Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
Musician Involvement in Symphony Orchestra Organizations
The Process of Change in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra Organization
On the Path to Serious Organization Change
Organization Change by Paul R. Judy
From a Reader
Book Review by Tom Bachetti
Some New Ways to Think about the Collective Bargaining Process by Tom Bachetti
Symphony Orchestras: How Did We Get Here? Where Are We Going? by S. Frederick Starr
About the Cover…by Phillip Huscher
From its inception, Harmony has been a forum for the exchange of thoughtful views about the dynamics of symphony orchestra organizations. This issue highlights that function. Some readers have suggested that the content of Harmony is so thoughtful that it warrants separate sessions of contemplative reading and reflection. Such an approach may well be suitable for this issue!
We are pleased that this fifth issue of Harmony marks the beginning of the third year of Institute operation, an anniversary which is celebrated in the pages which immediately follow.
Earlier this year, we invited some 60 participants in and observers of North American symphony orchestra organizations to contribute their views on the topic of “musician involvement” in the affairs of their employers—other than through orchestra performance and preparation. More than 20 contributors submitted their thoughts. We have woven these interesting and diverse views into a fabric of insight and opinion, and present the result as the lead article in this issue. We think every reader will identify with many of the people, roles, and views which were forthcoming in this survey.
We then report on an organizational story of some significance. For many years, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra organization experienced ongoing financial and organizational dysfunction. But in 1994, a small group of board, orchestra, and staff members, with professional assistance, agreed upon—and over many months pursued—an intense transformation process. The outcome shifted the organization’s future development to a new and promising path. This transformation process is described in the words of the key participants— Ann Drinan, Dwight Johnson, Jay Lichtmann, Pauline Sardo, Greig Shearer, and Pat Werne—supplemented by the thoughts of the organizational consultant, Paul Boulian.
For presentation at the American Symphony Orchestra League conference in June, I was pleased to assemble a panel of three participants in symphony institutions undergoing significant “organization change.” We have extracted key comments of these participants—Dwight Johnson, Sara Harmelink, and Larry Tamburri—and publish them along with my introductory and closing remarks. We believe the presentations are excellent contributions to the discussion of positive change leading to greater organizational effectiveness, constituency satisfaction, and community value.
The next essay is by Thomas Bacchetti, who combines a review of specific organizational experience with general reflections and recommendations. For those organizations whose leadership is not ready for the commitments of transformative change, there usually is ample room for improvement in orchestra- employer relations. Based on personal experience, and supported by advanced industrial practice and academic theory, Tom outlines his observations on these matters, and reviews and recommends a book he has found quite useful in framing and analyzing orchestra-employer relations and negotiations.
Each article in this and past issues of Harmony emphasizes the significance of the human element in orchestral organizations. This issue’s last essay highlights this perspective and discusses it within a historical context. In the view of S. Frederick Starr, organizations in the symphony “industry” have developed, since the 1960s, along “corporate-philanthropic” lines, with related emphases. Fred sees the need to build a new model, incorporating much greater emphasis on artistic, personal, social, and psychological considerations. He feels symphony organizations should be less concerned with money, structure, and power, and more concerned about people—in our organizations and in our audiences—and about shared musical experience.
The fostering of symphony organizational research is a primary objective of the Institute. Summarized on page 53 are some research efforts the Institute is sponsoring or following with keen interest. We are also pleased to publish the first volume in a Research Studies Series. There is some hint that the symphony organization genre, with all its complexities and uniqueness, is attracting more scholarly interest. As noted, the Institute welcomes inquiries from scholars and practitioners interested in pursuing symphony orchestra organization research.
Every institution which disseminates information is pursuing some form of participation in the Internet. During the past year, while maintaining a simple, one-page Web site, we have been thinking through how we might expand that presence. As noted on the inside of the back cover, we have completed some first-phase construction at the Web site (which you will find at www.soi.org), and will include general information about the Institute, its support, and its programs, along with some content from early issues of Harmony.
In addition, we are making available at the Web site the cumulative bibliography of literature relating to symphony organizations. We have maintained this reference list since it was first compiled for the Institute in 1995. This complete bibliography will be available through the Institute’s home page. The listing will be updated continuously, with new entries earmarked for 90 days. Researchers, libraries, and other centers of learning are encouraged to access and download this bibliography, giving due credit to the Institute as the compiler.
Many readers will likely identify the score from which Phillip Huscher has selected the fragment appearing on the front cover. But how many readers will correctly link this music with an event of some consequence in the history of North American symphony orchestras?
As of our press date, some 54 orchestra organizations had formally committed to support the Institute for 1997, as listed on page 91. We are grateful for this support, with each institution voluntarily determining its monetary contribution, but more importantly, providing moral encouragement to the aims and efforts of the Institute. We hope that 1998 will evidence even broader support.
After a completed performance, widespread applause of growing intensity warms the heart of any orchestra and its support group. Such applause also gives great stimulus to future performance. And thus it is for the Institute. As we enter our third year, we thank all those who have given applause and who join the Institute in its dedication to positive change and greater effectiveness in symphonic institutions. We thank our personal subscribers and contributors, the leadership of our supporting organizations and industry groups, and all readers of Harmony. We especially thank the members of the Institute’s current and former Boards of Advisors and Directors, and the employees, volunteers, and service contractors who have helped the Institute through its early years.
This fifth issue of Harmony marks the second anniversary of the operation of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.
The Institute was established in 1995 as an independent foundation devoted to helping participants better understand and address the complex issues and dynamics within symphony orchestra organizations. As of this publication, and publication of the Institute’s first in a series of research studies (see p. 53), some 28 essays and reports have been published on a variety of symphony organization issues.
In the first edition of Harmony, the Institute published “Precepts and Direction,” a statement of its beliefs, mission, and plans. As enunciated there, the Institute’s primary goal was to foster
◆ greater organizational effectiveness in symphony orchestra organ- izations, marked by
◆ an enthusiastic constituency satisfied with organizational performance on an informed and sustained basis, and
◆ highly engaged organizational participants challenged both pro- fessionally and personally, leading to
◆ broader, deeper, and growing community value.
This continues to be the central mission of the Institute.
Two years of wide field contact and discussion have reinforced many of the Institute’s basic tenets as delineated in “Precepts and Direction.”
◆ There are generic organizational patterns within orchestral institutions which impede effectiveness, and which need greater recognition and evaluation.
◆ Significant change within organizations, however, will only result from a customized, institution-by-institution effort, with all components of an institution’s leadership working as a team and addressing issues on a systemwide basis with will and energy.
◆ Comprehensive, concerted, and task-based involvement of all participants in the affairs and decision making of the institution contributes substantially to broadened organizational trust, more authentic interpersonal relationships, and the avoidance of stereotyping.
◆ Wide information sharing has many positive effects and is to be en- couraged.
◆ Continuous concern with “organizational process”—and how such process can be improved—is a positive condition within any symphony organization seeking to be more effective. Such awareness is fostered by bold and secure leaders moving forward together with conviction and trust.
When founded, the Institute set out to pursue four operational programs: research, publications, forums, and education. Good initial progress has been made on the first two programs. We are actively evaluating an initial forum. The development of an educational program remains a more distant goal. Meanwhile, a new initiative has been identified: working with selected institutions on organizational study and change programs. Through these efforts, we intend to augment the fund of knowledge about the dynamics and functioning of symphony organizations, and to help some institutions advance along a path of concerted, self-directed change.
In the concluding paragraphs of “Precepts and Direction,” we invited critique of the Institute—its mission, concepts, central tenets, and programs. That invitation remains open. The “Precepts and Direction” statement can be accessed at the Institute’s Web site (see inside back cover). Please let us have your critique.
In organizations, “involvement” generally means “participation,” “engage- ment,” and “inclusion.” The involvement of symphony orchestra musicians in the affairs of their organizations has been an emerging issue. Indeed, it is an issue the Symphony Orchestra Institute has raised since its founding, in the belief that musician involvement increases the effectiveness of symphony organizations. It seems that the direction, nature, and degree of musician involvement is—and is likely to be for some time—the most central issue many symphony orchestras will face.
In order to explore this wide-ranging topic, the Symphony Orchestra Institute invited a diverse group of approximately 60 symphony organization participants and observers to share their ideas about, and opinions of, musician involvement. The group included a balance of board members, executive directors, musicians, and conductors—mostly active, some retired—from organizations in different cities around North America, along with some close observers of the symphony community. Nearly all acknowledged the invitation, with 30 indicating a desire to contribute, time permitting. Several reluctantly declined to contribute, but encouraged the project. More than 20 individuals followed through with written contributions, and provided a reasonable cross-section of opinion.
Contributors were invited to write about some aspect of the topic of musician involvement that they considered especially significant or about which they held strong beliefs. What follows is based on the responses, and presents a panorama of thoughtful opinion of participants from various orchestra organizations.
In the corporate world, involvement generally implies fuller participation in and knowledge of the overall affairs of an organization. It means a greater degree of engagement—both in the work and the larger concerns and identity of the organization—and a greater sense of inclusion. In “high involvement” organizations, employees quite often work in “self-directed” teams, and actively and significantly participate in the decision making which directly affects their work and its context.1 These employees are often described as “empowered.”
For symphony orchestra musicians, involvement has generally been taken to encompass any activity related to the affairs of the orchestra, or the overall orchestral organization, other than preparation and participation in the orchestra’s performances. The range of activities mentioned by the contributors to this essay bears this out, and included board service in one form or another; participation in other areas of the organization’s decision making, such as artistic direction or hiring decisions; chamber music performance; and music-related community service, such as music appreciation or preconcert lectures and applied lessons sponsored by the orchestra.2
Musician involvement in fund raising or other aspects of the organization’s finances, except as part of participation in the work of the board, received little discussion (despite the fact that financial crises have, in many instances, been what first precipitated moves to greater musician involvement). Of course, just what the involvement of musicians in any of these activities implies, and the extent of involvement, varies from organization to organization. Some sense of this can be gained from the responses quoted in the rest of this article, particularly in the discussions of board service, a type of involvement mentioned by nearly all of the respondents.
Contributors also made little, if any, mention of orchestra committee and audition process work, as if these forms of musician involvement are now considered a routine part of orchestral life, at least for some musicians
Goals and Benefits of Musician Involvement
Musician involvement has been initiated, in many instances, as the result of an orchestra organization’s financial crisis: musicians who accepted pay cuts for the good of the orchestra having demanded or been offered more say or more part in the organization’s operations.3 Many respondents noted that orchestras—and indeed, the arts in general—face continued crises, not only of finances, but of identity and mission, and they see increased musician involvement as a response to the challenges that most symphony orchestras face. Musician involvement is seen as a factor working for the overall good of the organization. And not insignificantly, increased involvement is seen as a countermeasure against job dissatisfaction among orchestra players.
Albert K. Webster, a consultant to The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, and former managing director and executive vice president at the New York Philharmonic, sketched out an approach to successful musician involvement in broad terms:
Musician involvement needs to be founded upon relevance, flexibility, job satisfaction, artistic quality, communication, full disclosure, and an overall understanding of the institution and its environment. Everyone needs to be willing to fully consider fundamental change, to be willing to abandon the positions and strictures and habits of the past. We will need to take risks together. As we approach the millennium, change is upon all of us in the symphony orchestra world in some degree: a few of us are in the midst of change; a few of us know that it’s right around the corner; and the majority would appear to be but dimly aware that change is somewhere down the road. I fear that we will learn to our dismay that we can’t afford to delay our investigation of change . . . Musician involvement and all it involves will not be an easy task, . . . but we will all be the winners when it is in place, and it is about time that we got started.
Edward Arian is the retired head of the arts administration program at Drexel University, and author of Bach, Beethoven, and Bureaucracy,4 a 1971 study of organizational dynamics in the orchestra world. He echoed the recognition of the need for organizational flexibility and the multifaceted nature of musician involvement:
The present demographic revolution projects a multicultural population that will require adaptation by symphony orchestras in terms of new programs and formats to increase community support. In turn, these will necessitate greater flexibility under labor contracts, something not easily accomplished in the present environment where musicians and managements view each other as adversaries in stereotypical terms. The key to change is meaningful participation by musicians in all important decisions. In organizational theory and research, it has been demonstrated that this policy, which confers dignity and respect, leads to a greater employee sense of responsibility for the fate of the institution. This is the model in some universities where policies and programs are subject to extensive consultation with faculty. . . . New types of services and formats, crucial to survival, should be part of the musician’s regular contract. They are too important to depend upon the uncertainties of volunteerism. These variations from the traditional orchestral format and repertoire, such as solo and chamber recitals, concerts and workshops in schools and colleges, outreach programs through social agencies, and so on, can be a refreshing change and help to alleviate the work alienation which can result from routinization, repetition, and lack of individual recognition and autonomy in the large orchestra.
From his perspective as executive director of the Breckenridge Music Institute and National Repertory Orchestra, a position that puts him in contact with aspiring orchestra musicians, performing musicians with academic jobs, and professional symphony orchestra musicians from throughout the country, Joseph H. Kremer observed simply that, “like it or not, musician involvement, beyond simply performing, is here to stay and is likely to grow as more and more orchestras in tier two and three markets cope with their fiscal and organizational difficulties.”
Responses also suggest that the goals that may have been held when measures for increased involvement were initiated are not as important as the benefits that may be recognized once new attitudes and practices are in place. Webster said:
Involvement of playing musicians in the affairs of symphony orchestras must serve to better the artistic and financial lot both of the musicians and the institutions of which they are a part. A process motivated out of lip service to some lofty ideal or the begrudging fulfillment of a hard-won contractual provision will not work. Simplistic solutions will not do it. Hard work, time, and commitment are necessary to bring about this betterment. A willingness to examine the encrusted traditions of history and to openly and seriously consider change are critical ingredients, as is the fundamental assumption that things can and must get better, however one defines better. The value of musician involvement needs to be actively championed by all stakeholders, not just tolerated. Once such involvement is constructively in place, with everyone profiting from it, we will look back and wonder why it took us so long to overcome all of the obstacles we set up along the way.
Experience with musician involvement in three organizations, the Grand Rapids Symphony, the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, and the Colorado Sym- phony Orchestra, revealed various benefits to the organizations. John Schneider, a former chairperson of the Grand Rapids Symphony, observed:
Although it is naive to believe that the involvement of musicians as volunteers in the activities of the orchestra organization will eliminate all, or even most, friction between the musicians’ union and the symphony orchestra organization, musician involvement certainly intensifies the awareness of the musicians, administrative staff, and community volunteers that cooperation among them is essential for the continued health of the organization about which all of them care deeply. It also helps broaden and clarify their perceptions of each other and of the organization in ways that will be helpful to the development of creative and effective responses to these unavoidable challenges of the future.
The experience in Toledo, where an orchestra relations committee, a standing committee of the Toledo Orchestra Association, was established in 1989, was described by Marna Ramnath, the committee’s chair and a trustee of the orchestra:
Ultimately, dialogue between trustees and musicians broadens the perspective of all participants, and provides an opportunity for both to get to know one another as individuals as well. The process heightens awareness of the bigger issues involved in the preservation and development of the orchestra’s artistry and service to the community. At the same time, the dialogue provides a constant reminder of the many relevant parts that contribute to the success of the symphony enterprise.
Lee Yeingst, violist and vice chair of the board of directors of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and one of the founding members of the cooperative orchestra, said:
For more than 35 years I have experienced first- hand the trials, tribulations, and gratifications of a performer in the symphonic art form. Contract negotiations, capable and not so capable administrations, whimsical music directors, and one season with a musician-run operation have helped shape a belief I hold strongly: that musicians can improve the well-being of their respective orchestras through active participation in any or all components of their orchestras. . . .
The “partnership” structure of the Colorado Symphony has created a sense of ownership among all of the components within the organization, the musicians, staff, trustees, and volunteers. All realize that the product generated on stage at Boettcher Hall is a result of their collective efforts, and this realization makes for a greater feeling of purpose and commitment. This style of operation is particularly effective in building mutual respect and understanding among the four components. . . . I do not suggest that all other orchestras follow the lead of the Colorado Symphony, but I do want to advance the notion that musicians can and should invest in their organizations, beyond what they do on stage, in order to preserve and enhance an art form we all cherish and need.
The notion of symphony players as the stakeholders with the most to gain or lose by the success or failure of their organizations—if only because, of the various constituencies, the musicians have the longest potential tenure with the orchestra—appeared in several responses. Peter Benoliel, chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, for example, wrote:
If major symphony orchestras are to survive well into the 21st century, they must rethink and undoubtedly redefine their institutional vision and strategic goals. In particular, they must rethink their artistic objectives, the manner in which they relate to their constituencies (audiences, donors, volunteers) and the broader communities in which they reside. As they go about this task, they will be well advised not only to characterize the external environment (demography, technologies, economic market forces, and entertainment alternatives that will impact their future, for instance), but to undertake a stakeholder analysis, that is, an analysis of those groups of people who stand to gain or lose by the success of the enterprise. Generally speaking, the major stakeholders are audiences, the broader community, the volunteers (including the board of directors), the staff, and, most importantly, the musicians themselves. The players stand at the core of the enterprise. Without them one does not have an orchestra and a product to offer audiences. Of all the stakeholders, they are the ones that tend to stay for a career lifetime, while the others—volunteers, staff, and audiences—come and go. Of all the stakeholders, the musicians are most affected by the success or the failure of the enterprise.
The musicians’ longer tenure, compared with other constituencies in the organizations, also puts them in positions to be the holders of the organiza- tions’ corporate memories, as noted by Allen N. Rieselbach, president of the board of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.5 Rieselbach said that:
Orchestra members bring at least the following unique input to our board and committees: first, as career professional musicians, orchestra members are considerably more knowledgeable of the music business than virtually all of our board members, and they also seem to have a networkofinformationonsuccessfulandunsuccessful initiativesand activities by other orchestras. Sometimes this information comes from a different perspective than orchestra management’s, which provides additional insight. And second, orchestra members usually have served the organization longer than board members or staff. They can bring a historical perspective.
Even more, the talent, skills, and creativity of symphony musicians were frequently seen as great resources for their orchestras, resources that might be tapped by involving musicians more fully in more areas of the orchestras’ operations as these groups look to the future. Webster saw the situation in these terms:
I am also convinced that the musicians of our orchestras are an undervalued, underutilized, and underappreciated resource of extra- ordinary potential with respect to nonartistic— administrative or managerial—matters. One of the results of creative musician involvement should be seen in the contributed income columns of the resources ledger, an area I experimented with while at the New York Philharmonic with occasionally very positive results. Many of the musicians in our orchestras are the best spokespersons we have: why do we seem to be afraid of letting them speak for themselves and for their art? Many of them have wonderfully creative ideas: why can’t we learn to truly listen to them? Many of them have artistic talents and skills that rarely find expression within our institutions. A full partnership is not only possible, it is essential.
And in the same vein, Benoliel said, “It is incumbent upon symphony orchestra musicians, if their craft is to survive, to lend their talent and energy to that of staff, boards, and volunteers to ensure the flourishing of orchestras into the 21st century.”
Participation on Boards of Directors and in Administrative Decision Making
Membership on the board of directors is one of the more structured forms for musician involvement in the decision-making system of an orchestral association. And this is the form of involvement referred to by almost all (20 out of 22) those who answered our invitation to write about the topic.6 The ways such involvement is structured, and the actual extent of musician participation, varies from organization to organization, of course. In some organizations, musicians serve as members of the board of directors; in others, they serve on board committees, but do not sit on the board. Board committees may make decisions or may be only advisory or task-oriented in nature. Likewise, musician members of boards of directors may be full board members or may serve on the board without voting power.
Themes sounded again and again in the responses addressing the issue of board service were the need for open communication, trust, and sharing of full information.7 Christopher Rex, principal cello at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, outlined the situation:
There are many and varied types of direct contact which can be helpful in repairing and maintaining a good working liaison between board and musicians:
◆ full board membership for a specific number of musician repre- sentatives, including participation in decision making;
◆ participation by musicians on both standing and ad hoc board committees;
◆ formal and regular meetings between elected representatives of the orchestra and members of the executive committee of the board;
◆ town-meeting-type events for open question, answer, and opin- ion expression; and
◆ social contact, such as receptions.
All these and any other positive types of interaction should be tried and evaluated, the goal being to foster trust, communication, unity of effort, and consensus of direction.
It must be understood that at this time of difficult relations between the board and musicians in many orchestras, to deny board representation to the musicians will destroy any attempt to establish
a real, viable trust between the parties. By the same token, musicians must realize that the reason for their participation in board activities is not for the sake of finger pointing, recrimination, blame assessment, or blanket criticism. Board participation is a heavy responsibility and must be given a mature and positive approach by all. I am optimistic that if the fundamental bond between musicians and their patrons, the board of directors, can be reestablished and made the foundation of their endeavor, the symphony orchestra has a relevant and dynamic future.
The importance of full information sharing was echoed in remarks by Robert O. Vos, a cellist and member of the orchestra committee of the New World Symphony, a Miami-based, independent professional training orchestra.
An important condition for encouraging musician involvement in the areas of orchestra operations, marketing, or related management is complete and reliable information about the organization’s immediate financial condition and market position as well as long-range plans and planning processes. Efforts from musician leaders may feel futile, or musicians may fear that efforts are misguided if information is obscured (either intentionally or unintentionally) by management. Indeed, musician leaders who invest time or energy in advocating a position that later turns out to be rooted in fundamentally inaccurate information may feel a particular sting and be reluctant to lead again in the future. . . .
I believe more research is needed to explore to what extent information sharing is a necessary precursor to musician involvement, what elements of adversarial relationships preclude information sharing, and what can be done to open up lines of communication. To be sure, the problem cuts both ways. If a trusting and open relationship is to develop, musicians must be willing and able to share information with management, and management must have the expectation that musician leaders will maintain the confidentiality of sensitive organizational information.
Christopher D. Guerin, president of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, puts it simply: “Musician involvement exposes the players to the facts and the figures. We have a single goal when it comes to musician involvement: a desire that the players know and understand the issues. We need, above all, to nurture trust, for without it nothing much else is possible.”
Erin Lehman, a Harvard University researcher and long-standing observer of symphony organizations, is concerned that another dimension of organiza- tional trust must exist in symphony organizations which seek to involve, through representatives, many participants and stakeholder groups in decision-making processes.
For organizations to capture the enormous benefits of employee involvement, there must be mutual respect and trust in the individuals— whether hired, appointed, or elected—who represent groups. There must be trust that the decisions [of these representatives] make sense and speed the organization toward a better future—in the short and long term . . . they must be given a modicum of freedom to perform their duties.
Along with a need for full information sharing, several respondents noted as well the musicians’ desire to have a “real voice” if they are to be part of the organization’s decision-making structure.8 Lucinda Lewis, principal horn at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (and secretary of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians), raised these points:
Musicians have traditionally been pushed away by their boards and managements when issues of orchestral administration are broached. Only when an institution is faced with perilous financial waters will a symphony’s board and management make a gratuitous offer of inclusion to their musicians and usually after the musicians have accepted economic cuts to keep the orchestra afloat. Rarely is such an offer extended with any serious desire to hear what the musicians have to say. It is therefore not surprising that many symphony musicians feel greatly disenfranchised from their institutions—frequently expected to subsidize their jobs but with no real voice. . . . It is a rare organization, indeed, where the board and management want the musicians to be informed and involved. Only a very strong and secure board chairman and executive director actively court their musicians to be involved, informed, and seek their input. If this kind of invitation is extended with a genuine desire to benefit the organization, and not just to elicit financial cooperation from the musicians, the long-term institutional value can be tremendous. The board, management, and musicians are each integral to an orchestra’s success.
However, when all is said and done, musicians shouldn’t be in the board room or acting as administrative consultants any more than board members or managers should be performing on the stage with their musicians. All things being equal, we shouldn’t have to overlap our responsibilities. Boards must raise money and govern their institutions. Managers must manage, and musicians must perform. But not every situation on the symphonic landscape is ideal. Cooperative relationships do work. Unfortunately, they cannot work everywhere. Such relationships require mutual trust and respect, two very elusive qualities that must be earned through deed, not word.
Communication as a necessary component, and also a benefit, of the process of board and musicians working together was noted by Ramnath, who observed:
The Orchestra Relations Committee [of the Toledo Symphony] provided great service during the music director search and selection process, and through ongoing, open communication, helped ease the transition to new artistic leadership in 1991. Since then, the ORC has provided particular support for some important management objectives, and the process has resulted in positive communication for the orchestra, the board, and the administration. . . . From the perspective of the current ORC chair, this approach has proven to be a creative response to the challenge of effective communication among the board, the orchestra, and the administrative team.
In 1996, Paula Wright, a cellist with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, surveyed Regional Orchestra Players Association delegates about musician participation as board members. Three out of four delegates responded. Wright found that 86 percent of respondents reported that their orchestras had musicians serving on boards or committees; 76 percent said that these positions were mandated by collective bargaining agreements; and 70 percent replied that their orchestras benefited from such representation. Specific comments from ROPA delegates included the following:
◆ Our musician board member’s communication in trust with the board was a pivotal factor in the decision not to renew [the contract of] our previous music director.
◆ It has given us a broader understanding of how the organization works. . . .This has been an excellent communication device for us.
◆ I believe the voice of the orchestra is better understood than before there were musician board members. . . .As the role of the orchestra board member expands, communication should improve.
Lewis had a somewhat different slant on contractually required musician involvement:
Faced with wage and benefit cuts—cuts which are not always shared by their managerial counterparts—symphony musicians are responding by demanding a voice in the operation and governance of their organizations. Often, their voice becomes formalized through collective bargaining and is thereafter, contractually mandated. The result is not always a harmonious working relationship; although the organization, as a whole, is usually better off.
The need for communication and trust are universal issues, as vital for successful employee involvement in orchestral organizations as in other organizations. Orchestras often face issues related to entrenched adversarial relationships between management and the musicians’ committee and union, as already hinted in earlier comments. Many of the questions in implementing increased musician involvement are occasioned by the tradition of union representation and involvement: should board membership exist because it is mandated by a collective bargaining agreement (a “concession” gained by the players, rather than a “desire” of management and nonmu- sician board members)? Will musician members of the board be full participants except and only up to the point that negotiations of a musicians’ contract begin? Should musicians be compensated for board or other nonperformance work? Diane M. Wittry, music director and conductor at the Symphony of Southeast Texas and the Allentown Symphony, said, “I feel strongly that musicians need to be paid for these additional duties. Smaller orchestras could negotiate separate fees with their orchestra members depending on what their responsibilities were and the time involved. Larger orchestras might try service conversion.”
While not unique in the nonprofit field, but complicating the picture, is the fact that symphony boards are composed of unpaid volunteers. Much other work in supporting a symphony organization is also provided by volunteers, perhaps in greater proportion than in most other nonprofit enterprises. Thus, the issue of paying musicians for services provided so freely, and with such dedication, by volunteers becomes complicated. But perhaps musicians should feel free to volunteer time to their symphony organizations, as good citizens, if they wish.9
Experience of the benefits of involvement, specifically in terms of labor rela- tions and negotiations, were reported by Ramnath and Sara Harmelink, a violist and former chair of the players’ council at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Harmelink said:
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra began musician board membership as a part of contract settlement in 1993. Each year the musicians elect two board members plus two representatives to each of the board standing committees, excluding the labor relations committee. The most communication occurs on the actual working committees and subcommittees. We learn the most and can express our views in these smaller groups. Although not every idea is acted upon, we are heard and our ideas are often used and recognized. Musician participation on the board has had a positive effect on the sense of unity within the organization. We also believe it was a large factor in the early settlement of our latest negotiations.10
A recent article in The Bladenewspaper focused on labor negotiations leading to a newly ratified contract between the Toledo Orchestra Association, Inc. and the Toledo Symphony musicians. The article quoted Alan Taplin, head of the musician negotiation team, as stating, “We’re pretty happy. It was a civilized set of conversations.” Responding for the administration, president Robert Bell said, “We’re happy with it. The players were reasonable with their demands. The negotiations were completed with ease in a relatively short amount of time.” Some credit for the positive negotiation process goes to the Orchestra Relations Committee. . . . Because of its initial success and the uniqueness of an open management style, it comes as no surprise that current labor negotiations, the third contract talks since the inception of the ORC, proceeded smoothly and without incident. Both parties have established a comfortable level of dialogue, with information, including financial and budgetary information, fully shared. Through positive and open communication, musicians have experienced firsthand how the association is working on their behalf for the benefit of the community.
Administrative Involvement Is Not Always Successful
Creating greater musician involvement through membership on boards and com- mittees does not always result in favorable outcomes. As one long-experienced participant in symphony organizational life, requesting anonymity, commented:
A performing group of my acquaintance involved board, staff, and player members of a variety of committees, administrative and musical, in a cooperative effort of the most idealistic sort—good persons representing a wide variety and intensity of involvement, heavy to light, trustees and musicians alike. . . . Some musicians cared deeply and gave of themselves, even money, selflessly, others hardly at all. Some, not all, of even the heavily committed musician members tended to burn out . . . . As with “super glue,” involvement without a second catalyst—like personal fiscal responsibility or benefit, or personal loss or gain—too easily becomes a fiction and a burden and in time may not, probably will not, hold.
Lynn Osmond, a former orchestra executive director, reported on an institution which failed despite musician involvement in board and committee activity:
In 1993, I was approached by a transition team made up of both musicians and former board members to take the Sacramento Symphony out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The team was committed to an arrangement in which musicians would sit on all committees and be involved in the decision-making process, including the executive committee, the finance committee, and the artistic advisory committee. The musicians represented 10 percent of the board and had full voting rights. It is an arrangement that is logical, because musicians have been with the orchestra and will be with the orchestra a lot longer than most board or staff members. . . . They could help the institution learn from past successes and mistakes. . . . For a few years it did work. It failed in the end, however, because we became polarized [into] we versus they. . . . With involvement in the decision-making process comes commitment and responsibility [and] being a part of a partnership [in which] tough decisions have to be made for the overall health and survival of the organization.
Involvement in Artistic Direction and Hiring
Musician involvement in artistic direction, hiring, and other aspects of administration and decision making outside of participation as members of the board of directors or of board committees, although mentioned by some respondents, received little discussion.11 Some case histories draw attention to the fact that the beginnings of greater musician involvement grew out of player or union involvement in the selection process for a music director or an executive director. And then, too, players have considerable say in the choice of conductors, guest artists, and repertoire in the case of cooperative orchestras, such as the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and even in musical leadership and interpretation, as in the case of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.12 But cooperative and self- governing orchestras are rarities in North America.
Other Areas of Musician Involvement
Eric Schultz, a former orchestra cellist, and now a producer and director of television programs, believes that musicians need to become substantially more involved in the initiation, evaluation, and selection of the electronic media projects of their organizations.
I believe it is imperative that orchestras embrace the electronic future, and that at least some musicians within each orchestra become familiar enough with this world to make informed decisions about which projects to embrace. . . . This is a complicated environment [but] any attempts on the part of orchestras and their musicians to better understand the media will bring positive results. If this means special training or release time from traditional duties for several musicians within an orchestra, I think it would be well worthwhile.
Several respondents advocated musician involvement in areas outside the administrative and decision-making aspects of their organizations. Suggestions included community service, such as providing music appreciation lectures, workshops, chamber music performances, or applied lessons sponsored by the orchestras. The advocates of involving orchestra musicians in these types of service to (or through) their orchestras were quite passionate, seeing this type of educational outreach as crucial to the continued viability of symphony orchestras.
One of the most prominent efforts to integrate a community outreach program into the regular working life of symphony orchestra musicians is being carried out by the Saint Louis Symphony. The Community Partnership Program was initiated several years ago by the Saint Louis organization as a central component in an overall institutional change program. The partnership, substantially designed and guided by musicians, involves the option and the encouragement of orchestra members to provide a variety of community services throughout the year in lieu of a specified number of orchestral services. As Bruce Coppock, executive director, said in a recent speech, the traditional vision has been that the only activity an orchestra as a whole could engage in is “playing orchestra concerts.” This view translated into “a workplace where the job description was lowest-common-denominator-based—one size fits all.” But the Saint Louis leadership began to see that “unleashing the creativity of musicians of the orchestra in the community had the potential to enrich the lives not only of our community but of our own musicians.”13
The current structure of the symphony orchestra is outdated. It functions, and yet I can’t help but think that we are wasting a very precious resource: the expertise and personal enthusiasm of the individual members of the orchestra. Why can’t we structure an orchestral system where orchestra members, besides playing in concert series, also participate in every artistic aspect of the organization? By participating, I am not talking about sitting as a voting member of a large board, with very little input, but rather a structure in which every orchestra member is involved in an area that has a vital impact on what the orchestra contributes to the community. Some of the areas to be considered are educational outreach (individual, ensembles, and mentorship programs), chamber music concerts, new music concerts, music appreciation classes, and long-range planning. On a more basic administrative level, some musicians also have a flair for marketing, public speaking, and fund raising.
Quality educational outreach is essential for an orchestra to be effective. Orchestra members could plan and implement all of the educational programs with the help of an administrative coordinator and/or a very good secretary. Programs should include individual musicians visiting the schools, ensemble programs geared towards specific age groups, and the organization of a mentorship program. The musicians should also work closely with a committee of teachers from the community so that their programs would be relevant, timely, and effective. Every symphony in the country should offer a subsidized lesson program that provides individual and/or group lessons taught by members of the orchestra. It is this personal interaction, with music as the vehicle, that will insure the survival of symphony orchestras in the future.
Orchestras should also be encouraged to organize cooperative programs with local universities to coordinate new music concerts and seminars. One of the things orchestral musicians do best is talk about the thing they love, music. It would be wonderful for each orchestra to offer a series of music appreciation classes taught by orchestra members geared toward the concert subscriber.
Musicians of the future are going to have to be more well rounded and willing to give more of themselves to the job. But I really think in their hearts that this is what most musicians want—to be personally involved with helping music to have an impact in their community. In order to remain relevant, an orchestra must do more than perform subscription concerts and a few token youth concerts every year. Our orchestra musicians have spent their lives training and studying their art form. Now is the time to let them share their expertise for the good of the cause.
And from Christopher Wilkins, music director of the San Antonio Symphony:
I would like to put aside for the moment issues of representation, morale, governance, and so forth and concentrate on the orchestra’s mission. In doing so, I have reframed the original question. It is no longer, “Do we need musician involvement,” but, “What do we need most, and can musician involvement help?”
Imagine an orchestra that regularly makes a profound contact with its audience, a soul-to-soul connection based upon the real intent, substance, and scope of the music it performs. This orchestra recognizes that while the music itself is always of central importance, what matters most is the deep and authentic experience of that music by its audience. The concerts are spiritually alive and personally affecting. Supposing ourselves to be an orchestra in this enviable situation, the question is, “Did musician involvement get us here, or did some new way of thinking about musician involvement help?” It might seem a strange question to ask, since music is our main product and only musicians make it: musician involvement is about the only thing we know to be absolutely necessary! The sobering reality, though, is that musicians often struggle to feel that their own initiatives are making a difference. Can’t the enormous resources of talent in our orchestras be used in some new and very significant way to serve our mission?
My proposal is modest: that we turn our attention to helping audiences really hear and experience the music we perform. We organize, plot the territory, sharpen our skills, then scatter throughout our communities to spread the good news. It isn’t complicated, but it is challenging to do it well. The art of poetic and persuasive speech, of delivering impassioned, concise remarks about music, becomes a cherished skill. Through this process, the music itself is heard over and over again by hundreds of potential audience members in advance of the performance.
Five, twenty, or fifty musicians fully engaged as musical missionaries represent a powerful force for doing some good in the world! We can commit our energies to revealing and expressing the power of the musical experience, period. Our orchestral institutions need this more than ever, and by doing so we also honor our musicians, as deeply committed and passionate people who first entered this profession for exactly the reasons they are now explaining.
With these latter types of musician involvement, we have moved the discussion beyond musician involvement in already well-established roles as members of the board and of board and task committees; participating in various levels of artistic advice and influence; and providing a voice in other management or administrative functions, such as the selection of a new music or executive director. Those who envision a committed and expansive program of educational outreach, of greater community service, and of advocacy of the art of music have instead looked for what musicians could do that might serve their organizations in new or expanded areas of endeavor. Has a new look at the orchestra’s potential mission inspired fresh notions of musician involvement? This speaks, at the very least, to a sense of a need to strengthen both players’ identities with their orchestras, and the orchestras’ own identities in their communities, or what Jack A. Fishman, executive director of the Amarillo Symphony, called “trans-forming the way musicians feel about their orchestras” and characterized as “the most important objective of musician involvement.”
As the range of contributor beliefs and suggestions indicates, the topic of musician involvement in symphony organizational affairs has many dimensions, some quite apparent, some more elusive, all very important. Many organizations in other nonprofit fields, as well as in a vast array of for-profit organizations, are asking quite similar questions about much broader and deeper involvement of employees and other stakeholders in decision making and other areas previously considered substantially the task and the turf of managers and boards.
It seems appropriate to conclude our presentation with the following thoughts and fundamental questions contributed by Paul Ganson, bassoonist with the Detroit Symphony, and a longtime leader and thinker on orchestral matters.
The questions swirling around and within symphony orchestras— the concerns about their futures—suggest that some systemic change or paradigm shift might be in order. Often, one of the first notions suggested is to increase the involvement of musicians in the governance and operations of their orchestras. If that is a course believed worthy of pursuing, then there are at least four questions which, if addressed, should make those experiments more likely to succeed.
First and second, “who” is seeking to involve musicians and “why”? Third, “how” do the organization’s other constituents and stakeholders feel about the possibility of such involvement? And finally, “what” are the goals toward which the involvement of musicians is believed to be potentially beneficial?
These seem to be such basic questions that they are often taken for granted or ignored. However, only if they are addressed as candidly and completely as possible at the beginning will the larger and more difficult question of “how” to involve musicians be likely to yield constructive and durable results.
A roundtable discussion with members of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra
The Process of Change in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra Organization
Organization change is an important theme for the Symphony Orchestra Institute. Fostering greater effectiveness is part of our raison d’être. In the
April 1997 issue of Harmony, you read of significant organization change in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. In this issue, you will read about the process of change in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO).
An Increasingly Troubled History
The initial section of the “Hartford story” was written by Ann Drinan, a violist with the HSO since 1980. She guides us deftly through the early years, and then presents a thorough synopsis of the increasingly troubled years from 1985 to 1994. Ann also participated in the team that considered the process of change.
Relating a Story of Reconciliation
The story continues, as related by six members of the HSO family and consultant Paul Boulian. These seven met with Paul Judy, who represented the Institute, to discuss the process of reconciliation and change which moved the HSO from a 14-month work stoppage beginning in 1991 to a successful “contract-renewal process” in 1994.
Presented here is an edited transcript of that discussion, a fascinating recital of the building of trust, of learning to communicate, and of developing a willingness to take risks.
Evaluating the Outcome
To gain some perspective on the outcome of the “contract-renewal process,” Paul Judy interviewed 14 HSO participants. He shares comments from those interviews as he evaluates the outcome and assesses the HSO’s current health. The story concludes with a look to the future.
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO) began as the Hartford Civic Concert Orchestra in 1934 through the efforts of Francis Goodwin and the funding of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and later
the Works Project Administration. The early years involved many free concerts, including an extended summer season that established the Hartford community’s appetite for symphonic music.
Although the Symphony did not perform during the war years, the Hartford Symphony Society remained intact. The present Hartford Symphony Orchestra gave its first post-war concert in January 1947, and resumed regular seasons in 1949. The musicians donated their services for all concerts and rehearsals for the 1949-1950 season.
In 1953, Fritz Mahler became music director and served in that capacity until 1964. During the Mahler years, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra annually gave eight subscription concerts, eight school concerts, and four young people’s concerts. The HSO also made several recordings for the Vanguard label with Maestro Mahler, and presented a series of live television performances from 1959 through 1964.
In 1965, Arthur Winograd, the founding cellist of the Juilliard String Quartet, began a 20-year reign as music director of the HSO. During Winograd’s tenure, the HSO instituted a “Pops” series in the early 1970s, and began to engage world-renowned soloists on a regular basis. The orchestra gave several well- received Carnegie Hall performances, and continued to grow in stature nationally. When Winograd retired in 1984, the HSO had a budget of $1.85 million, and performed eight pairs* of symphony subscription concerts, five pairs of “Pops” concerts, three pairs of educational concerts, four opera sets (under the auspices of the Connecticut Opera), and several concerts with the Hartford Chorale. In addition, the organization presented occasional two-to-three-concert festivals, as well as a holiday concert.
After an intensive search, involving a year of guest conductors, Michael Lankester became music director at the start of the 1985-1986 season.
* Each prepared concert is given twice.
Developments: 1985 to 1988
As the Hartford Symphony grew from its modest beginnings as a civic orchestra to a well-established and critically acclaimed regional orchestra, the HSO organization experienced many of the growing pains common to American symphony orchestras. In particular, the HSO experienced musician-management contract problems as it began to support some musicians with full-time employment.
For many years, the HSO was a typical part-time regional orchestra that guaranteed a “Basic Orchestra” of 55 players approximately 115 services a year for a 34-week season. (A service is either a rehearsal or a concert.) In addition, 23 string players were guaranteed 50 services a year, and 7 other musicians, mostly third-chair wind players, were guaranteed the offer to play all the concerts that used their instruments.
In 1985, based upon the recommendations of a study committee composed of board members and musicians, the HSO established a “Core Orchestra” of 21 players by merging the symphony, the Connecticut Opera, the Hartford Ballet, and the Hartford Chamber Orchestra into one organization, Core, Inc. The 21 “Core” players, while also members of the “Basic Orchestra,” were salaried for 270 services over a 42-week season, but at a lower per-service rate. The remaining 34 “Basic” players retained their 115-service guarantee over a 34- week season.
The core orchestra concept had been discussed for several years in Hartford, and was commonly considered by many other orchestras, as well as the American Symphony Orchestra League, to be a financially sound way to increase the size of an orchestra’s season and budget. Unfortunately, the contract that established the HSO “Core Orchestra” was written very quickly, without adequate time given to creating procedures to meet the varied situations that would inevitably arise. Problems appeared almost immediately. In particular, many core string players experienced severe tendon and muscle injuries as a result of the strenuous schedule. Core players were also troubled by the fact that they were paid significantly less for each service than were non-core players.
Contract negotiations between the musicians and management in 1988 involved two groups with very different agendas. The players wanted a reduced weekly service schedule for the core musicians, in line with what was considered industry-standard, and per-service economic parity for all tiers of musicians. The board wanted to reduce the length of the core season while retaining the scheduling flexibility provided by the existing contract arrangement.
Using traditional bargaining techniques, the two sides argued angrily and bitterly, dug in their heels, and quickly came to an impasse, resulting in an 11- week strike. The situation was finally resolved during a 24-hour bargaining session, as musician and management negotiating teams sat in different rooms while a mediator appointed by the governor of Connecticut, along with federal and state mediators, shuttled back and forth between people who could no longer sit at the same table. The resulting contract granted musicians a work schedule in accordance with the standard practice of most orchestras, but management retained the ability to pay the core musicians at a lower rate.
Further Developments: 1989 to 1991
The ensuing three years were not happy ones within the HSO. The musicians were deeply divided, with many core musicians resenting their lack of economic parity. The 1988 negotiations left bitter memories for both musicians and board members, and distrust on both sides increased. The Connecticut economy was in trouble, resulting in financial difficulties for all area arts organizations, including the HSO. The Hartford Chamber Orchestra disbanded, the Hartford Ballet began to use taped music for some of its performances, and Core, Inc., dissolved as an organization. All guar- anteed services of the core musicians, as well as the financial commitments to them, were brought under the HSO contract.
Many board members began to see the “Core Orchestra” as an experiment that had failed, while many musicians perceived the board and staff as having given up on the idea of supporting a core orchestra. Despite the fact that several board members of the now defunct Hartford Chamber Orchestra had joined the board of the HSO, the common management wisdom seemed to be that there was simply no market for chamber orchestra music in Hartford. Many of the core musicians were new to the orchestra and had relocated to the Hartford area to play with a full-time symphony. The prospect of the HSO returning to part-time status, with no growth potential, was devastating.
Despite these difficulties, by the 1990-1991 season, with a budget of approximately $3 million, Maestro Lankester had introduced several new concert series, including three family matinee concerts and a series of three “classical conversation” concerts, during which he used his considerable verbal skills to enhance concerts devoted to specific composers or themes. The core musicians performed a chamber orchestra series, several evening concerts at area high schools involving the schools’ music students, quite a few services with the Hartford Ballet, and, as chamber ensembles, many in-school concerts in the mornings. In addition, the core orchestra was hired as a chamber orchestra by many area churches, choirs, and arts organizations.
When contract negotiation time arrived in 1991, the initial proposal offered the core musicians only a few more services per year than it offered to part-time players. This proposal, in essence, ended the HSO’s commitment to supporting a full-time core, even though most core players’ salaries were still well below $20,000 per year. The musicians immediately rejected this proposal, and offered to perform under the terms of the previous contract while continuing to negotiate. The orchestral association declined this offer, and canceled the first concerts of the season. At this point, the Connecticut Opera pulled out of the HSO contract and negotiated a separate agreement with AFM Local 400.
Work Stoppage and Compromise
The symphony was silent for more than an entire season. As the months dragged on, many attempts were made to find a resolution, but the basic tenets of the two sides were too separate and deeply held. The board’s negotiators insisted that the HSO could not afford a core orchestra beyond a few chamber orchestra concerts, and the musicians insisted that the organization must not only continue to support a core orchestra but also plan for the future expansion of the core, as well as the full orchestra.
During the 14th month of the impasse, a compromise solution was put forth by the CEO of a major Hartford-based insurance company who had been meeting quietly and privately with members of the musicians’ committee and members of the board. Based on his suggested compromise, the resulting contract contained per-service parity for all musicians and a commitment to retain the core, although at a reduced service guarantee. Neither side was entirely pleased with the compromise agreement, but everyone realized that to turn it down was to close the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
The most controversial—and yet in hindsight the most important—provision of the contract was the establishment of 10 musician board positions, which are still in place. Not only are these 10 musicians full voting members of the HSO board, with membership on all board standing committees, but six also serve as one-third of the executive committee.
During negotiation of the compromise settlement, members of the players’ committee had insisted that musicians be included on the HSO board because they believed that some members of the board were not wholeheartedly in support of the core orchestra. The musicians wanted the opportunity to push the organization in the direction of increasing the services offered to the core orchestra, and finding different venues and programs in which to use these services. The board, in response to the spirit of the compromise agreement, actively sought, among the wider Hartford community, new members who possessed the necessary skills, contacts, and resources to move the organization forward.
The initial interaction of musician and nonmusician board representatives was tentative and wary, though not openly hostile. Some long-standing board members only reluctantly accepted the opening of all committee meetings to musician representatives. The musician representatives learned board procedures and gradually began to feel more comfortable attending meetings. Most committees initially had at least three musician members; having the support of several colleagues when taking a position differing from the majority was most helpful in making the musicians comfortable with the process. By the end of the first year, most board members, both musician and nonmusician, had come to accept the experiment as at least opening the avenue of communication in a way that had never existed before.
During the second year of the compromise contract, the HSO once again experienced significant financial problems, due partly to the loss of a large number of subscriptions—one result of the lost season. However, instead of again blaming the existence of the core orchestra for the financial difficulties, the new board president examined the organization’s expense structure, laid off several staff members, including the assistant conductor, asked every staff member, including the music director, to take wage cuts ranging from 4 to 10 percent dependent upon salary level, and requested that musicians consider taking a wage freeze for the last year of their contract. After much discussion, the musicians agreed to a freeze.
Setting the Stage for a New Process
By 1994, relations between musician and nonmusician board members were increasingly cooperative and mutually respectful. However, toward the end of the second year of the compromise contract, it became clear that the HSO was going to have cash-flow problems during the coming season. Subscriptions were increasing, up to 8,500, but were still well below the level of about 12,000 which was reached in 1991, prior to the lost season.
The HSO had a substantial line of credit, but needed additional funds to get through the remainder of the season. A source of additional credit was identified, but the loan guarantor insisted that the HSO adopt a balanced budget and have a signed contract before they would consider extending a loan. The HSO board and staff were also very concerned about the organization’s ability to raise money and sell subscriptions because many potential supporters in the Hartford community were hesitant, given the history of difficult musician-management relations. The organization was also committed to starting a capital campaign to increase the HSO’s endowment, but a nationally known endowment consultant was equally insistent about the need for a signed contract before the campaign could begin.
In the late spring and early summer of 1994, the stage was set for a team effort of musicians and nonmusicians to address what were now perceived as deep and serious mutual problems: reassuring present subscribers and finding new supporters, putting the HSO’s financial affairs in order, and beginning a process that would lead to crafting a financially realistic contract that would be acceptable to the musicians.
The Participants Tell Their Story
Given this historical background, the Symphony Orchestra Institute asked par- ticipants in the 1994 “contract-renewal process” to come together and review how this process originated, how it was structured, and how its key elements evolved. What follows is an edited transcript of that roundtable review.
Institute: Let’s begin by having each of you introduce yourself and explain your position with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
Dwight Johnson: I am an attorney and was president of the HSO board during the contract-renewal process.
Ann Drinan: I am a violist with the HSO. I joined the orchestra in 1980 and have served in a number of capacities. I was on the orchestra committee in the late 1980s, have been the ROPA* representative for the orchestra since 1989, and have been a member of the board since 1992, serving on the executive, market- ing, and long-range planning committees.
Pat Werne: I am also a violist with the HSO and have been a member of this orchestra since 1978. I was elected to the orchestra committee in the fall of 1992, and served as chair from November 1992 to June 1995. During my tenure as chair, I attended all the board committee meetings. Currently, I am a board member.
Greig Shearer: I am principal flute of the HSO. I joined the orchestra in 1990, and was elected to the orchestra committee in the fall of 1992. I served as chair of the orchestra committee from June 1995 to March 1997. During that time, I was a member of the executive, finance, education, and long-range planning committees. I’m currently a member of the endowment committee.
Pauline Sardo: I joined the HSO in late 1992, and shortly thereafter became director of finance. During the contract-renewal process, I was also serving as acting executive director.
* Regional Orchestra Players Association, a conference of the American Federation of Musicians.
Jay Lichtmann: I joined the orchestra in 1982 as principal trumpet. I was a member of the contract-renewal team, and am currently a member of the pro- gram committee.
Paul Boulian: I am a consultant in organizational change. I was approached by a member of the HSO board of directors to help the HSO find a new approach designed to improve relations among the musicians, management, and the board.
Institute: Ann Drinan agreed to write a short history of the HSO, so we need not overly concern ourselves with what occurred leading up to early 1994. What we would like you to describe for our readers is the contract-renewal process as it evolved. Dwight, why don’t you lead off.
Johnson: The very beginning of this story occurred in the late summer of 1993. I was first vice president of the HSO board at the time, and with the encouragement of the then board president, I convened, quietly and outside any formal structure, a small group of board members to talk about some long-term concerns I had about the HSO. Out of our initial discussions, two things became clear. We had to figure out how to improve our management’s and board’s relations with our musicians, especially in the context of upcoming contract negotiations. And we had to get musicians involved in the discussions of these relationships because they were at the center of our thinking. As a result, we soon asked several musicians if they would join us.
Werne: I remember our first informal meeting.
Johnson: Fortunately, it was right about this time that one of our board members suggested that if we wanted to try something different in establishing relationships and negotiating a new contract, his company had worked with someone who was experienced in nontraditional bargaining and he would be happy to provide an introduction.
Werne: I remember your asking me about Paul Boulian. One of our musicians was also familiar with Paul’s work. So I think it was through a combined effort that we found Paul.
Johnson: In late January or early February of 1994, I had lunch with Paul and we discussed the need to have him meet with some of the musicians.
Boulian: I understood from my experience in labor-management relationship building that the various parties talk among themselves to reflect and test ideas, but I explained to Dwight that if the process was going to have any matter of jointness, I could no longer meet with him alone, secretly. From that point on, others would have to be notified about our meetings and invited to join us.
Werne: I remember that from the very beginning it was a very open process. Everybody was very concerned that nothing was going ahead without the mu- sicians being aware of it and in on the process. And, for the first time, all of the organization’s information was available to us.
Johnson: I should probably say that we did have some legal concerns about whether we could even try a new approach.
Boulian: Yes. We wondered what would be the meaning of a contract that ba- sically did not have “normal” legal positioning by the AFM and the manage- ment. And I remember one of Dwight’s law partners advising that if you all went back to the process you had used before, the probability was high that you would end up down the same alley you found yourselves in before, with a strike or a lockout.
Werne: The orchestra committee also had concerns about how the musicians would view it if we did something different and actually worked together with the board. At that time, some people were still raising eyebrows if you were even seen talking with board members. It was an uncomfortable time for all of us on the orchestra committee. But I also remember that we were getting “go ahead” signals from our union.
Shearer: There was also discussion in the orchestra committee as to how we could do traditional bargaining when musicians held one-third of the positions on the board’s executive committee. How could the board develop a position when musicians were participating in executive committee meetings? In fact, with our having that degree of representation, it was probably impossible to have traditional negotiating.
Institute: Well, we know from the outcome that you successfully resolved your initial hesitations. Did you then move right to the contract renewal?
Boulian: No. There were many additional preliminary steps that were crucial if we were going to succeed. First we organized an informal steering-design group of Pat, Greig, Ann, and Dwight to develop an overall approach. I had meetings with the board, with the executive committee, and with the orchestra committee and several board members. We then had one meeting after a rehearsal with all the musicians where we talked about the approach we would take to begin building consensus. There was almost an incredulousness that we were suggesting doing something different. I remember that we all left that meeting wondering if a new approach was going to be possible. We then had a second meeting after a rehearsal to talk about the budget and the overall HSO situation. That was a meeting where Dwight and the executive director were really on the hot seat.
Drinan: I remember that second meeting after the rehearsal very vividly. Everybody was asked to write down their questions, and Paul took them one by one—a musician question and a management question—and had the person to whom the question was addressed answer until the questioner was satisfied. Some of the musicians were amazed at this process.
Werne: Even at the first meeting, there was a sense of relief among the players that we were doing something different, that lines of communication were really opening up. They weren’t sure what we were doing, and neither were we. But I think they were relieved that we were trying something new. Several players came up to me and said that this had to be better than what we did before.
Shearer: Not everyone felt that way.
Johnson: Not everyone did feel that way. At some point, I was astounded to discover that there were musicians who were convinced that there were two sets of books. And at one of those meetings, someone asked me a question that implied that he or she did not believe the financial information.
Werne: I remember your making a joke about that, Dwight. And I didn’t think it was very funny at the time.
Johnson: It shows how much I didn’t understand.
Boulian: After a series of post-rehearsal meetings, we agreed to have a series of meetings in people’s homes. I remember that Pat hosted one, and so did Dwight. The purpose was to begin to build joint discussions among nonmusician board members and musicians, and to begin to identify the issues. These were open forums to discuss what was on people’s minds.
Johnson: This would have been in May or June of 1994. Paul had persuaded us that before we could formally begin contract discussions, we had to open up the process and build support among the musicians and the nonmusician board members. We had to get the issues on the table—not just contract issues, but general issues of concern to the musicians and the nonmusician board mem- bers—and start discussing them before we could assemble a smaller group that would tackle the actual contract.
Boulian: It had become clear to me that every time I met with anyone, issues would begin to arise about the HSO history and how the orchestra had gotten where it was. It was very difficult for people to get beyond the previous four years’ experiences. The more I heard of these discussions, the clearer it became that until we could get history behind us and learn from it, we could not begin contract negotiation or discussion. The steering group even had long discus- sions about what we were going to call this “thing” we were going to do.
Institute: So you considered the use of words important from the beginning?
Boulian: Yes. We knew we did not want to call it “bargaining,” and we did not want to call it “negotiating.” The symbol of the last two “negotiations” was failure. I did not think it was appropriate to use in this new process any terms that were associated with past experiences.
Johnson: And it wasn’t negotiations. It was discussions of the issues with the objective of reaching consensus. At one point, we even had a “sacred cows” discussion where we focused on those things we could not talk about without raising our voices. At some point, we even debated what we meant by sacred cows. It was good discussion. We identified the tough issues that usually cause someone to close the door before discussion begins. And we were able to get those on the table.
Lichtmann: I’ve been pretty quiet here, but I have thought a lot about the pro- cess. And I think there is an important point you have overlooked. I do not think we would have succeeded if we had not had a complete changing of the guard. The board president was new; Pauline [Sardo] had just been appointed acting executive director; some of the musicians were new to the process. We were not dealing with entrenched feelings about one another, and we were beginning to form a basis of trust.
Boulian: Don’t underestimate the role you played, Jay, in representing sort of a conscience for the group. The fact that the people involved were all willing to try to reconcile their differences to assure that this organization stayed together became more important than individuals having their personal views satisfied. That made our work easier.
Institute: Now would be a good time to share with our readers how you as- sembled the contract-renewal team.
Johnson: As we put the group together, we agreed that everybody in the group had to be acceptable to everybody else. No one could be unacceptable to the musicians, and no one could be unacceptable to the nonmusicians.
Werne: We didn’t start out with one musician and one board member who then chose the rest of their teams. We started with the five musicians who were on the orchestra committee, the ROPA representative, and the union president. Then we added Jay to increase the representation of the “Core” players.
Boulian: And then we really broke the mold. In traditional negotiations, if the musicians had eight representatives, there would obviously also be eight nonmusician board representatives. Not this time. Dwight suggested that the team would have only four nonmusician board members. He believed that if we could agree to work toward consensus, and not become mired by voting on anything, we could assure that the process would stay open.
Johnson: That was partly driven by the fact that some of us had an almost naive belief that there were answers, and that if we would all sit and look at the facts and get to know each other, we would reach the same conclusions.
Institute: So you had now agreed to the team’s membership. And you had reached a lot of preliminary agreement about how you were going to approach the contract renewal. It was now September. What direction did you next take?
Drinan: We should probably insert here that some HSO musicians, and the AFM Local 400 officials who were involved in negotiating during the 1989 strike, were very leery of this contract-renewal process. We didn’t have “the list of demands.” We didn’t have a bottom line. We hadn’t prepared any of the tradi- tional negotiating procedures. It troubled them enormously because they thought we weren’t ready and would end up “giving away the store.”
Lichtmann: Funny you should mention that. I remember that after sitting in four or five of the “touchy-feely” meetings that Paul initiated, I found myself thinking, “When are we going to negotiate? When are we going to sit down and really hammer on these issues?” In the past, it had always been that manage- ment would say, “This is the pie. Cut it up any way you want, but this is the pie.” And because we did not trust the pie, our answer was, “Make it a bigger pie.”
Boulian: Getting back to the question about the direction we took, we reached the conclusion that in a complete reversal from past history, the team would work with Pauline Sardo to develop the budget. As Jay has alluded, in the past, the board would adopt a budget and the contract would be negotiated against that framework. This time, Pauline worked with everyone and cranked numbers constantly, and over weeks of discussion, this group developed the budget for the symphony.
Institute: Did the group arrive at the idea of preparing the budget early on, or did you lead them in that direction, Paul?
Boulian: I remember taking the original budget home one night and starting to analyze the numbers. I concluded that if this were a normal management-labor negotiation, management would propose a 10 to 15 percent pay cut for the orchestra. It was crystal clear that we were going to have to change the process, because I knew that was a nonstarter.
Johnson: There was another element that led us to work on the budget. One of the group’s early agreements was that this organization could not afford a defi- cit. In the interest of moving forward, the musician members of the team bought into the idea that we should adopt a realistic budget that provided a zero deficit. Once you reached that conclusion, then you had to get into the budgeting pro- cess.
Shearer: We also decided fairly early that any pain would be shared across the organization, including nonmusicians.
Johnson: And Paul Boulian gets credit for that. That was tough and it still cre- ates problems. But let me reiterate something that was said about the numbers. In one of the early meetings someone—and I think it was you, Jay—said, “if Pauline says these are the numbers, these are the numbers.” And that was very important.
Werne: Pauline played a crucial role in our process.
Sardo: I could see that it was important for everybody to understand what we were doing, and that people were really unsure. So my role became that of an educator.
Johnson: You gave us a little tutorial.
Sardo: I gave you a lot of tutorial!
Drinan: I think that anyone who reads this review needs to understand that prior to Pauline’s joining the HSO, our paychecks were often incorrect. And when we called to question them, our calls were not returned. Now, if Pauline says, “These are the numbers,” every musician in the organization believes her.
Lichtmann: And when we got those numbers, we could ask her exactly what was included in each category; what the numbers meant.
Drinan: More to the point, the team was given a line-item budget. Never before had we been given such a detailed budget to study. That fact alone helped convince all of us that the process could work.
Boulian: We went through the numbers line by line, and it took a lot of time. Let me give you one example. The whole area of marketing and forecasting poten- tial income is so subjective that it is hard to know what is real. So we had the marketing director join us to answer questions. The group needed to begin to understand the cash-flow implications of subscriptions, and the difficulty or ease with which you can affect the subscription component. We really worked together to understand how difficult the projections are and how much you have to invest to get even a blip in those numbers. Ultimately, we knew that there really was a lot of risk in some of the assumptions that we made.
Drinan: We did that with a lot of items. We would ask the director of marketing, or operations, or finance, “Are you comfortable with this number?” We were considering three budgets—one with a 2-percent pay cut, one with no cut, and one with a 2-percent pay increase. The fact that the area directors were com- fortable with certain numbers finally led us to arrive at the 2-percent-pay-cut budget.
Werne: Once the players’ committee realized that we were going to accept a budget that included a pay cut, there was a sinking feeling that we would never be able to get the players to agree. I remember thinking we worked so hard, and they are not going to like this. And I also remember thinking, no way am I personally going in there alone! I came up with the idea that the whole team would present the budget. And that was the point at which the idea of profit- sharing came up.
Drinan: Paul suggested the idea, and I remember his saying it could go both ways, but we rejected that. We looked at ideas from other orchestras, but we developed our own system. As Pat said, when we began to realize that we were heading toward a possible pay cut, we all realized that would be very, very difficult to sell, and we wanted to build in some upside potential.
Werne: Of course, nobody really believed that there would be a surplus.
Johnson: We knew the musicians believed there would not be a surplus. But those of us familiar with the endowment process knew how much that could affect the results.
Boulian: We went so far as to say everybody would have to take a cut. This was our first attempt to get everybody to take a stake in the orchestra. Then we went further to begin to find a way to say that if the organization does perform well, there needs to be variability in compensation. Even if only to compensate for the hours that people were putting in as board members and on committees. That’s still a challenge.
Institute: Because we are telling a story more about process than about every contractual outcome, let’s address whether reaching agreement on the budget sped you on your way to a conclusion?
Boulian: It was now November, and our target was to have a conclusion by the end of December.
Johnson: And we would have made it, except we had an interruption. We had all gone through this process—and I was probably the most guilty—not really thinking about the local union’s role. I rolled along thinking that we had a group of people at the table who were close to reaching an agreement with which the musicians were comfortable. If we could sell it to them, that would be it. And then I got a phone call from Pat saying, “Bad news. We [the musicians] were just told by the executive committee of AFM Local 400 that we can no longer partici- pate.”
Shearer: This didn’t last long, but it made for a difficult couple of weeks. The contract specifies that the sole bargaining agent of the orchestra is AFM Local 400. And yet we were hearing from the AFM national office in New York that it is the musicians who ratify the contract. In addition, the president of the local was seriously ill, and there was something of a leadership void. We were able to go forward after the orchestra committee went to a special meeting of the executive board of the local and presented our case.
Johnson: We got back on track in early December, and then we had one final dilemma. The musicians actually held a rump meeting without the nonmusician board members.
Werne: I think we caucused mainly for a comfort level. We were very close to the end, and a couple of team members were not entirely comfortable with the process. We needed to go into a separate room for a time-out.
Drinan: There were still some work-rule issues to be completed, and the musicians were divided among ourselves. We didn’t really know what we wanted, and the contract-renewal team couldn’t solve that. We needed to resolve it ourselves first.
Johnson: Because by now we all really did believe in the process, we were soon over that hurdle. And then it was a question of getting the language in place. At one point, I suggested we throw the contract out and start from scratch. I wanted a two-page contract. Ann and the others looked at me as if I were some kind of a nut case. So we put that aside.
Boulian: I had the same vision—that a contract is a piece of paper, an agreement among the parties to work out their issues. But I, too, realized that was never going to be accepted.
Johnson: We ended up with a pretty typical contract, and only modified those sections which we had to.
Shearer: To be fair to the contract—and I don’t like having such a voluminous contract—most of the things that are included address specific abuses that have occurred at some point.
Institute: We thank you for taking the time to share with our readers a process which obviously worked for the HSO. Do any of you have any final thoughts you wish to add?
Boulian: I think it is crucial for Harmony’s readers to understand just how dramatically we flip-flopped the normal logic of negotiations. Usually, people start with language issues, in easy steps, and then move to harder language, finishing with sprints for the last couple of days and nights on economics. We turned that idea upside down. We tackled economics first because we knew that if we could not resolve the economics, we would not have an agreement.
Shearer: Although the process took a lot of time, I think it gave all of us a chance to see where we were going with the economics, and gave us time to think about how we were going to sell the eventual agreement to our constituents. It certainly beats suddenly realizing the day before a ratification vote that you are going to have to sell a 2-percent pay cut! And even as I am saying that, I realize here we are, in the second year of a three-year contract . . .
Johnson: I’ve been thinking about that, too.. . .
Evaluating the Results
The HSO contract-renewal process was completed in January 1995, and the new contract became effective July 1, 2019. To gain some perspective on the process and its significance, and to gauge the post- process functioning and outlook of the organization, we interviewed 14 HSO participants. We asked them if, looking back, this drastically different approach to defining the relationships among the orchestra, staff, and board was really necessary and valuable? One board member put it this way:
Having been with the organization for a long time and seeing the emotional and almost physical scars of the previous process by which we negotiated a contract, it was clear we were destroying the organization. It was not a matter of creating a new contract, we needed a catharsis. As a group, we stared over the abyss and saw how awful it was that the whole thing could have gone down. I think that every- body backed away from that abyss and said, “We don’t want this orchestra to fail, so we better work together.”
As to the alternative to more traditional bargaining procedures, one of the musicians offered some telling comments:
When you go into adversarial negotiating, the only way you can ask for pie in the sky is if you really believe there is pie up there. But when you really get to know the numbers, and you get to know the people, and you go to meetings, and you begin to see and understand the details, you realize there is no pie in the sky. That leads one to be reasonable; you can ask, but there is no way you can get it.
The contract-renewal process appears to have sub- tly influenced the way the organization functions. For instance, a general sense of trust and interpersonal regard has grown and broadened. The following observation is from a staff member.
I think peoples’ attitudes have changed. Board members have more appreciation of musicians. When musicians make brief presentations at board meetings, it reminds nonmusician board members that musicians are specific, actual people. Not that they didn’t know that before, but there has been a change in attitude.
And a musician observed:
The time that volunteers put in is amazing. I have also gained tremen- dous respect for what the staff does, what the executive director does, and what the board does. It takes an amazing amount of work to have a successful orchestra.
A staff member agreed that many eyes have been opened.
Board members have certainly learned a lot about what it is really like to be a musician in an orchestra such as ours. We know more about having to put together 16 different jobs in order to survive, because we really don’t offer full-time positions to musicians. I think people getting to know each other as people has been invaluable. They’re not just “the musicians” sitting up there on the stage. They are Ann, and Greig, and Candy. We know them and know their personalities, and their pluses and minuses, just as we know other board and staff members. They’ve become real.
Or, as a nonmusician board member related:
We had a board meeting (you should have been there!) where one of our musician members really unloaded on the subject we were dis- cussing, without any respect—straight talk, all riled up. But when the final decision was made, it was clear that everyone agreed that we had taken into account the matters raised that otherwise would have been completely ignored. This musician’s contribution was very positive. It’s a classic example that if you involve people who come at matters from different points of view, you achieve better decisions.
Musician Involvement in Governance
Since late 1992, but especially since the completion of the contract-renewal process, HSO musicians have been very involved in central governance activities. In the last 4 fiscal years, 12 different musicians have served on the HSO board. Six musicians are members of the eighteen-member executive committee.
In terms of actual meeting participation, the HSO board, which generally meets monthly or bimonthly, has had, over recent years, an average attendance of 31 members, of whom, on average, 4 are musicians. Board meetings are held at noon, which, for many HSO musicians, is not a convenient time to be in downtown Hartford. The executive committee meets at least once a month, generally at the end of the day, which is more convenient for many musicians. Since early 1994, the executive committee met on 36 occasions, with an average attendance of 12, including 4 musicians.
The HSO governance structure is unique in that it provides substantial congruence between the HSO’s central decision-making group—the board’s executive committee—and the orchestra’s elected leadership group—the players’ committee. By virtue of their
offices, all five members of the players’ committee also sit on the board’s executive committee, as does the ROPA delegate. The Symphony Orchestra Institute knows of no other such structural alignment in a volunteer-governed North American symphony orchestra organization.
A number of musicians who are not on the board are active in various functional-area board committees, and their commitment to HSO governance activities is substantial. Three musicians interviewed estimated that HSO governance activities increased their HSO time commitment by 25 to 50 percent over preparation and performance time alone. We asked them if they thought this level of involvement was truly worthwhile? Here is what they said.
I think the symphony will function better and will be more responsive to the needs of musicians as long as we’re involved. The more we know, the better off we are.
Someone said to me, “You’ve been here a long time, and it’s time for you to serve.” I said to myself, “That’s right. It is time for me to do something for the organization rather than just use it as an income source.” That’s what motivated me at least to start. I am a firm believer that as many musicians as possible should get involved. For me, it has been an extraordinary learning experience.
I would like to see even more players feeling a part of everything. I want them to have more firsthand board experience, more input on programming and guest conductor selection, and more brainstorming. I wonder how we can involve the whole orchestra? Maybe we should have a retreat or a conference once a year. The initiative must come from the player leadership, but the board president must be very much involved.
Shirley Furry became executive director of the HSO organization in June 1995, about five months after the contract-renewal process was completed. She was recruited by a search committee of musicians and nonmusicians. She says:
I think our working together can continue to be improved, and can include other kinds of involvement. Operating in this environment has been a learning process for me as well. When I accepted the position, I understood the process and agreed that this was the organization I was going to lead. I’m always conscious of the fact that we just can’t arbitrarily make this decision or that; more people have to be involved and this sometimes means that the process takes longer, but it leads to better decisions that are more satisfactory and acceptable to more people.
Returning to Financial Health
Even going back to the 1980s, the HSO experienced chronic operating deficits. By the end of fiscal 1987, the organization had an accumulated operating defi- cit of $417,000. During the next four fiscal years, $136,000 was added to the deficit, increasing it to just over $550,000 by June 1991. During the following fiscal year—the year of the work stoppage—the operating deficit reached al- most $200,000. For fiscal 1992-1993, with less than a full season’s operations, the deficit was modest, but misleading, since marketing staff and concert-pro- duction costs had been pared to well below normal levels. Subscriptions had declined from about 12,000 to about 5,000; philanthropic good will and mo- mentum also declined.
As the HSO moved into fiscal 1994, staff had been rebuilt, and these costs, along with orchestra and other concert-production costs, were back up to or exceeding prior years’ levels. However, subscription and other concert revenues were only slowly recovering. The stage was set for a major operating deficit as the year progressed. It was during this time period that the imperative emerged to look inward and consider some new approaches. This impetus was timely, since by fiscal year end, the operating loss reached $400,000, and would have been even larger except for an upward change in endowment-spending policy. As the contract-renewal process got under way and was completed in January 1995, the positive effect of an already better-functioning organization was beginning to be felt, and the operating deficit declined to $185,000 for fiscal 1995.
Primarily as a result of the work stoppage, an aggregate operating deficit of $800,000 was incurred during the four fiscal years from 1992 to 1995, bringing the cumulative deficit to $1,350,000 by June 1995. In the last few years, the HSO has regularly drawn on bank borrowings—from an annual high of $1,100,000 to a low of $400,000—reflecting in good part the real loss of funds incurred in prior years.
In the last two fiscal years, the HSO has regained most of the ground it gave up in the prior four years. For fiscal-year 1996, the first year under the new musicians’ contract, and after drawing on endowment at a level of 8 1/4 percent of beginning market value, the HSO organization achieved a balanced budget. Expenses included surplus-based additional compensation to all eligible employees of 7 percent of their base pay.* This “bonus” more than offset the reduction of 2 percent in base pay taken at the beginning of the year. For the fiscal year ended in June 1997, the organization again experienced a balanced budget, after drawing 7 3/4 percent on beginning endowment value, and paying surplus-based additional compensation to eligible employees of 3 1/2 percent of base pay.
Subscriptions for the 1996-1997 season were back almost to the level reached in 1990-1991, a striking achievement. This recovery was due not only to increasingly effective marketing, but also to steady growth in the orchestra’s artistic quality, balanced programming, an increased emphasis on music and cultural education, and fresh, able, professional management. Endowment funds have also been edging up, by reason of investment performance and capital gifts, with the market value now exceeding $6 million. The Hartford metropolitan community has responded positively to the HSO’s new image and vitality.
* “Bonus” compensation is paid to regularly contracted musicians and permanent staff, in proportion to their base pay for the year, when a “surplus” exists at year end. In general, a “surplus” exists if the organization’s revenues for the year, including endowment income on a total-return basis, exceeds actual expenses. If endowment income is less than a budgeted amount, the differential is treated as a shortfall in budgeted revenues. Eligible employees are entitled to receive bonuses of up to 50 percent of any such surplus, subject to maximum bonuses being payable during fiscal 1996, 1997, and 1998 of 7 percent, 3 1/2 percent, and 3 1/2 percent, respectively, of base pay for the year.
A Look Toward the Future
Achieving steady professional growth and expanding community service on a sound economic basis are central issues facing the HSO organization. Like so many orchestral institutions, the HSO is resident in an excellent central venue—Bushnell Hall—but does not own the building or control its use. Some key performance dates are not available, and rehearsal use is limited. The Hartford area offers few alternative venues. Building a pattern of performances outside Hartford is a desirable alternative, but developing sponsorships and audiences takes time, and there is competition from other local ensembles. Meanwhile, fixed costs are rising steadily, and must be offset by combinations of cost and revenue productivity.
As is the case in many similar institutions, the HSO employs groups of musicians at differing levels of service, and, therefore, differing levels of time commitment. Some musicians would like the HSO to expand its reach so they might grow with it professionally and financially. Faced with HSO growth prospects, other musicians are torn, since their non-HSO time commitments and interests are significant, and they might have to choose between occupations. Growth is a double-edged sword for many HSO musicians.
Margery Steinberg, a professor of marketing at the University of Hartford, became president of the HSO, succeeding Dwight Johnson, in 1996. She is optimistic about the future of the HSO.
While we face many challenges, the opportunities are very exciting. Never before in our history have we had the winning combination of creativity, communication, and cooperation, supported by a competent and hard-working staff, a talented music director, an excellent orchestra, and a dedicated board. We are working together to enhance audience development and retention, increase musician services, establish long- term financial stability, and identify additional appropriate venues in which to perform. All these challenges are interrelated and dependent upon diverse community support, which continues to increase each year. We must work hard to maintain our momentum and to reach and hopefully exceed our goals.
Given the character and togetherness of the HSO organization, the Institute joins in this optimism.
To complete the HSO story, we asked Paul Boulian to give us his thoughts about lessons learned in Hartford, and insights which might be of use to other symphony orchestra organizations.
T he challenge of rescuing American symphonies is problematic, not only because they must be rescued from outside forces, but also because they must be rescued from themselves. While many and varied forces
make the viability of orchestra organizations difficult, it is the thinking and actions of key symphony participants that make their viability the most difficult to remedy. This is not to imply that many individuals involved with orchestra organizations are not well intentioned and well meaning. But until the fundamentals of these organizations—their organizational and interaction processes; their labor- management processes; their management, planning, and control systems; and their roles, policies, and reporting relationships—are addressed, a successful intervention today is, in reality, only postponing the day of reckoning. There are a number of elements of the current symphony orchestra paradigm which must change dramatically if these organizations are to have long-term viability. In the context of these observations, one can appreciate and understand the current success and changes taking place at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO).
Many readers of the “Hartford story” might contend that this organization is unique: many musicians serve on its board and executive committee; recent history includes a three-month strike followed by a fourteen-month work stoppage; the right personalities came together at the right time to break through age-old paradigms and mistrust.
But the initial stages of the HSO experience do offer insights for other sym- phony organizations.
◆ The key parties had reached a point of viscerally understanding that they needed to pursue a shared purpose, not just giving lip service to this purpose. Reaching this point required insight and courage on the part of board, staff, and musicians.
Without this shared, deep recognition, symphony orchestra organizations will not tackle the difficult challenges that they face.
◆ The key parties, for different reasons and in different ways, recognized that the current and learned patterns of interaction, day-to-day and contractually, were guaranteed to lead to a repeat of past outcomes.Reaching this conclu- sion required a coming to terms with history and current practices, even if that recognition caused personal pain.
Unless the parties recognize how ingrained their patterns of interaction are, the process of reconciliation will be constantly challenged by dysfunctional behavior and thinking. To create the changes necessary to help assure the long-term viability of American symphony orchestras, participants need to understand and ultimately change their learned patterns of thinking and behavior. This may mean rethinking the roles of key groups and individuals, and the relationships among musicians, staff, and board. It may also require reconsidering how the musical agenda is developed, and ultimately, the purpose of the orchestra organization.
◆ The key parties recognized and understood the per- sonal sacrifice required to break new ground, to see a new way, to create a “new beginning.”They recog- nized that thinking and behaving differently would take a great deal of time and emotional energy, and might not be embraced by many of those they were representing.
Creating a new way of operating and engaging requires strong leadership, will, and emotional energy. To shift the current paradigm, each of the key par- ties in the symphony orchestra organization must have a core of individuals who are intent on staying the course, who recognize that there will be setbacks, and are at peace with the personal demands.
◆ The key parties were willful about involving a skilled outsider in their quest for a different path because they recognized the need for an outside force or cata- lyst.They also recognized that while they strongly desired to change the patterns of the past, they had created that past and were products of it.
The recognition of the need for an outside or “new” catalytic force is very often an important first step in moving down the path of jointness and renewal. This is not to imply that an outside consultant is required. A new player, new board member, or new staff member may serve in this role. But the role of the “helper” requires a capable individual who is able to walk down the middle of multiple interests, who can design interventions that fit the unique character of orchestras as institutions, and who can customize approaches which will address the specific dynamics of an individual orchestra organization.
Each of these points has application to other symphony orchestra organiza- tions, whether or not they are in crisis mode. In fact, a crisis only serves as an external motivator for action, and may actually deter the parties from really exploring new paths.
Principles of Design, Development, and Implementation
A number of key principles were important to the design, development, and implementation of the HSO process. These principles, while not profound, created a new directing influence for key decision-makers. Again, they are applicable to any symphony orchestra organization.
◆ The process must be inclusive, not exclusive, to insure that all points of view are engaged.In Hartford, bringing people who held extremely different views into the process assured that the full spectrum of thinking would be present, and therefore, reconciliation of widely different positions was possible on a range of relevant topics. This led to open discussion forums where parties could share their views. The inclusive process also opened the contract-renewal process, for the first time, to musicians who were not members of the orchestra committee. Inclusive processes bring together people who have diverse views, rather than disenfranchising them. These processes create respect for and encourage various points of view.
◆ The process must be based on a model of reconciliation, not one of “position taking” and “win- lose.” This led to a contract-renewal process in which musicians outnumbered nonmusician board members, in turn leading to a contract-renewal process in which shared beliefs and principles guided discussion and decision making. The overall reconciliation approach required all the participants to take personal and organizational risks to break the standard pattern of labor-management practice. The reconciliation model required recognition of the past as a context setter, and led a conscious effort not to permit a place for the symbols of the past. For example, the terms “negotiation” and “bargaining” were eliminated from the parties’ vocabularies and replaced by the words “contract renewal.”
While the initial steps in Hartford involved bringing musicians on the board and finding nonconfrontational means to resolve contractual differences, these were merely first steps in a long-term process to reconcile differences and find common ground for all parties to evolve the symphony orchestra organization.
◆ The process and the outcome must be jointly developed and determined. The conditions for discussion, therefore, needed to be set jointly by the key parties. This led to design meetings to develop processes to address how discussions should take place, how people should be involved, how stakes should be developed, and how agreement should be reached. For example, the budget, rather than being established as a condition determined by the board, was developed as a process of joint understanding and agreement among the musicians, nonmusician board members, and staff who were involved in the contract-renewal process. The process tried to eliminate “information” as a factor in maintaining power. The recognition that there is more power in agreement than in compromise is a difficult concept to embrace, particularly when knowledge has previously been viewed as a differentiator among theoretical equals.
◆ The process should not work against deadlines which create conditions for conflict, tension, and unacceptable compromise.The decision of the HSO to engage in the process a year in advance of contract expiration had its roots in several factors, the most important of which was the desire to think through and work out differences in a calm, thoughtful manner. Further, given that the HSO had established a history of symphonic season disruption, reaching agreement far in advance of requests for subscription renewals was essential to rebuilding community involvement and positive energy. So the objective moved from setting deadlines to creating confidence.
◆ All decisions must be based in principles, and arrived at through joint agreement.Principles are master guides or standards of excellence, and are useful when judgments are to be made. As a result, pursuing a principle- based process required the parties to reach agreement on shared understandings and beliefs. Later, when significant differences emerged, the principles were reopened for discussion to determine whether they were still shared as the guides for judgment. Carrying out a principle- based contract renewal was new and challenging for the HSO. For the contract-renewal process, it served as a means to translate emotion into concrete causal factors, and as a bridge to understanding between nonmusicians and musicians. Agreement to use a principle-based process led to the most difficult and profound subprinciple: “reach agreement on a balanced budget; do not deepen the deficit.” The agreement to be “in balance” required both courage and the ability to carry on detailed and analytical conversations regarding the orchestra’s finances. In prior years, some participants had neither the information nor the knowledge to carry on such conversations. (This is a principle which may or may not be appropriate in other circumstances. Indeed, the financial condition of any particular symphony orchestra organization will dictate how the parties choose to position principles to guide economic discussion.)
With these principles in place, the HSO embarked on a new process of contract renewal which was intended not only to change the mode and means of contract renewal, but also to set a new foundation for future interaction.
Assessing the Outcome
The success of the renewal effort, unfortunately, created a demand on time and personal energy that has been difficult for key parties to sustain. To continue the initial success requires maintaining a dialogue on all manner of topics, which has been difficult in the HSO. To maintain any jointness among musicians, board, staff, music director, and volunteers requires a critical mass in each group who are willful about providing strong personal commitments to sustaining the broader process that was started. This has been made more difficult as the executive director and other staff have changed, orchestra committee membership has changed, and members of the executive committee of the board have changed. Yet, the difficulty in continuity these changes bring also presents opportunities to “be different” and “be new,” which members of the HSO organization have not fully exploited.
To be successful in the long term, the HSO organization must again face up to the ultimate challenge, that of transforming itself. The last few years have brought the HSO to the end of the beginning of the journey. The middle of the journey—creating the fundamental changes necessary for sustainable, healthy evolution—will be difficult and challenging. Fortunately, the HSO organization has many conditions in place to make this next stage a success for all stakeholders.
For symphony orchestra organizations in general, the next few years will most likely be characterized by continued, if not increased, financial pressures. For organizations which have inappropriate or unclear vision or purpose, or poor labor-management relations, or inadequate organizational processes, systems, and structures, the financial pressures will create challenges that will tax the abilities, patience, and trust of even the most able boards, musicians, staff members, music directors, and volunteers.
This is a time when it is important to learn from the experiences of the HSO and other symphony orchestra organizations as they pursue new paths and find new solutions. We must begin to share the knowledge and understanding we have on a more organized, multiparty basis. We must continue to recognize the uniqueness of symphony orchestras as organizations and institutions, and, at the same time, create an experience base from which we can all learn.
We must move from interventions in which each symphony orchestra organization is viewed as unique to its community, with issues and problems that are considered “theirs alone,” to a set of institutionalized approaches that can be adapted to the specific needs of an individual orchestra organization. To develop these approaches and solutions over the next few years, we will depend on the coming together of many individuals and groups related to symphony orchestra organizations.
Paul Boulian is a partner in the consulting firm Lodestar Associates, Inc. He consults to numerous organizations in the areas of strategy development, leadership processes, and the development of thinking, high performance work systems, and joint labor-manage- ment processes. He holds a B.S.E.E. and an M.S. in Business Administration from the University of California-Irvine and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Yale University.
In early 1997, I was invited by the American Symphony Orchestra League (League) to assemble a panel of speakers on the topic of “organization change” to be presented at the annual League conference in June. In review- ing a range of choices as to how this topic might best be presented, I decided that within the community of North American orchestras there were some clear examples of significant and substantive organizational development taking place. Also, I decided that there were participants who were thoughtful spokespersons and who could ably describe the organizational change processes achieved and continuing within their organizations. Presented here are key observations of these panelists, along with my introductory and concluding remarks.
I opened the panel presentation with the following:
Our task today is to present ideas about “organization change” within symphony orchestra organizations. Immediately, one might ask: So what’s new about “change” in symphony organizations? Our organizations are changing all the time. People come and go. The orchestra systematically brings in new players. Leadership changes regularly—throughout the organization. There is a new board chairperson every year or two or three. The orchestra committee usually has some annual change in membership, including a new chairperson every so often. The guild has a new chairperson every year or two. Officer positions rotate annually. Staff turnover takes place—sometimes too often! So, with all these people changes, isn’t our organization changing all the time?
We all know that in most cases, despite these people changes, the way symphony organizations are structured and function doesn’t change much. Even with the changes in leadership positions, we more or less follow the same procedures and the same practices, year after year. We more or less do what we have always done. It is what we are used to. It is what we are comfortable with. It is what everyone else in our industry does. It is human nature to choose the tried and the true, the known versus the unknown, the certain versus the uncertain. We prefer the status quo, the existing patterns, the established relationships, the environment which we know—even if there are obvious and repeated deficiencies, and even if the world is rapidly changing all around us! We find it hard to change. We are leery of new ways of thinking and doing. Maybe afraid is a better word than leery.
But every once in a while, particularly when the going gets tough and our organizational existence and careers are threatened, we consider the possibility of doing things differently. Maybe it is because, under these circumstances, the uncertainty and fear of change are more than offset by the deeply felt necessity to preserve our organizations and our roles in our communities. The latent views of at least a few leaders—that there must be a way to establish more productive and sensible ways of functioning within symphony organizations—begin to emerge.
Today, we will hear the stories of three symphony organizations which went through, and are still going through, substantial changes in the ways they operate, as compared with former patterns, and as compared with many similar organizations. Some of this change can be described as “structural,” i.e., the formal, generally hierarchical relationships between people and roles in the organization. But I would describe most of the change which has taken place in these three organizations as “process,” changes in interpersonal relationships and levels of trust throughout the organization; in the flow of communications and the sharing of information; in decision-making practices; and in leadership patterns.
The first presenter was Dwight Johnson, a past-president of the board of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. The HSO organization went through many years of organizational dysfunction and chronic financial difficulty between the middle 1980s and the early 1990s. After a year long work stoppage, an important structural change in governance took place in 1992, when ten musicians were elected to the board of directors, of which group six musicians—constituting the orchestra committee and the ROPA delegate—were ex officio members of the executive committee, making up one-third of this committee’s membership. This significant structural change was followed by a particularly intense experience in late 1993 and early 1994, as a group of musicians and board members, working together through a facilitated group process, developed a new and innovative musicians’ contract, and generally established a new paradigm for decision making and cooperation within the HSO organization. As Dwight said in his presentation, “Key board members and musicians leaders [became] convinced that if we worked hard enough to understand the issues and communicated fully with each other, we could reach agreement on almost any issue.”
Dwight concluded his presentation with the following thoughts about symphony orchestras:
First, in my opinion, neither management nor musicians can afford to apply traditional union-management practices to symphony orchestras. Symphony orchestras are too fragile and too dependent on the good will of their communities to employ the hard-nosed, adversarial bargaining approaches often used in the business world—approaches that rely on the ultimate threat of a work stoppage. The price of a work stoppage is too great for the average orchestra. Work stoppages generate ill will for institutions that depend on good will for their survival.
Second, I believe that we must change relations between board and musicians and, most importantly, that it is the board and the staff that must lead the way in that change. Many board members are experienced in reaching agreements and in compromising their objectives to achieve longer-term goals. Fewer musicians have this experience. Most musicians have been trained as artists who struggle to achieve perfection in their work, and few are experienced in the ways of the business world and its daily requirement of compromise and adjustment. In fact, on more than one occasion I have found myself in discussions with bright and knowledgeable musicians who firmly believed that to compromise on a particular issue would be inconsistent with their commitment to their profession. We board members from the business world need to understand and respect those beliefs.
Finally, boards of directors must regard the well-being of their symphony’s musicians as one of their primary objectives—right up there with the interests of their audiences and contributors. Musicians with the talent that we see in our symphony orchestras have earned and deserve that commitment. If we value the music they play, we must also value those who play the music. If we do not, moreover, we jeopardize the future of our institutions.
The next presenter was Sara Harmelink, who has been a violist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for more than 25 years and, until recently, served as chair of the MSO Players’ Council. As Sara outlined, the MSO was organized in 1959 by some music-loving citizens and quickly achieved great artistic success. For many years, relations within the organization were cordial. Then suddenly, in 1993, “All that changed . . . [with] a bitter and very public negotiation. . . . Somehow that sense of community which had brought the MSO into existence had dissipated and the very survival of the MSO was in question.”
Looking back, Sara noted two key factors leading to the 1993 crisis:
A breakdown in communication [had taken place] throughout the organization and between the symphony and the community, [and this] led to extreme distrust. Ninety-five percent of the musicians did not know any board members and weren’t even aware of who they were. If board members had come backstage, we would not have greeted or recognized them. We had no concept of the amount of time, energy, and resources they had given to this orchestra so it could continue to exist. The board members had no personal experience with musicians to know what kinds of people we were or what our lives were like as musicians. There was a minimum of communication between management and musicians, and the musicians were unaware of the artistic and financial decisions until they were already made.
The second factor that brought us to a crisis point was that the board was faced with a growing accumulated deficit, in large part brought on by a failing summer season. The approach the board chose to follow involved asking musicians for contract concessions. When the musicians were confronted by a large pay cut and a shortened season, they felt they had earned the right to ask why. How was this orchestra being run and what steps had been taken to avert this crisis? Unfortunately, although many explanations were forthcoming, the lack of communication had bred distrust. We disagreed openly, but after many months of continued strife, the board, management, and musicians became aware that if we were to keep our audience, donors, and musicians, a settlement must be made.
As Sara noted, an agreement was reached that “contained three new mechanisms for increased communications with the musicians. A Summer Task Force was created, musicians were included as members of Executive Director Search Committee, and musician representation on the board was instituted.”
Within a short period of time, relations between musicians, board, and management began to improve in marked contrast to the buildup of tensions culminating in the summer of 1993. As Sara reported:
How do you create trust when there has been inadequate communication? We all needed to take the first step. . . . Musicians trod lightly at first, listening and learning by asking questions before speaking out. We attended meetings regularly to show our commitment. It took some strong leaders on our board to be the first to share confidential information with the musicians. This was a trust that was not betrayed. Sharing of the data led to frank discussions and the atmosphere grew less tense. We got to know board members on a personal basis, talking about our families and outside personal interests. Board members enjoyed discussions about recent concerts and wanted to hear our personal artistic opinions, such as how we liked the conductor or soloist, or what piece we enjoyed the most. We attended parties together, sometimes hosted by a musician, a board member, or our executive director. Musicians went to joint editorial board meetings for local newspapers. Some musicians spent several evenings at the symphony office telephoning donors thanking them personally for their support. Donors, many of them board members, were invited to listen on-stage for a rehearsal with our music director. Our volunteer Symphony League hosts musicians, staff, and board members for a special dinner at their annual fund-raising event, the Symphony Showhouse.
So what happened to the old stereotypes? We have found that there is no room for the old stereotypes if we are to communicate. We need to know each other as individuals with our own unique problems, but can still share a common goal for the organization.
Sara concluded her presentation with the following thoughts:
Those of us already actively involved are coming to realize that over the last 25 years the job description of a symphony musician has changed. No longer is performing at the highest artistic level enough. Musicians are needed to work within the organization, to be able to create and compromise, while expressing that the artistic missions be held high. No longer can board members simply give generous donations and attend social events. They also need to give of their time and expertise, and to assist in fund raising. No longer can managements simply plan seasons and administer the complex operations of a symphony orchestra. They have the large task of holding the three groups, and community volunteers, together.
Many of our musicians are on committees instead of or in addition to volunteering in the community because the MSO is more than just a job to us. We believe it is a very important part of our community. We have also been inspired sitting next to the board members who have been generous and committed to our symphony for the same reason. This shared dedication to the community and to the music we create has resulted in a common bond between the musicians and the rest of the symphony organization.
It is difficult for symphony orchestras to thrive or even to survive. There is no guarantee that we may not again encounter times of internal strife. We are hopeful that with growing communication and the development of trust we can forge decisions to help us face any difficult times ahead. It is important to remember that there can be organizational structure for increased communication, but in the end it is the dedicated people together who make it work.
Larry Tamburri, executive director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, made the third presentation. Larry described the unique challenges of an or- chestra organization attempting to serve statewide audiences who have other musical choices within easy reach in either New York or Philadelphia. He sum- marized the dynamic, but somewhat erratic, growth of the NJSO throughout the 1980s, and explained that continuing financial crises led to a turning point in 1990, under the guidance of a new board chairman. Within a few years, the New Jersey organization began to show the effects of change in organizational philosophy, stemming especially from the new chairman’s directive “to find ways to include the musicians in the issues facing the orchestra.”
As Larry noted:
The musicians and their leadership took a bold step based on trust. A new atmosphere was forming within the organization—which has continued to evolve and so far grown stronger over time. There are at least four key elements that drove this change: inclusion, personalities, communication, and trust.
The two search processes [for a new music director and a new executive director] were a good beginning. Each search:
◆ was an exercise in organizational bonding;
◆ ultimately provided leaders to the institution in whose success various components of the organization had a stake; and
◆ found people who fit the institution and had the right chemistry.
When asked about the orchestra’s survival during this interesting period, a musician said: “For the NJSO, the deciding moment was when this chemistry came together. This orchestra finally evolved from being a factionalized organization to one that had a common vision. Without a common vision, no orchestra is going to grow.”
Communication, another of the key elements in this change, was and is a complex issue given the number of people involved in the orchestra, but several practices have helped:
◆ attendance and reports by the orchestra committee at all board and executive committee meetings, board retreats and annual meetings;
◆ musician committee members receiving all financial reports and audits;
◆ musician membership on board committees; and
◆ brown-bag lunches between rehearsals with musicians to update them on matters of institutional importance.
The cement that bonds this “process of change” is trust. Over the last five years, as an institution, we have been through some extremely difficult times and have had to make several decisions crucial to our existence. Each time we have solved a problem and made such a decision, we have done it together.
Due to the collaboration of the various parts within our organization—the board, musicians, staff, music director, and volunteers—our financial situation has gone from catastrophic to manageable; our subscriber-donor base has grown dramatically; we will be entering our new home, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, in October; and we settled our master agreement three-and-one-half months before the current contract expired. Our situation is not perfect, but there is a strong spirit of optimism.
I concluded the panel presentation with the following comments.
You have heard the stories of three organizations in change, from the vantage point of three very thoughtful and committed participants, each having a very different leadership role in his or her organization, and in the change process. The kinds of change processes experienced in these three organizations are all in the category of what industrial psychologists generally refer to as “organization change and development” or, for short, “OD” situations. “OD” may be thought of as comprehensive, planned, systemwide change, utilizing organizational behavior knowledge and practices which help organizations become more effective and more productive, with improved quality of life in the workplace, and better products and services for customers.
In two of the organizations, a significant new direction and subsequent pattern of change has been and is being achieved without the assistance of a “change agent.” In the other organization, a facilitator helped the leadership choose and pursue significant change. In each case, a near crisis brought together a handful of people of good will to initiate real change. These leaders began quickly to trust each other, and each had the trust of his or her constituency. Trust broadened, and subleaders were drawn into the process. Each of these organizations is, over time, in its own way, building the mind set of “change” into its culture, so that change processes become the ordinary and not the exception. Like a human being, each organization is desirably “learning” as it develops, improving its processes and its effectiveness, and challenging all participants to grow and broaden professionally as the organization grows and develops.
In conclusion, I am hopeful that in coming years there will be many more “organization change” stories that can be told at this annual conference. I also hope there will be some which are not crisis-related. I look forward to the day when so many striking, significant organizational change processes are taking place throughout the community of symphony institutions that it has become “old stuff,” quite blasé. That is a goal to which the Symphony Orchestra Institute is dedicated!
A full transcript or audiotape of the panel presentation on “Organizational Change” at the annual conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League, held in Washing- ton, D. C., on June 19, 2019, may be obtained from the League.
Paul R. Judy, founder and chairman of the Symphony Orchestra Institute, is a retired investment banking executive. He is a life trustee and former president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Judy holds A.B. and M.B.A. degrees from Harvard University.
Concurrent with this issue of Harmony, the Institute is pleased to publish the first in its Research Studies Series. This series will present insights based on scholarly research and analysis typically focusing on a par-
ticular dimension of symphony orchestra organizations. These research-based publications will be written especially for communication with symphony prac- titioners: staff and orchestra employees, volunteers, and others closely involved in the operation and funding of symphony orchestra organizations.
The first research study, “Improving the Orchestra’s Revenue Position: Practical Tactics and General Strategies,” is authored by Arthur Brooks, recipient of a 1996 doctoral research grant from the Symphony Orchestra Institute. The study is based on Brooks’ 81-page monograph, “Economic Strategies for Orchestras.” For serious students of the economics of symphony orchestra and other performing arts organizations, this monograph is available from the author or the Institute by written request.
Dr. John Breda, also a 1996 Symphony Orchestra Institute doctoral research grant recipient, is working to complete a comparative analysis of psychological distress in the orchestral workplace. We look forward to his findings.
The Institute is following with keen interest the work of various symphony orchestra researchers. Sally Maitlis of the University of Sheffield in England reported on her research in the last issue of Harmony. Having completed more than 18 months of intensive fieldwork, she is currently engaged in a detailed analysis of the organizational processes underlying 9 different decision domains as they occur in 3 UK orchestra organizations. Erin Lehman, a research coordinator at Harvard, continues her study of cooperative and self-governing orchestra organizations. Robert Spich, an associate professor at the Anderson Management School at UCLA, and Robert Sylvester, newly appointed Dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at Portland State University, have been collaborating on a review of the symphonic institution using two established perspectives of organizational analysis: organizational ecology and strategic management. Earlier this year, all these researchers reported on the progress of their inquiries at a New York University Stern School of Business conference on the management of cultural industries.
The Institute is also working with an academic team on an organizational research project which will apply “network analysis” (the determination, analysis, mapping, and interpretation of informal interpersonal and group relationships within an organization) to symphony organizations.
Finally, the Institute is developing a program in which selected scholars in the field of organization analysis and development (“OD”) will spend time with a nearby symphony organization. Over many months, the “OD-in-residence” (perhaps assisted by a graduate student) will observe meetings, conduct inter- views, attend rehearsals and performances, study written material, and become familiar with the values and goals embraced within the organization, and with the structure, functioning, communications, and decision making processes of the organization. Each residency would foster “organizational learning”—a shared appreciation by many participants of how the organization was func- tioning, what was working well, and what unique challenges the organization faced.
The program will also familiarize a select group of organizational change scholars with the complex dynamics of symphony organizations. The Institute intends to facilitate a regular exchange of insights within this group. Over time, this program should foster organizational insights which can be shared with symphony organization participants, leaders, and consultants interested in im- proving the effectiveness of symphony organizations.
The Institute welcomes inquiries and proposals from scholars and practitio- ners interested in symphony orchestra organizational research.
Since the publication of the first issue of Harmony, the Institute has invited response from readers. We received the following thoughts from Marsha Schweitzer, associate principal bassoon with the Honolulu Symphony and editor of Senza Sordino. –Editor
In Harmony Number 4, I read with interest the stories about the New Jersey Symphony. In the roundtable discussion, New Jersey music director Zdenek Macal was quoted as saying, “The past no longer exists. Forget about it. Go on to tomorrow. Stop talking about yesterday.”
I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Macal. Those who lived through the past must live with the effects of it every day. They can no more forget their past than they can forget their race or gender. It is natural for newcomers to an organization with a troubled past to want to start with a clean slate, but there may yet be value to that desperate scrawl written during an organization’s defining moments. Let us not be hasty in erasing it.
We are, all of us, individuals and organizations, the culmination and fruition of what we have been. Let us embrace the past, remember the pain, and learn from it. In the context of those painful memories our new successes will have deeper meaning and greater worth, and will stand a better chance for perma- nence. As Santayana admonishes us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
When symphony organizations writhe in turmoil and dysfunction, many participants quite often experience great anguish and emotional scars. Particularly affected are those who feel very deeply about their institutions, be they musicians, staff members, or volunteers. As suggested by this reader, and as supported by modern organizational theory, history should be used as a learning tool to help all parties improve current thinking and behavior. But the process for doing so must follow a model of reconciliation, and not one of “position taking.” It is also salutary to use fresh symbols, images, and metaphors that are unencumbered by historical association (see Paul Boulian’s thoughts on page 40). In addition, participants in organizations pursuing new ways of working together must develop a “shared vision” which looks forward, not backward.
Pathways to Change: Case Studies of Strategic Negotiations
If one accepts the notion that American orchestras are in a period of change brought on by shifting social and governmental priorities, Pathways to Change is essential reading for all associated with the orchestral enterprise. Execu- tive directors, orchestra committee chairs (and their negotiation committee members), board chairs (and their musician-relations committee members), as well as attorneys who represent musicians or management, should think about the ideas this book offers.
While the authors’ focus is case studies in the industrial and distribution/ transportation sectors, what they say should resonate strongly to all responsible for custody of the relationship between labor and management, or in the case of orchestras, among boards, management, and musicians and their union. A simple mental substitution of the word “orchestra” for “company” will translate for readers of Harmony the authors’ intent.
Building on decades of scholarly research and analysis in the industrial relations field, the authors of this compact paperback identify negotiation as an essential element (if not the essential element) in implementing change.
In their discussion of negotiations, they define two categories of outcomes: “substantive”—the “working” changes in agreements; and “relational”—defining or redefining the “social contract” between parties. They then further explore the social contract in terms of “compliance” (both parties merely comply with the terms of an agreement) contrasted with “commitment” (both parties become committed to the goals of the organization).
Through their research and analysis, the authors have also identified two primary negotiating strategies: “forcing” and “fostering.” They provide case- study analyses of the implementation of these strategies using four models: pure forcing, pure fostering, a sequential strategy in which fostering follows forcing, and concurrent forcing and fostering. They conclude that the sequential and concurrent models offer better probabilities for benefit than do the singular use of either forcing or fostering.
In a chapter titled “Understanding the Context and Choices for Strategic Negotiations,” the authors address eight major topics:
◆ the need for change,
◆ the role of vision,
◆ the role of leadership,
◆ the role of third parties,
◆ the requirements of internal alignment,
◆ the opportunity for negotiations to engender a long-term learning process,
◆ the assessment of management’s strategic alternatives, and
◆ the assessment of strategic alternatives for unions. This short but densely packed chapter is well worth reading, if not committing to memory.
The final chapter, “Learning to be a Strategic Negotiator,” is filled with lessons learned from the cases presented. Many of these lessons relate so directly to orchestra organizations that I found myself saying “aha” again and again. For example, “Actions speak louder than words—so be sure consistent actions are taken and sustained.” Or, “The successful juxtaposition of forcing and fostering drives changes in organizational structure—so anticipate new organizational forms.” The words may seem simple; the implied human dynamic is not.
Pathways to Change is beautifully written and infinitely readable. It should be a standard reference for all who are engaged in the relationships which exist in orchestra organizations.
Pathways to Change: Cast Studies of Strategic Negotiations
Joel Crutcher-Gerhsenfeld, Robert B. McKersie, and Richard E. Walton
W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 1995.
248 pp. $17.95
Reviewed by Tom Bacchetti, executive vice president, Bacchetti & Associates.
Some New Ways to Think about the Collective Bargaining Process
If you have not already done so, please read the review of Pathways to Change. It sets the stage for much of what Tom Bacchetti has to say in the essay that follows.
Bacchetti knows orchestras inside and out, having served as an orchestra executive director, and now as a consultant. In this essay, he shares his experience in looking at collective bargaining from a new perspective, and discusses the role of a third party.
Beginning Anew after Failure
This essay begins with failure—the 1993 bankruptcy of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. But Alabama rose again, and Bacchetti explains the critical assump- tions of the planning model which gave rise to the new orchestra.
He then leads us through the process of assembling an orchestra, drafting a master agreement between the new organization and its orchestra, and creating a foundation of trust and good communication.
The Lessons of Birmingham
After explaining what transpired, Bacchetti turns his attention to what was learned. Using the rubric of Pathways to Change as a framework, he offers a series of observations that might be used to rethink the process of collective bargaining.
Bacchetti concludes his essay by emphasizing that orchestra organization relationships deserve steady, ongoing, and creative investment, well beyond the relatively short periods during which master agreement negotiations take place.
One of the most important relationships in any orchestra organization is between the musi- cians and the orchestra’s management. And yet, more often than not, that relationship is defined by the periodic event known as collective bargaining (or “negotiating the master agreement”).
As former orchestra executive director and now consultant, I have been interested in the process of collective bargaining for many years. From 1982 through 1993, I served as executive director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO). During that period, I represented management in three collective bargaining “events.” One negotiation broke down and resulted in a six-week strike. The other two, while going “down to the wire,” resulted in three-year contracts. All three negotiations were characterized by traditional bargaining: management’s relationship with the union was “arms-length,” and both sides used “distributive bargaining” strategies, employing high degrees of “forcing” (although neither side was consciously aware of the terms). Each negotiation resulted in incremental changes. None addressed structural change in the system, although structural change was becoming increasingly necessary as Atlanta and other orchestras entered the 1990s—a period which we now recognize as one of shrinking public financial resources and of paradigm shift in social priorities.
In retrospect, negotiators on both sides felt the results preserved past gains rather than achieving substantive improvements. Neither side felt much sense of accomplishment. In the year of the six-week strike, unrestrained escalation of the public relations battle led to damaged personal relationships, the scars of which are still visible. There had to be a better way!
After I left the ASO, my wife and I formed a consulting practice. The independence of consulting offered me the opportunity to read extensively and think more abstractly about collective bargaining. About a year ago, an opportunity presented itself to put this thinking and research into practice. I was asked by board leadership of the budding Alabama Symphonic Association, Inc. (ASA), to help them organize the return of a professional orchestra to Birmingham.
Birmingham: A Hands-On Case Study
In January 1993, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Some say the bankruptcy was caused by the precipitous withdrawal of substantial state government funding upon which the orchestra had grown overly dependent. Others suggest that while withdrawal of state funding was a blow, the musicians’ refusal to renegotiate salaries in light of diminished revenue was the ultimate cause. The musicians believe neither that the bankruptcy was necessary nor that the board was particularly resourceful in exploring options…
The following definitions are offered to provide readers with an understanding of terms as used in this essay.
A “forcing” strategy operates on the premise that one party in a negotiation has the power to compel acceptance of its demands on the other party.
A “fostering” strategy, in contrast, operates on the premise that once differences between the parties are identified, solutions can be found which leave all parties better situated and more satisfied.
“Distributive” bargaining focuses on the allocation of “fixed” resources between the parties. These resources may, in fact, be incrementally increasing or decreasing, but are perceived—especially by manage- ment—as being “fixed.”
“Integrative” bargaining focuses on the active identification by both parties of common or complementary interests, and solutions to joint or separate problems, with the expectation of also finding ways to expand resources which can be shared by the parties.
“Substantive” outcomes of collective bargaining are reflected in the provisions of the resulting signed agreement, particularly as it relates to compensation and work rules.
“Relational” outcomes are reflected in the more qualitative, often un- written, results of collective bargaining, including the degree of trust, the amount of cooperation, the level of commitment, and the ongoing direction of labor-management relations which are established through the bargaining process.
other than reducing musician salaries.1 It does not matter who was “right.” The outcome was still a bankrupt orchestra.
Almost immediately following the bankruptcy, an effort to return symphonic music to Birmingham began. Led by volunteers, the effort quickly raised enough money to purchase key assets of the orchestra: the music library, the large instruments usually owned by orchestras, and such equipment as music stands, chairs, and sound amplification equipment. The volunteers also set about organizing funding for an orchestra’s return.
Even before the Alabama Symphony went bankrupt, plans were under way to build a performing arts center on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The center was to be the home of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, to present touring artists and attractions, and to serve as a venue for the music department and other campus offerings. The 1,300-seat center, a European-style music chamber with superb orchestral acoustics, opened in September 1996, with Leonard Slatkin leading performances by the National Symphony Orchestra.
Although the center opened without an orchestra in residence, a local philanthropist, whose late wife had been deeply involved in the center’s planning and funding, soon provided major aid. Determined to realize his wife’s dream, the donor led efforts to fund the return of a professional orchestra to Birmingham and the center. A skeletal board incorporated the Alabama Symphonic Association, Inc. The board researched orchestral associations in similar-sized communities and interviewed members of Birmingham’s civic and corporate sectors. From its research, the board produced a planning model which contained several critical assumptions:
◆ The corporate community would not support a new orchestra until it proved itself fiscally responsible.2
◆ Financial conditions and community attitudes demanded the new effort begin with a $3 million annual budget, considerably smaller than the $5 million annual budget of the bankrupt orchestra.
◆ Long-term financial security required an endowment three times the size of the annual operating budget.
◆ Orchestra backers needed to raise a $5-million “operating fund” to provide a $500,000 yearly floor for the annual-fund campaign for the first 10 years.
◆ Management of the endowment would be vested in a separate, nonprofit corporation to assure that the endowment’s corpus would not be raided.
The new board then set out to raise the $15 million required to launch a new orchestra. By late summer 1996, it had assembled close to $12.75 million in gifts and pledges. Confident in their ability to raise the remaining $2.25 million, the board turned to the task of assembling an orchestral organization.
Assembling an Orchestra
By September 1996, the ASA had a staff of three employees: a development director, a projects manager, and an office/financial manager. The president emeritus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham agreed to serve as volunteer president and CEO of the ASA. A local partner of Ernst & Young—now treasurer and chair of the ASA’s finance committee—prepared a meticulously researched, thoughtful, and detailed five-year financial plan. By late September, the board had an artistic advisor for a two-year term. I joined the effort in mid-October to organize operations, to assist the artistic advisor in putting together the first season, and to help assemble the orchestra. The latter task provided a real-time opportunity to test some alternative negotiating methodology. Was there truly a better way?
Initially, the board considered the possibility of forming a non-union orchestra. Several factors mitigated against energetic pursuit of that option. For example, the president, treasurer, and business agent of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) local were all symphonic musicians and members of the former Alabama Symphony. Then, there was the time schedule. Given the association’s intent to present a season beginning in September 1997, the best option to fill vacancies that occurred during the four-year hiatus of symphonic music was the established recruiting system provided by the AFM’s publication, The International Musician. Research with labor counsel also indicated that if the majority of the new orchestra’s musicians belonged to the AFM, they could (and most likely would) elect to certify the union shortly after they were employed.
The board understood and accepted these conditions, and chose to recognize the AFM as sole bargaining agent for the orchestra’s musicians. With these preliminaries accomplished, attention turned to drafting a master agreement—negotiating.
Agreement on Rules of the Game
Musicians and management3 agreed to conduct the initial discussions without attorneys present, and to conduct them as attempts to address issues of concern, rather than as a presentation of and reaction to positions of one party or the other. All negotiators agreed to an embargo on statements to the press unless the other party had been informed at least 24 hours in advance that a public statement was forthcoming. This agreement was honored; no public statements were issued during the course of negotiations. A joint press release and joint interviews announced ratification of the agreement.
The musicians accepted the conceptual financial plan as a starting point. The board, with some initial reluctance, accepted the last master agreement of the bankrupt symphony as the basis for discussion of work rules and format.
The Importance of Leadership
The presidents of the board and the AFM local deserve special recognition for their roles in working through the positive process that resulted in a new master agreement. Both were open, patient, tolerant of differing views, passionate advocates, and committed to creating a strong, sustainable organization. Lines of representation actually blurred at times, with the union president arguing on behalf of a larger management staff than the financial plan envisioned (to assure full, professional execution of the business plan), while the board president argued for an improved medical insurance plan for the musicians.
Both presidents were committed to a strategic approach emphasizing fostering rather than forcing.4 Although the board president chose to describe the meetings leading to a contract as “issue discussions,” and the union president considered them “negotiating sessions,” the descriptive differences were never an impediment to meaningful progress.
The Role of a Third Party
Early in my engagement, the board president asked me to assist in negotiating the master agreement with the musicians. He believed it was important to lead the negotiations as a way of developing relationships with the musicians through the negotiation process. He also understood the benefit of being assisted by someone familiar with orchestras and experienced in the negotiations process. I felt I could be useful as an independent facilitator, helping both sides reach agreement.
The AFM local accepted this arrangement. They considered it a plus to have the involvement of someone with orchestra management experience who was conversant with the usual terms and conditions of orchestra negotiations. They considered me an ally—at least insofar as they assumed I would explain standard orchestra practices and procedures to the novice board.
I saw my role as the interpreter of the process. But I had an agenda, too. This was an opportunity to help the association and the local union establish a sound basis—both substantively and in terms of defining relationships—for the development of an important and sustainable institution. It also provided the chance to try to persuade the parties to adopt the kind of flexible work arrangements many observers of the symphony industry believe to be essential to ongoing orchestral well-being.
As a consultant I felt less constrained by the formalities of negotiation than I had as an executive director. The semi-clean5 slate could only be viewed as an opportunity for those involved to build a new organization in a new way. The informal nature of the negotiations allowed me to check in regularly with both parties, and to monitor progress, attitudes, and positions. Through this regular “temperature- checking,” I was able to devise ad hoc procedures to resolve budding conflicts. Although the only proof may be the agreement itself, I believe this “on-the-fly,” third- party facilitation substantially helped the parties reach an agreement that contains a number of substantive and social contract changes6 from the one that governed the former Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
Results of the Process
Initially, the board hoped to craft a master agreement of fewer than 10 pages. The final result was an agreement of 56 pages, a marked reduction from the 72-page agreement of the former Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
In assessing the agreement, I am drawing on the framework outlined in the book Pathways to Change, which is reviewed immediately preceding this essay, and the authors’ earlier work, Strategic Negotiations: A Theory of Change in Labor- Management Relations. The agreement contains language which denotes both substantive and relational changes for the new orchestra organization.
While the initial financial-planning model called for a nucleus of 40 full-time musicians (employed on a weekly basis for a 34-week season), and a 20 percent of payroll addition for statutory and negotiated benefits, the board stressed from the outset its intent to employ as many full-time musicians, and to provide them the best benefit package possible—within budgetary boundaries. Through joint review of the financial projections, incorporation of musician suggestions, use of influential experts to negotiate medical insurance, and other adjustments, the final agreement resulted in the employment of 48 full-time musicians, and a benefit override of 24 percent.
Three significant, substantive changes from the agreement which had governed the bankrupt symphony also signaled a change in relationships (or social contract) from “compliance” to “commitment.”
◆ The union accepted a rising cap on the association’s responsibility for medical insurance premiums.7
◆ The issue of leave days—identified by the local as most abused by its members in the previous agreement—was resolved by shifting the accrual of leave to an earned, rather than entitlement, basis.
◆ In a significant departure from traditional work rules,8 agreement was reached to permit the scheduling of small ensembles and individual musician services as part of the guaranteed annual service count for full-time musicians. The change in work rules grew from mutual understanding of two issues: the challenge of reconnecting with the community following a four-year absence of symphony music and the likely presence of “excess” guaranteed services during the term of the agreement.
Relational (Social Contract) Results
The Community Outreach Program is a good example of movement toward a mutually committed relationship. Once the issues surfaced, the musicians’ negotiating committee was asked to propose a solution.
The musicians proposed a framework for using a limited number of smaller ensemble or individual services in an outreach program jointly managed by a committee of musicians and management. After refinement of details—including a financial incentive for expanding the number of services available for use under the terms of this program—a conceptual framework was agreed upon. It will be up to the musicians and the orchestra’s new management to cooperatively refine the details and implement the program during the 1997-1998 season, and program implementation affords an excellent opportunity to foster relationships between management and musicians.
Musicians from the new orchestra will participate as voting members of the board of directors, and on all appropriate standing and ad hoc committees. This agreement for musicians to so serve is not without implementation impediments. At least one musician on the negotiating committee expressed the preference to limit involvement to just “doing my (musical) job,” and at least one member of the board negotiating team expressed reluctance to include musicians on the finance committee.
Both musicians and nonmusician board members continue to struggle with how musicians serving on the board and its committees can traverse the river between “thinking like a union representative to the board” and “thinking like a board member.” (Maybe this river isn’t very deep or very wide, but it certainly is murky.)
The Future in Birmingham
It would be naive to suggest this negotiation resulted in a fully trusting relationship. But it is fair to observe there is a greater degree of trust between the board and the union than there was in October 1996. Administration of this first master agreement is crucial to the orchestra’s future. Key factors in developing improved levels of trust include:
◆ Full and open sharing of information.
◆ A problem-solving rather than a “positioning” approach.
◆ Early identification of areas of mutual interest and areas of potential conflict, along with the mutual commitment to resolve conflicts.
◆ Maintaining the high levels of committed leadership that both parties enjoyed during the negotiations.
The new orchestral organization in Birmingham is very much a “work in progress.” Its first season opened shortly before publication of this article. Success depends not so much on avoiding mistakes—the organization will make its share—but rather on building a committed, participatory, self-confident organization that recognizes and learns from its mistakes. To succeed, this orchestral organization must become one in which parties deal honestly with each other. It must become an organization of clear, shared expectations, coupled with a commitment to exceed those expectations. It must be an organization in which understanding of roles and respect for differences is commonplace. And, finally, it must recognize that while conflicts will arise, a commitment to resolve them successfully is essential.
The Lessons of Birmingham
The Birmingham experience indicates there is a better way to develop positive musician-management relations. Discussions with both executives and musicians in other orchestras and my personal experience in negotiating collective bargaining agreements as executive director of a large orchestra (coupled with selected readings and considerable thinking about the subject) provide enough perspective for me to venture some generalized observations. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it may be a start to rethinking collective bargaining and its relationships.
◆ Most orchestra executives and musician bargaining representatives tend to concern themselves more with negotiating tactics and desired outcomes than with strategy. Consequently, in the spectrum of available strategic choices, orchestra managements and musician-negotiators generally adopt hard-bargaining, forcing strategies, with little thought given to the “social contract” implications and effects of collective bargaining. A few orchestras report employing pure fostering strategies in their negotiations. Fewer still choose the complex route of mixed forcing-fostering (or fostering-forcing) strategies. Both musicians and management will benefit from using mixed strategies, in which fostering is the predominant mode, but which recognize that divergent interests on some issues may be resolved only by “hard bargaining.” A move away from primary reliance on forcing, coupled with a mutual commitment to honesty, trust, and openness will, over time, sufficiently strengthen the social contract to allow periodic episodes of forcing that will not damage the organization.
◆ A fostering strategy is best developed outside the event of periodic collective bargaining. Put a different way, the period of “contract admin- istration” affords the chance for management or musicians to initiate fostering steps to positively redefine the social relationship between the parties. I do not suggest fostering is without pitfalls. It is not. But if American orchestras are to adapt to our continually changing environment, a new paradigm of cooperation and commitment is essential.
◆ The use of independent, third-party assistance in areas of musician-management relations, including negotiations and contract admin- istration, is undervalued by most American orchestras. The options for third-party assistance have broadened significantly in recent years to include lawyers with facilitation training, independent facilitators, skilled mediators, and practitioners in the growing field of alternative dispute resolution. Orchestra executives and musician committee leaders owe it to their respective constituents to explore these alternatives as they prepare for and conduct negotiations.
◆ Collective bargainers need to agree on the rules of negotiation before negotiating. The ground rules should be designed to expedite the negotiating process, and to preserve essential aspects of the social contract between the parties. Unrestrained escalation of a forcing strategy, particularly combative public statements and postures, can result in long-term damage to the organization and all individuals associated with it. Public name-calling, attempts to recruit public opinion to one’s “side” by inflammatory and often misleading statements, and similar tactics produce undesirable results.
◆ Information should be shared. If things are going well, let everyone in the organization know and celebrate the success. If there are dark clouds building, let everyone know before it starts raining; one never knows where a good idea may surface. The corollary to sharing is asking for information. Ask carefully for information useful in addressing issues, not just to satisfy curiosity. When sharing or asking for information, remember that context is important.9
◆ Leadership is essential in successful musician- management relations. Leadership carries responsibility for the process of negotiation as well as its outcome. This is a more difficult challenge for the musician-leader than for the management-leader. Orchestra executives are more likely to be trained in organizational leadership than are their musician counterparts. Often musicians inexperienced in negotiation are thrust into the role of representing the orchestra. Some rise to the occasion well, others do not. Orchestra committees, union locals, and national union organizations should consider investing in training musician leadership. Consideration should be given, too, to compensating musician- leaders for their organizational leadership responsibilities.
◆ Negotiations provide a setting for listening, learning, and growing. There are many areas of common interest between the parties. Skillful listening, brainstorming (as opposed to blamestorming), and honesty go a long way towards emphasizing common interests and resolving those that conflict.
◆ Trust is fragile, but not as fragile as we sometimes make it out to be. All parties to negotiations need to act honestly, fairly, and with the degree of civility warranted by the orchestral profession. If issues sit, fester, germinate, and grow, everyone shares responsibility for the destruction of trust. Get the process back on track. Toughening one’s skin and confronting the sources of misrepresentation, truth shading, selective memory, and other trust-busting tactics is a responsibility that all share.
◆ The national union organizations have an unrealized opportunity to improve labor relations in orchestras. They can provide training, or access to it, to professionalize their interests in musician-management relations at the local level. Union sponsorship of a musician- management-relations institute, patterned after similar programs offered by other labor unions, provides a great opportunity to move the field forward. And if the national union organizations were to partner with America’s orchestras to reassert the value of symphonic music to education, business development, and spiritual enrichment, they would be formidable forces.
◆ Finally and most importantly, musician-management relations must be seen as a high-priority, full-time concern for all associated with orchestras. No longer should these relations be viewed as episodic “necessary evils” for management, or “here’s our once-every-three- year shot at redressing all real or perceived wrongs and getting paid what we’re worth” for musicians. Musician-management relations should be among the top three relationship-building tasks within any orchestra organization (the others being orchestra-customer and orchestra-donor).
For orchestra managements, this has many implications. It means scheduling time to cultivate the relationship; it means allocating financial resources to support the relationship; it means welcoming musicians to governance participation; and it means making a sustained commitment to new ways of working together.
For musicians it means many of the same things. It means scheduling time to participate and time to prepare for participation; it means struggling with when it is appropriate to “act like a board member” or to “act like a union musician”; it may mean some financial sacrifice, such as foregoing an outside, paying gig to serve on a committee or the board; and it, too, means making a sustained commitment to new ways of working together.
The threats to American orchestras are real and grave. These threats demand that orchestras explore new ways of working. The most fundamental relationship in the orchestra is that between musicians and management. Yet this relationship is the one to which little attention is paid outside of the event of master agreement negotiations, usually once every three years. Perhaps the time has come for all parties to invest in rethinking the basics.
My thanks to the ASO president, Dr. Charles A. McCallum, and to the AFM Local president, David Pandolfi, for their friendship, cooperation, and support, and to John G. Skinner for steady counsel on labor law.
Tom Bacchetti is executive vice president of Bacchetti & Associates, consultants to orchestras and other nonprofit organizations. He holds his B.A. degree from Colgate University and pursued graduate studies at Stanford University.
1 Pathways to Change describes a third strategy, “escape,” in detailing strategic choices, although the authors view it more as a tactical threat than a useful strategy. In a corporate setting, escape is closing a plant in one location while opening another in a location with more favorable labor conditions. The bankruptcy of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra could be viewed in this context: closure of the orchestra as an attempt to escape what the board determined to be an untenable labor contract.
2 The bankruptcy of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra left substantial unpaid debts with banks and vendors. Although the new ASA is a different organization, interviews indicated that the bankruptcy tainted any “symphony” organization. To address the perceived confidence problem, the new board vowed to operate in the black, and included a bylaw prohibition against borrowing.
3 Because an executive director had not yet been hired, nor had a players’ committee been elected, ASA negotiations took place directly between the board and the local musicians’ union. For purposes of generalization in this article, the term “management” includes both board and paid executive staff, and the words musicians and union are used interchangeably.
4 Although the clear emphasis was fostering, there were necessary episodes of mild forcing during the negotiations. For example, the board refused to move higher than the $3 million expense budget projection. They made it clear they would abandon the effort to bring an orchestra back if the local union insisted on a larger budgetary commitment.
5 It wasn’t a completely clean slate because there remained baggage, commitments, feelings, and attitudes from the former orchestra’s collapse.
6 Substantive changes are those affecting compensation and work rules, e.g., scheduling of orchestra services, length of services, and, as noted later in this article, ways in which contract musicians may or may not be officially scheduled in groups less than the full orchestra. Relational changes are those affecting the nature of the “social contract” between the employer and the employees. Pathways to Change describes social contracts in such terms as compliance, cooperation, and commitment.
7 The association agreed to pay the full premium for employed musicians in the first year (of a two-year agreement) and to raise its commitment up to 5 percent in the second year. If premiums increase more than 5 percent in the second year, a joint committee will review the situation and resolve a way to keep liability within the 5-percent boundary.
Symphony Orchestras: How Did We Get Here? Where are We Heading?
The genesis of the following essay was a report that Fred Starr presented to the Knight Foundation in January 1997. The Institute received a copy of that report, and asked Starr to share his ideas with readers of Harmony.
During his career, Starr has served a number of American institutions, includ- ing Oberlin College and the Aspen Institute, as president of each. He is a devotee of symphonic music, a jazz musician, and a keen observer of the American music scene. His observations are worth a thoughtful read.
A Corporate-Philanthropic Model
Starr argues that American orchestra organizations have followed a corporate- philanthropic model since the founding of the New York Philharmonic in 1842. He suggests that this model was honed in the 1960s, particularly through a study of the performing arts conducted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and initiatives funded by the Ford Foundation. Publication in 1966 of William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen’s book Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma fueled acceptance of the corporate-philanthropic model.
But Starr thinks Baumol and Bowen were misguided and, in detail, explains why.
Initiatives for a New Model
In the April 1996 issue of Harmony, we presented the Fleischmann-Lipman- Morris debate of the late 1980s. Was the symphony dead? The American Symphony Orchestra League concluded that orchestra organizations were a “culture of conflict.” Starr suggests that there is hope, and explains the Knight Foundation’s “Magic of Music” initiative, which assigns growing importance to the motivation of orchestra players, and to the organizational arrangements and less formal aspects of an orchestra’s “culture.”
I n medicine, both diagnoses and prescriptions are in constant flux. To some extent these shifts reflect the ever changing list of diseases that afflict our species. No less, the changes reflect the evolution of our knowledge
and the fashions of thought prevailing in the medical profession and in society at large. One year, we trace the cause of all our ills to diet, and the next year to the environment; for a while the scalpel is seen as the best treatment for cancers, but then we suddenly shy away from operations in favor of other therapies, or even homeopathy.
Similarly, the diagnoses and prescriptions that we devise for the American symphony orchestra are constantly changing. As in medicine, the shifts embody the evolving state of our knowledge, whether of economics, sociology, or the theory of organizations. But to an equal degree, they reveal the predispositions, both personal and collective, that we bring to the task at hand. The fact that both our knowledge and our biases are in constant flux should encourage us to gain perspective on how we have addressed the ills of symphony orchestras in the past, and how we should best do so in the future. That is the purpose of this essay.
The American symphony orchestra traces its origins to the 18th century. Long before the establishment of the New York Philharmonic in 1842, various entrepreneurial or musician-led collaborative orchestras existed in New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston. But it was the Philharmonic model of a board-led professional ensemble with philanthropic support that eventually prevailed everywhere. Hence the tendency to equate the Philharmonic’s founding with the establishment of the American orchestra as such. To this day, American orchestral organizations generally mirror the Philharmonic, and the evolution of the “industry” (a usage as revealing as it is common) has followed a single pattern which, based on the New York model, might be called corporate-philanthropic. The key period in the recent evolution of that pattern was the 1960s.
The main thesis offered here is that the 1960s saw the full elaboration of an idea on how performing arts groups should be organized that has prevailed down to the present. It is worth noting that this ideal was not developed with the symphony orchestra specifically in mind, but for a generic “performing arts” entity. Until recently, orchestras have been subsumed under corporate or philanthropic models of organization that often fail to comprehend the idiosyncrasies of orchestral music and the realities of musicians’ lives. Today, many question the relevance of the 1960s model. Some might even wonder if that model was ever appropriate, and whether it might in the long run have done as much harm as good.
Be that as it may, the present moment, for all its obvious difficulties, is surely a fertile one. Basic verities are being scrutinized and fundamentally new approaches considered. In the place of the old corporate-philanthropic model, a new ideal based on artistic, personal, and social considerations is gradually coming into being.
The 1960s Vision: Looking Back to the Future
The framework assumptions of our current dialogue on symphony orchestras were first systematized in the 1960s. The very language with which we discuss orchestral life was codified in that decade, and gained such widespread acceptance that we rarely pause to ask whether that vocabulary is appropriate or whether another one might be more useful.
The crystallizing moment occurred when John D. Rockefeller, architect Wallace K. Harrison, and other trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund undertook a special study of the performing arts in America. The year—1965—was auspicious. The arts had experienced a sustained boom and the prevailing view was that good times would continue. Orchestras faced real problems that members of the Rockefeller panel acknowledged and sought to address. But no one doubted that workable solutions were readily at hand. After all, were not orchestras “the longest established, most widely dispersed, and most stable” of all America’s performing arts organizations?1
The Beatles and Rolling Stones were already driving young audiences wild, and there were already hints of a poisonous cynicism about leadership that would eventually culminate in, and be vindicated by, Watergate. But the Rockefeller panel saw none of this (did any of us?), and assumed that the problems of orchestras, whatever they were, did not involve leadership. It had no problem relegating sole control of programming to the artistic director. It saw the technological changes that were already looming as purely benign from the standpoint of symphony orchestras, and it had no sense that the “culture” of concert life was in any way threatened. Least of all did the panel question what William Weber has called “the highly rationalized social controls that the new business elite exercised over lesser groups” in the concert hall.2 In the panel’s view, the only real problem was money.
In 1965, major orchestras covered about 52 percent of their costs through ticket sales. The panel was unwilling to consider raising ticket prices, and recommended instead that the shortfall be covered through grants from foundations, corporations, and the federal government. But this was not all. Several crippling strikes had just occurred over musicians’ wages. The Rockefeller panel, ruing the fact that 20 percent of orchestral musicians in major cities had to teach on the side in order to make ends meet, offered a stunningly simple solution: extend the season. No one asked if the public was interested in supporting an extended season or if the add-on concerts might require greater variety in programming. No one calculated the “opportunity cost” of reduced teaching in the community by orchestral players. All this was waved aside with what today appears breathtaking naiveté. Suffice it to say that no one thought so then, this author not excepted.
The Rockefeller panel showed genuine sensitivity to many themes considered important today. Even if it did not equate audiences with ticket sales, it encouraged steps to expand the audience for classical concerts, pointing out that, “There are millions of Americans who have never seen a live professional performance or participated in a live performance of any kind.”3 The panel also suggested that orchestras could make gains by improving their operating efficiency which, as we shall see, was soon dismissed as heretical.
But the heart of the panel’s recommendations was the extended season. In a passage that anticipates Robert Shaw’s 1977 proposal for “an ideal ‘Musical Arts Society’ which would embrace all musical activities and all areas of performance,” and Ernest Fleishmann’s 1987 notion of a “community of musicians,”4 the Rockefeller group suggested that the orchestra might transform itself into a “purveyor of musical services . . . a musical talent organization producing musicians for a variety of musical activities.”5 Such examples of breadth and imagination did much to soften the Rockefeller panel’s otherwise hard focus on year-round employment as a cure-all for orchestras.
These same qualities were less in evidence in the influential volume Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma, published the following year by two academic economists, William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen. While taking no stand on the lengthened season, the authors came out squarely for professionalization, and urged that it be extended to the orchestras’ management. Orchestras, they argued, are businesses and should be managed as such. Having acknowledged this, Baumol and Bowen seemingly weakened their argument by posing what they claimed was the central dilemma of the economics of orchestras. Unlike manufacturers, who can match added costs with gains in productivity, an orchestra, they argued, must face ever mounting costs with inelastic productivity, thus creating a funding gap. Why should this be?
In the view of these two economists, orchestras are constrained by their “technology.” A set number of basses are needed to perform Brahms, and the composer’s set tempos rule out any possible gains from “working” faster.6 On this simple premise, Baumol and Bowen based an eloquent and effective plea for foundations and the federal government to fill the funding gap.
Their timing was perfect. A soaring stock market had lifted the endowments of many foundations, leaving them in good condition to respond. The Kennedy era had passed, but Camelot lived on in the growing readiness of Congress to support the arts. A new era appeared to be dawning.
For all the volume’s strengths, Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma is seriously flawed both as diagnosis and prescription. Since this study’s general approach and leading recommendations were to become deeply knit into the orchestral field, it is worth pausing to consider these issues in some depth.
First, orchestras can improve their productivity. If a conductor wastes rehearsal time, he or she is reducing productivity. If ticket sales cover half the budget, and half the seats are empty, the potential “productivity” of the concert is reduced by a quarter, no matter how brilliant the performance. True, the authors glance in passing at the empty seats, and even note the fact that audiences for both theater and ballet were growing faster than for orchestral concerts. But they draw no conclusions from this evidence other than to call for more external support.
Second, Baumol and Bowen equate all sources of income. Perhaps this is appropriate in strict accounting terms but it causes serious distortions in the management of orchestras. Suppose that $1,000 from ticket sales is equated with the same amount from a foundation or corporate grant, or from the National Endowment for the Arts. All money, after all, is equal. It follows that administrators should focus their attention on whatever sources of funds yield the largest amounts with the least expenditure in time and money. And since the IRS rewards larger donors with greater tax deductibility, it could even be said that the private grants deserve the most administrative attention since their donors have greater inducement to make them. Under any circumstances, the income from ticket sales, and hence audiences, receive a diminished level of attention from trustees and administrators who are guided by such reasoning.
But the argument itself is flawed. A larger audience (especially if it is enthusiastic about the performance) can be a recruiting field for volunteers, whose time should appear on the budget, but usually does not. The expanded audience may also draw in heretofore unknown individual donors whose support may eventually extend over many years. And it is certain to exert a positive influence on local public opinion and, by extension, government. What city will fail to acknowledge the importance of its orchestra as an institution in the face of strong and enthusiastic audiences? Such recognition can also translate into practical benefits in the form of direct and indirect subsidies. But Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma ignored all this, and by doing so helped divert the attention of orchestral boards and managers from individual audience members to institutional donors, and from the concert hall to the development office.
This crucial shift was hastened by the further assumption that the performing arts and culture are above all “social goods” and that “society” should therefore be prepared to pay for them. Never mind that Cicero, in his famous speech Pro Arcia, in which the ideal of the humanities was set forth for the first time, stressed that the role of the arts is to civilize, console, uplift, and soothe the individual, and that Cicero was deeply skeptical of civic bombast masquerading under the name of art.
The notion that music is primarily a social good contains several subthemes that merit our attention. A strong element in the foundation world holds that the greater a nonprofit group’s dependence on salable output, the less its ability to concentrate on charitable activities, and hence the lower its “community benefit index” (read: worthiness of foundation support).7 By such reasoning, an orchestra organization that sells tickets to its concerts is deemed less worthy of philanthropic support than one that gives tickets away. Never mind that the act of a ticket purchase might imply to the purchaser that the concert (or rock concert, lecture, or education) possesses value, in a way that the free event (or rock concert, lecture, or education) does not. All this is lost on the professional funder, who sees the arts as a kind of “blackstrap molasses” to be administered to the public for its improvement, and who takes large ticket sales as evidence of the artistic director’s aversion to risk, and hence of his or her unworthiness of support.
Also implicit in the assumption that music is mainly a social good is a strong dose of pre-Vietnam-era nationalism. Was this not the era when culture and the arts were being mobilized by the White House for Cold War competition, and when Van Cliburn’s triumph in Moscow was taken as proof that the American system was second to none in the production of culture as well as of automobiles? Who could doubt that it was the task of philanthropy, corporations, and the federal government to assure that the United States would not bow before any other country as a Kulturstaat?
Even though the lifetime earnings of Americans who receive higher education are vastly greater than those who do not, Baumol and Bowen viewed universities, too, as primarily social goods. Consequently, in the 1960s they favored a pricing system for both concerts and universities based on “justice” (for whom?), even though their own research indicated considerable price elasticity in the performing arts, and the experience of major universities demonstrated that many Americans were prepared to pay a lot more for elite education. And they applied the same model to universities to explain why “productivity” cannot increase and, hence, why costs inevitably rise faster than inflation. Eventually, of course, the universities began pricing to market, at least for the rich. Finally, when yearly tuition at elite universities reached $30,000, the public rebelled. Soon legislatures and trustees, brushing aside arguments about the “inevitability of costs rising faster than the price index,” began demanding greater efficiency and productivity. A parallel development was to occur in the orchestral world, and for the same reason. Trustees began refusing to pay for unutilized services and for expensive recording contracts that promised little offsetting income.
Finally, it is no accident that this entire economic argument was offered without reference to the quality of the product, the “producers’” ability to produce it, or the public’s interest in buying it. The arts, after all, were a “Good Thing” and the musicians’ motivation was not in question. The Baumol-Bowen volume devotes more space to analyzing the “non-ticket costs” of concert attendance, including baby-sitters and restaurants, than it does to the nature or quality of the musical “product,” or the attendee’s experience in the hall. It was assumed that these concerns were the exclusive domain of the musical director. It is relevant to note that in the same years, the board of General Motors blithely relegated full responsibility for the design and production of GM cars to the divisional presidents and chief engineers, and with similar consequences.
The Pipers Pay
Together, the report of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund panel and the Baumol- Bowen volume defined American thinking about symphony orchestras and provided a blueprint for action. Initially, the results were encouraging. Thanks in good measure to the advocacy of these authors, the Ford Foundation committed substantial funds to the creation of orchestral endowments that could provide permanent support as the orchestras shifted to yearlong contracts for musicians. Later, Ford returned with more large grants to enable major orchestras to achieve “stabilization” by building cash reserves. And in the same buoyant mood, the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company reviewed orchestral life in 1972 and found that all problems would be solved if the federal government were only to cover 25 percent of orchestral budgets. The subsequent eightfold increase in public support for the arts seemed to confirm that anything was possible.
The benefits of this outpouring of support were enormous, at least in the short term. At the same time, they were accompanied by unanticipated conse- quences in the area of the “culture” of orchestral management that became liabilities in the longer term. Who could have foretold that the lengthened seasons would be inaugurated just as the whirlwind of cultural change hit in the late 1960s, as urban riots would drive concert-going audiences to far suburbs, or as foundations and even the federal government would begin to redirect resources to domestic social issues and away from the arts? Who, finally, could have anticipated that the effort to build orchestral endowments and generally to “stabilize” budgets with non-ticket income would occur just as a major setback was about to hit Wall Street? The consequence of these changes was something wholly unanticipated by the writers of the 1960s, namely, a reduction of ticket income per concert just as alternative sources of support were waning. Few had expected orchestral productivity to rise, but no one seems to have anticipated that it might fall. Yet in terms of economics this is precisely what happened.
The total number of attendees continued to rise, if at a slower rate. But by the 1980s, half-empty halls were all too common, even for many major orchestras. It was apparent that lengthened seasons had far outstripped the public’s demand for concerts, at least in the form they were being offered. Thomas W. Morris of The Cleveland Orchestra was one of many to begin speaking of bored audiences.8 As early as 1980, Gunther Schuller observed that orchestral players had also grown bored with the repetitive, unimaginative, and artistically cynical programming with which music directors had filled the extended seasons.
The initial response of orchestras to these grave problems was at once mechanistic and fumbling. Boards were determined to apply what they considered to be sound management principles to the messy world of music. Like directors at General Motors in these same years, many rushed to the conclusion that it was the marketing department that had let them down. Rather than look at the product, rather than examine it clinically in terms of both quantity and quality,
they simply brought in new leadership and expanded budgets for advertising and promotion. The few who considered the “product” looked no further than the artistic directors, whom they promoted and paid as “stars” in the hope that they could turn the situation around. Instead, the peripatetic but often mediocre directors responded by entering into commitments to several orchestras at once, thus assuring that none would get their full attention.
Other boards figured that the problem lay in fund raising, and therefore expanded development offices in order to churn out ever more applications to fickle funders whose attentions had long since turned elsewhere. Many turned away from seasoned older managers who could work with musical directors as respected colleagues and brought in tough “bottom-line men” (or women) who were prepared to slash back expenditures and whip recalcitrant musicians into line, whatever the consequences.9
Even though every one of these “take charge” measures was defended in terms of the latest fads in management theory, it is hard to discern any real strategy behind this fog of severe and even brutal tactical maneuvers. To the extent that any broader notions were involved, they consisted of a combination of corporate thinking from the era of downsizing and 1960s foundation thinking on arts organizations, which paid attention to everything but the art. In short, they consisted of ever larger doses of the old corporate-philanthropic nostrums that had helped get symphony orchestras into trouble in the first place.
The reckoning was not long in coming. By the late 1980s, the orchestral world faced a general crisis. The ticket-buying public had grown older and its numbers had peaked; a new generation approached adulthood with no exposure to music in the schools and no habit of concert-going; regular seasons contracted; pop stars were engaged as part of a pathetic and demeaning effort to court new audiences; deficits soared; endowments were consumed, and salaries frozen. A few well-managed organizations weathered the storm, but several of the weaker ones fell into bankruptcy. A mood of surliness and confrontation settled like an evil cloud over many orchestras and the organizations that sustained them. Contract negotiations often turned into exchanges of recriminations between management and musicians. Strikes or the threat of strikes, once comparatively rare in the orchestral world, reemerged as regular tools at the bargaining table. Many orchestras could no longer cope.
As the general crisis deepened, debate arose over the nature and very existence of symphony orchestras in America. Ernest Fleishmann declared in 1987 that:
The symphony orchestra as we know it is dead. . . . Symphony concerts have become dull and predictable: musicians and audiences are suffering from repetitive routines and formula-type programming. There is an acute shortage of conductors who not only know their scores inside out but 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.10
Donald Henehan of The New York Times spoke of orchestras “splintering”11 and even Samuel Lipman, an ardent defender of orchestras as he had known them, referred to a state of “creative exhaustion.”12 Could there be more eloquent testimony to the fact that something was seriously amiss?
From Darkness to Knight
Amidst this mood of general crisis there was no lack of diagnoses of the problem and prescriptions for the orchestras’ recovery. In 1992, the American Symphony Orchestra League impaneled a 143-member national task force to study the problem. The resulting report, issued in 1993, was widely criticized for what many considered its condescending and “politically correct” recommendations regarding special programming to lure to the concert hall African-Americans and other minority groups. Largely ignored in the ensuing debate were the report’s practical and eminently sound suggestions on how to improve the relationship of musicians to the institutional orchestra, and how to revitalize the concert-going experience itself.13 These in turn flowed from the report’s solid acknowledgment that “the musician’s desire and ability to find expression through music is what brings the art form
However obvious this may seem, this acknowl- edgment represents a quantum leap beyond the mind set that informed the major diagnoses of the l960s, which approached the orchestra mainly as a set of budgetary and managerial concerns, and addressed practically every issue except the audience’s experience in the concert hall and the human beings who actually make the music.
I offered a similar argument for the absolute centrality of what takes place between performer and audience in the concert hall in a keynote address before the American Symphony Orchestra League at its 1988 convention in Chicago.15 In this case the argument was extended to suggest that the repressiveness that turns younger audiences away from the typical American symphony orchestra concert has little in common either with what the broader culture expects today or what in fact took place in concert halls during the eras of Mozart, Beethoven, and Berlioz.
To be sure, there are important differences among the various diagnoses and prescriptions put forward over the past decade and a half. What unites Fleischmann, Morris, Shaw, Schuller, the American Symphony Orchestra League, and me with many others, however, is a common emphasis not on the financial and corporate sides of orchestral life, but on the music, the musicians, the…
The “Magic of Music” Initiative
In 1993, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation began “The Magic of Music” initiative which was born in the belief that the
connection between orchestra and audience needed strengthening. Fred Starr has chaired the initiative’s advisory committee from the beginning.
“The Magic of Music” encourages outside-the-box thinking, and insists that all orchestra stakeholders be involved in the projects. This includes the music director, a member of the orchestra, a board member, and the executive director. In 1995, eight orchestras received planning grants to explore new ways to innovate. Subse- quently, five of these orchestras—the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, the New World Symphony, the Oregon Symphony, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The San Antonio Symphony—were awarded implementation grants to move their explorations forward.
Additional Grants Awarded
In early 1997, the “Magic of Music” initiative awarded four addi- tional planning grants. Recipients included The Colorado Symphony of Denver, the Kansas City Symphony, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra of New Orleans, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. These four will use their grants to plan and test ideas for creating greater excitement for concert goers, and strengthening connections between musicians and audiences.
The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra was awarded an imple- mentation grant to support and expand its Community Partnership Program. For more than two years, Saint Louis musicians have ex- changed contractual rehearsal and performance hours for time spent connecting with the community in nontraditional venues.
In assessing the “Magic of Music” Initiative, Starr observes that in both planning and implementation, projects are addressed “in the spirit of laboratory experiments so that successes might be more readily replicated and failures more deeply understood.” He further comments, “All of the orchestras which have received grants share the common goal of testing the relationship between the concert hall experience and the broad-based community support that is essential to an orchestra’s survival. The goal is not improvement, but transformation.”
…audience, and the organizational and psychological factors that can enhance the relations among them.
Just as these polemics were reaching fortissimo, the board and officers of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami, Florida, resolved to enter the fray. Fresh from a successful sally into the dangerous minefield of intercollegiate athletics, and with many years of experience with the performing arts, this foundation resolved not simply to repeat the past. It did not deny that stabilization funds, infrastructure reforms, new methods of marketing, and improved fund- raising techniques serve valid goals, and that the initiatives of other foundations in these areas had been useful. But in light of the current discussion, the Knight Foundation concluded that these concerns did not seem to get to the heart of the matter, which is what goes on in the concert hall and how the audience receives it.
With this perception in mind, Creed Black, the foundation’s president, named an advisory committee chaired by the present author and including persons who had distinguished themselves in diverse areas of artistic life who, while deeply loyal to the classical orchestra tradition, were open to fresh approaches. This group recommended that the foundation provide something akin to “venture capital” so that orchestras could undertake experiments involving higher risk (and proportionately higher potential gain) than they would normally take with their regular resources. It recommended further that the foundation provide planning grants to enable all key elements of an orchestral organization—musicians, trustees, artistic director, and executive director—to sit down together and combine their ideas into a single proposal that everyone would stand behind.
Above all, the “Magic of Music” initiative, as it came to be called, urged participating orchestras to take whatever measures were necessary in order to revitalize the relation between performers and audiences in the hall. Instead of the language of accounting or manufacturing, the program guide featured such affective phrases as “gleaming eyes,” “edge of their seats,” and “transcendent concert experience.” This did not mean that the initiative lacked practicality. At a time when it was painfully evident that neither foundations, corporations, nor the federal government were about to increase their subvention to orchestras, the prospect of attracting large and enthusiastic paying audiences without artistic compromise held immense appeal. In contrast to the programs of the 1960s, this one respected the fact that audiences who leave the hall aglow with the love of fine music and grateful to their orchestra for providing it are most likely to translate their experience into volunteer work in the orchestra’s behalf and into urgently needed donations. Hence, the initiative represented an investment in the gradually emerging new model of symphony orchestra life, one grounded not so much on corporate or even philanthropic ideas but on artistic, personal, and social considerations.
Musicians: Heard But (Offstage) Not Seen
What ingredients are essential for creating “gleaming eyes” in the concert hall, for bringing symphony orchestra audiences to the edge of their seats, and for fostering “transcendental musical experiences” among concert goers of all ages and backgrounds? It would be nice to think that this core issue preoccupies music directors, orchestra managers, musicians, and even trustees as they engage conductors, hire and deploy musicians, plan and promote programs, build their organizations, and raise the necessary funds to support them. Unfortunately, for all too many orchestras this issue never gets raised, let alone considered in depth. After decades of focusing on everything except the music, the question has assumed the awkward character of sex in the Victorian age: essential to the civilization but far beyond the pale of frank discourse.
Happily, this may now be changing. Beginning with the “death of the orchestra” debate in the late 1980s, and with mounting intensity thereafter, the actual concert experience has moved from the periphery to somewhere near the center of attention. Diverse forces have propelled this development.
First, the realization came that orchestras could die from shrinking and indifferent audiences as well as from lack of money. When corporate donors purchase blocks of seats which then sit empty, it implies that the musical product cannot even be given away. Second, most of the obvious remedies to the problem of declining and aloof audiences have been applied by at least one or two orchestras. But after every attention-grabbing fad in programming has been tried and failed, after concerts have been moved to suburban malls or wherever potential audiences are thought to be lurking, after every blow-dried celebrity conductor has come and gone, and after special repertoires designed to appeal to nonstandard audiences have drawn only the old familiar crowd, it is time to look elsewhere. Third, broader national currents of thought on corporate management have also shifted to new channels. The “bottom line” leaders of the late 1980s, with their slash-and-burn methods of cost reduction and their often brutal styles of reengineering and restructuring, are fast becoming anachronisms. After all, you can cut a position only once! Clearly, something further is needed.
These questions have preoccupied the advisory committee for the Knight Foundation’s “Magic of Music” initiative. And as reports from the first planning grants came in, it was clear that the orchestral organizations, too, were increasingly concerned with such matters. Both seemed to have experienced a kind of epiphany, the stunned recognition that all efforts to transform the concert hall experience would be blocked until they could remove the various organizational and psychological impediments that prevented members of the orchestra family from working together on behalf of common artistic and institutional goals.
Thus, meeting almost as a seminar over three years, the advisory group has looked with increasing concern at the motivation of the orchestral musicians themselves. How can the bored and alienated players described by Schuller, Fleischmann, Morris, and others be expected to create performances that will inspire, provoke, and deeply move audiences today?
Another group to pose the question of orchestral musicians’ motivation and incentives was the panel that produced the American Symphony Orchestra League’s volume Americanizing the American Orchestra: A Task Force Report. An insightful, but regrettably neglected, chapter of the final report analyzed the relationship of musicians and orchestral organizations and found a “culture of conflict.”
Still another person to ponder this issue is Paul Judy, a life trustee and former president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As he set up the Symphony Orchestra Institute, he asked if it might not be beneficial to apply some of the newer thinking on corporate management to orchestral organizations. The vertically organized businesses of the past, with their “command and obey” hierarchies and sharp divisions of responsibilities, have not proven effective in today’s more competitive world. If you want employees to apply their full creative resources to achieving the goals of the organization they must be “brought into the kitchen”—they must be empowered in ways they have not been in the past.
In the end, it is the musicians who make the music we hear, just as it is the skilled workers in Detroit who construct the cars we drive. But the musicians must not only play with precise timing and exact pitch what the composer wrote and the conductor calls for. They must also perform with conviction and even passion, qualities that distinguish the creation of art from the assembly of automobiles. When these qualities are absent, the performance is flat and lifeless. No illustrious name, no giant in-house monitors, no preconcert program can save it. When they are present, even the least educated member of the audience senses they are there, and responds accordingly, with conviction and passion.
Viewed from this perspective, the modern American symphony orchestra is a textbook example of how not to incentivize employees.16 In spite of decades of study in renowned conservatories and alone, musicians’ judgments are rarely sought in rehearsals. Most know the tastes of the local audience far better than does the musical director, yet their views are rarely solicited as programming decisions are made. As to all the other decisions crucial to the successful fulfillment of the orchestra’s mission, they are generally relegated to an increasingly remote “management” and to an invisible but all-powerful board of trustees. Only in the area of auditions are American orchestral musicians regularly brought into the inner circle of decision making.
The causes of this situation are not difficult to find. Managers and union negotiators, in their periodic combat over the contract, flail at one another in a ritual that all but excludes the men and women most affected by the outcome. Day-to-day decisions are taken “on high,” and announced to the players as fait accompli. Over the years, most players come to accept this as an inevitable curse of their choice of career. Their conservatory training did little to prepare them for a larger role, which they would avoid under any circumstances as it might involve undue risk. Is it any surprise that orchestral musicians sometimes engage in behavior that is counterproductive, self- destructive and, yes, infantile? The victim in such cases is not only the musician, but also the committed and passionate performance.
Such considerations have led the Knight Foundation, in its “Magic of Music” initiative, to assign growing importance to the motivation of orchestra players (and conductors) and to the organizational arrangements and less formal aspects of the orchestra’s “culture” that affect it. This is done without having at hand some favored outcome, but in the same spirit of exploration and “laboratory research” that has informed the initiative from the outset. It recognizes that many of the world’s great orchestras are constituted quite differently from American orchestras. It takes note of the fact that even among American orchestras there now exist a variety of organizational types, some of which may be gaining useful experience that might some day be applied more widely. And it also is cognizant of the extent to which this entire issue is of recent vintage. America’s musical history, as we have noted, is rich with musician-run ensembles, entrepreneurially based orchestras, conductor-organized groups, and other variants that seem nonstandard only from the perspective of our own era. Is any of this experience, both here and abroad, relevant to the current crisis of the American symphony orchestra?
None of this represents a change in the Knight Foundation’s original focus, which remains on the interaction of musicians, music, and audience in the concert hall. True, it acknowledges that a broader range of issues have the potential to influence that relationship for the better. This has the laudable effect of drawing into the discussion factors that agitate increasing numbers of the most thoughtful men and women who are concerned about the fate of orchestral music in this country.
The history of America’s symphony orchestras since World War II is studded with grand achievements in cities large and small. It is also an organic history, with change occurring slowly and in an evolutionary way, rather than through great leaps and discontinuities. The ideas of the 1960s remain relevant today. Endowments are still important, as are year-round employment, stabilization funds, cash reserves, and grants from foundations, corporations, and governments at all levels. Eventually, the present inquiry into the concert hall experience and the motivation of the thousands of men and women who actually make the music should yield solutions that can be widely and beneficially applied. If and when that occurs, some future historian will be justified in concluding that the current debate over the death and renewal of the American orchestra, and all of the activities to which it has given rise, has served a noble cause.
S. Frederick Starr is chairman of the Central Asia Institute in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D. C., and is a founding member of the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble. He also serves the Knight Foundation as chairman of the “Magic of Music” advisory committee.
1 Rockefeller Brothers Fund. 1965. The Performing Arts: Problems and Prospects. New York: McGraw-Hill Company: 21.
2 Weber, William. 1975. Music and the Middle Class. New York: Holmes & Meier: 120.
5 The Performing Arts: 22.
6 Baumol, William J., and William G. Bowen. 1966. The Performing Arts: TheEconomic Dilemma. New York: The Twentieth Century Fund.
7 Weisbrod, Burton A. The Non-Profit Economy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 77, ff.
8 Morris, Thomas W. 1989. Prescription for Survival. Symphony 40 (2): 28.
9 For a competent and dispassionate review of these responses see TheFinancial Condition of the Symphony Orchestras, Part I: The Orchestra Industry. 1992. The Wolf Organization, Inc. for the American Symphony Orchestra League: A1-A22.
10The Orchestra is Dead. See also Samuel Lipman, Is the Symphony Orchestra Dead? 1987. The New Criterion, September: 1-7; and Ernest Fleischmann and Samuel Lipman, Is the Symphony Orchestra Dead? An exchange. 1987. The New Criterion, December: 38-41.
11 Henehan, Donal. 1987. Our Orchestras are Splintering. The New York Times, September 13: 35-36.
12 Is the Symphony Orchestra Dead?
13 American Symphony Orchestra League. 1993. Americanizing the American Orchestra: A Task Force Report. Washington, D.C.: ASOL: Chapters 3 and 4.
14 Americanizing the American Orchestra: 67.
15 Starr, S. Frederick. 1988. Why I Applaud Between Movements. Symphony 39 (5/6): 10.
16 Levine, Seymour, and Robert Levine. 1996. Why They’re Not Smiling: Stress and Discontent in the Orchestral Workplace. Harmony 2 (April 1996): 15-25.
About the Cover
For this issue, we have selected one of the most recognizable pages in all music— the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth
Symphony—because it opened a great chapter in the history of American music. This was the first work played by the New York Philharmonic Society on December 7, 2019—at the first concert given by our country’s oldest orchestra.
New York was a city of some 350,000 people in 1842. The incandescent electric bulb had just been invented, and Daguerre was taking his first photographs. In the international world of music, Robert and Clara Schumann were newlyweds; Verdi had scored his first success with Nabucco; and Wagner was beginning Tannhåuser. And on November 27, in Vienna, the great European musical capital, the Vienna Philharmonic gave its inaugural concert—a mere 10 days ahead of New York.
Although Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was only 34 years old in 1842—about the age of Britten’s War Requiem or Carter’s Double Concerto today—it was already a beloved classic. The choice of this pillar of German culture to launch an American orchestra is not surprising, for the burgeoning music scene in New York City, as in so many American cities, had a decidedly German accent. More than 40 percent of the original Philharmonic players were of German origin, and there were many German speakers in the audience on December 7.
Most concert goers that night were no doubt hearing this famous symphony for the first time. It had been performed in the city only once before, nearly two years earlier by the German Society of New York City, to benefit needy German immigrants. It the following years, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony not only became a staple of the Philharmonic’s repertory, but it was also regularly chosen to baptize new orchestras (it was on the inaugural programs of orchestras in Chicago in 1891 and in Philadelphia in 1900).
Although the Fifth Symphony is one of the landmarks of our culture today, it was never Beethoven’s own favorite (he preferred the Eroica), and it was not exceptionally popular during his lifetime. (Goethe complained that it didn’t move him.) But within years of Beethoven’s death, it became the most frequently performed of all symphonies. The sound of fate knocking at the door— Beethoven’s own metaphor for the opening motto—became a universal symbol of man triumphing over his destiny. (And during World War II, it became the musical symbol of victory, since its celebrated opening rhythm, ta-ta-ta-TA, represents “V” in Morse code.)
The Fifth quickly came to be recognized as the quintessential Beethoven symphony, and accordingly, as one of the cornerstones of civilization. It has proved to be a wise bedrock for orchestras to build upon, for as Robert Schumann predicted less than a decade before the founding of the New York Philharmonic, this symphony will “be heard in future centuries, indeed as long as music and the world exist.”
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Symphony Orchestra Institute Supporting Organizations
Extending the Bibliography
Guidelines for Contributors
Distribution, Support, and Subscription Plan and Applications