Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
Life and Work in Symphony Orchestras: An Interview with J. Richard Hackman by Paul R. Judy
Why They’re Not Smiling: Stress and Discontent in the Orchestral Workplace by Seymour and Robert Levine
Research Issues in Orchestra Labor Relations by Everette J. Freeman
Research Program Update by Barbara Pollack
Interview with a Music Director: Marin Alsop by Barbara Pollack
Origin of the Title and Evolution of the Duties of “Music Director” by William J. Baumol
Symphony Orchestra Economics: The Fundamental Challenge by William J. Baumol
Pure Gold: The Fleischmann-Lipman-Morris Debate of 1987-89 by Paul R. Judy
About the Cover… by Paul R. Judy
The first issue of Harmony, published in October, 1995, introduced the Institute’s direction and initiated a contemporary discussion of issues relating to the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations. This volume presents a variety of insights and opinions on a number of related organizational topics as perceived by a range of thoughtful observers of and participants in these institutions. We hope the content will provoke a growing and formative debate on central organizational problems and opportunities and will flush out even more written expression for future issues of Harmony.
Some five years ago, Harvard Professor J. Richard Hackman and his associates initiated a research project directed to better understanding the group behavior of symphony orchestras as organizations. The feature section of this issue begins with an interview with Professor Hackman during which he not only summarizes key findings of this research, but also adds fresh, new observations. We thank Professor Hackman for his long-standing interest in symphony organizations and for his early and continuing support of the Institute.
The next feature, “Why They Aren’t Smiling: Stress and Discontent in the Orchestral Workplace,” is coauthored by the father/son duet of Seymour and Robert Levine. Each has had a long interest in the stress which symphony orchestra musicians experience, and they put forth cogent views as to the nature and principal reasons for such stress. As a practicing musician and editor of Senza Sordino, the newsletter of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, Robert Levine is no stranger to bow or pen. We were pleased that the coauthors were willing to expand on a speech that Robert gave some years back.
Starting on page 27, Case Western Reserve University Professor Everette J. Freeman comprehensively outlines the need for much greater knowledge about the social and work contract between musicians and their employers—the symphony orchestra associations—a topic traditionally described as “labor relations.” As noted in Professor Freeman’s article, some feel that the use of this phrase in and of itself throws a pall over positive change in these intraorganiza- tional relationships. Freeman presents the key questions around which this organizational research might be shaped and poses a newly enunciated organizational theory as a possibly valuable paradigm for such research.
Marin Alsop is a rising figure in the field of conducting and music direction, a field still heavily dominated by men, even though the proportion of women among symphony orchestra musicians is clearly growing. We were very pleased when Alsop agreed to be interviewed by a fellow Denverite, psychologist Barbara Pollack. Alsop’s interview responses give us a special glimpse into the interpersonal aspects of being a music director operating within the unique organizational structure of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, where an Artistic Committee, composed primarily of orchestra players, has the decision-making authority usually reserved for the music director.
One objective of Harmony is to republish previously expressed views about symphony orchestra organizations, when those views have special merit and enduring value. We initiate this plan with “Pure Gold: The Fleischmann– Lipman–Morris Debate of 1987-89.” For many readers, this summary will provide first-time exposure to what was said in the course of this fascinating coast-to- coast public discussion. Even for those who are familiar with this exchange, the review should be stimulating, particularly since two participants, Ernest Fleischmann and Thomas W. Morris, have provided updates about their ideas.
To initiate more inquiry into the economics of symphony orchestra organizations, and particularly their potential for greater productivity, we start with the succinct views of a “star.” Perhaps no scholar in the field of cultural economics is more famous than William J. Baumol. At Princeton University in the 1960s, he teamed up with fellow professor William G. Bowen (later president of Princeton and now president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) to illuminate the fundamental economic challenge of symphony orchestra organizations—the inability to achieve improvements in the productivity of classical music performance—and the implications thereof. Professor Baumol and others have subsequently identified ways those organizations have mitigated the effects of “Baumol’s cost disease” and we hope more about these matters will be said in future issues of Harmony.
During recent months, we have come across two forward-looking books which especially relate to issues within symphony orchestra organizations. We thank John P. Schneider, Chairperson of the Grand Rapids Symphony, for his excellent review of a book recently published by The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management. The Leader of the Future is a collection of 31 essays by some of the nation’s most prominent thinkers and authors on the topic of leadership. I had the pleasure to review our second selection, Organizing for the Future: The New Logic for Managing Complex Organizations, a book emanating from research conducted by The Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. This book is also a compendium of essays, each written by faculty members of one of the nation’s leading academic centers researching “high involvement organizations” in the commercial sector. Both books are highly recommended to anyone interested in improving the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations.
Even if you have successfully identified the score fragment on the cover of Harmony, have you deciphered the relationship of this work and its composer with the development of the symphony orchestra institution in America? On page 70, Phillip Huscher unlocks this mystery and once again entertains us with an interesting slice of musical and organizational history.
A key mission of the Institute is to foster research into symphony orchestra organizations, including the economics of these institutions. The Institute recently awarded its first Doctoral Research Fellowships to John Breda and Arthur Brooks, as described more fully on page 42. It is a happy coincidence that this prospective research relates rather directly to matters discussed in this issue of Harmony!
On page 78, you will find the first of what we hope will be a regular extension of the excellent bibliography about symphony orchestra organizations which appeared as part of Erin Lehman’s essay in the initial issue of Harmony.
We have been delighted with your response to the Institute’s establishment and to the inaugural issue of Harmony. A selection of comments from readers appears in the pages which follow. We hope this issue will provoke others to send along their personal comments and opinions.
And if you have the urge to be more comprehensive, please read the Guidelines for Contributors for information about how to submit a manuscript. We also mention there some key topics in which the Institute has a special publication interest. Many of you have talked with us about these topics; writing for Harmony gives you the opportunity to share your thoughts more broadly.
For those pressed for time, we invite you to take a minute, after reading Harmony, to complete and mail the reader response card which you will find in the middle of this issue.
Last but not least, we welcome and need your support symbolized by a supporting organizational, affiliated, or direct individual or group subscription to the Institute’s publications. We say “symbolized” because the funds involved in the Institute’s subscription revenue will probably never provide much more than the distribution costs of its publications in reaching all those persons who can bring about organizational change within symphony orchestra institutions. But your moral support lends significance to our endeavor and it means that the publications are valued and being read. Subscriber forms are available at the back of this issue.
May we have your support?
J.Richard Hackman, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and Jutta Allmendinger, a professor of sociology at the University of Munich, have recently completed a large-scale study of 78 professional symphony orchestras in four nations. On behalf of the Symphony Orchestra Institute, Paul R. Judy conducted an e-mail interview with Professor Hackman about this research. The following is an edited transcript of that interview. –Editor
Paul R. Judy: You have studied groups and organizations for many years. How did you and Professor Allmendinger decide to turn your attention to symphony orchestras in particular?
J. Richard Hackman: It was entirely by chance. Boston is a wonderful city for people who like concert music—we not only have the Boston Symphony Orchestra, unquestionably one of the finest in the world, but also many other orchestras visiting Boston on tour. Jutta and I often would see each other at various concerts and got to talking back at the university about the differences among them—differences that even our ears, which are not professionally trained, could detect. We wondered what it was about different orchestras that resulted in different ensemble qualities.
I have long been interested in what leaders can do to promote group and organizational effectiveness, and was at the time putting the finishing touches on the book Groups That Work (And Those That Don’t) (1990). Jutta was just finishing a large-scale study of career mobility patterns in different nations and occupations. So we decided to team up to take a look at leadership and mobility in symphony orchestras. Just maybe, we thought, we could learn some useful things about leadership and about careers by looking in depth at orchestras. Besides, we liked the idea of talking to orchestra musicians and leaders to learn how this very special kind of organization actually works. There are far worse ways to spend an afternoon of research than by observing a symphony orchestra rehearsing its next program.
We started making some calls to learn more about symphony orchestras as organizations, and to see if people thought it would be a good idea to do a study of them. We talked to Ken Baird at the Arts Council of Great Britain, Brad Buckley
at the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, Rosemary Estes at the Regional Orchestra Players Association, Catherine French at the American Symphony Orchestra League, Ken Haas at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Lew Waldeck at the American Federation of Musicians. They all told us pretty much the same two things: (1) your study is a great idea, long overdue; tell us how we can help, and (2) we have no money to support the project.
Fortunately, The Harvard Business School and the Max Planck Institute in Berlin (where Jutta was working at the time) did come up with enough money for us to launch the project, so we charged ahead. We recruited to our team Erin Lehman, a researcher at Harvard University, who soon became a full collaborator on the project; Rebecca Roters, an assistant at the Max Planck Institute; and Larissa Kowal-Wolk, a producer of classical music radio programs in Munich. We devised a research survey to be taken by players and a systematic guide for collecting and recording facts, figures, and interview responses at each orchestra. And, to see what kind of cooperation we might expect, we began contacting orchestras in the four countries we had selected: the United States, the United Kingdom, the former West Germany, and the former East Germany (this was about a year before the Berlin Wall came down). Our academic colleagues were pessimistic that musicians and orchestras would be willing to participate, but they were wrong: Of the 81 orchestras we contacted, 78 signed on.
PRJ: How widely did you cast your net? Did you include chamber orchestras and theater orchestras, for example? Or just full-size symphony orchestras?
JRH: We studied only professional symphony orchestras, which we defined as ensembles whose primary mission is public performance of the standard symphonic repertoire, and whose members are compensated non-trivially for their services. That includes both concert and broadcast orchestras, as well as orchestras that perform specialized works such as operas or pops programs in addition to the standard repertoire. But we did not include chamber ensembles, orchestras that perform operatic or theater works exclusively, university orchestras, and amateur orchestras. We used player salary budgets to select roughly equal numbers of “major” and “regional” orchestras from each country for intensive study. But many of these orchestras were far from “full size.” Regional orchestras in all four countries, for example, average 60 to 70 regular members rather than the 100+ that major orchestras have.
PRJ: Were there big differences in how orchestras operate across the four countries?
JRH: Yes, there were. But probably the most significant difference is in the density of orchestras—how many there are in a country relative to its population. East Germany had 76 professional symphony orchestras in a country slightly smaller than the state of Tennessee, one orchestra for every 220,000 citizens, the highest density of any country in the world. West Germany had slightly more orchestras, but three times as many people shared each one. In the United States, there are
seven times as many citizens per orchestra, one orchestra for every 1.8 million citizens. And in the United Kingdom, there is one symphony orchestra for every 4 million people. These differences say a lot about the relative priority given to serious music in the four countries.
Players in German orchestras viewed their orchestras as intact groups with an identifiable mission, rather than as large pick-up bands. They also reported that player recruitment was more fair and effective than did players in U.S. and U.K. orchestras, and that excellent playing was recognized and rewarded by their orchestras—which also was true for the London cooperative orchestras but less so for other orchestras in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Players were most involved in running East German and London cooperative orchestras. United States players, by contrast, scored highest on the survey item that read, “In this orchestra, the music director is the only real boss.” Finally, orchestras’ financial and material resources were far more abundant in the United States (especially among major orchestras) and in West Germany than in either the U.K. or East Germany.
PRJ: How about player motivation and satisfaction?
JRH: Yes, there were differences among countries here as well. But before commenting on those differences, let me take a minute to put the satisfaction and motivation of orchestra players in broader context. Over the last decade, my colleagues and I have administered job attitude surveys to people in a wide variety of groups and organizations. In each of these surveys, we asked the following three questions.
1. How high is internal work motivation? Are people self-motivated to perform well, or do they rely on rewards or punishments administered by others, such as bosses? On the survey, people are asked how much they agree with such statements as: “I feel good when I learn that I have performed well on this job,” and “I feel awful when I do poorly in my work.” People who agree with such statements are internally motivated.
2. How high is general satisfaction? To what extent do people agree with such statements as: “Generally speaking, I am very satisfied with this job.”
3. How high is satisfaction with growth opportunities? People are asked how happy they are with: “The amount of personal growth and development I get in this job.”
The good news is that for the first question, the level of internal motivation, symphony orchestra musicians are pushing the top of the scale—their average score, across all orchestras and countries, is 6.2 out of a possible 7. No group or organization we have studied scores higher. Orchestra players are, indeed, fueled by their own pride and professionalism.
The news is mixed for the other two questions. For general satisfaction, orchestra players rank seventh among the 13 groups studied:
1. Professional string quartet (highest, average score of 6.5)
2. Airline cockpit crews
3. Economic analysts in the federal government
4. Mental health treatment teams
5. Airline flight attendants
6. Federal prison guards
7. Symphony orchestra musicians (average score of 5.4)
8. Industrial production teams
9. Beer sales and delivery teams
10. Amateur theater company
11. Operating room nurses
12. Semiconductor fabrication teams
13. Professional hockey team (lowest, average score of 4.4)
And for satisfaction with growth opportunities, orchestra players rank ninth:
1. Professional string quartet (highest, average score of 6.2)
2. Mental health treatment teams
3. Beer sales and delivery teams
4. Industrial production teams
5. Economic analysts in the federal government
6. Airline cockpit crews
7. Airline flight attendants
8. Federal prison guards
9. Symphony orchestra musicians (average score of 4.9)
10. Operating room nurses
11. Semiconductor fabrication teams
12. Professional hockey team
13. Amateur theater company (lowest, average score of 4.1)
It’s a bit ironic. Players in symphony orchestras are near the top of their professions—they are among the handful of talented musicians who actually are able to make a living as performers. And no group we have studied has greater internal motivation than these people. Yet their overall job satisfaction, and especially their satisfaction with opportunities for continued growth and development, are not pushing the top of the scale. The professional symphony orchestra, it seems, does not provide as rich and rewarding an occupational setting for musicians as one would hope.
Differences among nations in player motivation and satisfaction are discussed in detail in our research reports (copies of which are available to your readers on request). Let me comment here only on the rather surprising findings form East German players. It turned out that musicians in East German orchestras scored highest on all three of the measures discussed above: internal work motivation, general satisfaction, and satisfaction with growth opportunities. This, even though material resources were quite scarce for many East German orchestras and political uncertainty was growing rapidly in that country while players were completing our research survey. Apparently the high esteem for symphonic music and for those who perform it, in East Germany more than compensated for the very real inadequacies in rehearsal and performance facilities, in music libraries, and in conditions of employment in that country at the time of our study.
PRJ: You said earlier that you and Professor Allmendinger were interested in identifying the factors that contribute to the “ensemble quality” of an orchestra. Just what do you mean by that, and how did you measure it?
JRH: We actually focused on three different criteria of orchestra effectiveness. They are:
1. The people who attend and/or review the orchestra’s musical performances are pleased by what they hear.
2. The orchestra has developed into a real performing ensemble.
3. Orchestra members find personal and professional satisfaction and fulfillment in their musical work.
Measuring the three criteria was a significant challenge. In brief, our measure of the first criterion is the sum of experts’ ratings of the standing of an orchestra on two dimensions: the technical quality of the players as instrumentalists and how well members play together. Nick Webster, formerly executive director of the New York Philharmonic, helped us obtain 18 individuals with extensive cross-national orchestra experience to make these ratings. These individuals included conductors and solo instrumentalists who perform with orchestras around the world, orchestra managers and union representatives, and knowledgeable critics and music writers. These experts turned out to agree remarkably about the 41 major orchestras they rated.
We assessed the second criterion by computing the difference between the ratings of players’ technical proficiency and the ratings of how well orchestra members play together. A great ensemble, then, is an orchestra that is playing a bit over its head—that is, it is making better music than would be expected given the technical prowess of its players. A poor ensemble, by contrast, is one whose members are playing together less well than would be expected; these orchestras, in effect, leave some talent on the table.
Finally, we assessed the third criterion by directly asking players, on our research survey and in interviews, about their levels of satisfaction with various aspects of their musical work. I’ve already mentioned some of our findings about certain of these measures.
It turns out that these three criteria sometimes are in conflict. What audiences appreciate may not always be that which stretches and pleases musicians, for example; and sometimes ensemble development may have to take a back seat to cranking out concerts or recordings for good economic reasons. The very best orchestras, nonetheless, are those that manage to keep the criteria in rough balance, advancing on each of the three fronts whenever circumstances permit.
PRJ: All right, then, what makes the biggest overall difference in how well an orchestra performs? What differentiated the orchestras that your experts rated as best from those that they rated lower?
JRH: The answer is straightforward: an orchestra’s financial resources. Well-off orchestras (which, incidentally, tend to be located in metropolitan areas) are able to attract and retain the finest players, conductors, and guest performers. They have adequate facilities, libraries, and staff support. And it shows in their playing.
An orchestra’s financial strength, in turn, depends heavily on how it is governed and managed. In our research, we enumerated all the major decisions that have to be made in a symphony orchestra, from hiring players and staff to deciding about musical interpretations and we noted who had the authority to make each of those decisions in each orchestra studied. The more say the board of directors and the managing director have in orchestral decision-making, the higher the orchestra’s financial strength. The more say players have about orchestra decisions—whether directly (for example, votes by the orchestra as a whole) or through the negotiated contract—the less strong it is financially.
PRJ: How about your second criterion: the way an orchestra has developed as a performing ensemble. Is the answer the same?
JRH: No. Here the answer has to do with the relative amount of “say” of three main leaders of an orchestra—the chair of the board of directors, the managing director, and the music director—in orchestra decision-making. Orchestras that operate as especially fine ensembles, those that often play even better than would be expected given the player talent they have to work with, are those in which the music director has relatively more influence and authority than the orchestra’s other leaders. When music directors are around a great deal of the time and actively involved in developing their orchestras, it shows in the orchestra’s playing.
There is a tension here. A strong board of directors can ensure that an orchestra has the financial wherewithal that makes good playing possible—but board influence that extends into musical and operational arenas does more harm than good. A strong music director is critical to an orchestra in setting its artistic direction and in its development as a musical ensemble—but orchestras that are dominated by their music directors tend to get into trouble financially. Our observations suggest that it is the job of the managing director to balance these sometimes competing sources of influence—making sure that both the board and the music director do those things that they are uniquely positioned and equipped to do and that they refrain from extending their reach into arenas that are more appropriately dealt with by others.
Managing this tension is a real challenge for orchestra managers because the interests of the three members of an orchestra’s leadership troika—the board chair, the music director, and the managing director—are unlikely to be automatically or naturally aligned. The best managing directors we studied handled the tension beautifully, getting the same kind of “synergy” out of the orchestra’s leadership team that a fine conductor can achieve with the orchestra itself in performance. When managing directors got themselves in trouble, it tended to be because they let the troika get out of balance: one of the three leaders came to dominate the entire institution, or one of them behaviorally dropped off the leadership team, or (worst of all) the managing director formed a coalition with either the board chair or the music director that isolated and rendered impotent the third member of the team.
PRJ: Let’s return to player satisfaction for a moment. Do happier orchestras play better?
JRH: Not necessarily. Conventional wisdom, that happier workers are more productive, is misleading. Organizational research has shown that employee satisfaction is more often the result of good performance than its cause. When members of a team perform superbly and receive appropriate recognition for their accomplishments, they are indeed happy and satisfied. And when they fail—or when they succeed but nobody notices or comments—they are unhappy.
These findings also apply to symphony orchestras. We found a small (quite small, actually) negative association between orchestra performance, as assessed by our 18 experts, and player satisfaction. There are indeed some superb orchestras whose players are quite satisfied with their work and their organizations, but there also are fine orchestras whose players are chronically cranky. The same is true for orchestras not in the top ranks musically.
I pointed out earlier that symphony orchestra players are no more satisfied with their work lives than many groups of industrial, government, or service workers. Perhaps it could not be otherwise. Perhaps there really is such a thing as “creative tension.” Those of us whose work requires creative performance (teachers and writers as well as musicians) invariably experience extended periods of angst as we attempt to do that which we believe ourselves to be called to do. Moreover, teams whose interactions are characterized mainly by interpersonal harmony and camaraderie generally are not as creative as those in which members experience task-focused disagreement as they go about their work. Some level of conflict may come with the territory in performing organizations such as symphony orchestras.
Still, some orchestras operate in ways that exacerbate such frustrations and conflicts—which is both unnecessary and in no one’s best interest. Some orchestra managements, for example, treat their players almost as if they were a class of school children always at risk of unruliness. Research findings show clearly that when you treat people like children, they act like children—which, of course, then provides justification for continuing to treat them that way. Orchestra players, like the rest of us, wish to be dealt with respectfully and (here comes the hard part) as individuals, as people who are worthy and important in their own right, even though their main work is accomplished in a large group. Especially challenging for orchestras is how to provide players with meaningful recognition for their contributions to the orchestra—especially tutti players, many of whom have real difficulty reconciling their early hopes for careers as concertizing soloists with the reality that they will be playing in unison for the rest of their orchestra careers. Applause from the audience, passed on to the orchestra as a whole after the conductor has smiled and nodded and bowed for a while, just doesn’t do the trick. Few orchestras in our sample have found ways to provide individual players (other than principals) the kind of respect and recognition that we all seek in our professional work.
PRJ: These days, many businesses are increasing the involvement of their workers by pushing decision-making “down” in the organization. Workers often are formed into teams and asked to decide about things that formerly were the responsibility of management. Do you think symphony orchestras should join in this movement, not only with musicians, but also with staff and volunteers?
Does employee involvement really help an organization do better?
JRH: Theoretically it can, but in practice it usually doesn’t. It is true that the most powerful influence on orchestra players’ professional satisfaction is the degree to which their organizations provide them opportunities for meaningful involvement in orchestral affairs. (We also found that professional dissatisfaction was highest in orchestras where the board of directors dominated the decision- making process, the other side of the same coin.) But player involvement is risky; it can backfire in ways that hurt both players and orchestras.
Our findings show that there are two circumstances when player involvement is not likely to be helpful. One is what we call “token” involvement. Some kind of cross-functional or cross-level committee is set up to bring people with different perspectives together to improve the orchestra as a whole. But the committee, in reality, is an extra wheel: members may discuss endlessly and make proposal after proposal, but the decisions that are actually consequential for the orchestra and its players are made by other people in other venues. Our research suggests that token involvement schemes may do more harm than good, as people who have given of their time and care eventually discover that, in this orchestra, player involvement is really nothing more than pseudo-participation.
Artistic advisory committees are a case in point. Many orchestras have them, but few orchestras take them seriously. Musicians on the advisory committee may (or may not) meet regularly, but rarely do their views count in developing the artistic direction of the orchestra, in choosing guest conductors or soloists for future seasons, or in deciding about tours or repertoire. In one orchestra we studied, members of the artistic advisory committee counted as a great success the fact that an associate conductor had met with them to tell them about the artistic decisions that had been made by the music director. That members of this committee eventually lost interest in spending further time in meetings is hardly surprising. Players are professional musicians who have much more to give to their orchestras than usually is sought from them—and involvement about artistic matters is one arena in which those potential contributions can be harvested. But it has to be real involvement.
Pseudo-participation usually is worse than no participation at all.
Player involvement also is likely to backfire when the orchestra is poorly managed as an organization. If an orchestra is riddled with inequities, inefficiencies, and under-the-table “arrangements,” for example, player involvement can go sour in a hurry. We have here yet another case in which the rich are positioned to get richer and the poor to become even poorer. That is, orchestras that are basically sound both financially and organizationally need player involvement less, but can gain more from it, than orchestras that are in trouble. Troubled orchestras need the contributions of their players more, but they are far less likely to be able to draw effectively on them.
Our findings, then, suggest that the first priority for orchestra managements should be to get the ship in shape. This involves four things, which we have come to view as a kind of checklist for assessing orchestral well-being:
1. Does the orchestra have an engaging and challenging artistic and organizational direction?
2. Is the organizational structure sound? Are tasks and roles designed and staffed well and are there well-understood and well-accepted norms that govern the conduct of players and managers?
3. Does the orchestra have supportive organizational context? Are there adequate facilities and material resources? Do organizational systems and procedures aid (rather than impede) players and staff members in carrying out their work?
4. Do orchestra leaders provide ample and expert coaching of members as they hone their various contributions to the orchestra?
If the answers to these four questions are affirmative, meaningful player involvement will be both easier to obtain and more likely to be helpful. If the answers are negative, devices such as advisory committees are unlikely to help and may even make things worse.
Orchestras that are true worker cooperatives (i.e., one player, one vote) are the ultimate in player involvement. In these orchestras, final authority for all consequential decisions rests with the players—including selection of board members and choice of the music director and executive director. The recent findings of our collaborator Erin Lehman about self-governing orchestras affirm that the ones that have a clear direction and that are solid organizationally do very well, probably better than traditionally managed orchestras. But those that are at sea artistically and leaking organizationally run a real risk of sinking entirely.
I worry, therefore, when members of an orchestra whose community, board, and leadership have failed to provide a solid organizational base decide to solve their problems by becoming a cooperative. The players assume that they can do a better job of getting things back on track than the present governors and leaders have done—but they usually find that they are swimming upstream against a very strong current. The orchestra was, after all, close to failing when it became a cooperative, which is precisely the circumstance when player involvement is least likely to work. So, for all the potential advantages of meaningful player involvement in symphony orchestras, especially in artistic matters, we have concluded our research more conservative about the movement toward cooperative orchestras than we were when we began it.
PRJ: Somewhere it has been said that symphony orchestra organizations are both “complex and costly.” Given all your research and thought about these entities, how are organizational improvements to be achieved? Who or what provides the impetus?
JRH: The managing director. He or she is the person at the nexus of the orchestra organization, the only one who can integrate and coordinate the diverse contributions made by members of the board of directors, by the music director, and by the players. Note that each of these groups is present and active only part of the time: the board is a volunteer group, the music director of major orchestras usually has a contract that requires his or her presence for but one- third of the calendar year (or less), and the players generally are on site only when they have a rehearsal, concert, or recording service to provide. The managing director has a challenging undertaking, made the more so by responsibilities for overseeing various volunteer groups, outside professionals such as attorneys or public relations consultants, and one’s own managerial staff. It is in the managing director’s office where it all comes together—or, in some cases, comes apart.
There are, in U.S. orchestras, some absolutely superb managing directors. There also are some who are hanging on by their fingernails, focusing more on keeping things from collapsing entirely than on squaring up their orchestras as organizations and drawing upon the contributions of the orchestra’s diverse constituencies to develop and realize a challenging orchestral future. Sometimes the problems and pressures can become so great that managing directors fall into a pattern of blaming various individuals or groups for the orchestra’s problems. “It’s the fault of the music director; he’s hardly ever here, and when he is, he acts like King of the World, ordering everybody around and insisting that his own needs come ahead of everything.” Or: “It’s the union’s fault. All they care about is showing their own muscle, demanding things that they very well know this orchestra cannot afford.” Or: “Some people on this board don’t understand the first thing about orchestras. They don’t care about music, they don’t come to concerts, and they act as if an orchestra is just another business. They’re on the board only because it looks good on their résumés.” Or: “It’s the damn players. All they do is whine and complain. They begrudge every single contribution we ask them to make.”
The irony is that when managers fall into a pattern of blaming others for the orchestra’s problems, it almost always reflects a failure of their own leadership. There are indeed lazy, self-centered, and even evil people in this world. But most of us, including musicians, are not that way. It is the job of orchestra leaders to bring out and cultivate the best that all who are involved with the orchestra have to contribute. Great managing directors know that and know how to do it. Poor ones find their work more akin to herding a bunch of strong- willed and ill-tempered chickens across the barnyard than to helping groups of talented and potentially committed professionals come together to create an artistic product that no one of them could possibly create alone.
Without question, leadership is a critical ingredient of orchestra effectiveness. But we must also acknowledge that there are limits to the height of the mountains that even great leaders can climb. Are we, as Fred Zenone of the National Symphony Orchestra has suggested to me, trapped and limited not only by the classical repertoire but also by the classical orchestral form? Are fundamental changes in the very idea of the 100-person symphony orchestra required if serious music is to survive, let alone prosper, in contemporary American society? Must the institution of the professional symphony orchestra be dismantled and reconstructed in order to make it manageable?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do find myself worrying a lot about them.
J. Richard Hackman is the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard. He holds a B.A. degree from MacMurray College in Illinois and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Illinois. Professor Hackman chairs the Research Advisory Board of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.
Why They’re Not Smiling: Stress and Discontent in the Orchestral Workplace
We suspect that most observers of symphony orchestras were disturbed as they read (in the interview which immediately precedes this article) the findings of Richard Hackman’s research. Just why is it that symphony orchestra musicians are so unhappy with their jobs?
Robert Levine, principal violist with the Milwaukee Symphony, and his father, Seymour, a professor emeritus from Stanford, collaborated on the following essay to provide readers of Harmony with their insights as to why symphony audiences often see dour looks on the faces of the ensemble performers.
It is the Levines’ thesis that musicians experience high levels of stress, due primarily to their lack of control over their working environments. The article opens with explanations of the particular stressors which orchestra musicians encounter, ranging from plain, old-fashioned stage fright to the levels of perfection which ensemble musicians expect of themselves.
The Levines then expound their views of orchestras as fundamentally patriarchal organizations and explain the role which the “myth” of the conductor as omniscient father and musicians as children plays in orchestra members’ unhappiness. Their description of a typical orchestra rehearsal is written with great wit and under- standing; it is also terribly sad.
Is There a Solution?
Not content to share only the myth, the authors explore coping strategies of individual musicians and tactics which musicians employ to take control of their working lives. For example, were you aware that a surprisingly large number of orchestra musicians are general aviation pilots?
Orchestra musicians may well read this essay and nod sagely while murmuring “bravo.” Non-musician participants in symphony orchestra organizations would be well advised to evaluate the Levines’ thesis and the ways in which symphony orchestra organizations might address the issues raised.
Orchestra musicians’ discontent with their jobs is currently enjoying its proverbial “15 minutes of fame.” Much of this comes from coverage of the New York Philharmonic’s recent labor negotiations in Forbes magazine (1995) and The New York Times (1995), both of which discussed (with less than total sympathy) the unhappiness of the orchestra’s musicians with their jobs, as well as with the negotiations.
Most observers of the orchestra industry have great difficulty in coming to grips with what industry insiders have known for a long time: orchestra musicians tend not to be very happy when they are at work. A recent study by Jutta Allmendinger, Richard Hackman, and Erin V. Lehman (1994) demonstrated that this observation is not based simply on anecdote. The study shows that, while orchestra musicians’ internal motivation is higher than any of the other groups studied, their level of general job satisfaction is quite low—below that of federal prison guards, in fact, and far below that of members of professional string quartets.
Working in an orchestra provides a reasonable level of income and economic security, up to 10 weeks of paid vacation a year, and work that is (at least in theory) so enjoyable that amateur musicians will do it in their spare time for free. Why then are orchestra musicians so dissatisfied?
It is our thesis that this dissatisfaction is due to the levels of stress they experience and that much of that stress is due to their lack of control over their working environments.
Musicians face many unusual stressors. The one most frequently recognized and discussed is performance anxiety. Virtually everyone has experienced some form of stage fright; even audiences understand the issue. Orchestra musicians will experience performance anxiety many times, even before they are hired by professional orchestras. It is a natural and accepted consequence of performing on an instrument, and because of that, orchestra musicians cope with it better than they do with any other stress involved in their jobs. Performance anxiety also tends to diminish with repetition and experience so that, while still present, it can be largely hidden from the listener and even colleagues. In addition, well- known options exist for dealing with performance anxiety, including drugs of the beta-blocker type, which control the physiological manifestations of anxiety by blocking certain hormone receptors at the cellular level.
Simply playing their instruments is another stressor for many musicians. Although instruments differ in the ways they alter performers’ bodies for the worse, playing any instrument is a fundamentally unnatural act. A recent ICSOM survey of musicians’ health showed that the vast majority of orchestra musicians experienced medical problems which they rated as “severe” in terms of their effects on performance (1987). Few other professions combine the physical demands of playing an instrument with the level of training, preparation, and mental activity— not to mention talent—required to succeed as a musician. The closest analogy may be professional sports, yet most athletes do not expect to continue performing professionally until age 65, the typical retirement age in professional orchestras.
Such interruptions in a musician’s career create another stressor, the fear of disability. Musicians, after all, have spent most of their lives in training to practice their craft and often do not possess the more generalized training that would enable them to reach an equivalent income or standing in another profession. Equally disturbing is the possibility of losing the one skill that has structured their lives and given them much of their identity.
A more subtle stress musicians face is difficult even to label, much less to quantify. Instrumentalists generally view whatever they produce on their instruments as flawed in comparison with the ideal they have set for themselves. This comes, at least in part, from a system of instrumental education that views anything less than absolute technical perfection as completely unacceptable. Yet it is also the mindset that an instrumentalist, at any level of proficiency, must maintain in order to improve. But most instrumentalists, however good, are never going to reach perfection in their playing or even reach the level regularly achieved by the soloists who stand in front of professional orchestras.
In few other professions are the practitioners forced to confront their own professional failings so regularly, and this constant awareness of their personal limitations can lead to chronic internal conflict between diminished self-esteem and musicians’ natural desires to think well of themselves. The resulting emotional dissonance is bound to be stressful, perhaps even more so because it goes unacknowledged and unrecognized. Research by M. Seligman (1975) on the development of “learned helplessness” has shown that unsolvable tasks can induce helplessness in social coping situations. “Helplessness” refers to psychological situations in which the individual cannot determine any relationship between available responses and probable outcomes (Levine and Ursin, 1991).
All instrumentalists, including members of string quartets, experience these stressors. Why then are quartet players so much happier with their jobs than are orchestra musicians? The answer lies in the assumptions at the root of the two types of musical enterprises and the effects of those assumptions on the musicians.
All institutions and organizational structures have at their core a fundamental hypothesis or normative myth. The normative myth underlying democracy, for example, is that a large body of people can make better decisions about their collective affairs than can one ruler. The hypothesis underlying capitalism is that private greed leads to public good. The myth at the core of the string quartet is that the four musicians are equals.
The Impact of Normative Myths
Myth-making is a primal attempt to grasp painfully complex realities by symbolizing and simplifying them. Yet, in simplifying the real world, myths distort and even lie. After all, democracies often make very poor choices, while the greed of businesses in a capitalistic system can lead to great suffering. Anyone who has worked in a small group certainly will recognize that the “quartet myth” is false; no group of four individuals is composed of “equals” in any meaningful sense. (The classic insider’s definition of a string quartet is: “a good violinist, a bad violinist, an ex-violinist, and someone who hates violinists.”)
But such myths continue to exist because they are built on a truth of some kind, even if the myths themselves are not true. Democracy may not consistently produce good decisions, but it often produces comity and stability in the community. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” has produced a very high standard of living in capitalist economies. And string quartets in which one member treats the other three as lesser beings will soon have either one new member or three.
These normative myths also have a powerful impact on the way we experience the institutions with which we live and color our perceptions of the ways those institutions function. Discrepancy between myth and reality also creates powerful cognitive and emotional dissonance. Perhaps worst of all, we often try to adapt ourselves to the myth, rather than adapting the reality to ourselves. The story of the mythical Greek innkeeper, who stretched his guests or lopped off their limbs to fit his one bed, perfectly illustrates the unhealthy effects of that adaptive response.
Orchestras, like other institutions, labor under the heavy weight of such a myth. But the disparity between myth and reality in professional orchestras is extreme and serves as the most powerful source of musician stress and counterproductive institutional dynamics.
Orchestras are fundamentally patriarchal. Underlying the behavior of conductors and musicians in the orchestra is the myth of the conductor as omniscient father (“maestro,” “maître”) and the musicians as children (“players”) who know nothing and require uninterrupted teaching and supervision. As Robert Sapolsky (1994) wrote of the Fellini movie, The Orchestra Rehearsal, “When Fellini needed a metaphor for the anarchic overthrow of the patriarchy, he came up with the notion of an orchestra rebelling against its conductor.” (Some might suggest that the patriarchal myth also accounts for the overwhelming dominance of the podium by male practitioners, not to mention the very existence of the baton.)
To demonstrate this myth, let us deconstruct a typical moment in an orchestra rehearsal. The conductor is waving his arms around in a manner that would get him arrested were he to do it on the street, and the musicians are not only not laughing, they are doing their level best to decipher those motions, coordinate their actions to realize the music on their stands, and incidentally give the conductor the gratifying sensation of total control.
What happens when a member of the orchestra asks the conductor a question is even more revealing. (Virtually every communication from a musician to a conductor in a rehearsal is phrased as a question, even when it is really a statement of fact or belief.) One of the authors once heard the principal clarinetist of a major American orchestra ask the conductor whether he wanted the notes with dots over them “short, or like the brass were playing them?” This rather complex statement masquerading as a question conveyed both the musician’s lack of respect for the brass players in question and scorn for the conductor’s failure to notice the problem. But to fit the myth of the omniscient conductor, the comment had to be phrased as a question, for how could a musician possibly inform an omniscient being? The myth dictates that a musician can only tap into that well of knowledge, not add to it.
Questions from musicians to conductors must be respectfully phrased and, ideally, prefaced with the honorific “Maestro.” (This title may be dropped if the conductor is sufficiently young or doesn’t speak with an accent.) Such questions must not explicitly challenge the conductor’s interpretation of the music or conducting and rehearsal technique in any way.
This arrangement makes matters awkward for the orchestral musician who desires to improve the quality of the orchestral product. The musician must not challenge the conductor’s tempi or interpretation; he or she cannot even suggest that there might be a pitch or ensemble problem, much less how the conductor might fix it. Questions are therefore limited to issues of whether the parts agree with the score or how the conductor would like a certain passage bowed. Even the latter has risks, however, as it implies that the conductor didn’t see how it was bowed the first time; certainly no self-respecting omniscient being could have missed something as elementary as whether a passage started up-bow or down-bow.
In fact, the myth makes virtually all communication from musician to conductor impossible. (In one major American orchestra, musicians are discouraged from addressing the music director until he addresses them first. Matters are arranged so that the music director never encounters musicians except on the podium or in private meetings which he calls.) This is not to say such communications don’t happen, of course, but the farther they venture from simple inquiry, the more uncomfortable they are likely to make orchestra members and the more angry the conductor. Challenging the conductor’s omniscience is, quite literally, taboo.
Of course, like most myths, the myth of the omniscient conductor teaching the ignorant, childlike “players” is false. Musicians in a professional orchestra of any significance know quite a bit about music and about what they’re doing. So do many conductors, of course; but generally, individual conductors do not know more than the orchestra in front of them knows collectively. In fact, about
certain issues, such as the mechanics of string playing, conductors usually know quite a bit less. Most orchestra musicians would agree that many conductors deal ineptly with technical issues such as pitch and ensemble, and that many conductors do not even recognize such problems when they occur, much less address them. Most orchestra musicians, after all, have extensive chamber music experience, in which pitch and ensemble are prominent on the work agenda.
Yet, as do other normative myths, the myth of the omniscient conductor has an underlying reality. An ensemble of 100 musicians can neither rehearse nor perform as a chamber group. Someone has to run things, and that someone has to have the attention of the musicians. In order to prevent things from degenerating into chaos, musicians and conductors
pretend that the conductor stands on the podium by divine right. Internalized behavioral norms and taboos protect that authority from any challenge.
The omniscience myth does “work” to some extent, as do most such myths, which accounts for their durability. Orchestras deliver musical services to their communities with a high degree of efficiency. Any competent professional orchestra can prepare and perform several new programs a week, a task impossible to most professional chamber ensembles. However, in adapting themselves to this myth, musicians pay a very high price in the form of chronic stress, job dissatisfaction, and infantilization.
Players Lack Control
If the myth dictates that conductors are “masters” and musicians are “players,” then the conductor must have complete control. The natural consequence of omniscience is omnipotence, after all. If the conductor has complete control over the work environment, then the musicians can have none.
This is actually the fundamental structure of the orchestral workplace. During rehearsals or concerts, musicians experience a total lack of control over their environment. They do not control when the music starts, when the music ends, or how the music goes. They don’t even have the authority to leave the stage to attend to personal needs. They are, in essence, rats in a maze, at the whim of the god with the baton.
Extensive research has demonstrated that lack of control is a major cause of stress. Baron and Rodin (1978) defined “control” as “the ability to regulate or influence intended outcomes by selective responding,” while “perceived control” refers to expectations of the power to participate in making decisions in order to obtain desirable consequences. Stress caused by lack of control is not a subjective phenomenon; it can be quantified within a number of physiological parameters. Hormonal activity is perhaps the most commonly studied. A wealth of data, both in animals and in humans, shows that lack of control or loss of control causes significant changes in hormonal activity. Frankenhauser (1983) demonstrated that when individuals performed a task at their “preferred work pace,” and when the subjects were given an opportunity to modify the rate and maintain an optimal pace throughout a one-hour session, pituitary-adrenal activity decreased from baseline. Control over the work rate, he concluded, reduced the stress.
Another classic study (Glass and Singer, 1972) exposed two groups to noxious noise levels (recordings of jet aircraft noise). The first group was told they could inform the experimenters when the noise became uncomfortable. The second group was given a switch which they were told would control the noise. Though the switch wasn’t connected to anything and had no effect on the noise level, the second group was able to tolerate roughly twice as much noise. In similar work with rhesus monkeys, monkeys that had control over noxious noise showed cortisol levels (a primary physiological response to stress) similar to monkeys that were not exposed to noise. Levels in both groups were lower than those in monkeys with no control over the noise. When animals with control over noise had that control taken away, their cortisol levels rose to match those of the group without control.
In a study of air traffic controllers, Rose and colleagues (1982) reached similar conclusions. Stress associated with this profession is legendary, yet Rose demonstrated that controllers’ stress hormone levels do not change while at work. Researchers attributed this to the experience levels of the air traffic controllers studied (5+ years), and to the ability they had developed to exercise control over their workplaces. Although air traffic controllers directly control neither the pace of their work, nor air traffic volume, they do exercise considerable autonomy in performing their jobs. The way air traffic controllers work with pilots and other controllers is not dissimilar, in fact, to working relationships in a chamber group. In both cases, individuals have responsibility and control.
Research among nursing home residents (Rodin,1980) demonstrates the negative effects of a lack of control, as well as the benefits that accrue when control is returned. In one study, residents of a nursing home were given more responsibility for everyday decision-making—choosing their own menus, selecting and caring for house plants, and the like. Residents with more control over even the trivia of their daily lives became more active socially, described themselves as happier, and were rated by their physicians as healthier. Perhaps most startling, death rates among these residents were one- half those of residents who had no such control over their environments.
Much of what is inexplicable to observers of professional orchestras can be explained by stress caused by chronic lack of control and musicians’ attempts to deal with it. Musicians’ first line of defense is the classic tactic of avoidance. It is no accident that every professional orchestra of any consequence is unionized and that the resulting collective bargaining agreements under which orchestras labor spell out in exquisite detail the limits of a conductor’s authority over the musicians. Such agreements attempt to limit the amount of time musicians are exposed to a situation over which they have no control, as well as expressions of musicians’ need to control at least something about the workplace.
How does chronic stress caused by lack of control affect orchestra musicians? Research has demonstrated a link between lack of control and the phenomenon of learned helplessness. In one study (Seligman, 1975), exposure to uncontrollable loud noise significantly reduced the ability to handle a learning task in which a correct response would control the noise. A follow-up study demonstrated reduction in more general cognitive skills.
Closely related to the development of learned helplessness is depression. According to Sapolsky (1994):
A major depression . . . can be the outcome of particularly severe lessons in uncontrollability for those of us who are already vulnerable. . . . According to one school, it is a state brought on by pathologic overexposure to psychological stress, particularly loss of control and of outlets for frustration . . .. Subject to enough uncontrollable stress, we learn to be helpless—we lack the motivation to try to live because we assume the worst; we lack the cognitive clarity to perceive when things are actually going fine, and we feel an aching lack of pleasure in everything.
There is another, more subtle effect of this chronic lack of control on orchestra musicians: infantilization. Forced to play the roles of children, musicians can behave childishly. Musicians who, when not at work, are perfectly responsible adults, can regress to the level of five-year olds at work, especially when the conductor is even less like the mythic omniscient father figure than is the norm for conductors. Moreover, these musicians tend to view their world, much as a child might, as a mysterious and threatening place. The paranoia that some orchestra musicians exhibit towards managers and conductors, and even towards those of their colleagues who serve on workplace committees, is a consequence of this world view. Yet the subjects of this generalized paranoia are not some anonymous “they” off at corporate headquarters; they are people who, on a daily basis, stand in front of these musicians, answer their questions, and find the money to pay them.
The Unanswered Question
Having examined the damaging effects of forcing musicians to live in a myth, the natural question is whether it is possible to adapt the reality to the workers, rather than the workers to the myth. Perhaps the answer can be found by examining the existing strategies which musicians use to cope with the effects of their perceived reality.
It is no coincidence, we believe, that musicians gravitate towards hobbies which provide a high degree of control. For example, it appears that far more musicians hold pilot licenses than one would expect in a randomly selected group with similar incomes and educational levels. In some orchestras, five to 10 percent of the members are pilots. Gardening, writing, and home improvement are also pursued with surprising intensity by many orchestra musicians. By contrast, team sports are not as popular with musicians—with the possible exception of serving on membership representation committees, an activity which participants also pursue with a great deal of intensity.
These strategies can successfully reduce the effects of workplace stress in musicians’ lives. However, they are less successful in reducing the levels of stress experienced at work. A very sharp bifurcation can develop, therefore, between work and the rest of life.
Another coping strategy is to negotiate and enforce strict limits on the control conductors wield over the work environment. The paradigmatic example in the typical orchestra labor agreement is the one that most baffles outside observers: the rigid limits on rehearsal time. In virtually every orchestra labor agreement, there is an absolute limit on the amount of time before a required break, regardless of the point in the music the conductor has reached. How many conductors, managers, and board members have reacted to such clauses with disbelief that the orchestra (or “the contract,” or “the union”) would force the conductor to stop the rehearsal in mid-phrase? And yet to musicians, the necessity of such limits is painfully obvious. The root issue is one of pure and simple control. Conductors resent having control taken away from them after 150 minutes of complete autonomy. Musicians, having experienced 150 minutes of total lack of control, want their lives back. And outsiders, never having encountered what the musicians experience daily, wonder why the musicians seem to hate their jobs so much.
By imposing limits on the length of rehearsals (and, in some orchestras, on the kinds of rehearsal techniques conductors can use), musicians also engineer predictability, which research has shown to ameliorate the effects of whatever stressors are at work. During the German bombing of London in 1940, for example, residents of London developed fewer ulcers than did those who lived in the suburbs, even though London was being bombed nightly, while bombs fell in the suburbs much less frequently (Steward and Wisner, 1942). The lack of predictability experienced by suburbanites proved more stressful than did the nightly bombing of the city residents.
Unfortunately, these coping strategies fail to address the cause of the stress itself. Is it possible to actually do away with the myth and with musicians’ lack of control over their workplaces, while maintaining the ability of professional orchestras to produce musical services efficiently?
Very few orchestras have tried. The best-known example in the United States is Orpheus, the conductorless chamber orchestra; but Orpheus does not try to produce the number or variety of concerts that American symphony orchestras do. Nor does it need to, as it is not a full-time orchestra requiring full-time upkeep. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the nearest analog to Orpheus in the world of full-time professional American orchestras, is run quite traditionally by comparison.
Could musicians exert more control over the workplace? It seems at least plausible that the notions of small teams, and of workers being able to stop production to fix a quality problem, could be imported into orchestras. It is also easy to imagine the difficulties involved in doing so. Adding one’s colleagues to the list of taskmasters may not seem very attractive to many musicians, even with reciprocal privileges. Nor will the idea of giving up power appeal to conductors, who have done very well under the current system, both economically and psychologically.
Nonetheless, any attempt to make orchestras happier and less stressful places to work must focus on the issue of control. Until ways are found to return some control over events in the orchestral workplace to the musicians, they will continue to feel like rats in someone else’s maze.
Robert Levine is principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He previously served as violist of the Orford String Quartet. His father, Seymour Levine, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus at Stanford University and is currently a research professor and director of the program in neurosciences at the University of Delaware. Dr. Levine has published extensively on the psychological and biological aspects of stress.
Research Issues in Orchestra Labor Relations
Sometime in the last 10 years, most readers of Harmony have also read about protracted contract negotiations between orchestral musicians and their
employers. But what do we really know about these negotiations? Not much, according to Case Western Reserve University’s Everette Freeman, a professor of labor and human resource policy.
The author leads us through an explanation of the parties involved in orchestra labor relations and the concerns that each brings to the bargaining table. He then posits a series of issues which he considers ripe for further research.
The Roles of Structure and Strategy
The author then wonders aloud if issues of orchestral structure and strategy are perhaps equally or more important research topics than are behavioral or procedural concerns.
He suggests that the work of Peter M. Blau could provide a useful analytical framework and shares with readers the lines of analysis which Blau (a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) has pursued.
Will Research Add Value?
Everette Freeman admits that he is an interested party when it comes to the survival of American symphony orchestras. While he questions whether research about orchestra labor relations alone can make a difference, he challenges readers to consider the fact that few organizations in the private sector risk their organizational fortunes to anecdotal information—an apparently all too common practice in negotiations between musicians and management.
Ingeneral,partiesinvolvedinasymphonyorchestra’s labor-management contract negotiations strive to reach a successful conclusion. Ironically, despite a mutually favorable disposition toward achieving this goal, far too many negotiators regard symphony labor-management relations as pathological. They bemoan what they see as the general dysfunction of symphony labor relations, and often charge that their counterparts across the bargaining table are malefactors—embodiments of the worst kind of policies and practices. Often, a cloud of mistrust appears to prevent parties from seeing each other as strategic partners progressing toward mutuality and joint problem-solving.
Against this backdrop of suspicion, is there any basis for believing orchestra labor relations can be viable? What conditions must be met to reverse the current perception of orchestra labor relations? Do current structural arrangements advance or frustrate labor-management cooperation? Is there a future for collective bargaining in the institutional configuration known as the American symphony? Are the parties involved too far apart for rapprochement? Which is the problem, the parties or the structure?
The relative absence of research on current orchestra labor relations may actually heighten negotiating parties’ perceptions of immobilization in a conundrum of strife and bitterness. So far, collective bargaining literature has paid scant attention to the symphony orchestra as an institutional player in American labor relations. Helpful studies exist, but either they touch the subject only tangentially, or they need updating.1 For example, after a conference on labor relations and the performing arts cosponsored by the School of the Arts at Columbia University and Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, a publication appeared containing an animated and thoughtful discussion that deals squarely with orchestra labor relations issues (Jeffri, 1986). However, while brimful of lively exchanges of ideas among orchestra labor relations practitioners, the work suffers from a lack of analytical detachment.
Currently, two Cornell professors, Lois Gray and Ronald Seeber, are putting the finishing touches on an updated review of labor and the performing arts. This may well prove a welcome research volume.2
As with labor relations generally, orchestra labor-management relations are in flux, not permanent and static. Despite the aforementioned perceptions to the contrary, there are signs that the field of orchestra labor relations is percolating with significant, far-reaching changes. This article aims to initiate an ongoing dialogue about orchestra collective bargaining issues, and to promote interest in orchestra labor-relations research among researchers, practitioners, foundations, and others.
Orchestra Labor Relations: The Parties and their Concerns
The parties involved in orchestra labor relations—musicians and their associations, managers and their boards, benefactors, governments, and the community—influence and are influenced by the values, needs, aims, and concerns expressed in
contract-negotiation items and, to a greater or lesser degree, in the collective bargaining agreement itself. Musicians bring to the negotiation table such clear-cut bread-and-butter issues as wage parity, benefits proposals, due process provisions, and other terms and conditions of employment. They also bring a firm recognition of how their wages and other employment terms compare with those of peers elsewhere. Increasingly, most musician bargaining committees come to the table with at least a rudimentary appreciation of the fiscal challenges facing orchestras. What orchestra labor-relations research has yet to tell us is what role nonmonetary issues such as feelings of noninvolvement, lack of professional development, and lack of opportunity for input into various decision-making processes play in the formulation of monetary demands. We do not know, for example, the degree to which monetary demands are a template for other issues generally categorized as “being more involved.” Possibly, musicians would be more willing to tackle fiscal challenges facing their orchestras if their “human side,” or nonmonetary concerns, were adequately addressed. Without measures which accurately capture musicians’ sentiments across a range of monetary and nonmonetary issues, nobody exactly knows.
Managers and board members bring to the bargaining table vexing financial dilemmas that directly and indirectly affect the state of the orchestra, including pay equity for musicians, escalating medical and insurance costs, and endow-ment management pressures. Managers and board members are also aware that musicians no longer see themselves as performing mendicants gladly accepting financial crumbs. Increasingly, managers and boards are looking to musicians for support and guidance in expanding and extending new revenue and audience sources.
Board members also face many administrative and planning challenges that directly or indirectly shape their negotiation concerns. These challenges include juggling constantly rising fund-raising goals for capital as well as for operating funds; health care cost escalation; growing community expectations of the orchestra as a primary, central music education source; shifting musical and cultural tastes which affect both audience development and the survival of the symphony orchestra; and maintaining financial equilibrium in a storm of financial pressures.
While not usually seated at the labor negotiation table, benefactors, governments, and the community nonetheless powerfully influence labor and management. Benefactors frequently see themselves as key stakeholders in the outcome of negotiations, especially when an impasse interrupts a performing season. Not uncommonly, benefactors (especially those who are also board members) interject themselves into labor-management impasses as honest brokers to facilitate agreement. Such participation can provide assurance that management commitments will be honored. In other instances, the most finely tuned diplomatic skills come into play when well-intentioned benefactors who are not directly involved in negotiation want to aid in the process. In the future, negotiating parties may discover the utility of such honest brokers, despite the current rarity of such arrangements. Such benefactors as charitable foundations are also showing increasing interest in labor negotiation. In the not too distant future, foundations may want orchestras to demonstrate healthy and viable labor relations as a precondition for new or continued funding.
Most often, governments leave the negotiation of orchestra contracts to the principal parties. Notwithstanding this laissez-faire posture, governments at local, state, and federal levels, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), play an enabling role by providing technical expertise and, in some cases, financial support. City and state governments in particular often regard orchestras as part of their cultural capital; cities with performing orchestras frequently feature them in commercial development literature. Most political figures profess at least passing interest in the labor relations affairs of orchestras; no politician wants it said that the symphony collapsed or left town during his or her watch. Clearly, government support agencies such as the NEA have a vested interest in orchestra affairs and have prominently supplemented the budgets of many U.S. orchestras. Throughout its existence, the NEA has maintained at least a casual interest in orchestra labor-management relations developments.
The community—perhaps the most important element in the calculus of orchestra affairs—plays a central, albeit distant, role in symphony labor relations. Orchestra subscribers, friends of the orchestra, frequent and infrequent concert-goers, contributors to community trusts such as the United Way, and citizens at large: all share a stake in the orchestra’s continued survival. Ultimately, it is for the community—the audience—that musicians make music. The community also includes musicians’ families and orchestra staffers, as well as others who indirectly influence orchestra labor relations by endorsing or opposing contract demands and pleas for support. In the final analysis, parties at the orchestra negotiation table are keenly sensitive to the impact of their outcome on ticket prices, season duration, loss of goodwill, and community quality-of-life issues.
“If the symphony orchestra is to survive, musicians, management, and the trustees must collaborate seriously on their collective future, must develop a respectful, serious, substantive dialogue rather than yell at each other from entrenched positions. They must work out a common future based on a common process (and progress) that will deal realistically with the real ‘common enemy’: those millions of people in our society—and their political representatives—in whose lives ‘classical’ music plays no part whatsoever.”
“The State of American Orchestras”
Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller, 1986
Research Issues Regarding Parties and Their Concerns
Those involved in orchestra labor relations as practitioners, stakeholders, or researchers often do not know enough about intraorganizational and interorganizational dynamics, especially the shaping of issues over time, sometimes in response to criticism. While money continues to be an overarching concern for both orchestra management and musicians, there are no systematic data on, for example, the relative weight or importance parties assign to such matters as long-term fiscal planning, endowment management, strategic planning, or income maintenance. Granted, a final negotiated collective bargaining agreement may contain provisions regarding pay increases, benefits coverage, and the like, and through these, express issues important to the parties. But contract language itself cannot convey the depth or range of understanding that parties share. At best, contracts represent compromise language rather than a definitive gauge of parties’ closeness or distance on a given issue. Furthermore, a contract says nothing about how a party ranked core issues or why it may have misunderstood the importance of a given issue. Research on attitudes about financial stewardship, endowment development, and other money-management-related issues could shed light on fiscal nuances of the collective bargaining process. More importantly, research could aid in understanding how shared and differing beliefs about fiscal health shape parties’ viewpoints.
In another instance, no readily available data describe in detail prebargaining negotiations between management and bargaining teams of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA). Nor do any studies indicate whether final settlements among orchestra bargainers are more easily obtained if some prenegotiation dialogue occurs. Orchestra musicians and their associations, executive directors of orchestras, the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL), and management committees share some information. Little is known, however, about information-sharing between unmatched pairs— between, say, board members of one orchestra and musicians of another. Moreover, no research explores the role of attorneys. Does their involvement chill or thaw orchestra labor negotiations?
Another area needing greater clarification is how much real or imagined influence and/or power ICSOM, ROPA, ASOL, or the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) exercises within local bargaining situations. In the previous issue of this publication, Judy (1995) implied that there may be little justification for involvement of national players’ and management associations in local contract negotiation, beyond providing technical and moral support. Whether parties share this viewpoint, or shun “expert advice” from their national associations because they themselves best understand local circumstances, is unknown. Why do some rank-and-file musicians and union-management negotiating committee members suspect that contract items are imported and dictated by ICSOM, ROPA, AFM, or ASOL? Does affiliation with national associations automatically taint local autonomy as far as contract negotiation is concerned? Systematic research might begin to answer these questions.
The role and scope of miscommunication in negotiations and its consequences on the outcome also need elaboration. Certainly anecdotal information exists about the impact of rumors and organizational grapevines, but no analytical data show if rumors help or harm labor-management relations. Similarly, in instances where parties have used the media to secure negotiating advantage, no studies assess the impacts—positive and negative—of media interaction before, during, and after contract talks.
At the level of the individual musician, both management and labor have common and divergent concerns. Among those shared are: the general health and welfare of the musician, performance quality, and the work environment. Both musicians and management of the New Jersey Symphony, for example, eagerly await the completion of A. Russell Johnson Concert Hall so that, for the first time, musicians will have decent, permanent lockers of their own (Tamburri and Swanson, 1995).
In some areas, however, management and labor differ about what musicians want. To what extent do parties’ needs assessment findings accurately mirror players’ concerns? Are there instances in which parties conduct joint needs assessments? Does this approach garner more or less knowledge than existing methods of assessing player needs and concerns? How widely do parties rely on modern “electronic” communications technologies to track player concerns, and how widely is this information shared among labor, management, and player associations? What is the nature of intraorganizational bargaining (Walton and McKersie, 1991) in player contract ratification? Do musicians defer to their negotiating committees, or must committees, often with management’s help, sell the contract to members for approval? Again, anecdotal information surrounds these matters, but no rigorous case or empirical research studies are available.
Perhaps the least understood dimension of orchestra labor relations is how power and power relations influence the contours, content, and context of contract negotiations and contract administration. How do negotiating parties define power? How do they exercise it? Are certain power dimensions and techniques of power dominance common across orchestras where labor relations and negotiations are concerned? What are they? Do the parties at the orchestra negotiating table possess relatively equal power? Does it matter? Is power residual? Do parties regard power as a zero-sum game? In general, do parties respond consistently across orchestras to real or perceived loss of power? To wit, does the labor relationship accommodate shifting power relationships over time and, if so, do parties modify their behaviors accordingly?
Finally, precious little is known about how parties employ face-saving strategies in orchestra labor relations. Although the collective bargaining literature emphasizes the importance of face-saving in nurturing and sustaining viable labor relations (Rubin and Brown, 1975; Lewicki et al., 1993; Kramer and Messick, 1995), no systematic research tells us how face-saving operates in orchestra labor negotiations and contract administration. For example, do parties use a predictable script to signify that a loss of a contractual provision will not destroy an ongoing relationship after the contract is ratified?
Research Issues Regarding Structure and Strategy
Although research on negotiating parties’ issues in orchestra labor relations is of the utmost importance, research on structure and strategy issues associated with orchestra bargaining is equally important. Indeed, a case may be made that structural or institutional issues override behavioral or procedural concerns,
“Social Structure can be conceptualized as a multidimensional space of social positions among which a population is distributed. This conception takes multigroup affiliations into account, and it also implies that opportunities for ingroup and intergroup relations depend on conditions in the social structure, for proximity in social space, just as physical proximity, makes social relations more likely.”
Peter M. Blau
Structural Contexts of Opportunities, 1994
and perhaps even dictate their nature. In this respect, it may be possible to talk about two structures: on one hand, the structure of the bureaucracy known as the symphony orchestra association, and on the other, the structure of the collective bargaining process.
Abundant information outlines how symphony orchestras are organized structurally. For example, ASOL periodically publishes information about member orchestras and their composition. What is not as well known is how the structure impedes or facilitates labor-management cooperation. Thanks to the work of Hart (1973) and others, much is known about the American symphony orchestra’s historical development as an institutional form. However, the kind of work Hart began needs to be updated. There may be merit, for example, in systematically exploring the bureaucratization of orchestras. Has the increase in orchestra staffs reduced or expanded interaction between musicians and management? Has the voluntary nature of orchestra associations—that is, board members’ key role in orchestra governance—changed with paid staff? Structurally, do orchestra associations rigidify over time? Under what conditions have orchestra associations radically altered their structure?
Judy (1995) argues that American orchestra organizations are unique. It is not clear, however, whether the characteristics that set orchestras apart from for-profit and other nonprofit organizations represent fundamental or surface differences. Orchestras and auto factories both possess contract bargaining committees; in this narrow respect, they are similar rather than unique. To firmly establish “uniqueness” will require considerable field research comparing orchestras with other organizations along a range of organizational dimensions (structure, values, authority lines, locus of power, and organizational ecology, to name a few).
Similarly, the degree to which executive directors of orchestras import their conductors’ command structures into their day-to-day management practices merits attention. While few modern conductors would be classified as dictators, the tradition of strong, authoritarian conductors has played a role in the development of the American symphony. Reiner did not build the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on democratic principles. Ironically, the excesses of authoritarian conductors contributed significantly to the development of orchestra unionization. Insofar as the control of administrative and other nonartistic matters usually rests not with the conductor, but with the executive or managing director, issues of leadership style, management training, and sensitivity to nuance in contemporary human resource practices also warrant study. For example, no available studies identify key success factors in orchestra management, and compare them with factors in the private sector. Simply put, there is a dearth of available information about day-to-day management issues across the orchestra spectrum. The same is true for orchestra union-related structural and administrative issues. To gain a better understanding of the latter, researchers may need to adopt as lenses of analysis paradigms from sociology, social psychology, institutional economics, and game theory.
For example, the sociological literature and work of Peter M. Blau could provide a useful analytical framework. In a very thoughtful work on the structural contexts of opportunities, Blau (1994) reminds us that organizational forms do not appear out of thin air, but are the result of historical antecedents. A professor and sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Blau has championed the study of organizational structure and of structural analysis as a method of social inquiry. His books include: Dynamics of Bureaucracy (1955), Bureaucracy in Modern Society (1956), Exchange and Power in Social Life (1964), Structure of Organizations (1971), and, with Joseph E. Schwartz, Inequality and Heterogeneity (1977). By emphasizing structural analysis, Blau avoids the array of psychological theorizing that may or may not prove useful to practitioners. His overreaching concern is how structures influence the people within them and their range of choices.
The “structure” of an organization refers to the way its subsystems are organized. Subsystems include divisions, departments, offices, sections, and individuals. With the exception of individuals, all subsystems are essentially suborganizations with their own roles and specific functions. They are all differentiated and yet work more or less together to achieve the organization’s goals. A formal designation of offices and statuses, the configuration of which can be depicted in an organizational chart, holds the subsystems together (Blau, 1956; Kuhn, 1975; Miller and Form, 1980). In simple terms, an organization’s history, values, technology and technological change, organizational goals, and organizational complex shape its structure. The individual certainly plays a role in shaping organizational structure, but the organization’s goals and operational context determine that role.
Take, for example, the structure of a modern U.S. symphony orchestra. One of the enduring appeals of the symphony orchestra in performances is the specter of dozens of performers responding to the conductor’s commands. In performance, the symphony orchestra is captive both to the work being performed and the interpretation and direction the conductor lends it. Except as called for in a composition, players are not free to play what they will, sit where they will, or do what they will; they follow the dictates of the composition and conductor. In this way, the structure is essentially predetermined. Social relations between musicians, between musicians and audience, among the conductor, the union, the players’ committee, the executive director, and the management staff are also shaped by the organizational structure. This is not to say that personal relationships do not exist inside and outside the orchestra. The conductor and the tuba player may be longstanding friends. But their status and roles in the symphony organization require that the tuba player follow the performance orders of the conductor even if he does not wish to.
Collective bargaining represents an institutional arrangement for controlling, to a degree, musicians’ interactions with the conductor, management staff, board, and others involved in the production of their product, the music. From the perspective of organizational structure, collective bargaining is a suborganization within the larger symphony organization. It serves as musicians’ institutional agent, through which they exercise countervailing power and gain a collective voice they lack as individual organizational subordinates. Musicians do not become organizational subordinates through managerial callousness (although historically, some conductors and managers have been ruthless), but as a consequence of structural designs rooted in history and tradition. Blau would suggest that, if greater opportunities for musicians’ participation in orchestra governance as equals are to occur, attention must be paid to liberating the structure from its historical anchors without tearing it apart.
For Blau, the structural context of opportunities is a theoretical construct. Blau’s ideas remind us that what happens at the bargaining table results from influences—within and outside the orchestra labor relations structure—which shape parties’ responses. These influences include the age and health of musicians; the degree of mutual trust between players and management; parties’ previous collective bargaining experiences; the orchestra’s financial state; and the pattern and extent of support from donors, subscribers, and patrons.
Judy (1995, 17) adroitly observes that symphony orchestra organizations are “homophylic”: “. . . they consist of a group of people with strongly similar interests and beliefs who initiate and perpetuate an association.” While it is tempting to explore the psychological dimensions of association, Blau’s model implies that association is more the product of the structural context than of individual strivings or impulses.
How is Blau’s thinking relevant to the field of orchestra labor relations in general, and to providing curative guidance to those involved in symphony labor relations in particular? Blau’s structural framework directs attention away from personalities in labor relations. By applying Blau’s conceptual model to orchestra labor relations, the predilections of individual orchestra managers or musicians become less important in determining the contours of the relationship than structural limitations and organizational architecture.
This is not to say that individual actors do not matter. They do. But their actions are proscribed by the structure. For example, if parties facing budget shortfalls would ask how the current forecasting, financial planning, and capital development systems have failed them, rather than assigning blame to individuals, creative problem-solving could probably be achieved. Looking at how the collective bargaining structure, rather than personalities, shapes outcomes, it might be possible to systematically explore parties’ entrapment in their own organizational configurations. A question worth asking is: does the current structural context of orchestra labor relations generally circumscribe opportunities for reorienting and reshaping the relationships between musicians, musicians and management, musicians and their union, and management and orchestra boards? Even if bargaining parties genuinely desire to conduct negotiations differently, can they achieve greater communication, mutual understanding, and trust without reconfiguring the bargaining structure?
According to Blau, new organizational structures which enrich and enhance our lives are possible when we take steps to “reorient our thinking” (1994, 207). His framework reminds us that symphony orchestra organizations must be understood as structures consisting of subsystems with distinct identities, functions, and histories; subsystems which sometimes collide with other subsystems to create gridlock. Without this understanding, parties involved in collective bargaining, human resources management, strategic planning, and other core activities may develop action strategies that further heighten organizational tensions. In a word, structures matter and parties cannot ignore them. Structures can be changed—and changed for the better; but only to the degree to which they are fully understood in the first place.
Research on orchestra negotiations and strategy has yet to emerge. While Kochan, McKersie, and Cappelli (1984), Cooke and Meyer (1990), and more recently, Cutcher-Gershenfeld, McKersie, and Walton (1995) have addressed the dynamics of strategy in the labor negotiation process, only anecdotal information exists about the nature, form, and content of orchestra labor-relations strategy. Research is needed, for example, on how external and structural constraints affect strategic choice in orchestra bargaining. How does bargaining change, for instance, in the face of a bankruptcy filing? Under such circumstances, do parties believe they have genuine strategic options? How have severe reductions in public support for the arts affected opportunities for joint strategizing by labor and management? How do parties separate their individual and joint bread-and-butter bargaining issues from crucial strategic bargaining issues? Does negotiating strategic issues first rather than last (or vice versa) sway issues of mutual concern, or what Walton and McKersie (1991) call “integrative bargaining” issues? What are the strategic areas of interdependency?
The terms “labor” and “management” have been used throughout this paper. In an age of increasing employee involvement, these terms may no longer capture the evolving collaborative nature of employment relationships. Indeed, it is unclear what impact these terms have on the mindsets of parties, or whether musicians consider themselves part of the American labor movement. Similarly, no research indicates if executive directors would rather be called “team leaders” or, say, “organizational effectiveness engineers.” For now, the terms “labor,” “management,” “union,” “contract,” “strike,” and “lockout” are all we have to describe the collective bargaining process. Other terms may be more effective.
Does Orchestra Labor Relations Research Add Value?
The symphony orchestra remains a powerful cultural and artistic icon in the United States. It owes its huge appeal to the many people who perform and conduct the music, manage the day-to-day affairs, provide administrative governance and financial support, and attend performances.
In terms of governance and human resource structures, the vitality and variety of symphony orchestras in this country also owe much to the institution of collective bargaining. The record of successful orchestra labor relations rests not with the researcher or policy analyst, but with the men and women who, facing each other across a bargaining table, hammer out a collective bargaining agreement. Despite the tremendous technological advances of postindustrial society, collective bargaining remains highly personalized. It is human beings, not machines, instruments, or computers, who make deals. Parties involved in orchestra labor relations are intertwined, for good or ill, in a process that is often untidy and unseemly, frustrating and exhilarating, and ultimately, theirs alone.
Of what value is orchestra labor relations research? Research is important and necessary in any field of activity. As part of the nonprofit community, American orchestras have not enjoyed the same degree of scrutiny and systematic study as for-profit organizations. This situation is rapidly changing as nonprofit organizations adopt more private-sector practices, and as erosion of government and private support forces orchestras into difficult choices. Increasingly, managers, board members, employees, and others want useful, relevant data with which to gauge decisions. Certainly, research is preferable to guesswork.
In carrying out their mandates to provide a cost-effective product to the widest possible audience, few orchestras have the luxury of ignoring market research. On the contrary, many orchestras now regard such research as a key administrative element. Similarly, in the not too distant future, orchestras may look to labor relations research for insights into the best human resource practices, strategic planning, and organizational development. At base, labor-relations research provides a dispassionate critique of the union-management process. Research on orchestra labor-relations policies and practices may cast light on vexing paradoxes and enigmas embedded in the collective bargaining process.
A few orchestras may elect to develop in-house expertise in labor-relations research issues. Most orchestras rely on whatever information is available. ASOL, ICSOM, ROPA, and AFM will no doubt also continue to generate research, and may expand their research capabilities. Perhaps labor and management will jointly sponsor research on orchestra labor-relations issues. At the present time, however, research in orchestra labor relations holds more questions than answers. Perhaps the university community is best able to fill the void. If so, academic researchers will need greater access to union and management practitioners, records, archives, and rank-and-file staffers and union members for field as well as empirical research.
Whether research on orchestra labor relations will ultimately make a difference or add new insights is debatable. Less debatably, few leading organizations in the private sector risk their organizational fortunes on anecdotal information. If nothing else, research on orchestra labor negotiations may provide the last best hope for helping negotiating parties discover new policies, practices, and strategies, and, ultimately, achieve a shared objective: the survival of the American symphony.
1 Michael Moskow (1969) wrote a survey of unions and negotiations covering the performing arts. His work has not been replicated and has suffered the ravages of time. Two years later, Arian (1971) devoted a chapter in his study of The Philadelphia Orchestra to labor-relations issues. Arian’s analysis focuses entirely on Philadelphia and on financial and behavioral issues, without much reference to social-process concerns. Hart (1973) provides a cogent overview of the AFM’s and, later, ICSOM’s and ROPA’s roles in orchestra labor relations in his magisterial study of the American orchestra. Hart’s work remains the definitive study of American orchestras and their inner workings; it merits updating. Gorman (1978, 1984) touches tangentially on orchestra labor relations in his examination of the AFM’s efforts to garner a share of recording-industry income for musicians. The same is true for Seltzer (1989) in his sympathetic study of the struggles of the AFM to represent its members. Neither Gorman nor Seltzer provides much in the way of labor-management comparisons.
Everette J. Freeman is an assistant professor of labor and human resource policy at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. He holds a B.A. degree from Antioch College, an M.A. from the University of Illinois, and an Ed.D. from Rutgers University.
The Symphony Orchestra Institute’s research program was initiated in October, 1995. A request for proposals, widely distributed at that time, outlined the availability of two $10,000 doctoral research fellowships and of general funds to support other scholarly research studies of symphony orchestra organizations.
We received a number of applications for each program. No application for general research support was deemed to be sufficiently central to the Institute’s mission and special interests to be funded. However, two of the doctoral fellowship proposals prompted keen interest and were accepted. The Institute recently announced awards to John Breda and Arthur Brooks.
John Breda is a fourth-year student at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Over the coming months, he intends to collect and analyze comparative data about the psychological stress which symphony orchestra musicians experience in their work. He will use data stratification to complete a comparative analysis across various groups within the symphony orchestra. He also intends to compare data from other professions—gathered through surveys and existing control-group samples—with the information collected from symphony orchestra musicians. The study is designed to learn more about the interaction between symphony orchestra musicians and their workplaces.
Mr. Breda holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education performance from the New England Conservatory of Music. He was bass/utility clarinetist with the Oregon Symphony from 1982 to 1989. He then turned his attention to medicine and worked in medical research at Harvard University from 1989 to 1991. He was the 1992 recipient of the Betty Lea Stone American Cancer Society research fellowship.
He anticipates receiving a Doctor of Medicine degree in June, 1996. As part of completing his degree requirements, Mr. Breda will carry out his research under the guidance of Leonard A. Doerfler, Ph.D., adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester.
To maintain contact with the musical world, Mr. Breda has continued to perform and to build woodwind instruments when time permits. He is married and lives in Needham, Massachusetts.
Arthur Brooks is a first-year doctoral student in economics at Cornell University. He intends to complete an empirical study of his previous theoretical work on the demand side of “Baumol’s cost disease” — a phenomenon which afflicts symphony orchestra organizations through the tendency of costs to rise faster than revenues. His theoretical research is currently being reviewed for professional publication.
Mr. Brooks holds a B.A. degree from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey and an M.A. degree from Florida Atlantic University, both in economics. He is a French hornist who has played professionally with various ensembles, including the Annapolis Brass. He has also performed in summer festivals and as a soloist, as well as serving as a professor and performer at the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida.
In the fall of 1996, Mr. Brooks intends to transfer to the RAND Graduate School of Policy Studies in Santa Monica, California, to continue his Ph.D. studies. While at RAND, his faculty advisor will be C. Richard Neu, Associate Dean.
Mr. Brooks is married and lives in Ithaca, New York.
In my work with orchestra conductors on learning to understand their own personalities and leadership styles, I meet hard-working, fascinating, and dedicated people. Among these acquaintances is Marin Alsop, the music
director of my hometown symphony organization, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. She holds the same position with the Eugene Symphony in Oregon, the Long Island Philharmonic, and the Concordia Orchestra, of which she is the founder. She has been named Creative Conductor Chair of the Saint Louis Symphony and also finds time to provide musical leadership for two summer festivals. She attended Yale University and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from The Julliard School.
It has been especially interesting for me to observe her in the Colorado Symphony’s musical leadership role because of the organization’s unique (for America) structure as a cooperative symphony organization. She graciously consented to share her personal views on a range of questions about the role of the music director, particularly within the cooperative organizational structure. We spoke in January, 1996, and what follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Barbara Pollack: Let’s set the scene for our readers. Would you please define music director for me?
Marin Alsop: Music director is a very broad term. The music director is the person who is responsible for the artistic vision of the organization. To me, the music director is the artistic CEO, with different departments under his or her direction. In my opinion, there should be a general business plan and a direction for the organization which is linked directly to the music director and that artistic vision.
Under that, of course, falls the responsibility for the quality of the artistic product. In conducting a concert, the music director is responsible to see that the product has a certain quality. And it trickles down from there. I consider all my musicians, but I put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of my principal players, my managers, to demand a certain level of performance from their sections.
BP: Do you function differently as a music director in the different organizations with which you work?
MA: In every organization except the Colorado Symphony, I do the things I described. However, the Colorado Symphony is a musician participatory orchestra. The musicians compose one-third of the board of directors and they are integrally involved in the management and decision-making process of the organization. The consensus management of this symphony is completely atypical of orchestras in the United States.
My responsibilities to the artistic product of all my symphonies are the same. I try to bring the orchestra to a certain level; to solicit certain avenues for them. But within the Colorado Symphony everyone has basically equal status and no one person can set a vision. My input carries a lot of weight, but as far as voting goes, I literally have one vote. The artistic committee is composed of musicians and membership changes each year. That presents a considerable challenge. I must negotiate and convince and “sell” my vision to the majority which can be both extremely challenging and very time consuming.
Let me give you an example. Programming is the backbone of an artistic organization because it defines your profile to the public and sets you apart from every other organization. All of the organizations with which
I work, except the Colorado, have very distinct and unique profiles and I am comfortable that they are well suited to the communities in which they are located. In planning programs, I, of course, consult with the management team about budgets, soloists, and whether things fit with what they have in mind. But ultimately, I have complete authority. With the Colorado, the process is completely different.
BP: Can you explain the reasons why the process works differently?
MA: I think the main factor is the structure of the organization. As you know, the Colorado Symphony is functioning with a relatively new, cooperative organizational structure and we are all trying to learn to make it work. When everyone is equalized, everyone is an expert. The musicians really are experts, but in my opinion, they are not quite experts in music directorship. Every musician has a vision of what he or she would like the orchestra to be and every vision is different. So where does one draw the line? Do we finally say we can’t create a profile by committee? The picture to me often seems random.
BP: Despite your obvious frustrations, you have been music director of the Colorado Symphony for three years, so there must be some elements of the cooperative orchestra structure which interest you.
MA: I think that there are tremendous advantages in having the musicians involved. They feel much more rewarded through their involvement and I sense a vitality in their participation. The quality of the orchestra is our greatest selling point. The Colorado Symphony is an excellent instrument and I see where it could be in 10 years. However, I think that there is an evolution which must occur. Rather than micromanaging every program, we all need to start looking at the bigger picture and discussing where we want to be in five years rather than continually dealing with next week. I would like to think that the organization is moving in that direction.
BP: Do outside factors, such as the size of the community and the influence of the board and others affect the way you function as music director in different organizations?
MA: Definitely. Eugene, Oregon (and I have just returned from there) is a community that places the arts at the very top of the pyramid of values. It is a community of about 120,000 people and has a 2,600- seat concert hall—the same size as Boettcher in Denver. In Eugene, the hall is sold out every time I perform. The community is known as a sports community, but they also have a tremendous interest in culture. When I walked in seven years ago, it was as though someone had poured gasoline all over the floor and all I needed to do was light a match to set it on fire!
The Eugene Symphony follows a traditional orchestra structure and the board is devoted. They attend meetings and concerts and they ask me questions. They really want to be involved and want to understand. They have enabled me to do projects that I couldn’t even envision doing anywhere else. A percentage of the budget is permanently dedicated to research and development which gives us the chance to try something new every year.
And I have the same feelings about the community which supports the Colorado Symphony. I have the same feeling in the concert hall as I had when I arrived in Eugene. People are excited, they’re interested, they’re intrigued, they’re alive. The greatest difference I see is in the structure of the orchestra itself.
BP: So how do these differences in organizational structures and communities fit with your own management style?
MA: I think I am very reasonable. I enjoy input. I like the dialogue process and being forced to think about my plan several times because it enables me to be far more convincing and far more committed. I also think I am a good negotiator. However, ultimately, I want to have the freedom to make some mistakes and take full responsibility for them.
BP: Leadership is another theme that is of great interest to the Symphony Orchestra Institute. So take off your “music director” hat for a moment and put on the one which says “conductor.” Are any of these skills which you have described—working with a variety of people in a variety of situations—ones which you learned in your preparation to become a conductor?
MA: Oh no! Of course not! If one has a good conducting education, one learns how to analyze scores and do the physical gestures of conducting so they reflect the music. But education in conducting does not really include the dynamics of one person dealing with a large group of people. And I certainly never had a course in how to spend rehearsal time with musicians. I am dying to teach such a course to young conductors!
BP: If you could design the curriculum for a conductor training program, what would you include?
MA: I would include structural things such as analysis, score reading, orchestration, and the physical gesturing of conducting. And I would also include techniques of how to speak to an orchestra and how to react. These are very important, because if you waste the musicians’ time you will not be a successful conductor. The musicians will not like you and they will not do their best.
My curriculum would also include educating conductors about things that take place off the podium. And I am wearing both hats now—conductor and music director. I would include courses to help understand how businesses are run, or should be run. Not that we need to be experts, but I think we do need to have a grasp of fund raising and marketing. We need to understand that we can provide inspiration to the development and marketing people because they are often not musicians themselves. It is hard to market a Brahms symphony if you are not really sure what one is!
BP: Let’s expand upon the collaborative relationship between conductor and orchestra. What does a conductor do to foster that relationship?
MA: When you are a conductor it is as though you are in the focus of the Hubble telescope. You are in the eye of this enormous magnifying lens and anything you do that is the least bit idiosyncratic becomes a caricature. Let me give you an example from my own experience.
I sometimes like to wear vests. One time, my entire orchestra came in wearing vests. It was hysterical and I think it was done in a loving way. But if you don’t have a sense of humor about yourself, you are dead. Because you are a caricature of yourself when you are standing on that podium. Hundreds of people are staring at you. They are being paid to listen to every single thing you say . . . or at least to endure it. But you need to understand that you have to make it enjoyable for them, knowing how to back off when you are pushing too hard. It is very much like other relationships. It is a building process.
Conductors also need to always remember that if we do not have musicians, no matter how much we wave our arms, no sound is going to come out. It is truly consensus management. Our job as conductors is to get the musicians to be interested, intrigued, and inspired by our commitment to the composer, but we’re not the ones making the sounds. Somehow, by our words and gestures, we are trying to get musicians to play a certain way. That requires complete, total respect for one’s musicians. I think if you have that respect, you will have a collaborative venture.
BP: Describe for me what you consider the ongoing challenges in relationships between conductors and orchestras.
MA: I think the challenges differ depending upon the situation. When it is your own orchestra, it resembles a marriage. There are habitual behaviors that one needs to be wary of as a conductor. You can get into habits of not saying what you really mean, not taking the time to listen carefully, not responding, or responding in a “programmed” way.
In an orchestra with a traditional structure, one generally does not have a lot of personal contact with musicians. I consider them my colleagues and, on a certain level, very good friends. And perhaps that is why I find the cooperative structure a bit awkward.
One is forced to have lots of dialogue with the musicians. And sometimes the dialogue is about topics which are uncomfortable, such as my opinion of an individual’s playing. So I think there is a line of separation—not distance, just mutual respect—that needs to be observed. And that is one of the challenges of an orchestra with a cooperative structure.
BP: But doesn’t the conductor have the final say about the music, no matter what the orchestra’s organizational structure?
MA: Yes. But if you are doing a great job, meaning that you are totally committed and totally convinced and that you have worked terribly hard, the way you are structuring and motivating a piece sweeps up even those who disagree with you. There is no conflict.
I also think that successful conductors need to give the musicians room to do what they do best and not restrict them. For example, if an individual has a solo, you need to listen first before telling the musician what you want. Musicians often have better ideas than I do.
BP: Has working with a variety of symphony orchestras which have different organizational structures made you more self aware?
MA: Working with the Colorado Symphony has given me reason to think about that more than I have in the past. The cooperative organizational structure provides an opportunity to learn and grow because there is so much dialogue and so much interaction on so many levels with so many people. We are all trying to figure out how to build this organization which seems huge. And so many of us have different ideas about direction. One of my personal challenges is to be able to state my feelings about something emphatically, convincingly, and without apology.
BP: When we began this conversation, you likened the music director to an artistic CEO. Are there other ways in which the CEO analogy applies?
MA: I think the running of an orchestra is analogous to the running of a business. Your employees need to feel that they are part of the process, that they are contributing, that they are vital, and that they are irreplaceable. You also must be savvy about your market, knowing how to diversify, but not too much. And, of course, you have to be willing to take responsibility when something goes wrong—regardless of whether it is really your fault.
I do actually think of the orchestra as composed of different managers, each with his or her own department. I try not to micromanage my leaders, but let them run with the ball.
I believe that good management style involves checking in but not staying on anyone’s case. It involves clearly setting your expectations and then letting members of your organization live up to those expectations or exceed them. And you must let them know when they have done well. That is an area in which I am personally trying to improve. I was raised that straight “A” grades were the expectation and no special mention was made when I achieved them. I am trying to break that pattern and actively work to let people know when I think they are doing a good job.
BP: Do you have any final thoughts about music directors and their symphony orchestra organizations?
MA: It is a new age for music directors. The field is completely different from what it was 20 years ago. Music directors must be aware of how the arts, and music in particular, fit into our society—our
dramatically changing society. One has to come prepared to say, “I understand how this is going to work in this community and I am your salesperson.” It is no longer an “Ivory Tower.” Music directors are in the trenches now and had better be willing to take out the garbage if necessary. Our job is to do whatever is necessary to get our message across.
Barbara Pollack is president of Pollack Communication Associates in Denver, Colorado. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University.
In his essay on the uniqueness and commonality of American symphony orchestra organizations published in the inaugural issue of Harmony, Paul Judy acknowledged that he was not familiar with the origin of the title “music director,” nor with the duties associated with this title over time. He invited readers to provide some insight.
The following is excerpted from a letter we received from Robert F. Schmalz, Ph.D., Girard Professor of Music at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. We hope Dr. Schmalz will amplify his comments on a future occasion and that we will hear from others as well. –Editor
Perhaps I can shed a bit of light on the the title “music director.” It would appear to have originated in Germany and was initially intended to be purely honorary. This title was bestowed on three early occasions by Prussian rulers to conduc- tors of Berlin’s Royal Orchestra—to Spontini in 1820; Meyerbeer in 1842; and Mendelssohn in 1843.
The first conductor in America to hold the title was Dr. Karl Muck, who served as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1906-1908 and again from 1912-1917. In the interim, he was conductor of the Berlin Royal Orchestra, during which time the Kaiser, recognizing Muck’s eminence in the field, awarded him the title, “General Music Director.” Interestingly, Richard Strauss received that title at the same time.
However, what is much less clear is the answer to the question of when the title began to carry with it duties significantly different from those of a “mere” conductor.
Walter Damrosch referred to himself as “Music Director” of the New York Symphony prior to World War I. As with the German honors, it seems likely that the term was intended to convey a qualitative distinction, although here it seems to have been appropriated rather than bestowed! Toscanini, too, was briefly referred to as “General Music Director” of the New York Philharmonic in the early 1930s—the precise terminology used earlier as an honorific by the Ger- mans! However, in neither case were clear distinctions made in the duties to be performed by Damrosch and Toscanini as “music directors” and Damrosch and Toscanini as “conductors.”
Upon Toscanini’s return to the United States in 1937, he was given the title of “Music Director” of the NBC Symphony, a radio orchestra which was created specifically for him. Here, finally, was a case in which practical distinctions between conductor and music director were implied. Those distinctions were apparently established by 1943, when The New York Philharmonic gave the title to Artur Rodzinski. This noted “trainer of orchestras” was expected to pro- vide the organization with the strong leadership, which was missing after two years of guest conductors.
Howard Shanet’s book, Philharmonic: A History of New York’s Orchestra, pro- vides the most cogent assessment that I have yet found for the modern (and seemingly American) use of this title. It is clear from Shanet’s discription that the Philharmonic tied to the title a rather specific set of responsibilities and expectations—not the least of which, in my opinion, was a desire for stability. To be sure, there remained some of the pure honor associated with the original, but we Americans tend to be a practical lot. We want something concrete for our money!
Various “economic” issues—costs, accumulated deficits, indebtedness, sur- pluses, earned and contributed income, fund raising, community wealth, government support—pervade discussions about symphony orchestra organizations. Indeed, the very “work” of symphony orchestra organizations— clearly an economic notion—is changing as each responds to the needs of its community. The economic implications of how a symphony orchestra operates and how it is integrated into an overall support organization has been a central concern of the Institute since its inception.
Thirty years ago, William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen, then professors at Princeton University, coauthored Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma (1966). The book provided a comprehensive, historical review of the economics of various performing arts institutions, including symphony organizations. Since little statistical information was publicly available at the time, the task of data collection and analysis was monumental. In his foreword, the study’s publisher, August Hecksher, Director of the Twentieth Century Fund, noted the study’s “somber” implications. For students of symphony orchestra economics, “Baumol and Bowen” is a basic text.
Professor Baumol’s interest in cultural economics has continued through the years and he kindly consented to address a series of questions about the basic economics of symphony orchestra organizations and specifically “Baumol’s cost disease.” Below is a transcript of those questions and answers. –Editor
Institute: Your and Bill Bowen’s insights 30 years ago into the economic dilemma facing performing arts organizations are often referred to as “seminal.” You coined the phrase “income gap,” and the notion behind this phrase was later referred to as “Baumol’s cost disease.” Do you have mixed emotions about being noted for a disease?
William J. Baumol: I am happy to have my name affixed to a disease, particularly since I believe it can be made benign once its nature is widely understood.
Institute: To have all our readers on the same page, how would you today describe the basic economic insight referred to by “Baumol’s cost disease”?
WJB: The “cost disease” is named after its symptom. Any economic activity Institute: Is it possible, in your judgment, that a modern symphony orchestra organization can find and sustain above average productivity and value creation through more careful human resource allocation and more committed and engaged organizational effort, sufficient to offset the “zero productivity” fundamentally inherent in concert performances?
WJB: Of course, modern symphony orchestra organizations can find ways to increase productivity. But they are severely limited and so long as they fall behind the productivity growth rate of activities such as telecommunications and computer manufacture, they will continue to be infected by cost disease.
Institute: To what degree can and do nonprofit performing arts organizations in America—with no or little tax-based financial support from government—remedy (offset) their “cost-disease-based productivity lag” by relatively high growth rates in ticket prices and in annual and endowed charitable support? Is this perhaps a strategy which has kept many symphony orchestra organizations alive? Is this perhaps a central issue in many communities and one which raises a question about the viability of many local orchestra organizations? In a free market economy, is organizational death the natural ultimate theoretical result of “cost disease,” or not?
WJB: This is something I cannot answer because it involves foretelling the future. However, current trends in support of the arts and prospects for tax laws and other incentives for giving are not encouraging. I hope that will change, but I can claim no expertise on the subject.
Institute: Thank you, Professor Baumol. Your responses are very sobering and indicate clearly that symphony orchestra organizations have quite a challenge in fighting your disease!
William J. Baumol is a professor of economics and Director of the C. V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University. He was a professor of economics at Princeton University from 1949-1992. He holds a B.S.S. degree from the College of the City of New York and a Ph.D. from the University of London.
Baumol, William J., and William G. Bowen. 1966. Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma. New York: The Twentieth Century Fund
Harmony is published as a forum for the exchange of ideas and insights about symphony orchestra organizations. As noted in the inaugural issue, there is a relative paucity of printed expression about the dynamics of these interesting organizations. However, some penetrating views—and exchanges of views—are part of the printed record and are as thought-provoking today as when first published. For younger musicians, professional and conducting staff employees, and board members who are relatively new to their duties, a first-time reading of these historical insights should be especially illuminating. For old-time managers, musicians, conductors, board members, and other volunteers who are familiar with our selections, we believe that, like classical music, enduring value generates new enlightenment with each reading.
To initiate this republishing policy, we present a summary of the great coast-to- coast debate initiated in mid-1987 by Ernest Fleischmann, then (and still) the Managing Director of The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Samuel Lipman, the editor of The New Criterion and now deceased, challenged Fleischmann’s views, and the debate was on, soon to be joined by Thomas Morris, then (and still) the Executive Director of The Cleveland Orchestra. The debate concluded with a symposium on symphony organizational issues held in Cleveland in early 1989, as reported a few months later in Symphony. We have organized into about 15 minutes of reading the essence of this exciting 20-month exchange of creative thought about symphony orchestra organizational issues. We hope each reader will find this summary entertaining as well as educational.
We are also pleased to add the contemporary commentary of two of the three primary participants—Messrs. Fleischmann and Morris.
Fleischmann’s Community of Musicians
It was in 1987, just nine years ago this spring, that Ernest Fleischmann, Managing Director of The Los Angeles Philharmonic, concluded his commencement address to graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Music with the following exhortation:
As . . . graduates . . . who have worked so long, so hard and so well [and] who deserve the warmest congratulations of all of us present here today, as you prepare to enter this demanding, perplexing, enticing and voluptuous mistress of a profession that is part craft, part art, part sport, part magic, as you contemplate your musical future with what I trust is profound seriousness, I really need to ask you to commit a crime. I want you to become arsonists, yes, arsonists, to join me and lots of musicians, administrators and trustees in setting the symphony orchestra ablaze. If the music we care about so deeply is to survive, we must accept that the orchestra is burnt out, but from its ashes something infinitely richer, more varied, more satisfying can arise if we all work together to create it—ladies and gentlemen, the symphony orchestra is dead—long live the Community of Musicians.
Early in his speech, Fleischmann observed:
. . . in the United States, for a long time, musicians held their orchestral positions at the whim of a dictatorial music director, even though some of these dictators . . . were magnificent conductors. Then, too, with the rise in importance and power of the Musicians Union, the AF of M, orchestral managements increasingly locked horns with musicians and in many places were faced with unfortunate “them and us” situations. For the musicians, life even in some of the great orchestras became increasingly frustrating: repetitive or boring repertoire, loss of musical identity, particularly for string players, incompetent conductors, bad halls, not enough money, much stress. No life for a real musician this, with little opportunity to develop as an artist, let alone as a human being.
Dissatisfaction, frustration, antagonism, boredom—all these still exist among musicians in orchestras everywhere . . ..
. . . there is an acute shortage of conductors who . . . are inspiring leaders, and there is just as great a shortage of administrators who possess artistic vision and imagination, as well as fiscal responsibility and sharp negotiating skills.
. . . tradition and pride alone do not make for a full musical life in the long run. They, too, tend to get eroded by repetition, boredom, lack of challenge and lack of opportunity for self-expression.
. . . with some measure of thoughtfulness and a large amount of goodwill on the part of musicians, managements, unions, boards of trustees and government agencies, we can make life in orchestras truly stimulating and fulfilling for the musicians and richly rewarding for our audiences. But . . . we need to shed some of the traditionally accepted notions about the shape, the structure of orchestras, their schedules, their duties . . . . . . what we need is a new structure; a structure that will allow for the committed involvement of everyone concerned with our musical progress: musicians, conductors, composers, administrators, trustees and even politicians. It’s a structure that will instill a new sense of pride and fulfillment in musicians, and will bring renewed artistic, spiritual and educational rewards to our audience-constituency.
Fleischmann then described his “Community of Musicians”:
. . . what can we do to make a life in music more fulfilling, more stimulating for the talented musician in order to attract her or him to a symphony orchestra, and at the same time provide a more valuable, interesting and exciting musical service to our audiences? I think there are ways of doing this—and they begin by developing the rather rigid structure of the traditional symphony orchestra and turning it into a more flexible Community of Musicians.
Fleischmann’s Community of Musicians would consist of 140-150 players which would include very much enlarged string sections and somewhat enlarged brass, woodwind, and timpani/percussion sections. The Community would often be the result of combining now separate musical ensembles operating in a metropolitan area, as opposed to the singular expansion of the area’s central symphony orchestra. The Community would have an “expert” administrative group, the costs of which would be less than the aggregate administrative costs of the combined organizations.
The “golden pond” of musicians would be drawn upon to provide a wide range of musical services (symphony repertoire; opera and ballet; and chamber music) executing exciting, diverse programs widely throughout the community, along with an equally broad range of audience development and educational services for all ages, which would provide teaching as well as performing opportunities for musicians. Proportionally greater time would be given to rehearsals vs. performances to ensure presentations of the highest quality. Central music direction would be in the hands of a music director who would have the assistance of specialists, particularly for new music and chamber repertoire. And ethnic, folk, jazz, and other popular music would be integrated into the Community’s programming. The Community would be able to “perform a quality and range of cultural and educational services for our audiences that the traditional symphony orchestra is just not able to achieve,” said Fleischmann.
One wonders if the Cleveland Institute’s faculty, as they listened intently to Fleischmann’s remarks on that May day, were pleased—or horrified—in having just awarded an otherwise much deserved honorary doctorate. The record is not clear. But over the next 21 months, wide ranging discussion of Fleischmann’s views took place, some of which reached the print media.
“It seems to me that the American symphony orchestra as a genus . . . is imperiled on the one hand by its isolation from the people and on the other by its clawing scramble [however critical] for economic parity and/or survival . . . I have had in mind for some years, utopian to be sure, an ideal ‘Musical Arts Society’ which would embrace all musical activities and all areas of performance . . . This association of musicians would stimulate the interest, involvement, and vitality of its participants by a wide range of performance projects (symphony, opera, ballet, oratorio) including, importantly, chamber music and solo repertoire . . . [and] . . . more essentially, it would be associated with wide-ranging educational projects—those serving the interested and gifted amateur no less than the young and intended professional. For it is only by this flow between amateur and professional and student and teacher, that the arts may become a functioning part of human life and society, and professionalism hold its ‘true love’ and integrity . . . This sort of Society of Musical Arts might someday number two hundred or more musicians, for some could be touring while others recorded, played operas, symphonies or recitals, and still others ‘gave’ lessons or ‘conducted’ seminars . . .
so much for Utopia! . . .”
“The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra:
Retrospects and Prospects”
The Atlanta Historical Society Bulletin, 1977
Lipman: The Orchestra is Alive But . . .
A leader in the reaction to Fleischmann’s proposals was Samuel Lipman, founder and publisher of The New Criterion. Although well known as a music critic for some 20 years, Lipman—who died last year—was perhaps better known as a staunch and passionate advocate of “high art” and the continuing need within society to elevate taste through education. In the September, 1987, issue of his journal, in an article entitled “Is the symphony orchestra dead?,” Lipman took issue with Fleischmann, accusing him of complete “utopianism” in arriving at “rather unpleasant proposals” in his “widely circulated” speech.
Lipman rather succinctly and somewhat cynically summarized Fleischmann’s proposals and particularly criticized them for the administrative, as well as the economic, concentration which would be inherent in a “Community of Musicians.” However, although Lipman was vehemently opposed to Fleischmann’s solutions, he implicitly agreed with Fleischmann that symphony orchestra institutions faced serious problems. Lipman attributed these problems primarily to broader societal, cultural, and sociomusicological externalities, but placed the internal organizational problems on the shoulders of poor conductors and merchant administrators.
After summarizing the Fleischmann speech, Lipman commenced his response with a scathingly incisive description of the “plight of serious music” and the impact on symphony orchestra institutions:
There are many elements in this plight: a decline in audience sophistication, at once caused by and resulting in an increased concentration on already-known and crowd-pleasing repertory; the complete failure over the past half century of avant-garde composition, both acoustic and electronic, to win a place in the minds of musicians and in the ears of serious music-lovers; the almost total loss of confidence in the idea that the writing of music is a craft requiring fundamental and structured training; a shortage of new performing celebrities perceived to be of historical importance; the continuing encroachment of academic musicology on the standard repertory, an encroachment (in the manner of the killer bees) now progressing into Beethoven and moving forward in time at the
rate of a decade every five years or so; a management revolution in which administrators are replacing practicing musicians as artistic policy makers; and finally the weakening of any future audience through the inability of our society to prescribe a serious course of education for the young in the humanities, including the study of great music . . . All of these circumstances are now focused on the symphony orchestra, the most successful, visible, and vulnerable of our musical institutions . . ..
Later in his essay, Lipman rather perceptively described some of the internal issues affecting symphony orchestra organizations and their corrosive effect on artistic purpose:
. . . American orchestras are now widely seen to be beset by troubles. Overall, the playing of our best ensembles seems rather less tonally integrated and refined than in the past; in the most rosy assessment, a general gain in reliability has been offset by the tendency for different orchestras to sound alike rather than artistically distinct . . . But the most immediate troubles have been financial, usually triggered by difficult labor negotiations . . . For the large majority of orchestras not as yet in parlous financial straits (though even here high wage costs and restrictive work rules exert strong pressures on balance sheets), profound and nagging questions about artistic purpose can no longer be hidden in the clouds of self- congratulation and local boosterism.
Lipman then returned to the rhetorical question which titled his essay, asking “ . . . is the symphony orchestra dead?” He responded:
. . . is the symphony orchestra dead? The answer to this question must be no. The symphony orchestra is very much alive . . . [but] the fact that [it] is alive and is performing a vital cultural function does not mean that its present condition is either healthy or happy. The problems with orchestral life, and with musical life as a whole, are great. As I have tried to make clear, they stem from internal difficulties in the musical creativity of our time, and from the way the resultant artistic vacuum has been filled by extraneous economic and social forces. The scale of universal public success on which symphony orchestras are expected to operate is too large; the quasi- commercial success they must achieve in order to be perceived as legitimate is unrealistic . . ..
Lipman concluded his essay by suggesting that more musician involvement and greater artistic leadership—as opposed to merchandising skills—would solve the problems of symphony orchestra organizations:
. . . it is time for musicians to take their futures in their own hands, by demanding that conductors be chosen for their musical skills rather than for their European celebrity status. They must also take seriously the problem of contemporary composition; this can only be done by performers demanding new music that they, as musicians, can love. There is nothing wrong with musical life that serious conductors in charge of great orchestras, playing new compositions of permanent value, cannot cure. In any case, there is little likelihood that our salvation will come from administrators whose skills lie entirely in the merchandising of that which has already become famous somewhere else.
Henahan: A Sickness Unto Death
On the heels of Lipman’s essay, Donal Henahan, in the Sunday, September 13, 2019, issue of The New York Times, added his own insights into the organizational issues confronting symphony orchestra institutions:
What we are seeing is an acceleration of a trend that has been going on for a generation in orchestral life. It is a rare conductor of any status today who cannot hold several posts simultaneously . . . The result of such time-sharing is that orchestras can claim celebrated conductors as their own without having to pay the price of exclusivity, which few modern-day conductors would agree to, in any case.
He then paid tribute to the leadership genius of George Szell:
George Szell could have handled the complexities of the Apollo space program . . . [but] the day of the super maestro has gone . . . but the reason has less to do with administrative complexity than with the triumph of labor unionism, which has diminished the autocratic conductor’s hiring and firing power.
He then noted in detail some key organizational issues:
Beyond the reality of time-sharing conductors, a more significant splintering of the orchestra has been taking place in recent decades, an unexpected result of the musicians’ own success in attaining job stability. As [orchestras have] achieved or approached the ideal of 52- week employment, year-around audiences have had to be found, a search that has often filled the musician’s time with routine, artistically shallow or otherwise frustrating activity . . . Partly to offset the debilitating boredom of a life largely given over to repetitious rehearsal and performance of feeble or too-familiar music, orchestras have been trying to branch out into chamber music, recitals, and special-interest programs . . ..
Henahan then carried forward a Lipman theme:
Still, many observers of the orchestra, including some players . . . continue to detect a malaise in the institution. Many critics, especially . . . composers and performers of new music, diagnose the trouble as a sickness unto death . . . [arts administrators] have sold the American public on the need for quantity in music rather than quality, on the necessity for glamour at the podium and on the crippling belief that music is a product that must be promoted, advertised, and devoured like so much fast food.
Henehan then concluded:
Orchestras would be better off . . . to do what they have always done best and trust that an audience for that best continues to exist.
The Fleischmann and Lipman Exchange
Within a few months, Fleischmann wrote a letter to The New Criterion taking Lipman to task for the high-minded “surprising naiveté” expressed in his essay. After responding element-by-element to Lipman’s criticisms of his ideas and proposals, Fleischmann ended his letter with a succinct restatement of the need to change the form and structure of symphony orchestra organizations:
My working contacts with countless musicians over some four decades have convinced me that most of them are unable to realize their full potential as artists within the rigid structure of the conventional symphony orchestra . . . it is [also] obvious that the institution of the orchestra—whether we like it or not, is an institution that wields a certain amount of influence, even power, in our musical life—is not always able to fulfill its responsibilities to its audience or indeed to the art of music within its present structure and form of operation.
Fleischmann’s letter was published in the December, 1987, issue of The New Criterion along with an acerbic reply by Lipman. The intellectual machismo of each participant was emerging by this stage. But sorting through Lipman’s counterresponse, his main points were that musicians are not adequately involved in the selection of music directors and conductors, or programming decisions, especially of new music, and that symphony organizations have become “large bureaucracies . . . amassing staffs, raising money, and inflating budgets—and keeping the world of large orchestral management within their own tight little circle.”
Morris: Strong and Enlightened Leadership Is the Solution
In January, 1988, Time magazine presented its journalistic analysis of the “economic and spiritual” crisis besetting U. S. orchestras (and opera companies). Months then passed during which debate continued “all over the world,” in the words of Thomas Morris, executive director of The Cleveland Symphony, in a speech given in September of that year at Case Western Reserve University. Morris prepared an article published in Symphony in early 1989, which was adapted from his earlier speech.
In a few words and with historical references, Morris confirmed that “symptoms of ill-health abound” in symphony orchestra organizations and that he shared Fleischmann’s “concern for the health of the patient.” But, Morris expressed grave reservations about the Fleischmann solution to the problems, suggesting that the expanded-scale musical organization proposed by Fleischmann “would lead to increasingly unresponsive and bureaucratic organizations,” would in time acquire an even greater inertia and resistance to change than now exists, would add costs in excess of marginally available earned and contributed income, would face funding pressures which would divert attention from artistic priorities, and generally would be more difficult to fund as mega-organizations than as groups of pluralistically supported organizations, each with its own prideful constituency.
He then supplemented Fleischmann’s diagnosis of organizational ills by emphasizing the significant changes in the leadership of American symphony orchestra organizations which had taken place over the years. He first commented on artistic leadership:
Leadership has become diffused. In contrast with the days when resident, and often absolute, tyrants ran our orchestras—most music directors today spend as little time as possible with their orchestras— sometimes as little as ten weeks a year. How can anyone in an organization exert consistent leadership if he or she is not present? Is it any wonder that management, musicians, or boards must by necessity step into this breach of leadership responsibility?
In the context of this decline in consistent artistic leadership, the organizational response has generally been one of “decisions by default”; management, without explicit authority, assumes greater leadership responsibilities, as do the musicians and board members. In essence, authority and responsibility do not match, leading to an aura of distrust.
Artistic leaders often take responsibility for more than one organization, usually on more than one continent; their residence is often in another locality as commitments become governed by timetables, taxes, exchange rates, and other international career issues. The reasons that Koussevitzky, Ormandy, Haitink, and Szell developed unique musical styles with their respective orchestras are because they were all resident in their respective cities, were present for major portions of the season, and were able to provide not only musical but institutional leadership for their organizations.
Morris then turned to board leadership:
Board leadership has also changed. As financial pressures have intensified, boards are increasingly populated by corporate leaders . . . to assure the community that the business of running an orchestra is being prudently monitored and to expand an orchestra’s fund-raising base . . . [but these board members often] . . . push orchestras further into a short-term bottom-line mentality.
Then, more courageously and knowledgeably than Lipman, Morris—clearly having in mind a major orchestral organization such as Cleveland—proposed, as an alternative to the Fleischmann solution, a “prescription” for working within the traditional structure of orchestral organizations:
◆ Establish and maintain a healthy board or, in his words: The sine qua non of a healthy orchestra is a healthy board. The board represents the community and it must understand the kind of orchestra
it wants, must know what business it is in, and must be prepared to support it. The board must consist of people who understand that the orchestra is in the business of making music at the highest artistic level. Without this, other objectives—full attendance, excited audiences, satisfied musicians—cannot be achieved in the long run.
Management, with its intended images—cop, referee, devil’s advocate, dispassionate analyst, naysayer, pronouncer—connotes controlling and arranging and demeaning and reducing. Leadership connotes unleashing energy, building, freeing, and growing.
Cleveland Symposium: Positions Restated
In February, 1989, on the same Cleveland Institute stage from which he made his provocative speech some 21 months earlier, Ernest Fleischmann was joined by seven other panelists to discuss and debate the problems of orchestral organizations and possible solutions. In addition to Fleischmann, the symposium brought together Samuel Lipman and Thomas Morris, along with four others: Kurt Masur, music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; John Mack, principal oboe of The Cleveland Orchestra; Jack Renner, chairman of Telarc, a recording company; and Richard Clark of Affiliate Artists. Robert Finn, a Cleveland music critic, served as moderator.
Fleischmann opened the debate by reiterating his concern for the fate of the younger orchestral musician:
. . . what is going to happen to this magnificent talent when it . . . has to start the sloggy, depressing road that so many symphony musicians have to take? . . . by the time . . . they enter a great orchestra they’re already terribly disillusioned and have lost this wonderful zest, this wonderful vigor, this freshness, this love for making music.”
He then went on:
We have to make the symphonic experience for our audience more interesting, more stimulating, more alive . . . I do feel by creating a more satisfied artist amongst the musicians we will get a more committed, better projecting orchestra.
After praising Fleischmann “for bringing to the fore [his] deep concern on behalf of all of those who work in this field that there may be some fundamental things wrong and we need to stimulate public debate,” Thomas Morris then reiterated his earlier reservations about Fleischmann’s “Community of Musicians” solution. As outlined in his speech of a few months earlier, Morris felt that the solutions could be achieved within the present organizational structures by “changes in artistic vision and commitment” and more visionary leadership.
Kurt Masur, who was visiting The Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Institute during the week of the symposium, suggested that the Leipzig Gewandhaus was a long established “community” of some 200 musicians which was regularly configured and reconfigured into a wide range of ensembles performing symphonic, choral, new music, chamber (some 13 separate string, wind, and brass ensembles), and authentic instrument concerts to various types of audiences. And Masur is reported to have finished by saying: “. . . every musician can [thereby] play independent[ly from] the stupid conductor.”
Richard Clark, praising Masur’s active involvement in the Leipzig community and Szell’s in Cleveland, noted that American orchestras struggle “to get time commitments from their music directors,” and that “leadership begins with [the] artistic vision” of the music director and that “a board follows a good artistic leader.” As reported in Symphony, Clark then went on to say that the potential for artistic leadership is being eaten away by forces outside a given community, and he condemned a conductor career system which was “dominated by commerce and the commercial managements who, after all, don’t make a dime when a conductor is speaking before a community group or when he’s sleeping and eating—it’s only when he’s on the podium in the high-paid guest shots.”
John Mack, well known and highly respected Cleveland Orchestra oboist, teacher, and mentor was both cautious and optimistic. He did not think that musician disenchantment was widespread and he was not in favor of any self- destructing actions. On a personal note, Mack nodded in the direction of Severance Hall, and expressed his enthusiasm saying, “I can’t wait to get to that rock pile down the street every day.”
In a wrap up of panelist’s views, Samuel Lipman reiterated his oft expressed views that orchestra organizations suffer from the wide impact of social and cultural decay and the “unimaginably wretched situation of new music.” But, internally, he felt that orchestra organizational problems are ultimately the responsibility of boards of directors who hire music directors. These boards and music directors have less time for their responsibilities and less musical commitment to their institutions. In Lipman’s view, this pattern had led to a leadership vacuum which was being filled by administrators who were forced to shoulder more financial and artistic responsibility, and decision-making, than they should be expected to.
In the lively debate which followed, no new ideas about organizational issues or solutions emerged, except it is interesting to note that, addressing Fleischmann’s proposals, Lipman said, “I don’t like his solution . . . but I suspect we might agree on the problem.”
Some Thoughts Nearly 10 Years Later
The Symphony Orchestra Institute asked Ernest Fleischmann and Thomas Morris for retrospectives on the positions they took in 1987-1989, and inquired as to whether their current views had changed. We thank them for their responses.
Some nine years after I first proposed the “Community of Musicians,” the need for restructuring the symphony orchestra seems to me to be greater than ever. While a number of orchestras are tottering on the verge of bankruptcy, or closing down altogether, others are struggling to stay alive without a clear vision of where they may find themselves in 10, or even five years’ time.
My original intention in Cleveland was to point out how the symphony orchestra might provide a well-rounded life for its musicians, while at the same time serving its audience with an expanded range of musical experiences. I proposed that this could be achieved by the merger of a symphony orchestra with a chamber orchestra in those cities where both existed and where both were trying to raise funds from the same constituency. Such mergers, I felt, would also reduce operating costs by combining two administrations, which would result in a certain amount of downsizing.
While there has been a good deal of discussion about this topic, both in the United States and in Europe, until now, nobody has taken the plunge precisely in the manner I outlined. However, largely as a result of present-day economic problems, orchestral problems are very much in the wind. They require some tough personnel decisions and, so far, no one has had the courage to make them, although I believe that within the next few years, both London and Paris will be the scenes of such mergers. In the United States, circumstances are likely to arise in certain situations which will result in takeovers, rather than mergers.
It is a pity that it seems to be necessary to wait for crises to develop before action is taken to remedy a particular problem. In most cases, had there been the vision and the courage to act while the orchestras were able to do so from positions of
strength, the results would probably have been very positive indeed. Now we can only conjecture and hope for the best.
There is, of course, one place where at least preliminary steps have been taken to put the “Community of Musicians” concept in place, and that is Los Angeles. We have neither merged with, nor taken over, an orchestra, but we provide continuing opportunities for our musicians to play in new music ensembles; to perform chamber music and also to play in a chamber orchestra; to take part, often on a one-on-one basis, in education activities. Every season, for at least one or two weeks, the Philharmonic splits into two chamber orchestras with chamber orchestra specialists as directors; our New Music Group and our Chamber Music Society both perform regularly to appreciative audiences; our Composer in the Classroom project can count on the enthusiastic involvement of many of our musicians; and during our chamber orchestra weeks, the results are inevitably gratifying.
What is more, the fact that we have a regular chamber music series, as well as a new music series, has enabled us to undertake lucrative residencies abroad, the first of which will take place this fall when the Philharmonic is in residence at the Théàtre du Châtelet in Paris for symphony concerts, new music concerts, chamber music concerts, and opera performances.
In reviewing the debate which raged nearly 10 years ago, I would make the following additional observations:
If you recognized the music on our cover, you may have felt an involuntary urge to stand, as Americans customarily do during the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. Many of our habits as audience members can be traced back to the earliest days of public concerts.
George Frideric Handel, a clever musician with a keen commercial sense, was arguably the first important composer to adjust his career to suit a changing marketplace. In the 1730s, he switched from writing Italian operas to composing oratorios which were based on well-known biblical subjects and were sung in English—a shrewd attempt to reach a potentially large middle-class British public.
His strategy was right on target, and a succession of oratorios, climaxing with Messiah, scored huge successes in England, making Handel one of the most popular composers who ever lived. He composed Messiah in just 24 days (an impressive feat, and especially so considering that the 56-year-old composer had already suffered a stroke and survived a crippling bout of depression). Almost immediately, Messiah was recognized as his masterpiece.
Messiah was enthusiastically received at its first performance, given at noon on April 13, 2019, in Dublin. The performance was held in a new music hall that had opened the previous year for the presentation of subscription concerts (a concept new at the time). And although Messiah was not immediately loved there, the tradition of standing for the “Hallelujah Chorus” dates from the first London performances in 1743, when King George II was so moved by this magnificent and stirring music that he impulsively rose to his feet. Within a few years, Messiah caught on in London and Handel initiated a series of annual charity concerts there featuring his best-known work. No year has passed since without performances of this great score in the English-speaking lands. (The oratorio’s sphere of influence continues to grow: in 1993 Messiah was translated into Zulu.)
The popularity of Handel’s oratorios in England, followed by that of Haydn’s two great works, The Creation and The Seasons—introduced in the first decade of the 19th century—corresponded to the rise of the public concert and the growth of performing organizations in British cultural life. (Our word “concert” derives from the Latin consortium, for society or participation.) Handel rightly predicted the shift from elite, aristocratic entertainment to charitably funded concert societies designed to appeal to the new middle class.
It is no coincidence that when a group of Boston merchants met in 1815 to found an orchestral and choral organization based on the British model, they called it the Handel & Haydn Society. (One of the Society’s first orchestra members was Gottlieb Graupner, a double bass player who had played in Haydn’s London orchestra for the celebrated Salomon concerts of 1791-92.) The Handel & Haydn Society was in effect the first orchestral organization in the United States and is today the oldest continuously operating performing-arts institution in this country. The Society’s first concert, given on December 25, 2019, included excerpts from Haydn’s Creation and Handel’s Messiah, and ended, not surprisingly, with the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The Leader of the Future
The Symphony Orchestra Institute was formed to help assure the preservation of North American symphony orchestra organizations as unique and valuable cultural institutions. Many—perhaps most—orchestra staff members and volunteers, as well as many
orchestra musicians, are uncertain that symphony orchestras will thrive (or, in some cases, survive) in the next century. While symphony orchestras do now and will in the future face numerous and substantial challenges, those challenges need not become overwhelming, largely because many people who are actively involved with symphony orchestras today exhibit the characteristics and vision described in the essays included in The Leader of the Future, the first book published by The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management and edited by Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Richard Beckhard.
The Drucker Foundation was founded in 1990, to “Help the social sector achieve excellence in performance and build responsible citizenship.” The Leader of the Future is the first book in the planned Drucker Foundation Future Series which is intended to provide the “latest and best thinking in the world on the future of leadership, organization, change and innovation.” It seems entirely appropriate that a book which can provide excellent food for thought for those who are actively engaged in symphony orchestra organizations was created by an organization formed around the principles of Peter Drucker. Drucker was born and raised in Austria and is a genius comparable to the Austrian (by birth or adoption) musical geniuses of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
The essays are essential reading for everyone interested in the health of symphony orchestras, both large and small. Stimulating and insightful contributions were authored by chief executive officers, consultants, academics, and philosophers, as well as by the book’s editors. The 31 essays are grouped in four sections:
◆ “Leading the Organization of the Future” examines the leadership qualities required of those who will guide tomorrow’s organizations.
◆ “Future Leaders in Action” describes the skills which tomorrow’s leaders will need and the strategies they will employ to sustain their organizations.
◆ “Learning to Lead for Tomorrow” focuses on leadership development.
◆ “Executives on the Future of Leadership” includes the reflections of chief executive officers about their experiences, and their views on leaders in the future.
This book has value even for those readers who believe that leaders are born, not made; that leaders should tell, not ask; and that symphony orchestra organizations already have too many staff and volunteer leaders. One contributor describes Albert Einstein as a “management guru,” another offers a recipe for glue, and a third provocatively asserts that leaders should be servants. For those readers who are skeptical about the genius of Peter Drucker, I recommend his four-page foreword, which is, by itself, worth more than the purchase price of the book.
Contributors to the volume define and discuss leaders and leadership in many ways. These definitions and discussions stimulate such questions as:
◆ What kind of leaders do symphony orchestras need?
◆ What kinds of leaders do they have now?
◆ Where can they find or develop the leaders they will need in the future?
◆How many leaders do orchestras need to be successful in the next century?
Additionally, these essays should stimulate discussion about the leadership which symphony orchestra organizations need and should expect from their music directors, their executive directors, their board chairpersons, and the chairpersons of their artistic committees.
As one who feels—as I hope most Harmony readers do—that life without orchestral music is unimaginable, I am grateful for the formation of the Drucker Foundation and publication of The Leader of the Future. Both will provide continuing, significant assistance to all of us who want to improve the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations and enhance the value they provide to their communities.
The Leader of the Future
Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Richard Beckhard, eds. Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 1996. 319 pp. $25.00.
The Leader of the Future
Organizing for the Future
Guidelines for Contributors
Extending the Bibliography
Subscription Plan and Applications