidate. And our orchestra members agreed. I would argue that if you say to the most artistically knowledgeable people in the organization—the musicians—we trust you, it actually makes the chief executive’s job much easier. Our musicians delivered! And they delivered at the highest possible level.
DePonte: The process also affirmed that this is a very confident organization. Management, the board, the foundation, and the musicians share great trust. The “fear factor” is nonexistent here. And it is for those reasons that we could undertake and complete the search in the way we did. That doesn’t mean that staff and musicians agree on all matters, but we believe we have a collaborative framework in place for problem solving.
Tooze: Having now been involved in two search processes, I must tell you that they were as different as night and day. Though we had a wonderful outcome in the search that resulted in Jimmy’s being named music director, in this search, the artistic agenda, not the political agenda, came to the fore. Our musicians put in enormous amounts of time and did so willingly.
Loacker: It was very clear to me, as the board chair when we began this process, that the musicians needed to lead. They needed to be the majority shareholders of the process. We nonmusicians on the committee certainly had roles to play in assessing our candidates against our audience and community criteria, and we did.
Gray: In my mind, though the musicians held the majority of the seats on the committee, we did not think of ourselves as having an advantage. To do the job well, we needed the input from each faction. As our search progressed, our understanding and grasp of the issues grew. We all agreed that the search process served us well. We all understand that when we have an excellent musical product, it makes it easier for the board to raise funds, easier for Tony to lead, easier for the marketing and public relations people to sell. An excellent musical product brings people to the concerts and makes the orchestra happy to make great music.
Woodcock: Kathryn, while I love what you just said, I think it is important to note that we are not presenting our process as a model for the industry. We are presenting it as a series of experiences. I would hope that other orchestras would cherry-pick our ideas and make them work in their own environments.
Institute: Tony, we agree that one needs to understand one’s environment in order to design processes that will serve the organization well. Our congratulations to all of you for understanding and acting on that notion. We thank you for sharing your process and experience in great detail. We will continue to follow the Oregon Symphony’s progress and wish you well.
Explorations of Teamwork: The Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Among the Institute’s many friends across the country are a large number of symphony orchestra musicians. Many of them are very forward-thinking about orchestras as organizations and curious as to how things work in organizations beyond their own.
Tina Ward and Robert Wagner are among musicians who have received funding through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to study various aspects of artistic leadership. Through a happy confluence of circumstance, they discovered the Lahti Symphony Orchestra—in Finland—and paid a visit. We were delighted when they offered to share their explorations.
Fifteen years ago, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra—at the time a largely unknown and unheralded organization—held a workshop to explore the orchestra’s problems and to discuss what a utopian vision for the future might include. As Wagner and Ward explain, this initial workshop led to many more and unleashed a torrent of creativity.
This is a story of hope, ingenuity, and success. Suffice it to say that the Lahti Symphony now plays in the spectacular Sibelius Hall, has recorded 43 CDs—several of them winners of prestigious awards—and has toured internationally.
An interesting wrinkle to this story is the fact that the Lahti Symphony’s chief conductor, Osmo Vänskä, is the music director designate of the Minnesota Orchestra.
Read on! And consider what a utopian vision for your own orchestra might include.
Tina Ward: November 1999. For the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, the month featured a guest conductor from Lahti, Finland, in his first engagement to conduct a U.S. orchestra. I am a clarinetist in that orchestra
and very early into the first rehearsal, I was struck by Osmo Vänskä’s energy, passion, and musicianship. He politely asked the orchestra for what he wanted and honestly admitted if he had made a mistake. During a break, he came over and introduced himself to the entire clarinet section (not
a normal event during a rehearsal), explaining that he had been a professional clarinetist before he became a conductor. After an exchange of collegial pleasantries, he offered to send us some Finnish clarinet music. A few weeks later, a large package addressed to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra clarinet section arrived from Finland. I was most impressed by Vänskä’s personal and prompt follow-through.
In 2001, I received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to study artistic leadership in orchestras, and Osmo Vänskä returned again to conduct the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Because I was planning to visit several European orchestras later in the season as part of my artistic leadership project, I asked to meet with Vänskä after a rehearsal. Our discussion quickly turned to the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, of which he has been chief conductor since 1988. He explained for me the process through which that orchestra’s musicians and staff engage in meaningful and productive discussions. Lathi became a destination on my itinerary because I wanted to learn more about this orchestra’s explorations of teamwork. Some of the material that follows is taken from the conversation I had with Vänskä in Saint Louis in October 2001.
Robert Wagner: For the past four seasons, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO), through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has made $50,000 available to enable musicians to gain additional leadership or professional skills. The NJSO has a reputation for innovative thinking in the American symphony industry and has embarked on an artistic leadership search, as opposed to the traditional music director search. As the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, it seemed to me that we musicians would probably be called upon to assume new and additional roles in the artistic leadership of the orchestra. Although I knew something about the models of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic from articles I had read in Harmony, I wondered how the musicians in those and other “musician collective” orchestras felt about their systems. I applied for part of the NJSO’s funding and made two trips to Europe in the spring of 2002. Tina and I traveled together on the trip which included the stop in Lahti.
The Lahti Symphony Orchestra
The Lahti Symphony Orchestra, in its present form, was founded in 1949, and in recent years has gained an impressive international reputation. The orchestra has won two Grammy Awards, a Grand Prix du Disque, and three Cannes Classical Awards. The 67-member orchestra, supported by an administrative staff of 10, tours internationally and performs in Sibelius Hall, which opened in March 2000.
In 1988, the organization began to hold workshops centered on team building, problem solving, and visioning. Initially, attendance was voluntary, and only a few orchestra members attended the first session. Later, attendance of all musicians and staff became mandatory. During their conversation in Saint Louis, Tina asked Vänskä if this process might be partially responsible for the remarkable success the orchestra has experienced over the last decade. Here is some of what he shared:
In Lahti, we have done a lot to create teamwork, where all the members are very, very important. Even the second violin player is a human being! Since 1988, we have worked for that. The whole orchestra participates in retreats without instruments two or three times a year. . . .
We try to put things in focus—to think about what’s been done well, what hasn’t been done well, and what we want to do about it. We consider all kinds of problems—nonmusical and musical. For example, problems brought up have included the ventilation system not working very well, problems with our library, and difficulties with information from the offices.
We divide the orchestra into smaller groups of five to seven members, and we pose problems to those groups. The groups then have two or three hours to find some solutions for the problem. . . . The next day, there is a list of what we decided, and we follow what has been worked out in the retreat. This has been most important to Lahti. . . .
I think too often the tradition is that people make beautiful sounds together, but they say they are not interested in anything else. They are not interested because no one has given them the real chance to be involved. I have been so surprised how clever the people sitting in the orchestra are. There are a lot of good ideas. I have one brain. But the orchestra together has 70, or 90, brains. So it’s not clever if one is using only his or her individual brain.
We have always made some time in the retreats for Utopia. We look at something that is out of reality—something we don’t think is too practical. Things have been suggested like rehearsing only on rainy days, or three times more salaries. Very early on, someone said, “My Utopia is that we can do internationally very-well-reviewed CDs.” We had never recorded anything at that time, and people started to laugh. Now we have five, six, seven international awards . . . but it was only thirteen years ago when this idea was like a joke.
Another idea was to build a concert hall next to a lake. Now we have it. It opened in March 2000. . . . So think seriously about what you want to do, and in five years or so, those dreams are going to be what happens. When 70, or 90, brains are thinking what we need to be in five years, someone is going to have a great idea.
Armed with those thoughts, we planned our trip to Lahti.
A Visit to Lahti, Finland
We arrived in Lahti in late March 2002. The streets were icy; the sidewalks were covered with gravel to aid in keeping one’s footing. Lahti, Finland, is situated about 60 miles northwest of Helsinki, at the southern tip of Lake Vesijärvi and connecting to a chain of lakes extending more than 170 miles to the north. At the time of our visit, the lake was frozen, and it would be another month before the thaw.
According to the Chamber of Commerce brochure, Lahti has two major claims to fame. The area offers three championship ski jumps, including one of the highest in Europe that attracts top ski jumpers from the entire continent to train and compete. The second claim—just as highly touted—is the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.
With a population of about 100,000, Lahti has faced significant challenges over the last several decades, including an industrial downturn which left the waterfront abandoned, and an unemployment rate as high as 17 percent. Despite these challenges, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra has grown dramatically over the past 15 years. Clearly, something special and unique was happening here.
As we began our conversations with members of the orchestra family, we learned that the tide turned in 1987. Tuomas Kinberg, who was then a violinist with the symphony, a union board member, and an orchestra committee member, attended a “workshop for the future” unrelated to orchestras. Based on his experience, he wanted to start something similar with the symphony and approached the orchestra’s manager to determine if he might help create workshops that would involve everyone in shaping the future of the orchestra.
Kinberg explained to us that before the orchestra began holding these workshops, “We used to have meetings to criticize things. People got angry. It didn’t help us at all. Quite the opposite. We needed to get the people in the orchestra to express themselves not only by the work that they do—the playing—but about other things because there are so many things which have to be discussed.”
The first workshop had only a small number of participants, including musicians and the general manager. They discussed the problems the orchestra faced, and what a utopian vision for the future might include. The word quickly spread that participating in the workshops was a good thing to do, and soon the musicians demanded them.
Growth of Workshops and Orchestra
Within a few years, the workshops included all the musicians, the chief conductor, the orchestra manager, the office staff, and even the cleaning staff. What was unique was the institution’s commitment to the empowerment of each member of the organization, ensuring that everyone in the organization had a voice in helping to shape the future. As cellist Ilkka Uurtimo explained, “This is like one team. All together with everyone supporting the same thing. Everyone is important; the goal is the same for everyone.”
In 1993, Tuomas Kinberg gave up his seat in the violin section to become the orchestra’s general manager, and the importance of the workshops continued to grow. He works with the five-member orchestra committee to plan the workshops and select the topics for each. He explained that topics are discussed in breakout groups of six or so, with each group having a mixture of musicians and staff. Each group selects its own leader who reports back to the workshop at the end of the discussion time. According to Kinberg, 80 percent of the participants express themselves during the breakout groups. “They are very skillful at this now because it has been done so many times. I’m so proud of what we can do.”
How important has it been to the Lahti Symphony Orchestra to have workshops in which participants could dream and share their visions of the future? During our conversation, the orchestra’s concertmaster, Jaakko Kuusisto, recalled the early workshops: “The orchestra was not recording at the time, but one vision was to have an international recording contract, an owned concert hall, international tours, and more players. And all of that lined up in the next 10 years or so.” He laughed as he explained to us that one vision (reportedly from the lower brass section) was that there would be a good highway from Helsinki to Lahti which, though it had nothing directly to do with the orchestra, has also come to be.
From Vision to Reality
The story of the building of the spectacular Sibelius Hall in Lahti clearly outlines this organization’s determination. The inspired vision of a new hall on the waterfront came out of one of the earliest workshops. When the Finnish government announced support for the national timber industry by declaring “The Year of Wood,” the Lahti Symphony Orchestra quickly came up with a brilliant idea. The organization suggested building a hall complex, including a conference center and restaurant, as a flagship of Finnish woodworking. It was initially difficult to convince the economically struggling city of the value of a new hall, but the City Council finally passed the resolution on the seventh vote. With the support of the timber industry and national funding, the small town of Lahti has arguably the most beautiful concert hall in Finland. Encased in glass, and acoustically engineered by Russell Johnson and Artec Consultants, the striking new hall sits on the lakefront and has spurred redevelopment of the neighboring rundown factories.
Equally impressive is the symphony’s discography. The orchestra currently has 43 recordings available on the BIS label, and its recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto has sold 80,000 copies. Quite a feat for an orchestra that had never made a recording when the workshops began.
Other visions that have become realities include more players for the orchestra, sold-out concerts in Helsinki, and a chartered plane for a tour in Sweden.
In recent years, the city of Lahti itself has been instrumental in enhancing the orchestra’s leadership knowledge. Technically, members of the Lahti Symphony are city employees, and the city requires all employees in leadership positions to participate in ten four-hour leadership training sessions. All principals in the orchestra must, at some point, take the training. The groups are a mix of occupations, and the training does not consider the special circumstances of being a leader within an orchestra. In describing the training, Jaakko Kuusisto, the concertmaster, told us:
It was a very, very general thing. We noticed that the problems are pretty much the same in all jobs. Mostly it helped to understand better how to communicate with colleagues about professional things in a personal way. I think it helped me to learn to talk to people in a way that they would feel comfortable, and to take into consideration how they would feel when I said this or that. And I noticed during the training that I had not really thought about those things at all. It’s very easy to assume that other people think the way you think about some professional item.
Throughout our trip to Lahti, we asked our hosts what is it that makes the Lahti Symphony Orchestra unique. One of the best answers came from cellist Ilkka Uurtimo, who talked about the support the musicians receive and give:
We know that everybody makes mistakes, but there is no one telling you that maybe this wasn’t your best evening. I think that is very supportive. And it grows through Osmo Vänskä. He gets the beat wrong, also. But we forgive him. Sometimes the atmosphere in orchestras is one where you are very easily punished for errors you make that affect the others. But that doesn’t happen here. Substitute players who come here for a week or a month or so would tell you the same thing. They very often play in other Finnish orchestras, and they will tell you that it is completely different.
As we left town on the new superhighway that connects Lahti to Helsinki, we thought again about what Vänskä had told Tina in Saint Louis:
Values, standards, principles, conscience—know what is correct and work for those things. Know what is correct, even though sometimes you cannot do it. . . . If each individual can think what is good for the whole—not only what is good for me—then the whole orchestra is ready to find some other solutions. Instead of telling a musician, “The whole orchestra plays better without you; go away,” we should say, “We will try to help you if you help us.”
We wondered what effect the process that has been used in Lahti might have in an American orchestra? Certainly there are cultural and operational differences between American and Finnish orchestras. In Lahti, the process started with fewer than 20 participants and expanded to include the entire organization. Together they created a vision and accomplished their wildest dreams. It seems to be a process worthy of exploration by American orchestras.
Tina Ward is a clarinetist in the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and is the orchestra’s delegate to the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). She is also an alumna of the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Orchestra Management Fellowship Program. She holds B.M. and B.M.E. degrees from Oberlin College Conservatory and an M.A. from Case Western Reserve University.
Robert Wagner is principal bassoonist of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, is chair of the orchestra committee, and serves on the orchestra’s artistic planning committee. Bob also is secretary of the board of directors of the American Symphony Orchestra League. He holds bachelor’s and master’s of music degrees from the Juilliard School and is on the faculty of Princeton University.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Representatives of the Symphony Orchestra Institute are currently working with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as that organization engages in a collaborative planning and change process pertaining to governance, finances, and related concerns. We have completed work on a three-month intensive examination of short-term financial challenges. All work has gone forward with cross- constituency committees composed of members of the board of directors, senior staff, musicians, and governing members.
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Representatives of the Symphony Orchestra Institute are also currently working jointly with board members, musicians, and senior staff on implementation of the strategic plan the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra developed with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The work with the Institute includes the areas of venue, governance, artistic profile, and community relationships.
In 1997, with the permission of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Institute initiated the Conductor Evaluation Data Research Project (CEDAP). In the first phase of CEDAP, an analysis was made of more than 40,000 conductor evaluations by musicians from 35 ICSOM orchestras, completed over a 10-year period ending in 1997. The overall results of this analysis were reported in the October 1998 issue of Harmony.
With the completion of the macro review, it was decided to analyze the data universe at a more detailed level by including information collected by the Institute regarding selected variables for the orchestras and the conductors included in the data. The targeted information about some orchestras and some conductors was not available, or the numbers of evaluations of some conductors were too few for inclusion. These constraints reduced the number of included evaluations to approximately 25,000.
However, after reviewing the results of this further analysis, we concluded that the range and nature of the supplemental data we had collected were insufficiently comprehensive and did not permit the drawing of useful conclusions and reliable distinctions. We also determined that the Institute’s resources did not justify the collection of additional data which would allow a further analysis.
Therefore, work on CEDAP has been brought to an end. A more complete review of CEDAP may be found on the Institute’s website at <www.soi.org>.
Improving the Effectiveness of Small Groups within the Symphony Organization
I n the pages of the first 14 issues of Harmony, the Institute has regularly shared stories of North American symphony orchestras that have
undertaken activities to improve the effectiveness of their organizations. Twice, in Harmony #7 and Harmony #11, we have brought to readers’ attention the work of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and its practice of Hoshin.
In this issue, Pittsburgh’s “Hoshin guru,” Robert Stearns, guides us along a different path. He posits that individual constituencies within the orchestra family—as units of the larger organization—may themselves function poorly. He details his work with two of the smaller groups: musicians and staff.
He opens with the thought from W. Edwards Deming that 85 percent of an organization’s problems begin with its processes, and only 15 percent can be attributed to people. Stearns then shares his work with musicians, as orchestra section members.
The author then turns his attention to the challenge of staff turnover, which he describes as “staggering.” He explores the reasons for the high turnover and suggests ways in which attention to processes can pay immediate dividends.
Bob Stearns is an experienced facilitator of orchestra organizational change. His thoughts about the small groups within an orchestra organization are well worth your consideration.
Much of the work that has taken place in recent years to improve the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations has been done on a total-organization level, involving all of an orchestra’s constituencies—board, staff, musicians, and volunteers. However, individual constituencies, as microcosms of the larger organization and its culture, may themselves function poorly and can benefit from activities designed to improve effectiveness at the small-group level. This article explores examples of issues and solutions within two of the small groups: musicians and staff.
Explorations in Musician Communication
When something goes wrong within the orchestra itself (or in any small-group constituency for that matter), or if there is a perception that there are things that aren’t getting done at all, conventional wisdom holds that some individual or group of individuals must be to blame. It is more likely that the fault lies with the process, not the people.
W. Edwards Deming, an American scientist who helped Japan become a world leader in product quality, suggests that 85 percent of the problems within an organization lie within its processes, and only 15 percent of the problems can be attributed to people.1 Let’s explore communication within orchestra sections to test Deming’s thesis.
A definition of communication I have always liked is this: the ability of the sender of a message to ensure that the receiver understands the message, in the same way the sender meant the message to be understood. There are many barriers that can get in the way of effective communication: lack of time, tone of voice and/or facial expressions, education and experience levels of the communicators, relative positions within the organization, and the relationship between the individuals who are communicating.
In an orchestra rehearsal or performance setting, section members are seated either side by side or “nose to the back of the head,” physical arrangements that make communication difficult, at best. Further, during rehearsals, many music directors frown on verbal communication among section members, considering it to be a disturbance. Add to the mix the fact that most musicians arrive at rehearsals and performances just early enough to get warmed up and on stage and, when the service is ended, they leave quickly for other responsibilities.
These conditions leave very narrow windows, if any, for good communication. As a result, misunderstandings occur between section members that may remain unresolved for years. These include conflicts between and among individual section members, relationship gaps between section members and principal players, jealousy, anger, hurt feelings, and disdain.
Let’s think about Deming’s thesis. It would suggest that 85 percent of the communication problem is caused by the process that is (or isn’t) used for communication. The problem does not occur because musicians are bad people (in my experience, most are very nice people). Nor is it my experience that musicians don’t care enough to do something to improve the situation. Most do care, but don’t know where to begin.
One of the greatest barriers to working with musicians in small groups to improve communication is to get everybody to find the time to sit down as a group, outside of the normal rehearsal and performance venues.
If a small group (in this case an orchestra section, but equally applicable to other constituencies within the organization) will commit to schedule in monthly communication meetings, perhaps over lunch, significant improvement in communication can occur. It is also advisable to use the assistance of a professional facilitator for the initial meetings. That person can engage the participants in exercises to learn how to distinguish between one- and two-way communication and to learn to identify and distinguish between obstructive and constructive behaviors. Section members can also learn how to use constructive behaviors to overcome obstructive behaviors.
When section members have gained an understanding of effective communication, they can then begin to identify the specific communication barriers they face. They can also set priorities as to which ones, if resolved, would provide the greatest improvement in communication for the section. As communication improves and issues are resolved, the sections may choose to cut the meeting schedule back to once every two or three months, but with the agreement that they need this planned time to communicate effectively. They may also choose to ask a section member to facilitate each meeting.
I urge all orchestra members (and those in the other constituencies) to consider the payoffs of breaking bread together and discussing communication issues, even for only an hour a month. The potential improvements are vast. And I would reiterate that the use of an outside, experienced facilitator can enhance the odds for success.
Establishing Trust and Resolving Conflict
Mistrust and conflict are all-too-common occurrences that orchestra organization small groups face. Again, we will explore these topics in the context of orchestra sections, but with the reminder that the “basics” are equally applicable to other orchestra constituencies.
Conflict can be defined as “important differences” between people, groups, and/or countries, which, if they go unresolved, will keep them apart. Why do conflicts occur between and among musicians? Among the most common causes are individual status within the orchestra, artistic disagreements, stress, tenure (or lack thereof), miscommunication, long-standing disagreements that have never been resolved, personality clashes, lack of time to resolve disagreements, and just plain not knowing how to solve disagreements.
It is my observation that musicians and staff members typically avoid conflicts rather than deal with them. Much of the communication within the organization is one-way. The music director or staff executive “communicates” to the orchestra, but
there is very little room for discussion or feedback. The section principal “communicates” his or her message to the section, but, again, there is very little room for discussion or feedback. Disagreements are not addressed and resolved. The outcome is often hurt or hard feelings. These feelings may get discussed with one’s peers, but never with the person with whom the disagreement originated.
Again, based on the premise that most people are reasonable, and that they would much prefer to resolve a conflict, one can explore successful strategies. The solution sometimes takes the shape of counseling between two or more people. Sometimes, the solution lies in meeting with the whole section to identify issues and to resolve them one by one. During these meetings, a section might decide to write down ground rules to define how they will deal with each other should conflicts occur in the future.
But before any strategy can succeed, trust must be reestablished where it has been broken. This is not always easy to do, but it is essential before individuals can begin to deal with the issues that caused the conflict. This is another instance in which an outside facilitator’s assistance can be of great value, because the reestablishment of trust is accomplished by helping individuals “strip away” the layers of issues that have compounded the conflict to uncover the root cause.
Often, that root cause is an incident that occurred several years earlier. When the individuals involved look at it in the present time frame, they agree that the earlier differences were not that significant after all. Under these circumstances, trust can immediately begin to grow and blossom. In other cases, the determination of the root cause allows the people involved to finally address the important differences they have—to the point of resolution—rather than burying those differences in their subconscious.
A key lesson that section members who participate in conflict resolution learn is: conflict is neither good nor bad. It is how we choose to deal with it that ultimately decides whether there is a positive or negative resolution.
Explorations of Administrative
Just as orchestra musicians face issues that hamper their effectiveness, so, too, do members of the administrative staff. Consider, for example, the fact that in some orchestras, administrative staff turnover is staggering, perhaps as much as 50 to 60 percent per year. Why is the turnover rate so high? One explanation often advanced is that, in many cases, the salaries are low, and therefore people use these positions as steppingstones. While there may be some truth to this assertion, people accept these positions knowing what the salaries are. They typically accept the positions because they really love the orchestra and want to be involved with it, because they want to learn more about the “orchestra world,” and because they want to make contacts with others who share their enthusiasm for the art form.
And yet, many of these people leave their jobs within the first year of employment. Is it the money? Because of their short tenure, I don’t believe this is the case. So what’s missing?
In many cases, it is the lack of opportunity to learn and grow; in other cases it is the sheer frustration of not being able to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. As I have worked with orchestra small groups, staff members have said to me such things as, “I’ve been here for six months now, and I’ve never met a member of the orchestra.” When I inquire as to why they don’t just walk down the hall to the rehearsal stage and introduce themselves, the response often is, “Oh no. I could never do that without a formal reason or a formal introduction.” In many organizations, the short distance from the staff offices to the rehearsal stage is blocked by a glass wall.
So how does one begin to break through this glass wall? The key is to undertake activities that are consciously designed to allow people to build relationships across constituencies. Some of these glassbreakers are very easy to implement.
For example, every time a new person joins the staff, make sure that he or she is introduced to the other members of the staff, as well as to representatives of the other constituencies. As part of their orientation, staff members can be encouraged to sit in on rehearsals and be introduced to players at break time. This exercise can also be valuable in the orientation of board members and volunteers.
As another example of a relationship-building activity, a staff department can sponsor a lunch with an orchestra section, simply as get-acquainted time. Or the staff can undertake an “exchange program,” during which members of the orchestra, the board, or volunteers spend an afternoon with marketing or operations or artistic planning (or even the library) to learn what those departments contribute to the overall organization. It may take some creative scheduling so these activities do not interfere with day-to-day operations, but I would argue that these are investments worth making.
Teamwork across constituencies, which is often required to accomplish an orchestra organization’s goals, is developed through people sharing common experiences and values. It is my experience that orchestra organizations are blessed with tremendous talent in each constituency. Unfortunately, the overall organization often does not realize the full benefit of this talent. Doing the little things right, and investing in relationship building, can bring to the organization the full benefit of everyone on the team.
Antiquated and convoluted work processes are another source of frustration among orchestra administrative staffs. Methods used for scheduling, programming, information technology, personnel management, performance-hall management, and new product implementation—to say nothing of communicating information organization- wide— are outmoded and no longer serve the needs of the organization.
If one stops to consider that each person who manages a process puts a mark on that process, and that personnel changes occur every one to three years, one can quickly understand that the result is unmanageable processes. Remember Deming’s assertion that 85 percent of organizational problems are attributable to process?
So how does one find solutions? As examples, let me share some solutions that staff members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra invented to solve problems they knew they had.
During sessions to identify faulty processes and brainstorm about their solutions, staff members identified 10 processes that could be improved. The employees presented this list to senior staff for consideration, and two were selected for further work: the scheduling/programming process and the personnel management process.
The next step was to form cross-functional teams for each process and train the members about teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, and the use of such tools as a criteria rating matrix and reaching consensus through weighted voting.
The outcomes were good. Both teams submitted recommendations that were evaluated and accepted by the senior managers. The information flow in the programming process was significantly improved. The number of miscues resulting from people receiving programming information late were reduced significantly. The personnel management team worked on the benefits package the organization offered. They benchmarked their own benefits against those of other Pittsburgh arts organizations, as well as local corporations, and against those of symphonies in other cities. The result was positive changes to the benefits package.
Pittsburgh Symphony staff members worked on improving work processes from another angle as well. They attended training sessions that focused on understanding their internal customers’ requirements. (Internal customers are those to whom an employee passes on his or her work; the people who need to use this work to get their own work done.) Each of these staff members interviewed an internal customer to find out if that customer was satisfied with the work he or she received. In most cases, as a result of the interviews, people were able to make adjustments to their work, often saving steps and improving quality. The use of cross-functional teams to improve work processes and better understand internal customers’ requirements can make people’s jobs more productive and more satisfying.
Opportunities for Advancement
A final area to consider in addressing staff turnover is opportunities for advancement. Many talented people accept staff positions hoping to “start small” and, after proving themselves, to be given greater responsibility. Turnover occurs when advancement opportunities do not materialize. In many orchestra organizations, managers are so busy completing their day-to-day responsibilities, they don’t have the time to help new staff members develop their skills.
Staff development is an item that belongs on every orchestra organization’s agenda if it wants to retain its best people. And, as an organization objective, staff development needs a “champion.” This might be a member of the human resources staff or a department head. Development activities should include training, hands-on project work, opportunities to participate in special projects with other departments, and opportunities for interaction with board members, volunteers, and the orchestra’s customers.
Inspiring “Extraordinary Performance”
Orchestra organizations are both complicated and fascinating. Each of the four constituencies includes many talented people. But an organizational structure of multiple hierarchies can create an environment in which contributions from this large pool of talent are never optimized. Orchestra organization executives need to understand that issues of staff turnover, loss of productivity, opportunities for advancement, conflict resolution, and communication barriers are issues that need to be on the list for attention. It is also wise to learn about and to employ the services of an experienced facilitator.
Although I am aware of no studies that correlate artistic performance with organizational culture, it stands to reason that a healthy culture will result in higher artistry and in more people enjoying their roles. Organizational progress occurs when both the overall organization and its small-group constituencies examine the health of their culture, their leadership systems, and the viability of their work processes. My experience leads me to the conclusion that when an orchestra organization undertakes serious organizational development work, including that within the small groups, the likelihood of achieving what I call “extraordinary performance” is very high.
Bob Stearns is the C.E.O. of Enlightened Leadership. He has served as the Hoshin facilitator and an organizational development consultant for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 1997. He holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh.
1 Deming, W. Edwards. 1986. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
A New Avenue for Musicians’ Outreach: Music and Wellness
In this issue of Harmony, we have traversed from consideration of the macrocosm of an entire industry, through the enlightened processes of two individual orchestra organizations, to consideration of small groups within organizations. We now arrive at the microcosm of organization development work initiated by a single individual.
Author Penny Anderson Brill is a Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) musician and a breast cancer survivor. Those facts form the genesis of her explorations of music and wellness as an organizational activity. She explains that her work began with research at Duquesne University.
Brill then details four areas of activity which the orchestra has undertaken under the rubric of music and wellness. In addition to the organization’s own work, as she explains, the PSO has become strongly identified with the Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure.
She assesses the organization’s work and describes the doors it has opened to the PSO. Her concluding thoughts resonate strongly about the organizational role that a “tutti string player” can undertake. In her words, “When musicians have projects to which they can truly commit themselves, they move beyond the idea of a timed service-exchange-program to taking whatever time is needed to complete a task well.”
Powerful words. Might your orchestra also harbor a Penny Brill? We encourage you to consider the possibility.
Iam a violist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. In July 1999, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because music has always been a central part of my life, I found that playing and listening to music helped me to stay clearheaded during the decision making that followed the diagnosis. I also used music to reach a state of relaxation and calm before
surgery. I also listened to music during surgery, using headphones. (My medical team reported that I required significantly less anesthesia than they would have expected, that the amount of pain medication I required was also reduced, and that my recovery time was significantly accelerated.)
Because of my own positive experiences, I wanted to learn more about music and wellness, and to determine if there were ways in which I could promote the use of music as a tool to help people with coping and healing.
Research and Beginnings
My research began at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Duquesne has offered a music therapy program for nearly 25 years. The head of that program was very supportive, suggesting books and articles for me to read, and putting me in touch with well-known members of the music therapy community. Based on what I learned about music and wellness, I decided that I wanted to introduce music in two contexts: music therapy in some of Pittsburgh’s mainstream hospitals (as opposed to geriatric or psychiatric hospitals), and music as a stress-management tool for the general population. It also occurred to me that explorations in music and wellness might be a valuable outreach activity for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO).
With the help of a music therapist, another PSO violist and I in June 2000 developed a program for ovarian cancer patients at Magee-Womens Hospital. A social worker led a support group in which our music was used to help patients learn visualization and relaxation techniques. We also played for patients in their rooms and for patients and their families in the chemotherapy and oncology waiting rooms.
At about the same time, Dr. Bruce Rabin, whose spouse is a member of the PSO board, was named chair of the Healthy Lifestyle Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), which owns 19 hospitals in the Pittsburgh area. I became aware that he was actively seeking ways to reduce the stress and anxiety of hospital patients, as well as ways of maintaining wellness and optimum health in the general population. To me, this appeared as an opportunity for the music therapy community, the UPMC, and the PSO to collaborate on music and wellness projects.
A Music and Wellness Program Comes to the PSO
For a number of years, the Pittsburgh Symphony has used Hoshin in our planning. [Ed. Note: The PSO’s work with Hoshin is detailed in the October 1998 issue of Harmony.] Hoshin involves working in teams composed of members from all constituencies, with everyone on an equal footing and creative solutions welcome from any member of the group. Having worked closely with staff, volunteers, and board members as part of several Hoshin teams, I felt free to approach anyone in our organization or community to share ideas or brainstorm. And so we began conversations to determine if there might be financial support available to develop programs directed toward music and wellness. We spent more than a year cultivating relationships in the community and meeting people who had expertise in various areas.
In addition to putting everyone on an equal footing, Hoshin also encourages the accelerated implementation of new ideas. Although we decided that music and wellness would not be a Hoshin task force for the PSO, our knowledge of the techniques turned out to have been great preparation for the project. As we moved forward, the coalition of music therapists, representatives from the PSO, and hospital staff members felt very much like the same kind of relationship. As an example of accelerated implementation, for a recent project, we developed a pilot and had funding and personnel in place, all in a matter of hours. That was an exciting return on the investment we had made in relationship-building.
Currently, our music and wellness program is developing in four areas, with strong financial support from the community:
◆ On-site, we offer preconcert presentations on the use of music for stress management and as a tool for maintaining overall wellness. On some occasions, the presentations are made by a music therapist and a musician. On others, the presentation is made by a musician alone. During the 2001-2002 season, we held five preconcert presentations. The UPMC underwrote some of our pilot presentations, above and beyond their ongoing generous support of the PSO. Before a Jessye Norman concert, knowing that we would have a significant number of people from the medical community in attendance, we did a preconcert presentation that included discussion of current research on music and wellness.
As a musician, I like the preconcert presentations because they are live music experiences which are tied directly into the concerts that participants are about to hear. Our presentations give the audience new ways of listening to and interacting with the pieces they hear, and add value to the concert.
◆ Off-site, musicians currently make visits to selected health care facilities, in tandem with music therapists. And I would note that music and wellness presentations can be adapted to suit any target audience. Depending on the audience we wish to attract, we can do wellness presentations for seniors, young professionals, and health-care providers. In the spring of 2003, we will take a program even farther off-site. During a PSO tour stop in London, Mellon Bank is sponsoring our music and wellness presentations at a children’s hospital.
Our ability to develop and implement programs is, of course, dependent upon our ability to attract funding. As I write this article at the very beginning of the 2002-2003 season, we have just learned that two major Pittsburgh-area foundations, the Vira I. Heinz Endowment and the Pittsburgh Foundation, have agreed to provide support to establish staff positions in music therapy within the UPMC health system. UPMC has also dedicated the proceeds of an upcoming fundraiser to the Healthy Lifestyle Program, and that money will also go toward the establishment of the staff positions. Having music therapists in place at the hospitals will greatly enhance our collaborative efforts. And, as the season begins, more than 15 PSO musicians have expressed an interest in participating in music and wellness activities.
◆ We are also working with a McKeesport, Pennsylvania, community health task force. We helped with the design of a pilot program for young people in a low-income housing project which we hope to tie in with the PSO’s ongoing outreach program in McKeesport.
◆ The PSO’s resident conductor, Lucas Richman, and I, with the help of the music therapy community, are working on a CD (or series of CDs) to provide users with musical tools for coping with each phase of diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. We are also developing a CD for heart patients and one for use in stress management.
Race for the Cure
Although it is not a project of the PSO itself, there is an additional event with which PSO members have become very involved as part of music and wellness. In May 2001, I, as a breast cancer survivor, participated for the first time in the Susan G. Komen Foundation Pittsburgh Race for the Cure (along with 35,000 others). The day begins with a survivor tribute, and I was keenly aware that there was no music. I thought the tribute would be much more focused and effective if the survivors were to sing their own song.
Because I had already established a working relationship with the race director, I was able to discuss this idea with her. She agreed. I then asked Lucas Richman to write a survivor’s song. He immediately agreed and donated his services. At the 2002 Race for the Cure, which was held on Mother’s Day, a survivor choir, backed by brass, keyboard, and drum-set players from the PSO, premiered “We Share a Bond” to an audience of 38,000.
The music drew everyone together and was a valuable part of the day. For the players, it was a very moving experience. The musicians were not in their customary roles and were volunteering their time. Just as all other participants, by their presence and support, they were reaching out to help somebody else. And, of course, our participation was an outstanding public relations opportunity for the PSO. “We Share a Bond” will be the anchor of the CD we are developing for breast cancer patients.
Assessing Our Work
One of the things that was unusual about the beginnings of the PSO’s involvement with music and wellness was the fact that it was musician-initiated. I had the opportunity to be a leader and facilitator for music and wellness, with a steadily increasing number of people willing to help move the project forward. Unlike in my role as a “tutti string player,” my ideas and my individual playing were heard in circum- stances totally under my control. I could innovate and create, and share the workload with many others, which has been very satisfying.
Our projects have also involved entirely new ways of musicians’ relating to our staff and our community. A member of the grant-writing staff worked with me as I prepared a presentation to the board. The group sales staff met with staff from the UPMC to secure the funding to quickly make a music and wellness pilot project a reality. Staff members from many of the area’s largest philanthropic organizations have come to know musicians in a context far removed from the concert stage.
In pursuing music and wellness, we have learned to listen to the needs of our audience and interact in ways quite different from our roles in traditional concerts. We musicians have had to learn many more styles of playing, to play more by ear, and to transpose or improvise as needed. These skills will also help us do a better job in our outreach to schools.
Working with the music therapy community has enhanced our ability to create programs for difficult populations, and we have become more comfortable with interactive presentations. We already see improvement in the content and nature of our outreach programs, and could now easily include improvisation and interaction training in the PSO’s own musician orientation programs.
Teaming up with the medical community has opened new avenues of funding for the PSO. Foundations that encourage collaborative efforts are particularly interested in what we are doing. And because our projects have received significant media coverage, we can approach funders with copies of published articles, workshop brochures, and copies of television news coverage. Funders can discern what we do quickly, and they have more confidence in our proposals.
The backing of the medical community has also given our preconcert presentations credibility and legitimacy, and has allowed us to develop new collaborations very quickly. For example, UPMC’s support of our preconcert programs garnered an invitation to collaborate with the Jewish Health Care Foundation’s “Working Hearts” program to promote healthy hearts through lifestyle changes.
Our collaborations have also proven to be a way to provide support to our staff. We have had the same experience as many other orchestras this year: staff cuts have created heavy loads for those who remain. By pooling our resources with others, we can do more than we could alone. For example, UPMC may be able to arrange media coverage of a music and wellness workshop that the PSO could not, or the PSO staff could get the cameras to a rehearsal of the song “We Share a Bond” that the Race for the Cure could not.
For the Community and Ourselves
PSO outreach activities, be they in early childhood education or music and wellness, are based on a simple premise: if we show people how to use music in meaningful ways in their daily lives, and they come to understand what a powerful and effective tool music can be, we add value to what we do in the concert hall. We are viewed as an important resource in the community. Music and wellness programs have provided opportunities to reach out to entirely new groups of people in entirely new ways.
Our activities are also important for individual musicians. When musicians have projects to which they can truly commit themselves, they move beyond the idea of a timed service-exchange program to the idea of taking whatever time is needed to complete a task well. We have the satisfaction of seeing that we personally made a difference. We have opportunities for enormous professional growth and development, and therefore, much greater job satisfaction. Some PSO musicians who have never felt comfortable serving on committees have been very willing and capable participants in music and wellness projects.
By participating in programs such as the ones we have developed through our music and wellness program, we, as musicians, empower people, we are relevant, we satisfy important needs of our audience, we generate a great deal of good will, and we remind each other of the power of music in our daily lives. I encourage orchestra organization participants across the country to consider ways in which they might undertake similar initiatives.
Penny Anderson Brill is a violist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and a member of the orchestra’s board of directors. She has served as chair of the orchestra committee, as well as treasurer of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). She holds a B.A. from Smith College and a M.M. from the Juilliard School.
Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances
Late last spring, we received word from the Harvard Business School Press that J. Richard Hackman had authored a book scheduled to be published in July. The author, a professor at Harvard University, conducts research on a variety of topics in social and organizational psychology.
Richard has been a friend of the Institute since its founding. For many years, he has also studied orchestra organizations, both in the U.S. and in Europe. So we were eager to read his new work. We found it to be a book worthy of Harmony readers’ attention and invited three Institute supporters—an experienced orchestra manager, a long-tenured symphony musician, and an orchestra board member—to read and digest Leading Teams. Their reviews follow.
Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances
J. Richard Hackman Harvard Business School Press, 2002 ISBN: 1-57851-333-2 312 pp. $29.95
Robert C. Jones
The application of organizational innovations to orchestral institutions has beckoned and beguiled orchestra managers for as long as there have been authors, colleagues, consultants, and governance volunteers to suggest them. Seeking to foster measurable and lasting improvements in product (artistry), finances, governance, orchestra relations, and job satisfaction for every constituent (musician, staff member, board member, service volunteer), managers have frequently adopted or adapted the latest business intervention programs: management by objectives, job enrichment, quality of worklife, gainsharing, TQM, empowerment, reinvention, alignment, and, finally and always, team building.
That these enticing initiatives were often engineered in and for environments vastly different from ours didn’t deter us. We were convinced that there were fundamentals of leadership and group process that could bring our organizations to the ecstasy of success that we had read or heard about in testimonials. But in the complexity, culture, traditions, and hierarchy of the orchestra’s extended “family,” the interventions usually led to the same dilemmas. What are our teams? Who are our leaders? Who are our clients? What is our work? The problem isn’t that we didn’t have answers; it is that there were so many answers to each question. How could we prioritize and address them?
In Leading Teams, J. Richard Hackman provides us with the tools to sort out the answers to our dilemmas, and to see the roles of our leaders and the potential of our teams from a new perspective. Until now, my own rather extensive reading on teams and leadership has produced answers that are based on models that don’t translate well to orchestras. The leadership factor attendant to those models is almost universally described in terms of inherent or modifiable personality types and/or the manipulation of environmental or interpersonal conditions, e.g., conflict, attitude, commitment, motivation, communication. Instead of dwelling on who the leader should be (traits) and how he or she should behave (style), Hackman focuses us on what the leader does and when in the life of a team it is done.
The author has developed a way of looking at team leadership that is clearly applicable by orchestra managers. The framework, for which the leader is responsible, consists of:
◆ creating a real team (and don’t miss Hackman’s definition of a real team) which will have some stability over time;
◆ giving the team compelling direction;
◆ creating a team structure that fosters, rather than impedes, teamwork;
◆ ensuring that organizational structures and systems provide ample resources and support; and
◆ seeing to it that expert, ongoing coaching is provided.
Hackman pegs dozens of additional findings to this framework. There is emphasis on the myriad ways in which effective leaders do things, using their own unique methods and behaviors. Likewise, flexibility and creativity in timing, while moving decisively at the right time, are discussed. Breaking with traditional leadership theory, the emphasis is on the functions that leaders fulfill and their ability to create optimum conditions for teams, if and when teams can provide a strategic advantage.
The author demonstrates extraordinary research and experience with teams and leadership, drawing upon a remarkable library of collaborative publications, personal consultative work, and apt observations. His writing is convincingly scholarly without seeming academic. The prose is both crisp and dense. This is not the usual magazine article content inflated to full book length. Every thought is clear, every finding documented (the footnotes and bibliography alone are worth more than the cost of the book), and every anecdote or case study is worthy of its inclusion and length. This is not a book to skim. However, its careful reading is an enriching experience for anyone interested in making positive and lasting changes in their world of work.
While a good leader can, and will, begin to apply this learning unilaterally, the multiple constituency nature of orchestras means that greater value could be had if all of those potential “real team” members considered the content of Leading Teams together, with expert facilitation. In fact, the content is sufficiently rich as to give me the feeling that I was reading a teaching manual for a series of workshops. One warning, however: orchestra managers may find themselves exclaiming more than an occasional “Aha!” while reading this book. Highly recommended.
Bob Jones spent 22 years in orchestra management, as general manager of the Minnesota Orchestra, president of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and president of the National Symphony Orchestra.
William L. Foster
The subtitle of J. Richard Hackman’s new book, “Setting the Stage for Great Performances,” might suggest that this is a book written for symphony orchestras and other performing arts organizations. But that is not the case. Although this Harvard professor of social and organizational psychology has studied symphony orchestras and their organization and uses them often to illustrate points in his book, here he is addressing the business world and organizations in which people work together, interdependently, in “work teams.”
A symphony orchestra is much too large to fit his definition of an effective team. He argues that four to five members is optimal team size, and he never allows his student project groups to have more than six members. In one passage, he uses a symphony orchestra as an example of what happens to an overmanaged team:
Such teams have more in common with a professional symphony orchestra, whose members’ responsibilities do not extend beyond playing well what the score and the conductor dictate, than with a self- managing string quartet whose members have broad latitude for deciding both what and how they will play. (p. 76)
Yet, as a 35-year symphony orchestra veteran, I found much of the book’s discussion relevant to our world. The two words of the main title, “leading” and “teams,” stand for ideas I found very thought-provoking. Regarding teams, I asked myself, “If a symphony orchestra, as a whole, is not an ideal work team, are there ways within the orchestra structure that teams could actually function so that musicians could feel they had more ability to shape their rehearsal experience and the musical performance?” Hackman’s discussion of essential and nonessential characteristics of team leadership is also interesting, and though he is concerned with leading small work groups, his analysis can reveal much about what defines an effective music director or guest conductor of a symphony orchestra.
A couple of observations about the writing: Hackman tells us in his preface that, although the book is “. . . grounded in up-to-date research and theory about work team behavior and performance, I’ve done my best to avoid the use of academic and management jargon (the term empowerment, for example, is used but once in the entire book, and that time reluctantly). Instead, I have tried to use language, concepts, and extended examples that make the material as engaging, concrete, and useful as possible.” (p. x) He has been mostly successful in this effort, though not always. For example, I would be glad to trade the phrase “operationalize those aspirations” (p. 68) for a second “empowerment.”
I enjoyed Hackman’s ability to surprise his reader. One example: at one point I had found an uncharacteristic passage of bland academic writing and was ready to call him on it. It is an extended description of a basketball coach working with his team—before a game, at half-time, and at the following practice. At the end of these two pages, I said to myself,—“Here is the academic speaking, for sure. This is so bland and characterless, it describes no reality. A really great leader has flair, personality, style, character. This is a stick figure.” Then, just as I was thinking how unhelpful this description was, I read the next paragraph, which begins: “Note that the generic account of basketball coaching just presented said nothing about either the specific behaviors exhibited by the coach or about the coach’s characteristic leadership style. That was deliberate. . . .” (pp. 190-191) Suddenly I understood Hackman’s point: a leader’s effectiveness is based not on flair, personality, or style, but on the ability to provide the conditions that “set the stage for great performances,” in the words of the subtitle.
Trying On Hackman’s Ideas for Orchestral “Fit”
This was the point at which I became interested in Hackman’s concept of good leading. Of course, personality and style are what make each leader unique. But the danger is that, in looking for what makes a particular leader effective, one focuses on individual attributes rather than on what the leader does and when he or she does it. What comes across clearly in this book is that a good leader supports the team and the team performs, rather than the other way around. Where better than in a symphony orchestra, where the leader makes no sound, can one demonstrate that an effective team leader creates conditions for others to achieve their best?
Most symphony musicians have worked with a conductor who is a wonderful and thorough musician, whose rehearsals are full of care and detail and are inspiring to the orchestra, but whose performances never seem to excite the audience. It is as if the leader cannot trust the team and let go in the performance. Many musicians have also worked with a conductor whose rehearsals are always efficient but rarely inspiring, yet who evokes exciting, involved performances that do reach the audience. Somehow the players feel that they are responsible for the performance. Of course, the most effective conductors both inspire and free the musicians to achieve the most exalted levels. Hackman’s discussion of team leadership is very useful in understanding these differences. He identifies what a good leader must do, and when.
What about teams? Within symphony orchestras, are there ways to use the structure and processes of work teams described in this book to provide musicians with more personal involvement in the preparation and performance of the music? By that I mean involvement beyond (in Hackman’s words) “playing well what the score and the conductor dictate.” Individual sections are one possible place. The winds and the brass are sections of ideal team size, according to Hackman, and I believe that many such sections do operate as effective work teams in taking collective group responsibility for their performance. I would guess that this happens rarely or not at all in most string sections which are much too large to function as ideal work teams. But it is possible to apply Hackman’s concepts to the large sections, too. For example, regular meetings of members of individual string sections could produce interesting and productive discussions of ways to help individual members feel more able to perform well and to allow the section to perform at the highest collective level. Offering coaching to large-section leaders (rather than assuming that a great player is a great, or at least adequate, leader) could have positive results. Might string- section leaders meet on a regular basis to discuss stylistic matters and bowings so that less rehearsal time is spent in deciding such issues?
Hackman raises this very question about halfway through the book. In discussing how the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra manages to operate without a conductor on the one hand, and without the chaos of trying to function as a 26- member “string quartet” on the other, he describes their use of a “core”—the principal players for a particular piece—which “meets prior to the first full- orchestra rehearsal to work out the basic frame for the piece being prepared.” (p. 122)
Then comes a paragraph that is startling in its specific reference to symphony orchestras and so challenging that, as I reread it, I could almost imagine that it had been placed there as a metaphorical land mine, buried in the middle of this book, in hopes that it just might destroy a little conventional thinking and open space for new thoughts.
I have floated the idea of the core with players, conductors, and managers of a number of full-sized symphony orchestras. If it worked so well for Orpheus, could not the same idea be adapted for a 100-person orchestra? Could not principal players meet separately with the conductor before the first full rehearsal to work through the piece being prepared? It was a modest proposal, I thought, something at least worth thinking about if not experimenting with. But absolutely no one nibbled. It would violate the labor contract, I was told. Conductors would never stand for it. Players would resist. So large orchestras continue as they always have, playing great music to be sure, but doing so in a way that leaves enormous amounts of musical talent unused on the rehearsal stage and sufficing with less engagement and commitment from musicians than they could have. (p. 122)
That last, very compelling sentence should be a clarion call for those who recognize not only the great accomplishments of American symphony orchestras, but also their untapped potential. Hackman’s discussion of teams and leading could provoke new ways of thinking about realizing that potential. This is not a “how to” book; it is more of a “what if” book. Though the book takes time to read and requires serious thought, I recommend it to any symphony orchestra musician who is interested in positive organizational change.
Bill Foster is the assistant principal violist with the National Symphony Orchestra and a past chair of the orchestra committee. He is also a member of the Board of Advisors of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.
Margery S. Steinberg
The book begins with a pop quiz. The answers to the three questions asked should be obvious to most readers. But in discussing the answer to the third question, which relates to working in teams, the author raises several issues in the reader’s mind. The answers to these questions form the foundation for J. Richard Hackman’s thought-provoking book.
Hackman has extensively studied work teams in different industries, including airline crews, economic analysts, manufacturing teams, and musical ensembles, and has uncovered unlikely comparisons and conclusions about successful and unsuccessful team endeavors. He identifies several generally accepted concepts about teams that he considers to be wrong, and then sets out to recommend the correct approach to organizational teams. Through his diverse examples, Hackman concludes,
“. . . creating and sustaining the conditions that foster work team effectiveness can be something of an uphill battle even for well- intentioned and well-motivated leaders. To win that battle will require a fundamental change in how team leaders and members think about work teams and the factors that shape team behavior and performance.” (p. 255)
Most of us have had the experience of being assigned to or volunteering for a committee or work team. And most of us have probably had both good and bad experiences in these endeavors. As Hackman explains, we’re not likely to be successful if the group is not functioning as a real team, which he identifies as having four features: a team task, clear boundaries, clearly specified authority to manage their own work processes, and membership stability over some reasonable period of time.
And, the author contends, the structure for the team must come from the leaders in setting up and supporting the group in its work. This includes providing good direction, stimulating and involving the team members, and exercising appropriate but not excessive authority in getting the team started. He writes, “Providing direction that energizes, orients, and engages teams is an important ingredient in setting the stage for great performances.” (p. 91) But, Hackman says, this alone will not ensure effective teams. Establishing a good work design, motivating and rewarding the team, and providing expert coaching are all key ingredients of winning team performances.
Hackman’s perspective can certainly be applied to symphony orchestra organizations, which would clearly benefit from further application of teams and team concepts in their operations. He states, “It is true that traditionally designed organizations often are plagued by constraining structures that have been built up over the years to monitor and control the behavior of individual employees.” (p. 94) The traditional structure of a symphony orchestra certainly exemplifies that problem: the board raises funds and maintains fiscal oversight, the musicians play concerts, and the staff manages the organization’s operations and produces the concerts. Each “leg” of the organization should, but often doesn’t, operate effectively as a work team. Hackman offers ideas and suggestions to increase team performance. As exemplified by a production team of a semiconductor manufacturing plant, an airline crew, and a chamber orchestra, team effectiveness is enhanced by establishing clearer team boundaries and drawing upon a pool of qualified people to augment the team’s work as needed.
Applying Hackman’s concepts even further, orchestras can benefit by creating opportunities for teams to be formed outside of the traditional orchestra organization. For example, an orchestra might structure a team of board members, musicians, and staff to evaluate performance sites, or to organize a summer festival. As in the domestic airline example, such teams can be successful if the author’s five conditions for achieving effectiveness are applied in their creation: [the team] “1. is a real team rather than a team in name only, 2. has a compelling direction for its work, 3. has an enabling structure that facilitates rather than impedes teamwork, 4. operates within a supportive organizational context, and 5. has available ample expert coaching in teamwork.” (p. 31)
Leading Teams is not really a “how to” book, but Hackman sets an understandable and applicable framework for developing and leading effective teams. His insightful research and credible examples shed light on effective versus ineffective approaches for diverse organizations. This book is recommended reading for board leadership, as well as for orchestra managers and musicians.
Margy Steinberg is an associate professor of marketing at the University of Hartford and is a member of the board of directors of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. She is also a member of the Board of Advisors of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.