Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
Organizational Consultation and Research Programs
Leadership and Trust by Joe Goodell
The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra by Erin V. Lehman
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra: A Cooperative Institution by Paul R. Judy
Organizational Effectiveness: The Role of the Board of Directors by Paul R. Judy
Book Review: High Performance Nonprofit Organizations: Managing Upstream for Greater Impact by Roland Velliere
Behind the Scenes: A Roundtable by Stephen Belth
he Marketing Process by Stephen Belth
About the Cover… by Phillip Huscher
Students of symphony orchestra organizations continuously learn about the complexity of these organizational systems, a complexity that never ceases to amaze me. This issue’s content, as it came alive, nicely extends the path of discovery. As you read on, perhaps in quiet concentration, I hope you will join me in reflection and learning. Symphony organizations are, indeed, unique, and their sustenance and enhancement calls for special organizational awareness and study. For the many readers who are active participants in symphony organizations, we hope this issue will advance their knowledge and add to the momentum for improvement of these vital community institutions.
A few years ago, on my annual summer sojourn from Chicago to Nantucket, I stopped to visit Joe Goodell, a retired businessman who had recently been drafted to fill the position of executive director of the Buffalo Philharmonic. Since Joe had no symphony staff experience, many felt that under his leadership Buffalo’s prospects for remediating deep and long-standing organizational problems were very dim. During lunch, I came to a contrary prediction, and asked Joe to write about his symphony management experience at some future date. Joe has responded and, as you will soon learn, he minces no words. Participants in every role within a symphony organization will find his point of view to be sharp and thought provoking.
In the next two articles, the perspective shifts from that of an organizational participant to that of an organizational observer and reporter. We juxtapose case studies of two orchestral institutions, one German and one American, which are quite different in age, size, and reputation, but which have in common many organizational features and practices distinctly different from those employed in the traditional North American organizational form.
The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was founded as a cooperative orchestra in 1882, as a successor to a proprietary entity originated 14 years earlier. Erin Lehman, a long-time student of orchestral organizations, has summarized how the Berlin Philharmonic functions as a “self-governing” orchestra. As readers will learn, the basic authority for artistic decisions has long been vested in the orchestra and is exercised through elected representatives, as well as by the orchestra acting as a whole. Administrative and financial-support decisions involve intertwining orchestral leadership with a general administrator and staff, and a municipal government. As is the case for most of the world’s orchestral systems, the Berlin Philharmonic is having to adapt to environmental changes, but will address these challenges through decision-making processes which are quite different from those of almost all of its North American counterparts.
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra was founded as a cooperative orchestra, succeeding a traditionally organized New Orleans institution established in the mid-1930s which went out of business in 1991. Based on field interviews and institutional documents, we summarize how the Louisiana Philharmonic was founded, how it is organized, and how it makes artistic, operational, and financial decisions. In a striking contrast to the long-term, evolutionary development of the Berlin Philharmonic, the way in which the Louisiana Philharmonic generally is organized and functions was designed from scratch and in thorough detail just eight years ago, and, in good part, around a kitchen table. And further, the orchestra was created, with some subsequent adjustments, to fit within the American framework of a charitably supported, nonprofit corporation, with a large and active volunteer constituency. Given the depth and breadth of the role of the orchestra (as a whole and through its elected representatives) in the overall affairs of the institution, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is perhaps the prime example of how far the boundaries of “self governance” can be successfully extended.
The Berlin and Louisiana case studies describe how two institutions, literally worlds and ages apart, have incorporated organizational assumptions and patterns which are quite counter to the traditional North American model. Although there is much to be learned from the principles and practices followed by these institutions, they do not provide a pat formula for changing the traditional North American model. Since its founding, the Institute has taken the position that each symphony organization must decide, within and among the participants of its various constituencies, and with community representation, how it is to be organized and function. In this process, we believe that it is fundamental to develop or affirm a common, shared vision, employing widely inclusive and participative processes. Then, in the pursuit of these goals, a central question to be asked is: “How can we become more effective as an organization, and more satisfying and rewarding, on an enduring basis, to our internal and external constituencies?”
Along these lines, the role of an orchestra’s board of directors in seeking and achieving organizational effectiveness was the topic of a panel presentation during the June 1999 annual meeting of the American Symphony Orchestra League. Joining me in this presentation were Nancy Axelrod, an organizational consultant and founding chief executive of the National Center for Nonprofit Boards and Thomas Witmer, a retired business executive, member of various corporate boards, and of the board of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Tom has been active in Pittsburgh’s organizational improvement program. We think you will find many common threads in these presentations, and we commend them especially to symphony organization board members.
As Tom Witmer noted, “performance excellence” is synonymous with “organizational effectiveness,” and is often denoted “high performance” in the world of commercial organizations. With this in mind, a recently published book addressing the “high performance nonprofit organization” caught our eye, and on page 89, this book is cogently reviewed by Roland Valliere, executive director of the Kansas City Symphony.
Two other pieces complete the primary content of this issue. First, we present a roundtable discussion illuminating the role of the orchestra librarian, one of a number of unique roles within a symphony organization. For this excellent overview, we thank Marcia Farabee, Margo Hodgson, Karen Schnackenberg, Larry Tarlow, and Ron Whitaker. Then, the challenges to and issues to be confronted in “marketing” the modern symphony orchestra and its musical product are outlined by Stephen Belth. After reading these two pieces in sequence, we hope that all participants in symphony orchestra organizations will reflect on the complex, cross-constituency, interactive decision-making processes, based on fully shared information during long lead times, which are required if these organizations are to function optimally.
In the score fragment on our cover, Phillip Huscher once again challenges our knowledge of music and orchestral history. A hint: there are some subtle connections between the cover story and one of the institutions mentioned in this issue. To confirm your knowledge, or to enhance it, see page 86.
On page x, we summarize the latest developments in the Institute’s organizational research and consultation programs. And in the announcements on page vii, we are pleased to welcome Fred Zenone into a more active role with the Institute, and to report other personnel developments, as well as to share other matters of importance to our readers.
Finally, we wish to extend our gratitude to all of the participants in the 146 symphony orchestra organizations which have provided 1999 support to the Institute, as listed on page xi, and especially to the participants in the 44 institutions which provided first-time support in 1999. We are truly appreciative and energized by the growth in interest and commitment to the Institute’s work. As announced at midyear, and as summarized on page 91, we will focus our future publication services toward participants in supporting organizations. Sincere thanks to all involved.
Fred Zenone Becomes Vice Chairman and Active Participant
The Institute is pleased to announce that effective November 1, Frederick Zenone will become an active participant in Institute planning and operations, particularly in the development and execution of our organizational consultation program. In connection with his new role, Fred has been elected Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.
Fred Zenone is perhaps best known throughout the symphony field for his leadership and statesmanship as chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) between 1980 and 1986, having been an officer starting in 1975. From 1983 to 1989, Fred also served on the board of directors of the American Symphony Orchestra League. He has been an advisor and then member of the board of directors of the Institute since our activation in 1995.
Fred grew up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and graduated from college in 1957. He then pursued cello studies in New York while teaching in the public schools in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1968, he became a member of the Chamber Symphony of Philadelphia and in the following year joined the National Symphony Orchestra. After 30 years of continuous service as a cellist, Fred retired from the National Symphony Orchestra this past summer.
During his long orchestral career, Fred has been active in a range of organizational and industry pursuits. In the musical area, he was a founding member of the Euterpe Chamber Players and was a lecturer at Georgetown University in the School of Fine Arts. While active with ICSOM, Fred conceived and developed a crisis intervention program and served with executive directors on teams assisting orchestras facing closure. In these and other roles, Fred has been a consultant to a wide range of orchestras. In addition, Fred has been an active musician leader in the National Symphony Orchestra for many years.
In 1992, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the American Symphony Orchestra League named Fred one of a distinguished international list of 50 conductors, musicians, trustees, and managers whose work has touched the lives of American orchestras.
Fred lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and will carry out his Institute work from that location. He is married to Patricia Larson and they have three children and three grandchildren.
Emily Melton Moves to London
We regret to announce that Program Director Emily Melton has left the Institute to move with her husband to London, to take up residence and to pursue new careers. In her short time with the Institute, Emily made an important contribution to our operating and publishing efforts. The Institute wishes her well in her new home and career.
Alex Bonus and Diana Durkes Join the Staff
In July, the Institute was pleased to welcome Alex Bonus as Administrative/ Program Assistant, and Diana Durkes as Research/Finance Assistant.
Alex Bonus graduated from the Eastman School of Music this past summer, receiving a M. M. degree in performance and literature. In 1997, Alex received his B. M. degree in trumpet performance from Eastman. In addition to his assistant duties at the Institute, Alex hopes to extend his professional development in both instrumental performance and ensemble conducting in the Chicago area.
Diana Durkes has volunteered and worked for a variety of nonprofit organizations. She, and her husband and children, live in a suburb near Evanston.
John David Sterne Joins Board of Advisors
We are pleased to welcome to the Board of Advisors John David Sterne, President and CEO of the Edmonton Symphony, and to thank Mark Jamison for his board service while Executive Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
Serving the Needs of Participants in Supporting Orchestra Organizations
Commencing in 2000, the Institute will focus its publication and other services, including the complimentary distribution of Harmony, on participants in symphony organizations which annually support and encourage the aims and programs of the Institute. Also, Harmony will be delivered by U.S. or Canadian mail to office, home, or other personal addresses.
If you are an orchestra organization participant, please refer to page xi to determine if your organization supports the Institute, and then refer to page 90 which describes our new distribution, support, and subscription program in more detail.
If you did not receive this copy of Harmony at a personal address (see the address box on the back cover), have changed your personal address, or wish to initiate or renew a paid subscription to Harmony, please send us the return postcard inserted before page 1, or contact us.
If you are a participant in a non-supporting symphony organization, or an existing paid subscriber, we would welcome your using the detachable return postcard to request or renew a paid subscription to Harmony for 2000.
Harmony Content On the Institute Web Site
We are now pleased to be archiving on the Institute’s Web site <www.soi.org> the primary content of Harmony, on a 12 month delayed basis, in Adobe Acrobat portable document format (pdf) files. As such, the main Harmony articles can be accessed via the Internet and viewed on computer screens, or downloaded and printed, in their original published form using Adobe Acrobat Reader which, as shown on each Web site page, can be downloaded to your computer at no cost.
Interest Based Bargaining Bibliography
We have recently developed a bibliography on the subject of interest based bargaining (and other synonymous phrases). This listing of references has been posted on our Web site at www.soi.org.
Publication of the Institute’s Financial Results and Condition
On page xiv, we are publishing the Institute’s financial condition as of our most recent fiscal year end, March 31, 2019, and our operating results from our founding through that date. This information is also being posted on our Web site. Henceforth, our fiscal year financial results and condition will be published annually.
Institute E-mail Addresses
In the further use of our Web site, the e-mail addresses of the Institute and its staff are now as follows:
Paul R. Judy, Chairman and Publisher,
Fred Zenone, Vice Chairman
Alex Bonus, Administrative/Program Assistant
Marilyn D. Scholl, Editor, Harmony
Diana Durkes, Research/Finance Assistant
Subscription request or address change
Letters to the Editor
Publication questions and manuscript submissions
Organizational Consultation and Research Programs
The Institute continues to evaluate how best and more broadly to support and directly assist North American symphony orchestra organizations which seek significant positive change in the ways in which they function. We are considering various ideas and exploring a variety of avenues. Meanwhile, the Institute is continuing to work with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra institutions in customized organizational improvement and development programs.
The Conductor Evaluation Data Analysis Project (CEDAP) is moving along slowly. Recently, with the excellent cooperation of the personnel managers of 16 orchestra organizations included in the CEDAP orchestra universe, the Institute was able to collect the average age and length of service of orchestra members over a 10- year period, which data, along with other orchestral factors, will advance the project analysis. Similar factoral data, generally in the public domain but requiring individual research, is being collected on a range of conductors in the CEDAP universe in order to complete this research project.
Nearing completion is the research into comparative orchestral musician stress and job satisfaction which was initiated by Dr. John Breda under a 1996 doctoral research grant. Publication of the findings of this research is now expected in late November or early December.
Leadership and Trust
The late 1980s and early 1990s were tumultuous for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, years that included shortened seasons, a reduction in orchestra size, and reduced musician compensation, to say nothing of public bickering.
In 1995, the orchestra’s board chairman asked Joe Goodell, author of the following essay, to serve as interim executive director of the orchestra while the board conducted a search to fill that position. Goodell—whose career was in corporate management, not orchestra management—agreed to do so on a volunteer basis. He had been an orchestra subscriber, but had not previously been involved with the orchestra in any other way. In August 1996, he led negotiations which resulted, without rancor, in a three-year musicians’ contract. He continued to serve until June 1998, when new executive and music directors were appointed. His essay reflects his experiences as both orchestra “outsider” and “insider.”
Of Musicians and Management
The essay begins with a discussion of what Goodell sees as impediments to trust, suggesting that many members of orchestra families contribute to the problem. He posits that to obtain trust, orchestras must have strong management teams. He then outlines a process for assembling such a team, starting with the executive director. His thesis includes calling upon top human resource executives from local corporate supporters to aid in the process, which also includes hiring directors of operations, finance, marketing, and development. And he adds that board chairs should be directly involved in the hiring process for these positions.
In a discussion of “questions of money,” Goodell reminds readers that “the talents required to manage a $10 million orchestra are the same as those required to manage a $10 million business,” arguing that this is not a place to “cheap out.”
Because better organizational effectiveness is the goal, Goodell then turns his attention to why a small group to facilitate hiring should be a formal committee of the board. He suggests that this committee can also provide a steadying influence when a senior staff member resigns, when an employee’s subpar performance needs to be discussed, or when an employee needs to be discharged with dignity.
Returning to the “trust” theme, Goodell concludes with the thought that orchestra boards must demand the same standards in hiring leaders of the orchestra that they would in hiring leaders of a business enterprise.
Anumber of American symphony orchestras have struggled with financial problems, rancorous employee relations, and an absence of trust. Discussion about these topics always includes such problems as changes in our culture and the way we spend our individual entertainment funds. But those are not the subjects I propose to address here, except to say that I feel orchestra leadership has failed in many cases to adapt to the changes. We are still trying to manage orchestras as we have in the past, even as the management challenges have become much more difficult, thereby
exposing our management weaknesses. What I do want to discuss are the concepts of leadership and trust.
First a little perspective on my views. Following a full career in corporate management, I agreed in 1995 to serve, on a volunteer basis, as interim executive director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. As executive director, I managed the orchestra for nearly three years. My observations are primarily of the Group I and Group II orchestras as defined by the American Symphony Orchestra League. (Group I orchestras, about 25, have budgets of $10 million or more. Group II orchestras, also about 25, have budgets ranging from approximately $4 million to $10 million.)
My observations of the Group I orchestras result from interviewing a number of staff members for employment, as well as discussion groups at conferences. My exposure to the Group II orchestras’ management is much broader and deeper.
Some Observations about American Orchestras
It is my observation that orchestra leadership seeks trust from the musicians which is not forthcoming due to poor or marginal leadership itself. Trust flows from honest, candid communications, and the musicians (in this case) must perceive competence in their leaders. In most cases, those leaders (the staff) are insecure, in large part because their backgrounds and training are not appropriate for today’s management challenges. The result is difficult communications, unclear management perceptions of problems and attendant solutions, and attempts to “hide” problems and solutions. Is it any wonder that the staff has great difficulty earning the trust of the musicians?
On the other hand, constant badgering of staff by the musicians, excessive criticism, and making minor problems into major issues doesn’t help foster candid communications either. The musicians cannot earn the trust and respect of the other employees through such tactics.
During my career in manufacturing businesses I observed (with one exception) that enterprises had the labor relations that they deserved. Poor or mediocre management resulted in poor or mediocre labor relations.
Many of us have been involved with organizations that had poor leadership. If we could, we got out of the organization, perhaps after attempting change, with attendant turmoil. If we could not leave the organization, we got frustrated, and I would observe that poor labor relations are almost always based on frustration. Furthermore, I would suggest that the deterioration of the relationship with employees can usually be reversed, but as in all relationships of mistrust, a reversal takes time.
I am often asked how labor relations in orchestras differ from those in industrial unions with which I have worked. Musicians generally have much higher educational levels, and often employ their creativity to see complex conspiracies behind simple actions by staff or board members (a failure in “trust”). The actual union leadership is more difficult to identify in an orchestra, and musicians’ agendas are also hard to pin down. (In a group of 80 musicians, there are probably 100 agendas.) Formal, elected leadership is seldom the real leadership, and the orchestra seems to be more fragmented (with several groups who are not necessarily antagonistic).
I had occasion to spend time with two men who hold senior positions in the musicians’ national union organization. One had been described to me as a “destroyer of orchestras.” I found both men to be reasonable, sensible, and intelligent, with a solid understanding of the issues facing orchestras (as individuals and as a group). Their perspective was not much different from that of most orchestra board members. Their solutions were not as far apart as one might expect. Both men strongly endorsed my observations about the quality of orchestra managements. One noted a significant drop in what he perceived to be the number of strong executive director candidates.
These individuals are employed by the musicians and generally follow their “clients’” directions. Their ability to significantly change the perspectives and beliefs of their “clients” is limited. The union leaders can be strengthened by reasoned presentations, and by records of accomplishment from strong, respected management teams.
Musicians want strong, competent management, capable of clearly explaining issues, not hiding them. They want management whose track record is good, who can recognize their own mistakes, explain the situation to the musicians, and go forward. Many of us have observed incidents that illustrate the antagonism that exists between orchestra leadership on a national basis and the musicians’ union. It’s as though a major part of employee relations is winning “debating points.” Some executive directors seem to think that winning enough points will cause the union to cower or even disappear. The reality is that the union is here to stay. Everyone should be trying to solve problems, not score debating points.
The thread that runs through my analysis is that mutual trust is key to better orchestra labor relations. (The October 1998 issue of Harmony featured three articles that dealt with the need for greater trust: Gideon Toeplitz’s essay on Hoshin and the Pittsburgh Symphony, Paul Judy’s essay on organizational involvement, and a roundtable with members of the Kansas City Symphony family.)
It is my thesis that trust cannot be obtained without a strong, excellent management team. As a group, the orchestras of America can gain this trust, and improve the relations among musicians, staff, and board. Most have a long way to go, particularly in obtaining a strong management team.
Assembling a Management Team
Quite often, board members state that the problem is that the orchestra is not run as a business. I believe that is largely true, but I also believe that, in general, boards fail to pursue this concept. The process of assembling a strong management team must start with the hiring of an executive director. Orchestras should obtain the aid of a top human resource executive from a local corporate supporter. That individual can ensure that the search committee thoroughly understands the candidates. Reference checking should be thorough. (It is amazing how staff members whose performance is marginal or worse move through the orchestras of America.) The human resource executive is accustomed to finding references that are not listed on a résumé, and also knows what questions to ask. An experienced human resource executive will usually recommend a credit check.
Testing for managerial ability is important. But caution is needed with testing. The testing should be proven and not some professor’s toy. It should include an extensive interview with the psychologist managing the testing. The wise human resource executive will not allow the test to become the “go-no go” for hiring. It is part of the mosaic. These tests usually cost around $1,000.
A thoroughly professional hiring process should not stop with the executive director. The directors (sometimes called vice presidents) of operations, finance, marketing, and development should be subjected to the same process, including strong guidance by our now overworked human resource executive. The human resource executive, the board chair, and one or two others should be able to veto the executive director’s choice, and the decision on a candidate to whom an offer is made should be unanimous among them all. Some will argue that such tight control is not proper, that the executive director should be able to “build his or her own team.” But I would argue that the hiring group should insist on quality, even requiring that the search be restarted, if necessary. Because an orchestra staff is small, an “acting” functional director is seldom available, so the strong temptation is to hire the “best we can find quickly.” This is a temptation to resist!
This strong focus on the next level below the executive director is extremely important for the board, and is often a neglected responsibility. In corporate America, even the most senior managers are subject to strong oversight in the selection of key executives. Considering that the executive director has probably not had a great deal of experience hiring people (particularly for orchestras below Group I), the overview is imperative. (Though the personnel manager generally reports to the senior operations executive, that position should also be included in the high-level review process.)
Questions of Money
Salaries are part of the hiring process. The outside human resource executive and the one or two others should help the executive director with salary tradeoffs. Few business executives would disagree with the adage that “you usually get the quality you pay for.” I have seen cases in which an orchestra board has rejected a good candidate because he or she was “too expensive.” Maybe the candidate was worth it! If hiring the right person requires exceeding the budget, so be it. Don’t compound the problem by selecting second best. Board members and others involved with the hiring process must understand that the talents required to manage a $10 million orchestra are the same as those required to manage a $10 million business. The hours are long, weekends are usually not free, vacations are interrupted by calls or faxes. The personnel manager’s job for a Group II orchestra is much tougher than the same job in significantly larger business enterprises. Yet, the orchestra personnel manager is paid 30 to 50 percent less than an industrial counterpart. That manager is the one we rely on as our primary interface with the musicians. Through that interface we want to better communicate with the players and to seek their trust and respect. Is this the place to “cheap out”?
Two additional issues often arise when hiring is at hand. The first is whether to employ a search firm, or rather to “network” and run advertisements in newspapers. On the surface, it appears as though a professional recruiter is more expensive, but the cost must be factored against the length of time it takes to use networks and advertisements. I believe in the use of recruiters, but would caution about recruiters who know the industry too well and rely heavily on friends and their own networks.
The other issue arises when it is necessary to define the ideal candidate. I have concluded that there are only two senior positions that must be filled by candidates who have musical backgrounds: the senior operations executive and the personnel manager. A musical background for the senior marketing position is only a nice plus. The executive director need not be a former musician, but must have a thorough understanding and appreciation of the artistic mission.
Structuring Organizational Effectiveness
In my observations above, I have suggested the formation of a small group to facilitate hiring. I feel strongly that this committee should be a formal committee of the board. It should be chaired by the board chair, or by another board member whose career has involved selecting and evaluating the performance of people. It should include the corporate human resource vice president discussed earlier (whether that person is a board member or not), one or two others, and perhaps even a wise, perceptive musician. This group forms the nucleus of an executive director search committee when required. It oversees the hiring process for the next level of staff (“senior staff”). And the group can function as an informal coaching team to help the executive director deal with people problems. (Selection of members of the committee must be done with care. The executive director must be comfortable and candid when discussing frustrations and people problems.)
Aside from hiring, there are three critical situations in which this committee can make a real difference. The first is dealing with the resignation of a senior staff member (who reports to the executive director). For orchestras with staffs of 30 or fewer members, it is highly unlikely that a successor is in place. It is also unlikely that others in the department can carry the load while a search goes on. The executive director’s tendency is to make a number of phone calls to industry colleagues to find out who “might be available” and perhaps to run an ad in the local newspaper, with the hope of having this position filled in four or five weeks—just shortly after the incumbent disappears.
In this situation, the committee that I propose is called upon to instill patience. It can help the executive director find a temporary solution so that the hiring can be done with care. If a conflict exists between the budget’s provisions for salary and current market conditions, the committee can provide guidance. More than one orchestra has seen its marketing director resign just as ticket sales began. Though the loss may be only one-fourth of the department’s head count, it could be two-thirds of the brain power. The committee I propose would be called upon to help find a solution to the crisis, perhaps by locating “industry” consultants as part- or full-time contractors.
The second area in which this committee can help a great deal is in the identification of individuals whose job performance is lower than acceptable. Many executive directors are not well versed in setting performance standards. The committee would coach the executive director on how to recognize the problem, refuse to work around it, and develop and implement a plan for the poor performer to “get well” (hopefully).
The third critical function of the committee is to temper the trauma of discharging a subpar performer. This involves coaching the executive director in what to say, what not to say, how to preserve the individual’s dignity, and how to determine severance financial parameters. There isn’t a manager in the business world who has not made a hiring mistake. The executive director must understand that such mistakes are normal. The bigger, less forgivable mistake is failure to correct the original one. This committee should also be chartered to oversee the preparation of a staff performance review process and merit salary increases.
The Quest for Mutual Trust
Throughout this analysis is a quest for mutual trust among the board, staff, and musicians. A first-rate staff must be in place before the process of achieving trust can even begin. Only with a strong staff can an orchestra develop effective communications, because it is much easier to talk about communication than it is to implement an effective program.
The most important part of a communication program is that the board chair and the executive director really believe it is important. In too many cases, mere lip service is paid to communications, with little effect.
Of great importance is having the executive director make frequent presentations to the orchestra members on finances and any other issues of interest. These should be carefully prepared and rehearsed presentations. Attendance will be disappointing at first (serving lunch increased attendance at my presentations). A lot of time should be made available for questions and answers. The first year will probably be frustrating. Questions will likely be antagonistic. (“Why do you hire stupid operations people?”) If questions highlight mistakes, admit them! Explain the flaw in the decision process or the incomplete information. Keep secrets to a bare minimum. I believe there are only two areas in which confidentiality is required. One is a musician’s or staff member’s personnel file (salary, medical insurance claims, salary garnishments, etc.). The other relates to fundraising occasions when facts may need to be kept confidential. Anything else is open to the musicians. There may well be information that should not be made public, and this is a defining moment for trust. If you really believe in trust, explain to the committee or musicians why it must be confidential, and then share it. The elected musicians committee will probably want to honor the request for confidentiality.
Having musicians as voting members of the board of directors is controversial. My feeling is that having musicians on the board is part of trust. The musicians must respect board confidentiality, understand board- room decorum (no manifestos to be presented) and the decision-making process (the role of committees), and that the board meeting is not the place to complain about backstage conditions.
No group (board, staff, or musicians) should expect major changes in relationships merely because musicians serve on the board. (“The musicians are on the board. They must know we cannot afford that . . .”) There will be a small positive impact on negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement since financial figures will be familiar (if some of the same individuals that are negotiating are on the board). The staff must realize that making musician leaders (board members, orchestra committee members, and union representatives) aware ahead of time of an announcement of actions to be taken can go a long way toward making their jobs easier. Reduced frustration is a requirement for trust. Trying to undermine certain individuals just doesn’t work. Little time is required to send a few extra copies of announcements ahead of time so that the
“representatives” can deal with questions before the “conspiracy” crowd can organize. There is often a temptation to try to isolate a difficult musician leader. This effort to undermine someone just doesn’t work.
And one final “must.” Communications is not something that gets under way just as negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement begin. It must go on during good times and bad, and the concept must permeate the organization. Front-line operations people will often try to sabotage the effort. They perceive it as a threat to their job security. But that is no excuse for becoming sidetracked.
In this analysis, I have attempted to share my observations about the weakness of orchestra management (with the qualifications noted earlier where I defined the scope of my observations). The reader should use caution in placing his or her orchestra in the “exceptions” category. A significant part of the orchestra world recognizes that trust and respect are lacking in many relationships among musicians, staff, and board members. There are many possible approaches to changing the trust relationship. Several have been described in past issues of Harmony. None of these processes will work without a strong, competent orchestra management. Once competence is recognized with appropriate communications, trust will replace, in large part, the contentious relationship that characterizes so many orchestras. Change will be apparent, but it will take several years for major changes to be evident.
Longer term, the symphony orchestra “industry” must develop an effective training program. It must be much more comprehensive than the existing intern program. The program should cover a number of years, with periodic followup of short continuing- education courses. There should be exams that measure the individual’s success. “Graduation” should not be automatic. Undoubtedly, other performing arts disciplines would benefit from similar training. Such a program would be costly, but a large foundation should find this to be an opportunity to have a real, near-term, positive impact.
Even absent such a long-term program, orchestra boards must demand the same standards when hiring leaders of the orchestra that they would in a business enterprise. They must not fall into the trap of “too expensive,” and they must insist upon strong oversight of hiring. Trust among the musicians, the staff, and the board can be achieved, but only with a talented staff that is secure and able to instill confidence in the organization.
Joe Goodell is the retired president and C.E.O. of American Brass Company. He holds a B.S. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.B.A. degree from Harvard University.
The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
F or long-time readers of Harmony, the name of this case study’s author, Erin Lehman, will ring a bell. For the first issue of Harmony, Erin prepared an essay on the development of writings about symphony orchestra
organizations since 1960. She has also worked with Harvard colleagues on studies of symphony orchestras in four countries. And for the last several years, her interest has been piqued by the concept of self-governing orches- tras. She shares here her observations of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
How the Orchestra Functions
The Berlin Philharmonic was founded, as a self-governing orchestra, more than a century ago. It is a large orchestra, with 129 members, and has had a roster of legendary conductors. From its beginnings, players have been the shareholders and principal stakeholders.
Lehman explores what this means in terms of day-to-day functioning of the orchestra, from the fact that non-principal players all earn the same pay to the fact that orchestral candidates audition without a screen. She identifies four aspects of orchestra operations as critical to the institution’s ongoing vitality: the self-rostering system employed by each section; the absence of an external personnel manager; players’ rights to participate in smaller ensembles; and players’ exclusive right to choose their own conductor.
She then turns her attention to what makes the Berlin Philharmonic work, concluding that success stems from extensive communication and collabora- tion, particularly among a small group of people. By the time you finish reading this essay, the words Vorstand and Intendant will roll off your tongue.
The Berlin Philharmonic’s world is not without change. Just as the City of Berlin has felt the winds of change over the last several years, so has the orchestra. Sir Simon Rattle has recently been named to succeed Claudio Abbado as chief conductor. The current Intendant has announced plans to leave the orchestra. But Lehman is not worried. She concludes that notions of personal responsibility, artistic self-determination, and the paramount importance of music are the essential hallmarks of the orchestra’s self- governing system.
In 1989, I began work with Richard Hackman and Jutta Allmendinger in a study of professional symphony orchestras, designed to explore how orchestras in four countries were structured, supported, and led, and to learn how musicians in these orchestras built their careers. We studied the similarities and differences that existed among professional symphony orchestras in East and West Germany, Great Britain, and the United States (Allmendinger, Hackman, and Lehman, 1996). Much was made of the study’s findings about player job satisfaction (Holland, 1995), but that was not the study’s sole or most important finding. For example, we learned much about the advantages (and disadvantages) of the typical leadership triumvirate commonly found in American orchestras (Judy, 1996). We also learned some things about the funding systems, recruitment practices, and the impact of gender composition on orchestras (Galinsky and Lehman, 1995; Lehman, 1995; and Allmendinger and Hackman, 1995). But the things that piqued my interest were the differences in organizational structures, and, in particular, the concept of a self-governing system. I wanted to find out more about self-governance, and whether and to what degree that made a difference in the musical outcome of an orchestra.
I started to answer my question by taking a closer look at three select orchestras. My colleagues and I studied the London Symphony Orchestra—one of London’s four self-governing orchestras (Lehman and Galinsky, 1994); the Colorado Symphony Orchestra—not a true self-governing orchestra, but still an anomaly in its early partnership model (Lehman, 1997); and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra—a most democratic and conductorless ensemble (Lehman and Lee, 1996). These orchestras revealed the range of self-governing approaches musicians have taken to shape their collective musical lives in ways that harness the power of the group without stultifying the voice of the individual.
But in my view, it is the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra which offers a near- ideal example of a self-governing organization. Unlike the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, the players truly rule. Unlike the London Symphony Orchestra, there is no singular managerial leader who sculpts the orchestra’s strategic direction. And in contrast with Orpheus, there is no external board which exerts the ultimate control. This unique organization is by no means perfect in its design or appeal, but it does suggest an alternative model, in part, if not in whole, for orchestra practice.
I began conducting field and archival research on the Berlin Philharmonic in late 1997. In 1998, I had the good fortune to meet Bernhard Kerres, an associate with Booz-Allen & Hamilton in Munich, Germany. Bernhard and I are working to develop an educational case study seeking to explain the challenges this self- governing orchestra faces in a changing Germany. Much of the material contained in this article is a result of our work on that case.1
Let me offer one last prefatory comment. Some observers have said that the Berlin case is special, and not relevant for the rest of the orchestra field because of this orchestra’s high level of public subsidy and protected status as the premier cultural emissary of Germany. I disagree. Despite its historically preeminent situation, the orchestra is facing the same issues as orchestras around the world—how to augment earned income in an increasingly competitive world marketplace; the precipitous decline of the recording industry; meeting the needs of future audiences. As other orchestras are learning, this one, too, must emerge from its cocoon and become more proactive in shaping its organizational strategy and its destiny. The Berlin Philharmonic is no longer immune to the sociopolitical and economic forces that have swept through German society. For example, following the merger of East and West Berlin, the City of Berlin’s Senate, the prime funder of the Berlin Philharmonic, has been pressed to find ways to make budget cuts in order to meet all the city’s needs. Unlike in the United States, where orchestras depend on unearned income from endowments, individual philanthropy, and corporate sponsorship to balance their budgets, modern Germany has no tradition of largesse, nor does current German tax code facilitate such giving.
A Snapshot of the Orchestra
The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the world’s fine orchestral ensembles. Founded in 1882 as a self-governing orchestra by a group of musicians who were not pleased with the working conditions they found in the Bilse Orchestra, thisvenerable117-year-oldinstitutionhasarichandcolorfulpast.2 Insurviving every historic milepost of late 19th and 20th century German history, and having had a roster of legendary conductors such as Bülow, Nikisch, Furtwangler, and Karajan, this is an orchestra whose reputation has grown to near mythical proportions.3
Leading orchestras in Germany have larger rosters than their American or British counterparts. The Berlin Philharmonic has 129 members, of whom 3 are concertmasters and another 22 are co-principals. Maintaining a comparatively large roster is intended to keep the members as completely rested and fresh for performance as possible, given the emotionally intense and physically stressful aspects of their work. As one young player described a recent Carnegie Hall performance, “The tremolo in Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony is exceedingly difficult to play. . . . For the violinists and violists it is extremely exhausting. It’s like a marathon. But it’s so much fun! . . . A lot of people like to make music on a tame level—we don’t.”
The Berlin Philharmonic is devoted to the German tradition of music and music making; the majority of players are German citizens. Twenty percent of the members are foreigners and eight percent of the orchestra are women. The first woman, a Swiss violinist, was hired into the orchestra in 1982. Although most of the orchestra’s newly hired players are quite young, they join the ranks with many veterans, some of whom served under Karajan. About the changing complexion of the orchestra, one player said, “I was only about the tenth foreigner when I came into this orchestra in 1986. It was a very German orchestra. Then all of a sudden, about one-third of the orchestra retired in about ten years’ time. Those players were proud of their work together over the past 30 years under Karajan. Now, there are new people coming into a ‘ready-made’ institution.”
The orchestra performs some 100 concerts each year in Berlin alone, as well as throughout the Continent and overseas.4 It operates its own hall, the Philharmonie, located at Potsdamer Platz in central Berlin.
Terms of Employment and Self-Governance
The orchestra was designed from the start as a self-governing entity, meaning that the players were the shareholders and principal stakeholders in the organization. By 1932, the Berlin Philharmonic was operating as a limited liability corporation and the orchestra had been nationalized by its own choice. By 1952, when the German musicians’ union was formed, the players were working under the terms of a conventional master agreement called a Tarifvertrag.
Although the musicians’ union negotiates collective agreements for all orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic has its own individual agreement. Unlike other German orchestras, in which the number of services is controlled, the Berlin Philharmonic has neither restrictions on hours worked nor any official restrictions on overtime (or requirements for extra pay for overtime). In fact, there is neither a clock nor a clock mentality to be found on the stage of the Philharmonie. The workload can become much more intense than that of leading American orchestras. During the month of April 1999, for example, the Berlin Philharmonic performed 36 services on 22 consecutive days, directly preceded and followed by multiweek international tours.
As with the handful of other self-governing orchestras around the world, such as the London Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna and Israeli Philharmonic Orchestras, equality is essential to the functioning of this musical democracy. Non-principal members of the orchestra all earn the same basic salary. There are no individual negotiations for merit pay. Principal players do earn 25 percent more, and members with families receive higher family allowances as mandated by German labor law. Orchestra members’ average age is 44. Retirement is mandatory at age 65.
Within the master agreement, the orchestra’s bylaws (or Verwaltungsordnung) set forth the rules of governance and enshrine the orchestra’s historic and traditional rights of membership. Three areas of the bylaws are noteworthy.
Those that deal with key personnel:
◆ The orchestra chooses its permanent conductor.
◆ The Intendant (general manager) is appointed by the Minister for Culture on behalf of the City of Berlin, in consultation with the orchestra which must approve the decision.
◆ An orchestral candidate must audition without a screen before the entire orchestra. If he or she receives a simple majority of votes of the orchestra, the candidate is accepted for “Probezeit,” i.e., a probation or trial period. If the permanent conductor attends the audition, he has one vote as well. At the end of this Probezeit, or possibly before that date (there is a maximum of two years allowed for a trial period), the section in which the candidate will play offers a recommendation to the orchestra. After a debate, the entire orchestra then votes by secret ballot on this candidacy for permanent membership in the orchestra. To win membership, the candidate needs a two-thirds majority vote. The permanent conductor has a theoretical veto right, but it has rarely been used.
Those that deal with governing bodies:
◆ The Orchestervorstand (a two-person committee) is elected by the orchestra membership for three-year terms. The Vorstand have the strongest voice in all artistic and administrative decisions and are the official spokespersons for the orchestra membership;
◆ The Fuenferrat is a council of five players also elected from the orchestra membership, with each member serving a three-year term. This council acts as an advisory body to the Vorstand. It might be called on to advise on certain artistic matters, but its main duties are tour arrangements,
auditions, and keeping track of player work data. Although the Vorstand are paid extra for their service, the Fuenferrat are not.
◆ The Personalrat, as with other German companies, is an independent body which oversees personnel and working-condition issues for all employees of the Berlin Philharmonic organization, including the stagehands, technicians, and administrative staff of the Philharmonie hall, as well as the musicians. The Personalrat is an elected committee of seven representatives (serving four-year terms) representing all sectors of the organization. This committee can intervene in, and even veto, many management decisions.
Those that deal with non-governing committees:
◆ The Berliner Philharmoniker (GbR) is a corporate partnership composed of past and present members of the orchestra. The partnership is run by two to three players elected from the orchestra for three-year terms. It is responsible for marketing the orchestra’s performance rights, and for copyrights associated with recording and filming of the Berlin Philharmonic. However, radio income is handled by the Intendant.
◆ The Kamaradschaft plays an important role in the Berlin Philharmonic’s social fabric. Similar to an alumni committee, the Kamaradschaft serves as the principal link between past members of the orchestra and the current organization. Its activities—from obtaining concert tickets for retirees to hosting the annual Christmas party—serves to keep the ties strong and to honor past orchestra members.
Critical Aspects of the Orchestra’s System
Four important aspects of the orchestra’s operations reinforce the vitality of this organizational system and its membership:
◆ the sections’ self-rostering system;
◆ the absence of an external personnel manager;
◆ the chamber music and the Herbert von Karajan Academy; and,
◆ the players’ exclusive right to choose their own conductor.
The string section’s rotation system is governed by no discernible rules or system. Players decide freely among themselves, and often quite spontaneously, where they wish to sit in the section for a given program. All positions, up to and including the first desk, are decided this way. However, the wind, brass, and percussion sections are less flexible, as a higher degree of instrumental specialization is necessary in these groups. But they, too, organize themselves, and independently determine their free time, not needing to seek permission from a “higher” authority. The music director is not allowed to determine seatings. However, the Vorstand bear the formal responsibility for the outcome of these internal rostering and rotation decisions. As frustrating as this may be for conductors, the Berlin Philharmonic maintains a self-rostering system because it further reinforces the concept of artistic self- determination and equality. Every member is considered to be of equal caliber and, therefore, equally capable and interchangeable. The system of rotation keeps the orchestra fully engaged throughout a season.
In contrast to most other orchestras in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic has no personnel manager or similar functionary. Musicians are, for example, individually responsible for adhering to bus, train, or plane schedules when on tour. Missing a connection for whatever reason results simply in the musician having to buy his or her own replacement ticket at his or her own expense. The functions typically performed by the personnel manager in an American orchestra are taken up by the Fuenferrat and the members of the orchestra themselves.5
In addition to their work with the full orchestra, players are permitted to take part in the 26 smaller ensembles which exist independently of the organization, and are allowed to use the Philharmonic’s name if they so choose. These ensembles are autonomous, and range from the famous 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic to the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin and the Philharmonic Wind Quintet. There are also opportunities for teaching, and many players give private lessons. Some players hold teaching professorships at local music schools, and some are faculty of the orchestra’s own Herbert von Karajan Academy, a separate legal entity founded by its namesake. This is a small enterprise to which selected, promising young musicians from around the world come to study as fellows for a period of two years. These musicians gain training through private lessons, primarily with principal players of the Berlin Philharmonic, and through opportunities to perform with the orchestra when substitutes are needed. In this way, the orchestra develops new candidates for its own ranks, and several current members of the orchestra are alumni of the Academy.
Arguably, the most important feature of this orchestra is the right of the players to choose their own chief conductor. Few other orchestras in the world allow musicians this authority. This right is expressly stated in the bylaws, and is a principal tenet of the organization. Technically speaking, the musicians did not select Bülow, Nikisch, or Furtwangler. Those individuals were proposed by
the Wolff Concert Agency, and the orchestra simply ratified their appointments. Karajan, although also approved by the orchestra, had been waiting in the wings. Certainly, those conductors had the confidence and vote of the players. But, to be more precise, in 1989, Claudio Abbado was the first permanent conductor actually to be elected by the orchestra membership, following a selection process designed and carried out solely by the orchestra members. When the vote was taken, players had to be present (no proxies were allowed) and a two-thirds majority was required. At that time, there was much debate among players as to the leader they wanted—and should have—on the podium, and the ramifications of their choice.
In 1999, the considerations were even more significant. As much as Claudio Abbado was celebrated for his work with the orchestra, his plan to leave in 2002 represents a turning point. Abbado has been described as a living link to the past, the Romantic era. The orchestra faced the decision of whether to replace him with an older, established conductor—linking to that tradition—or to find a new, perhaps younger, but potential powerhouse.6 As much as the choice was a monumental issue for the orchestra, it was also significant for the next music director. Said one veteran player:
This is a strange beast. We are an obstreperous bunch. Think about it: we elect our own music director democratically and then give him enormous authority. But we may also fight him along the way. We are fiercely independent, but we tolerate our conductors. How can they (music directors) live with this? Not all conductors can deal with this. It’s like the Roman consuls. They were given dictatorial power for two years and then they were out. Not many conductors can handle this duality/dichotomy.
Leadership and Leadership Relationships
There are a number of constituencies that both formally and informally influence one aspect or another of the Berlin Philharmonic’s operation—from external forces, such as local politicians and German labor law, to the internal committee structure and the full orchestra itself. For example, the Minister for Culture not only conveys the annual appropriation from the City of Berlin’s Senate, but also its wishes and concerns. These might include such items as who they would like to see as Intendant or even chief conductor, and the level of domestic touring in Germany. Then there is the Personalrat, mandated by German labor law, which can intercede in anything having to do with workplace conditions, and even on some administrative decisions. Orchestra members, in addition to selecting their own conductor and their fellow players, also select and vote on candidates for Intendant. This choice, as that of the chief conductor, must have the consent of the Senate, through the Minister of Culture who finalizes the contracts, because both the chief conductor and the Intendant are employed and paid by the Senate, as are members of the orchestra.
To be sure, the organization’s leadership is vested first and foremost in the Vorstand, and then further through the Intendant and chief conductor. The chief conductor is expected to set the musical direction for the organization by designing a compelling artistic approach for the orchestra. He suggests what repertoire he will perform in the 30 percent of the season’s programs he leads, as well as which guest conductors and solo artists should be invited during a particular season. It is up to the Intendant then to work out these arrangements. The Intendant’s role is fundamentally one of coordination and implementation. He also has responsibility for the organization’s administration and financial operations, and deals with the Minister for Culture on matters having to do with the annual budget and quarterly accounting.7 TheVorstandmustbefullyapprisedofandcaninterveneinallof these areas at any time. For example, the conductor seeks agreement with the Vorstand about his artistic plan, including guest conductors, soloists, repertoire, and even touring; the Vorstand discuss with all conductors (chief and guest) the number of rehearsals that will be needed (or should be used); together with the conductor and/or Berliner Philharmoniker, the Vorstand approve recording projects; and they are informed of important budgetary concerns.
Communication and Collaboration
In the final analysis, the operational success of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra turns on the relationships among three to four people who must be in constant contact and agreement with one another. The bylaws of the organization make it self-governing, but its leadership in action is based on the notion of “Mitbestimmung” or co-determination. The present Intendant said, “It is a fascinating subject because it works so well. As long as everything goes well, there is no question about this form of governance.” The Intendant had a long and productive working relationship with Claudio Abbado before coming to the
Berlin Philharmonic. And he feels a collegiality with the two Vorstand. “They often solve [internal orchestral] problems themselves although they keep me informed. And I am always presenting my ideas for consideration.” In fact, the Intendant and the Vorstand find themselves in constant communication—either face-to-face during rehearsal breaks backstage, in the Philharmonic’s offices, or by cell phone at all hours of the day or night. According to the Intendant, the rules of their working relationship are not formalized. For him, the relationship is akin to what sociologists call symbolic interaction: “You create rules by the actions you take.” One former Vorstand reinforced this notion: “You need two things: good people and you need the rules. But the best is when it works without rules!” The working relationships and balance among these key individuals are critical for the organization. The orchestra, too, is concerned that the organization’s leaders are all focused on the long-term health of the institution. Right now, there is a clear and mutual understanding about what needs to be done.8
One important characteristic of a good Vorstand, according to one, is that “he have his ear in the orchestra,” meaning a Vorstand must know what the orchestra is thinking; to be in touch with the other orchestra members. But each Vorstand has the five members of the Fuenferrat to help in this regard. The Fuenferrat are important in the leadership structure because they extend the Vorstand’s ability to reach and even poll the entire orchestra when need be, and they manage details for which the Vorstand do not have time. Communication is further facilitated by full orchestra meetings which are typically held on a bimonthly basis, or as needed. With all the impending decisions in 1999, the orchestra met monthly. Vetting important orchestra decisions is a key operating principle of the organization, but often there are sensitive issues that cannot be shared with the full orchestra. Some members are concerned by the potential for “a lack of transparency” in organizational decision making. And yet, to the Vorstand, this is a necessity. As one of them said, “Everything is transparent, except for the secrets.”
Other important characteristics of the Vorstand are the ability to think strategically, to plan ahead, to take responsibility, and to have “strong nerves” for the tremendous demands placed on them (there is no reduction in orchestra services nor generous compensation for taking the Vorstand position). Burnout is a hazard. As a former Vorstand described it, “This job needs a lot of time. It’s very hard. You’re always working. And you can’t afford to be everyone’s friend: not between the conductor and the orchestra, and not between orchestra members.” About his experience, he said, “We were involved with the Intendant all the time. We were always together talking and deciding things. We were not so involved with the budget. That’s the Intendant’s responsibility, but we certainly know what problems there are. The role is like one of a judge. You are always having to find compromise—and then having to explain that to the orchestra.”
Cultivating member participation is a vital part of this democratic organization. Responding to a question about how players are developed into future leaders, a former Vorstand said, “Now there is a big generation change in the orchestra. Over the last 10 years, we have hired 60 new members and most of them are younger. They will need more time within the orchestra before they become interested and before they can become good orchestra leaders.” In fact, the orchestra requires that players be members of the orchestra for at least five years before they can run for election. (This has been reduced from a ten-year minimum). To be nominated, a candidate needs just five player signatures. Still, participation is always an issue. Often there is only one candidate for a vacant post, yet an election must still be held. For example, October 1998 was the triennial election of the Vorstand. Only the current Vorstand indicated their interest in running for the two posts. In light of this, and concerned for the health of the process, one of them initially stepped aside and encouraged two other players to run. However, the present Vorstand won the necessary majority votes.
About this experience, the younger of the two candidates who were not elected said: “I felt a little young to be doing this, but on the other hand, I had ideas—like transforming the Philharmonie hall into a more dynamic place to attract people to Potsdamer Platz. We need restaurants and more modern marketing. The problem with the election is that there is no way to really share your ideas. The vote is based mostly on personal reputation.” In the end, this player was glad he was not elected, but he was still very concerned about his orchestra and its situation: “Politically, we’re all dilettantes and we’re not professional managers, but the goal is to maintain this musical environment—because it’s what brings out our best.” The other candidate, an orchestra veteran, was also rather relieved. “I am a free man!”
Nevertheless, he was also concerned about the issues at hand for the orchestra and its future. As he said, “The orchestra is somewhat unsettled now. There is the impending change in conductorship. We are very concerned about our compensation. We work extremely hard. But we do it for the music. This is why you join the orchestra.”
Despite impending changes within the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra organization, players appreciate their special brand of music making. Most players would agreed that they are “a bunch of strong-minded individuals.” As one young member put it, “We are spiritual brethren here. We all see music the same way! It’s great when you have like-minded people to work with. We don’t know much about management. And this orchestra may not be for everyone, but it’s great for us!” A former Vorstand reinforced the point with a wry smile, “You know good people often have strong personalities. Sometimes it would be easier to have people who would just go along. But all we need is a majority and the other 49 percent can be upset. This is a democracy.”
“The Philharmonic Spirit”: An Outgrowth of
In addition to having an impressive roster of permanent and guest conductors, the Berlin Philharmonic has worked with the greatest composers and solo artists of the day—from Richard Strauss in the 1890s to Paul Hindemith in the 1950s and Hans Werner Henze in the 1990s, and from famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the 1920s to Anne-Sophie Mutter in the 1990s. But perhaps most importantly, the orchestra itself is composed of some of the finest musicians in the world. Each is of soloist caliber, and many are showcased in the orchestra’s own concerts. Arguably, the orchestra’s most distinguishing marks are not only the tremendous talent of its members, but also the high standard they set for themselves—and to which they adhere from generation to generation. To be a “Philharmoniker” has always been considered by many a great accomplishment, and similar to membership in an exclusive club. Moreover, it is often said that the Berlin Philharmonic has a certain, special spirit, a “Philharmonischer Geist,” an unparalleled “esprit du corps.” The essence of that Philharmonic spirit comes from two sources: its legal and operating structure, and its few, but inviolate, group norms.
Remarkably, the special spirit of the Berlin Philharmonic is passed on and imbues each player. This is apparent during performances when all members evidence a deep sense of responsibility for the outcome of the concert. It is an individual’s personal
responsibility to rise to the occasion and deliver his or her best performance. Orchestra members don’t count on an external agent to make this happen, or to be used as excuse for a poor performance. As one former Intendant said, “The orchestra would never sink below a certain level, for their pride would not allow it. If conditions are unfavorable, if a guest conductor lacks the power to inspire them, or cannot establish real [contact] with the orchestra, it will do anything it can on its own to guarantee a good performance. . . . It is an orchestra that intellectually participates in the solution of difficult passages, individual problems of intonation, and questions of ensemble.”9
These notions of personal responsibility, artistic self-determination, and the paramount importance of the music itself are the essential hallmarks of the Berlin Philharmonic’s self-governing system. In this author’s view, these ideas begin to explain the difference between orchestra organizations whose overall performance is “clearly outstanding” versus those which are “average or typical.” Rarely, among the hundreds of musicians I have interviewed in the past 10 years, have I heard the resounding comments that are captured below. Resources and historical and political circumstances notwithstanding, there are lessons to be learned from the kind of enthusiasm and commitment that the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra system fosters. Indeed, it is palpable.
“This evening will be a great performance. Because people give everything. It’s a natural thing, too. Everyone pulls for the best. Because we’re treated very well and when you’re treated well, you feel special and you want to do well. You also think to yourself, this is the Berlin Philharmonic! You can’t let any slip-ups happen.”
“This is the second time this week that I’ve played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and I still get very excited and on the edge of my seat about it. Why? If we let our standard go down, it goes quickly. The more comfortable you get around people, the more comfortable it gets. But sometimes, it’s very uncomfortable—especially if you don’t know your part, for example. Then people (fellow players) make comments indirectly and it hurts. It has the intended effect.”
“If I died and came back to life, I’d still want to be a musician in this orchestra. To be a soloist is glamorous, but lonely. Here, we are part of a big family.”
“We have a huge, wide-ranging repertoire, and in the 1970s, we would do four to five different programs on each tour. Karajan would only rehearse the key or tough parts and leave the rest for performance. That created a great deal of tension. I remember having a record player in my hotel room—rehearsing and sweating! We never played a complete piece in rehearsal! In fact, we sometimes would ask Karajan for more rehearsal time!”
“Who motivates me? Each player on each side of me. They are superb musicians and so they encourage me. You want to do well.”
“Every one of these players is of soloist quality. In fact, many of us had to make the hard choice of whether to stay principal in another orchestra or come here as a section player. As an example, there might be 17 other good bowing ideas besides the concertmaster’s, but we have all subjugated ourselves to the greater whole—the orchestra—and the music. We don’t allow our individual agendas to take precedence or get in the way. When that happens, the group will rein in an errant player.”
“For other orchestral players, their work is nine o’clock to five o’clock, and then there is private or family life. For us, this is our life. We have all committed completely to it.”
I would like to thank several people for their support of this project, especially Fergus McWilliam, Elmar Weingarten, Peter Reigelbauer, Christhard Gössling, Hellmut Stern, and Paul Judy.
Erin V. Lehman is a research coordinator in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. She holds a B.A. degree from Wellesley College, and is a Ph.D. candidate in arts policy and management at City University, London, England.
Allmendinger, Jutta, and J. Richard Hackman. 1995. The More, the Better? A Four-nation Study of the Inclusion of Women in Symphony Orchestras. Social Forces 74: 423-460.
Allmendinger, Jutta, J. Richard Hackman, and Erin V. Lehman. 1996. Life and Work in Symphony Orchestras. The Musical Quarterly 80 (2): 194-219.
Galinsky, Adam, and Erin V. Lehman. 1995. Emergence, Divergence, Convergence: Three Models of Symphony Orchestras at the Crossroads. The European Journal of Cultural Policy 2 (1): 117-139.
Holland, Bernhard. 1995. A Pathetic Living at the Symphony? New York Times, November 5, sec. 2, p. 1.
Judy, Paul. 1996. Life and Work in Symphony Orchestras: An Interview with J. Richard Hackman. Harmony 2: 1-8.
Lehman, Erin V., and Adam Galinsky. 1994. The London Symphony Orchestra. Case No. N9-494-034. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Co.
Lehman, Erin V. 1995. Recruitment Practices in American and British Symphony Orchestras: Contrasts and Consequences. Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society 24: 325-343.
Lehman, Erin V., and Fiona Lee. 1996. Determinants of Organizational Effectiveness: The Case of Chamber Orchestras. An unpublished study of Orpheus, Metamorphosen, and Pro Arte Chamber orchestras.
Lehman, Erin V. 1997. Is the Glass Half-empty or Half-full: The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, 1990-91 to 1996-97. A report to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra board of trustees. Updated and available at <www.arts.endow.gov/pub/lessons/casestudies/colorado.html>.
1 I would like to express my thanks to the Symphony Orchestra Institute which has, in part, funded this research. The case will be available through the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government case collection, which can be accessed at <www.ksg.harvard.edu>.
2 At the time of the orchestra’s founding in 1882, Berlin was just developing as the capital of the Wilhelmine German Empire. Given this fact, the radical nature of the musicians’ decision to start their own enterprise cannot be overstated. By deigning to form a democratic organization in a most unrepublican period in world history, the orchestra had created an anomaly. Moreover, as with many entrepreneurial undertakings, the newly formed “Philharmonic Orchestra (formerly Bilse Orchestra),” as they called themselves, was not free from strife. “It staggered from one crisis to another and one never knew if it would survive.” But in time, and with the instrumental help of a local impresario, Hermann Wolff, and his wife Louisa, the orchestra found success. It was Wolff’s concert agency that was responsible not only for helping the nascent ensemble with concert dates, but also for discovering conductors for the group, and soliciting private contributions to help the “Philharmonic ship” stay afloat. Except for a brief period when a Philharmonic Society was established to generate dues and donations, the Philharmonic Orchestra depended on ticket sales and tours to make ends meet (Stresemann, 1979).
3 Herbert von Karajan, who long coveted Furtwangler’s post at the Philharmonic, was the orchestra’s fourth permanent conductor, serving from 1954-1989. Given his tenure, it is hard to encapsulate in just a few words the lengthy and legendary “marriage” between Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (volumes have been written about the man and the subject). One thing was indisputable, however: Karajan brought the orchestra to a level of artistic excellence, fame, and fortune-—especially in their early partnership—that few other orchestras could ever rival. They had critical acclaim, hundreds of recordings, films, TV broadcasts, international tours, the Salzburg Easter and Summer Festivals, the Pfingsten and Berlin Festivals, and increasingly generous incomes.
4 For more information about the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, visit their Web site at <www.berlin-philharmonic.com>.
5 Moreover, the German Musicians’ Union has no formal role in the orchestra’s operations. Players are not even required to be members of the union, which functions more as a professional association. Union representatives, however, do get involved to help, as needed, when it comes to negotiating the Berlin Philharmonic’s contract, but the last time the contract was negotiated was in 1971! As one player said, “It is important to know that we do not have an adversarial climate here between the Orchestra and the City Senate, our employer.”
6 It was announced that Sir Simon Rattle has been selected to succeed Abbado.
7 Unlike the orchestra, the administrative and technical staff view the Intendant as their immediate employer. A more traditional employer/employee relationship exists in this area and contrasts starkly with the attitude and powers of the orchestra. As one player observed, “The Intendant’s main job is to serve the needs of the orchestra, not his own career goals.”
8 During Karajan’s tenure, the power balance had been skewed in his favor initially, but by the end, Karajan was at war with his own Vorstand, the orchestra, and even the Senate.
9 Stresemann, Wolfgang. (1979). The Berlin Philharmonic from Bülow to Karajan. Berlin, Germany: Stapp Verlag Publishers, p. 114.
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra: A Cooperative Institution
As a full-scale, professional symphony orchestra that is “musician owned and operated,” the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is a case study that the Symphony Orchestra Institute could not pass up. Since its inception, the Institute has suggested that increased musician involvement in orchestral governance is an important step toward greater organizational effectiveness.
From the Ashes
The founding of the Louisiana Philharmonic is a story all too familiar to readers of Harmony. Caught up in fallout from the precipitous decline of the oil industry in the 1980s, the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra ceased operations in 1991. But a core group of players, with a keen understanding that “business as usual” was unlikely to succeed, was determined to carry on. Their “board room” was cellist Ann Cohen’s kitchen table, and they did not hesitate to enlist the assistance of local community leaders.
As Harmony readers will learn, the answer to that question is everything. The bylaws themselves reflect the musicians’ commitment to retaining ultimate authority over all organizational activity, and we review key provisions in depth. The board committee structure also began with musicians holding all appoint- ments, though membership and decision-making involvement by non-musicians are now well advanced.
The founders recognized that it was critical to build links to and solicit acvice and support from the community. We examine the relationships and work of the Community Advisory Board and the Symphony Volunteers. We then review how this organization approaches music direction, staffing, and education and outreach.
Following discussions of financial results and planning, and an exposition of the orchestra’s working relationship with the American Federation of Musicians, we turn our attention to the concept of musicians as leaders as they look to the future. It is clear that all active participants take tremendous pride in what they have accomplished, and that the orchestra is at something of a crossroad. The Institute will keep its eyes on Louisiana, and we thank all of our new friends for their candor in the preparation of this report.
T he Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra was formed in September 1991, as successor to a symphony organization founded in the mid-1930s. The orchestra currently comprises 70 musicians, a 14-member board, nearly
a dozen staff, and more than 500 volunteers. It plays more than 125 concerts a year, and conducts major outreach and education programs. As do many orchestra organizations, the Louisiana Philharmonic faces such challenges as audience development, subscription sales, and balancing the budget. On the surface, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra appears quite similar to other American orchestras. Not so. It is organizationally quite different. As stated in a recent brochure, the
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra musicians and advisors in 1991 became the architects of a new orchestra management model. Not only was this framework new to LPO musicians; [but] several aspects of the model were new to the national orchestra industry, which now recognizes the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra as both a new standard and as a management and governance laboratory.
The Symphony Orchestra Institute believes that the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is the only full- scale, professional symphony orchestra organization in North America that is wholly musician owned and operated. The orchestra’s players, as a group, legally control all aspects of the organization—from strategic planning and finances to artistic programming and hiring of the executive director, music director, and guest conductors. To prepare the following discussion, members of the Institute staff spent many hours in face-to-face, telephone, and e-mail conversation with members of the Louisiana Philharmonic “family.”
For decades, the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra was a glittering jewel in the cultural crown of a city renowned for its rich musical heritage. But the jewel lost
much of its luster when the bottom dropped out of the oil business in the early 1980s. New Orleans found itself in a severe crisis that affected every aspect of community life. However, according to one of the symphony’s major supporters, former board president Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin, the orchestra remained relatively stable and initially survived these rough times.
However, by the mid-1980s, the orchestra began to experience significant financial problems. By 1990, despite Herculean efforts, the symphony was deeply in debt and had spent its endowment trying to remain afloat. The 1990-1991 season was both delayed and abbreviated, and finally, under pressure from creditors, and suffering from conflicting and sometimes inaccurate stories in the media, the board canceled the entire 1991-1992 season. Although never officially declared bankrupt, the organization ceased operations and continued to exist only on paper. The demise of the New Orleans Symphony left the community in shock. Supporters were disappointed and angry. Staff members were upset. A number of musicians sought employment with other orchestras, took on full-time music teaching positions in local institutions, went back to school to train for new careers, or took jobs outside the music field to support their families.
But a core group of about 60 players was determined to resurrect the orchestra. They were unwilling to let New Orleans remain a city without a symphony. However, they felt that reestablishing the orchestra under the old, traditional structure would not work. Instead, they decided to form an organization that was owned, controlled, and operated by musicians; one that would encourage democratic participation and open communication. Such longtime supporters as Adelaide Wisdom
Benjamin, who knew firsthand how challenging it could be to run a successful symphony organization, were concerned the idea might not work. But, as Benjamin says, even the doubters soon realized the musicians were “the quickest group of learners we’d ever seen. They had to do it all and they did.”
Many people were instrumental in the formation of the Louisiana Philharmonic. But everyone who talks about the early days names flutist/piccolo player Patti Adams, cellist Ann Cohen, and timpanist Jim Atwood as key “movers” in the effort. This core group, along with a number of their colleagues, spent hours around Ann Cohen’s kitchen table discussing how the new organization should function. With assistance from local attorneys, consultants, former board members and supporters, business and community leaders, the families and friends of the players, and the media, the group established what today is the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. In November 1991, the Louisiana Philharmonic played a gala benefit concert to raise seed money, and the following January, launched its 16-week inaugural season.
The current mission statement of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra states that the organization’s mission is “to provide New Orleans and the Gulf South region with the highest quality symphonic music and education programs by maintaining a fully professional orchestra.” The orchestra fulfills this mission with a 36-week season during which it performs classical, pops, jazz, children’s, educational, special, and outdoor concerts. The orchestra also offers numerous outreach and educational programs, including a “Bach to School” program for children in kindergarten through grade three, in-school concerts, and programs targeted to specific populations within New Orleans’ diverse ethnic communities.
Founding member Jim Atwood observed of the orchestra’s formation, “We didn’t really use a model, although we looked at the Colorado and London Symphonies.” The founding members also examined corporate models and “looked long and hard at the New Orleans Symphony and what didn’t work so we wouldn’t make the same mistakes all over again.” The philosophy, values, organizational structure, and governance created by the original members have survived relatively intact.
As a nonprofit corporation, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra models the legal and general structure of other symphony orchestra organizations. Under Louisiana state nonprofit corporation law, the “Members” of the corporation have established and operate the institution in accordance with a set of bylaws that provide for the election of a board of directors which has overall responsibility for its affairs. The orchestra’s other organizational groups— volunteers, professional management and staff, the orchestra itself, and a music director and guest conductors—are quite similar to their counterpart components in other North American symphony organizations.
The fundamental difference between the Louisiana Philharmonic and other North American symphony organizations lies in the corporation’s “Members,” those persons who, under law, and as with shareholders in a for-profit corporation, “own” and possess all the beneficial interest in the nonprofit corporation of which they are “Members.” The bylaws provide that a Member must be an orchestra member, and the orchestra, as a whole, “owns” the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. The words “cooperative” and “share enterprise” are often used to describe such nonprofit corporations. In the following discussion, the word “Member” is purposely capitalized, where appropriate, to identify a Member of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra corporation, as distinguished from the common use of the word.
The first provision of the bylaws defines a Member as a full-time contracted musician who has committed in writing to perform with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for the current season, and who is a member of the American Federation of Musicians. Membership thus parallels orchestra employment:
◆ Players declining an offer of employment for the following season cease to be Members with respect to matters beyond the current season.
◆ Probationary players are Members as long as their employment contracts are renewed.
◆ Membership is not transferable or inheritable.
Overall, the bylaws are significantly more extensive and detailed than those of most for-profit and nonprofit corporations. They reflect not only the musicians’ commitment to retaining control of both the board and organizational activity, but also reveal the depth and breadth of thought and the care that went into establishing a governance structure and decision-making process. They also express the musicians’ core values of open communication, fiscal prudence, artistic excellence, democratic participation, and full musician involvement, and have been thoughtfully adjusted, based on experience and organizational learning.
Some of the most significant provisions relate to the fundamentally complete authority of the Members:
◆ Corporate action (by the orchestra as a group) may take place at any duly called meeting of Members at which a majority is present in person or by proxy, and then by the action of a majority of votes actually cast, each Member having one vote.
◆ The primary corporate duties of the Members, at duly called meetings, are the annual election of the executive, personnel, and concert committees from among the Membership, and the annual election of nonmusician board members; the filling of vacancies and the removal of members of these groups; amendments to the bylaws and the tenure provisions of the operating rules; and the removal of a person from further Membership in the corporation.
More broadly, the bylaws later provide that “the directors of the corporation may make, amend, and repeal the bylaws of the corporation and its operating rules, subject always to the power of the Members to change the action of the directors.” Also, certain decisions and responsibilities, such as selecting the music director and serving on the executive committee, are limited only to tenured Members.
Board of Directors
The bylaws require that the “affairs of the corporation shall be managed by the board of directors,” which “may invite the executive director, the music director, and members of the orchestra or any other person to attend any and all of its meetings.” In current practice, the executive director attends all meetings of the board and its committees, and appropriate senior staff also attend these meetings (for example, the director of marketing and public relations attends meetings of the marketing committee). Board meetings are also open to any Member who wishes to attend.
The original seven-member, musician-only governing board, which was then called the executive committee, was responsible for making day-to-day operating decisions and also had policy-making and fiduciary responsibility. As noted earlier, the Members, in a duly called meeting, can review and, if necessary, overturn any decision of the board. (This has only happened once, in regard to an artistic matter.) The current board retains policy-making and fiduciary responsibility, while responsibility for day-to-day operational decisions for the organization (but not for the orchestra itself) is handled by professional staff and overseen by the board, which has final authority for all decisions.
The board of directors is elected at the annual meeting of Members. From 1991 until 1995, the board was composed exclusively of musicians. In 1995, the board decided to include members of the community on a trial basis. The experiment proved successful, and current bylaws provide that the board consist of seven Members and up to seven nonmusicians (the chairpersons of the Advisory Board and the Symphony Volunteers, and up to five other nonmusicians from the community). While a nominating committee has responsibility for proposing candidates for the board, any Member may nominate any other Member for election to the board. The seven Members of the board are elected from among tenured Members by a plurality of votes at the Members’ annual meeting and serve two-year terms.
The board annually elects its own chairperson—the president—who must be a Member/musician, and the vice president, who must be a nonmusician board member, each for a one-year term. The president of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is the chief executive officer of the corporation. The
president or any other board member may call meetings. A majority of board members constitutes a quorum; each director has one vote; and a vote by the majority attending constitutes an act of the board. Further, in the event of a tie vote, the president has two votes. Two other officers, the secretary and the treasurer, are elected by the board. These two officers must be members of the board but may be musicians or nonmusicians.
The bylaws detail specific duties of the board:
◆ Selection, evaluation, and retention of the executive director.
◆ Establishment, from among the board members, of a small management committee to assist the president in his or her role as chief executive officer, particularly in overseeing the operating management of the orchestra.
◆ Development of the process for the search, selection, and retention of the music director. These actions must be undertaken by tenured Members at duly called meetings.
◆ Adoption of an annual budget, including the Members’ planned compensation for the coming season. When completed, the budget must be presented to the Members.
The board normally meets monthly, and the meetings proceed much as board meetings in any traditional symphony organization, including informal reviews of recent organizational activities, concerts, and fundraising. Over the course of a season, as a matter of practice, the most important decisions of the board include:
◆ approving the budget recommended by the finance committee;
◆ participating in periodic defining and implementing of the processes for reviewing the performances of the music director and the executive director;
◆ making policy decisions regarding the length and mix of the season, based on recommendations from the concert committee; and
◆ approving decisions about special events or fundraising.
While there are many community members who can be tapped to serve on the board, there are only 70 musicians from whom to draw musician board members, and an even smaller number who are willing to serve. Valborg Gross, a violist, former board president and treasurer, and incoming chair of the board’s concert committee, says that the orchestra has to “recycle” many of its musician-leaders. She estimates that 50 percent of the orchestra participates in the work of board committees, with about 10 percent of the orchestra serving in leadership positions (board officers and committee chairs) at any time. Given the intense time commitment, it is not always easy to find Members willing to serve. However, according to immediate past president Kent Jensen, “We’re turning a corner in terms of developing new musician board members. This year, we actually had competition for board seats!”
Primary Board Committees
The founding members developed a comprehensive board committee structure. Administrative functions were originally governed by an elected, seven-musician executive committee, which, at the time, served as the orchestra’s board of directors. Administrative policies were implemented by the finance, development, marketing, and office committees. Artistic functions were coordinated by personnel, concert, and education committees composed entirely of musicians. This basic committee structure remains in place. A September 1998 revision of the bylaws further clarified, but did not substantially change, the composition, structure, duties, and responsibilities of the board committees, although, generally, since the orchestra’s founding, there has been a trend toward more membership and formal decision-making involvement by nonmusicians.
Executive Committee: There is currently no executive committee as exists in a traditional board setting. The executive committee of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra consists of the seven musician Members of the board, who have sole responsibility (separate from that of the whole board) for dealing with issues pertaining to operating rules within the orchestra. They may also call meetings of the corporation and the orchestra, handle broad personnel matters not specifically delegated to the personnel committee, and make decisions regarding the interpretation, waiving, and/or suspension of the operating rules as appropriate. The executive committee has ultimate authority for decisions in these specific areas and does not bring them to the full board for consideration or vote. The executive committee is also responsible for making day-to-day “working condition” decisions for the orchestra and, in this regard, functions somewhat as “an orchestra committee working with the personnel manager” in a traditional orchestra. This group does not, however, have authority to set overall policy for the organization; those decisions are handled at the board level.
Val Gross says the matter of how much authority the executive committee has “is a matter for interpretation.” She says that during the year she was president, for example, if a rehearsal-schedule change was four weeks out, she asked the executive committee to approve the change, then published it. However, if a change to an already published schedule was needed, she took the matter to the full orchestra. “If something’s really important, we almost always take it to the orchestra,” says Gross, who also notes that such decisions are nearly always made by consensus or informal vote.
Personnel Committee: The personnel committee is composed of 10 Members, elected annually to serve one-year terms, plus the music director and the personnel manager (who is also a musician). Only tenured Members are eligible to serve on the personnel committee, and no person may serve on the executive and personnel committees simultaneously. The chair of the committee is elected by the committee members, but neither the music director nor the personnel manager may serve as chair.
Much of the work of the personnel committee is done by consensus. Tenure decisions are determined by secret ballot, and hiring decisions following auditions may be made by either secret ballot or consensus, reflecting the committee’s preference. When audition and tenure decisions are made, the committee is augmented by musicians from the appropriate section. For example, string principals and tenured members of the viola section are added for a section viola audition or tenure decision. Therefore, there may be as many as 20 musicians involved in such decisions. In these situations, each member has one vote, except for the personnel manager, who is a nonvoting member of the committee, and the music director, who is allotted a number of votes equal to one-third of the number of Members voting, plus one.
The personnel committee is primarily responsible for administering the operating rules and derives its authority from these rules. The operating rules cover orchestra seating; length and use of services; intermissions; limits on number of services; starting times; attire; leave requests; duties and obligations of the musicians in respect to attendance; the composition, duties, and responsibilities of the personnel committee; audition procedures; contracts; tenure, probation, demotion, and non renewal; run- outs; and outdoor events.
The personnel committee also decides which audition candidates will receive offers of employment, and whether new players completing two years of consecutive employment will receive offers of employment for a third year, thus establishing status as tenured Members.
The operating rules are not considered etched in stone; they are considered changeable as the situation requires. As noted above, the areas covered in the operating rules generally correspond to those normally addressed in a collective bargaining agreement in traditionally organized orchestras. In a sense, the operating rules of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra represent a “written compact” among the player-Members and are administered, enforced, and waived by them, either through a representative group (the executive committee or the personnel committee) or at a full orchestra meeting. All Members (along with senior staff) receive copies of the bylaws and operating rules when they join the orchestra.
Concert Committee: The bylaws charge the concert committee to “manage (conceptually plan, coordinate, and control) the annual program of concerts. This includes determining the number of concerts, the division of the program into series of concerts, the selection of pieces to be played in each performance, and the selection of guest artists and guest conductors. This includes the negotiation of all fees for such services.”
The concert committee, originally composed solely of musicians, was established to ensure that Members retained artistic control of the orchestra. When a full- time music director was hired four years ago, artistic programming became a collaborative venture between the music director and the concert committee. According to the bylaws, the contract between the orchestra and the music director provides that the music director “will be responsible for programming and will engage soloists, after consultation with the Orchestra’s concert committee and within the limitations of the Orchestra’s budget. . . . [The music director] and the Orchestra’s concert committee will agree on the engagement of guest conductors by mutual consultation.”
“How the [artistic decision-making] process functions depends on who holds the concert committee chair, which can be a very strong role,” says former executive director Bob Stiles. He adds, “The current process is that the music director solicits input from the orchestra on conductors and artists, possible repertoire, venues, and other related matters. The music director then prepares a first draft based on that input and includes his own ideas. He may engage artists or conductors he doesn’t know based on the orchestra’s recommendations. The final draft comes back to the concert committee for approval. All of this takes place about a year ahead of time. The committee is currently completing the program for the 2000-2001 season.”
The concert committee currently consists of six musicians and two community members, plus the orchestra librarian (who is also a musician and an ex officio, nonvoting member), the music director (an ex officio, voting member), and the personnel manager (also an ex officio, voting member). A chair is elected from among the committee members; the music director may not serve as chair.
Other Committees: There are five additional board standing committees—legal, finance, development, marketing, and education—composed of both musicians and community members. These committees closely resemble, in authority and duties, similar committees in traditional organizations. Each standing committee has co-chairs, one a musician, the other a community member. The co-chairs are appointed by the president, in consultation with the board and the executive director. The bylaws allow community members and/or musicians who are not board members to serve on standing committees.
Community Advisory Board
Early on, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s founders recognized that it would be helpful to build links to and solicit advice from the community. They also wanted to cultivate potential funders and subscribers. To accomplish these dual purposes, they formed a 40-member advisory board (now called the community advisory board or CAB) and recruited key members from the community to serve.
The CAB is currently composed of approximately 60 community members and is advisory in nature, with no policy-making or fiduciary responsibilities. It meets six times a year, and each meeting features a presentation about a particular topic relating to orchestra operations, such as public relations, ticket sales, artistic programming, education and outreach, or marketing. The board and staff take the CAB’s advice quite seriously.
This group has its own set of bylaws, which outline basic responsibilities. To select new members, a nominating committee seeks input from the executive director and the director of development, as well as current members of the CAB, and presents a slate to the full CAB at its last meeting of the season. Nominations from the floor are allowed, but rare, and the slate is usually accepted as presented. CAB members serve two-year terms, and may serve up to three consecutive terms.
The president of the CAB is an ex officio member of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra board, and members of the CAB may be appointed to serve on orchestra board committees. CAB meetings are open to board members, musicians, and staff.
The Symphony Volunteers are a separate 501(c)(3) organization which has purposely maintained its independence from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra corporation, but has grown and flourished along with the orchestra. Although membership dropped to a low of 50 in the early days of the new orchestra, it now totals more than 500, including Crescendo, an active group of “under-40s.” The president of the Symphony Volunteers serves as an ex officio member of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra board.
The Symphony Volunteers raise between $150,000 and $200,000 annually from such activities as a resale consignment store, fundraising and other special events, a symphony store, and an annual book fair, at which some 1,000 boxes of donated books, art, music, and musical instruments are sold.
From the beginning, the Symphony Volunteers have provided strong financial and moral support to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Perhaps the best example of this support occurred in the founding days when the Volunteers acquired ownership of the former New Orleans Symphony’s music library, and generously donated this collection to the fledgling orchestra.
This group continues to have a close and cordial working relationship with the orchestra members. One of their main goals is to foster community appreciation of the orchestra. For example, the Volunteers retain and compensate musicians to play at various community events or fundraisers. Says Babs Mollere, current president of the Symphony Volunteers, “We realize that the musicians’ salaries are low, so we make an effort to pay them for any volunteer-sponsored events at which they perform.”
Conductors and Music Direction
Klauspeter Seibel, the orchestra’s first full-time music director, was hired in 1995. Maestro Seibel is viewed as very much a part of the orchestra and the community. The Louisiana Philharmonic is his only current permanent U.S. conducting engagement, although he serves as principal guest conductor of the Frankfurt Opera, and accepts other American and international guest conducting engagements.
The music director’s role in artistic planning is central and substantive, but not dominant, and his input to orchestra personnel selection and retention is important, but not decisive. The relationship between the music director and the orchestra is described as collaborative, collegial, cordial, open, and mutually supportive, according to several musicians with whom we spoke.
Quite similarly to other symphony orchestra organizations, the Louisiana Philharmonic engages a number of guest conductors, who are hired at the direction of the concert committee. Guest conductors who will appear with the orchestra during the 1999-2000 season include Timothy Muffitt, Philippe Entremont, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Michael Palmer, David Lockington, William Eddins, and Robert Page.
Executive Director and Staff
The staff has grown from a small group of volunteers to ten full-time and two part-time members. While this is only about one-half the staff employed by the predecessor organization, the commitment and involvement of musician- Members, and the high level of cooperation between Members and staff, has allowed the organization to function efficiently.
Musicians took on most administrative and management tasks in the early years, but they soon realized they couldn’t do everything. In early 1992, they hired a part-time secretary to answer the phones. Says Jim Atwood, “We were good at some things, like knowing what an orchestra does, but we weren’t as good at knowing what was needed in staff and infrastructure.”
When former executive director Bob Stiles was hired in January 1995, his first priorities were to professionalize, streamline, and routinize the organization’s operational activities; to hire and supervise key staff who took on administrative tasks previously performed by musicians; to monitor fiscal growth; and to build community outreach programs. Stiles came to the Louisiana Philharmonic with orchestra operational experience gained in Denver, Spokane, Springfield (Massachusetts), and Indianapolis. His background proved invaluable in helping the orchestra continue its growth and maintain financial stability.
Some key tasks listed in the written job description of the executive director include personal involvement in fundraising activities; management and supervision of the staff; administrative and logistic support of the orchestra’s operations and the activities of all its organizational elements; preparation of the annual budget for approval by the treasurer, finance committee, and board, and adherence to the approved budget; leadership and oversight of marketing and public relations to achieve increased earned income; communication and collaboration with the music director, musicians, board, and the various community support organizations; providing visionary and creative ideas in the planning and operations of the LPO; an annual update and implementation of the five-year strategic plan; and representing the orchestra locally, regionally, and nationally.
The executive director attends all board meetings, and is responsible for overseeing staff in carrying out the day-to-day operations of the organization. The president of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is understood to be the chief executive officer of the organization, and the executive director has functioned in a role similar to that of a chief operating officer. The board of directors is responsible for hiring and firing the executive director, and the executive committee and full board review his or her performance, but ultimately, decisions in this area may be brought to the Members for approval. As noted earlier, the bylaws establish a management committee, composed of the president and two to four other board members, to assist the president (a musician) in his or her duties as chief executive officer, and in personal leadership and supervision of the executive director and staff. However, this committee has only functioned rarely.
Although the executive director is not a Member of the corporation, his or her compensation is based on the “share” compensation received by the Members. All other staff members are paid as in other traditional symphony organizations.
Current staff members, in addition to the executive director, include a director of development and two half-time development assistants; a director of marketing and public relations and an assistant; an operations manager; a controller; a box office manager and an assistant; an administrative assistant/receptionist; and a part-time education coordinator.
The staff is seen as key to the central coordination and operation of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, carrying out the day-to-day operations, seeing that board policies are implemented, and supporting and coordinating the decision making of the various board committees, and the work of the CAB and the Volunteers.
Education and Outreach Activities
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra has a strong education and outreach program which is primarily managed by violist Margaret Shields and her part- time assistant, bass player David Carbonara. They are assisted by the board’s education committee and a part-time education coordinator.
Shields has developed a number of innovative programs for the orchestra’s education effort, helped write grant applications seeking funds for the program, and worked closely with local educators to develop an annual curriculum for the in-school program. She also works with local organizations to promote music education in the schools. A $100,000, three-year grant from Texaco supports the ensembles which play in the schools.
A core group of 16 to 20 orchestra members participate in in-school concerts, and are paid on a per-service basis for these concerts. They usually volunteer their services for other education-related concerts. The musicians also independently administer the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra.
Financial Results and Planning
Based on its budget, the Louisiana Philharmonic ranks just above 50th among U.S. orchestra organizations. In its later years, the New Orleans Symphony ranked approximately 40th. From the beginning, the Members have been committed to strict fiscal responsibility, which translated into a “no deficit, debt- free” policy.
For the 1997-1998 fiscal year, the Louisiana Philharmonic had revenues of approximately $3.15 million and expenses of $3 million, with the resulting operating surplus boosting the institution’s accumulated net surplus to more than $300,000. Revenues for the 1998-1999 fiscal year, just concluded, were budgeted to be up 10 percent over the prior year, with a small operating surplus projected. However, the recently completed audit shows that the orchestra experienced a break-even year.
Each musician receives a “share” in the corporation’s financial results, with the value of the share now being set each year by the board, and reported to the Members. In the early days, each musician’s “share” was a variable amount that could vary from week to week, depending on cash receipts and disbursements At year end, any surplus was divided equally among the musicians as a bonus. If there was a deficit, the musicians reduced their compensation. As the financial picture has stabilized and improved, shares have become more stable and are established at an annually agreed level.
The orchestra has just completed a five-year plan that raised musician shares approximately 10 percent per year from just over $12,000 in 1994-1995 season to $18,000 in the season completed this past June. Says former executive director Bob Stiles, “Ten percent a year may sound like a big increase. However, it is tempered by the reality of the musicians’ salaries five years ago. And of course, the Louisiana Philharmonic continues to play ‘catch up’ with its peer orchestras across the country.” For the 1999-2000 season, each Member’s share has been set at $19,000.
A new five-year plan, which the board will likely approve this fall, is designed to give top priority to boosting a share to $30,000 by 2003. The plan will also implement a principal pay premium, which will eventually become about ten percent, and longevity pay, which will provide one percent additional pay for each five years of service with the orchestra. The musicians currently have health insurance and instrument insurance, and are members of the American Federation of Musicians’ pension plan.
For the most part, the Louisiana Philharmonic has maintained a balanced annual budget. Although some small deficits have occurred, they have been more than offset by surpluses, and the orchestra has a small accumulated surplus. The Members remain committed to their original policy of strict fiscal responsibility and have reduced their “share” to minimize shortfalls. Recently, the Louisiana Philharmonic was able to set aside a modest cash reserve which will allow the organization to fund future small operating deficits. When the Members voted to establish this cash reserve several years ago, the players agreed to use part of the year-end surplus for this purpose, reducing the amount of their annual bonus.
Collective Bargaining Agreement
Although the establishment of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in 1991 offered many tasks to its founders, one of the more challenging was working with the American Federation of Musicians to develop a trade agreement that would satisfy both the musician-owners and the union. Neither the orchestra nor the AFM had any guiding precedents. The AFM central office sent a consultant from Boston to work with the Louisiana Philharmonic, and eventually an agreement was reached. The musicians would continue to pay dues to the AFM but would not operate under a traditional master agreement. Instead, it was agreed that the orchestra would function under a set of musician-developed operating rules, which were discussed earlier.
With respect to its players, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, as employer, has a three- page, annually renewable, one-year collective bargaining agreement with the AFM Local, a key provision of which is:
Inasmuch as the Employer is a Louisiana Corporation solely owned and operated by professional musicians as a share-plan enterprise, Local 174-496 agrees there shall be no basic wage-scale, weekly or casual, to cover services rendered by playing members of the cooperative corporation.
The collective bargaining agreement also includes provisions for the determination and remittance of AFM pension contributions and work dues, the handling of disputes and grievances, and the control of recording activities. General working conditions for the orchestra are spelled out in the orchestra’s operating rules.
Since the Louisiana Philharmonic’s founding, and pursuant to the operating rules, no tenured player has been dismissed for failure to meet the orchestra’s standards of musical performance, nor has any player been dismissed for cause, and, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, orchestra members have filed no grievances.
The players do not have individual employment contracts per se. Instead, each has a letter of employment, which, under the corporation bylaws, makes him or her a Member with all the privileges and entitlements thereof.
Patti Adams says that the local AFM president, who occasionally plays with the Louisiana Philharmonic, is cognizant of the orchestra’s unique structure. She believes the orchestra has a good relationship with the Local and credits this to the Local president’s cooperative attitude, the active role that Louisiana Philharmonic players take in the Local, and good communications among all the parties.
Members as Musicians and Leaders
The average length of service of Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra members is currently about six years. Former New Orleans Symphony players compose more than 30 percent of the current orchestra’s membership. Many players feel the Louisiana Philharmonic has a high rate of turnover due to low salaries, but they hope the plan to raise salaries and implement principal and longevity pay will significantly help recruitment and retention efforts.
New orchestra members are hired through a normal audition process. Prior to auditions, candidates receive packets of information describing the orchestra’s structure and governance. However, leadership potential and skills, and interest in becoming involved in governance, are not considered during the audition process. Newly hired players attend an orientation to acquaint them with the unique organizational structure of the Louisiana Philharmonic. Not surprisingly, former executive director Bob Stiles says, “New orchestra members may not always have the strong entrepreneurial spirit and commitment shown by the original Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra members.”
Members who do not wish to serve on the board or its committees have ample opportunities to serve in other ways, including helping with fundraising events or participating in the orchestra’s education and outreach programs. Although the staff now takes care of much of the work originally handled by the musicians, some musicians continue to assist with administrative tasks, such as telemarketing calls or mass mailings.
For those musicians who do choose to become involved, the burnout rate, especially for officers, is high, because participation in governance requires a heavy commitment of time and energy, in addition to orchestra rehearsal and performance. Officers and board members may serve more than one term, but almost no one chooses to do so. Says Patti Adams, “There are times when we’ve all suffered from burnout and have needed to regroup. Our colleagues have always understood and have discovered another member of the orchestra willing to step forward and assume more responsibility.”
In late 1998, Members decided the orchestra was at a crossroads. They felt the primarily inward-looking focus (establishing an infrastructure, stabilizing finances, streamlining operations) of the past several years needed to be turned outward to concentrate on strengthening ties to the community, expanding the orchestra’s local focus to a more regional and national one, and increasing fundraising and development efforts.
In August 1999, Sharon Litwin, former director of development for the New Orleans Museum of Art, was hired as the new executive director. Although the executive director will continue to play a fundamental role in the administration and management of the organization and the staff, and in supporting the board, the job description is currently being rewritten to further emphasize fundraising, development, increasing the orchestra’s visibility, and establishing strategic coalitions and partnerships in the community and beyond.
As Litwin takes up her new position, she is enthusiastic, with many ideas to help the orchestra move into the next century. She speaks of helping the musicians “tell their story” to increase community support, and hopes to develop a stronger staff to perform routine administrative work, allowing the musicians to focus on their music making and on larger leadership issues. She also wants to attract additional outstanding players to the orchestra.
Immediate past president Kent Jensen says that the musicians are not all of one mind about the way the orchestra should be run. “I think many musicians would like to go back to the ‘old’ system, primarily because of the current low salaries,” says Jensen, but he hopes that won’t happen. He feels that the current way of operating “is the right, mature thing to do.” He adds, “We all work toward a goal and must be aware of all sides of the issues. This assures common ground in understanding administrative versus artistic issues and musician pay versus fiscal responsibility.”
Although satisfaction with the structure is still relatively high, a five-member committee is evaluating possible changes designed to meet the evolving needs of the organization. For example, the committee is working to develop a more efficient way for the board and Members to handle decision making without losing the open, democratic process the orchestra has always promoted. They are also discussing adding community members to the personnel committee and expanding the board. Executive director Sharon Litwin thinks it is important to “grow” the board, not only to establish deeper links to the community, but also to ensure that it better reflects the economic and ethnic diversity of New Orleans. While such an expansion would mean adding more community members, the committee is giving careful thought to how to accomplish this and yet maintain Members’ legal, ultimate control. They are also discussing how to continue to increase the already high interest and involvement of nonmusician board members.
Both musician and nonmusician board members commented that their involvement with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is pleasurable because of the orchestra’s unique governance structure; because it is a “success story” to which the entire community can point with pride; because it has become a respected and artistically excellent part of the city; and because of the high level of interaction and communication among all participants.
Members, staff, community members, and volunteers with whom we spoke expressed pride in the Louisiana Philharmonic, noting that the Members’ high level of involvement promotes a strong sense of ownership and excellent cooperation among musicians, board, volunteers, and staff. And says longtime Louisiana Philharmonic supporter and CAB chair Hugh Long, “There’s something really impressive about the moment after the orchestra tunes up, when Kent Jensen walks out and says, ‘Hello, I’m the president of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. I play cello in the orchestra, and I’d like to welcome you to this concert’. He then goes and sits down to play.”
As the LPO looks ahead, Patti Adams sums up the feelings of many of her colleagues when she says the experience “has been the most gratifying and terrifying thing I’ve ever done.” She continues, “We’ve never lost sight of our core values, and we continue to be committed to controlling our own futures and the future of our orchestra, to governing wisely and well, and to bringing the message of music to the forefront, to keeping music as the focal point of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. A lot of us share a feeling of passionate guardianship for this orchestra. The thing we’re most proud of is the playing level of the musicians. But the most exciting thing for all of us is that, from the beginning, we knew we could do anything!”
The Institute thanks the following Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra musicians, volunteers, community members, and staff members for their insights, openness, and hospitality during the preparation of this discussion: Patti Adams, Jim Atwood, Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin, Ann Cohen, Dr. Stephen Hales, Kent Jensen, Allan Kolsky, Sharon Litwin, Hugh Long, Babs Mollere, Margaret Shields, Bob Stiles, and especially Valborg Gross.
Organizational Effectiveness: The Role of the Board of Directors
Working to improve organizational effectiveness is the Symphony Orchestra Institute’s clarion call to all orchestra organization participants. The American Symphony Orchestra League, for its 1999 annual conference, invited Paul Judy to organize a panel discussion on the role of the board of directors in advancing organizational effectiveness. Joining him on the panel were Nancy Axelrod and Thomas Witmer.
After defining organizational effectiveness as the pursuit of performance excellence, Witmer outlined four keys to achieving that goal. He then went on to describe what he views as the primary components of the directors’ role: assessing, assuring, contributing, and intervening. While acknowledging that reaching a high level of performance excellence is not an easy task, Witmer suggested several ways in which board members can become more catalytic within their organizations.
Axelrod reminded those in attendance that we sometimes forget the extraordinary influence that the board of directors has on a symphony organization and the degree to which others regard board members as the “guardians” of the organization. She lauded the value of board development activities, and reported on a study by Harvard’s Richard Chait that investigated what makes effective boards work.
After establishing a framework within which to discuss organizational effectiveness, Judy explored the role of the board in evaluating and improving that effectiveness, suggesting that a concern in this area should be high on every board’s list. He posited that each symphony orchestra organization board must address its own composition, functioning, and effectiveness on a regular basis and following that assessment, take actions toward steady improvement.
W hat is the role of the board of directors of an orchestral institution in seeking and achieving organizational effectiveness? At the June 1999 conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League held in
Chicago, I was pleased to organize and participate in a panel discussion of this topic. Joining me in this endeavor were Nancy Axelrod, principal of NonProfit Leadership Services, a Washington, DC consulting firm and founding chief executive of the National Center for Nonprofit Boards; and Thomas Witmer, a member of the board of directors of a number of commercial corporations and of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, for which he has been a catalyst of organization change. The following are excerpts from the three panel presentations.
The Pursuit of Performance Excellence
Tom Witmer led off by defining the role of the board as “actively assisting in the achievement of organizational effectiveness, which must be defined as the pursuit of performance excellence.” He went on to define performance excellence as “meeting customer requirements, both internal and external, 100 percent of the time, on time, every time, at the lowest possible cost.” In the case of a symphony organization, “customers” include concertgoers, patrons, foundations, music education systems, musicians, board members, volunteers, and the management staff. Witmer believes that performance excellence in all its dimensions is very difficult to achieve and that it is best accomplished in diligent incremental steps. To achieve that goal, he said, each constituent must take responsibility to constantly strive for continuous and breakthrough improvement, and management must take responsibility for leading this effort.
Witmer outlined four keys to achieving performance excellence:
◆ Culture and values. Organizational culture and values drive success. An organization which has achieved performance excellence will exhibit a culture that genuinely values and empowers all constituency members and that embodies mutual caring and trust. The successful organization will be guided by values that define the organization’s nonnegotiable behaviors, which are behaviors “passionately held at the gut level.” For a symphony organization, these core values might include excellent service, both internal and external; quality throughout the organization; preserving and sharing the value of music; and an environment that encourages teamwork and individual growth.
◆ Tools. An organization must have the right tools to achieve performance excellence. These organizational attributes might include such things as:
— teams that are empowered to work across functions and constituencies;
— defined quality improvement processes; — strategic planning techniques such as the Hoshin Process (see Harmony 7, October 1998, for an explanation of this process);
— serious commitment to and investment in training and recognition;
— partnerships with customers and suppliers; and
— widespread use of defined performance and quality assessment measures.
◆ Leadership. An organization that has achieved performance excellence will have leaders who display an unwavering commitment to improvement in every area, all the time, by every member of the organization, and to a culture that encourages empowerment, mutual respect, and trust. The leaders will ensure that a clear system of benchmarking against the best functions and processes is in place, and that the organization has developed a focus on customer satisfaction, both internal and external. The leadership will encourage continuous learning, coaching, and nurturing for those within the organization and will emphasize continuous communication to all constituents, including the board, musicians, volunteers, and management. Strong and successful leadership will develop and encourage a “performance-excellence-based human ecosystem.”
◆ Alignment. A final factor in performance excellence is “alignment,” which Witmer defined as “agreement on strategic and operational imperatives across all four constituencies (board, musicians, volunteers, and management).” There must be open communication, a clear understanding, and buy-in across and down the organization. Successful alignment will result in a widespread sense of ownership and will encourage individual motivation, which is the key to empowerment.
For Witmer, the board of directors plays a key role within a symphony organization. He sees that role as having four primary components:
◆ Assessing. Board members need to assess their organization’s performance against outside standards and benchmarks. Their assessment should be based on an understanding of what the organization’s mission and vision are, a sense of what “performance excellence” means, and an ability to evaluate performance versus expectations.
◆ Assuring. Board members must assure diligence in the pursuit of performance excellence in all its dimensions. It is the board members’ responsibility continuously to support and encourage all board colleagues, musicians, volunteers, and staff to strive for performance excellence.
◆ Contributing. Each board member should be expected to contribute personally to those areas in which he or she has expertise, experience, strengths, and/or broad knowledge. Board members should be prepared to contribute not only on their own initiatives, but also as requested by the board chair or others in the organization. “Pick those areas where you can best contribute and focus on them a significant amount of your personal time,” advised Witmer.
◆ Intervening. In this area, board members should use care and restraint. Intervention should only take place as a last resort, if minimum standards are not being met.
After explaining the board’s role, Witmer then outlined a range of ways in which symphony board members can become more involved and catalytic in their organizations. His suggestions included mentoring key managers, sending congratulations when goals are achieved or significant accomplishments occur, and asking good, sometimes embarrassing questions. He further offered that board members can make significant contributions through facilitating strategic planning and prioritizing, supporting specific performance excellence initiatives, and defining, exploring, and assessing organizational issues.
Continuing his thought of specific ways in which board members can contribute, he added the following: pushing for growth, planning, and expansion; encouraging stronger marketing and new product development; pushing to break management paradigms that stultify growth and progress; and advising on improved reporting to the board. Because many symphony board members hold senior corporate positions, Witmer suggested that they have much to offer their symphony organizations, such as being willing to become chairman; overseeing the development of new strategies, culture, and management behaviors; suggesting new tools for organizational development and cultural change; and authoring audits of management processes and developing specific recommendations for change.
In closing, Witmer offered the following thoughts about the challenges and possibilities of achieving greater effectiveness in orchestra organizations:
A Board’s Extraordinary Influence
Nancy Axelrod began her presentation by noting that America’s nonprofit sector has experienced extraordinary growth in the last three decades in terms of numbers of organizations, size of the workforce, and contribution to the economy’s gross domestic
product. The sector is larger and more pluralistic than most Americans realize. In the last few years, there has been an increasing emphasis by taxpayers, supporters, and concerned citizens on accountability, and on the way in which nonprofits are governed and operated. Boards are being held more accountable and are beginning to examine more closely their roles and responsibilities.
For Axelrod, the performance of the board of directors is quintessential to the quality and effectiveness of a symphony orchestra organization in advancing its mission. “I think that we sometimes forget the influence of the board and the degree to which others regard board members as stewards and guardians of the organization. Board members have extraordinary influence, not only in obvious areas, such as the quality of the executive director they are able to attract and retain, but also in how they respond to complaints from staff members, musicians, or community leaders, and how they act toward each other at board meetings and other public events.”
She then quoted Cyril Houle, “A good board is a victory not a gift,” noting that Houle’s quote uniquely captures the idea that good governance and effective stewardship, as practiced in a growing number of nonprofit organizations, do not happen by accident. As strange as it may seem, she said, it is possible to have a group of board members who are competent as individuals but who form an incompetent team. The reasons for this may be many. For example, if the executive director fails to perceive the benefits of creating the conditions for a strong, effective board, then board development is likely to be last on a long list of things to be done. In addition, if the board chair is indifferent to the idea of nurturing the development of board members and fostering a sense of cohesiveness, there is little that can overcome the resulting inertia.
Until recently, observed Axelrod, board development—a term used to describe the cluster of activities regarding the orientation, continuing education, and engagement of board members—was a widely praised but typically under- emphasized activity. She believes this condition is changing as board chairs and chief executives begin to place a greater value on board development as a means of helping the board do its job more effectively.
She then reflected on another quote, this one from Richard Chait, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education: “Many board members do not perceive the work of the board to be meaningful, focused on crucial issues, or central to organizational success.” Axelrod said that Chait’s observation was certainly true when she was at the National Center for Nonprofit Boards (NCNB), where she had a chance to explore the different governance cultures in which boards operate. The NCNB found that many of the board members who participated in its programs or called for advice derived meaning and purpose from the mission of the organizations they governed, but often questioned how much value they were really adding, or whether their attendance at board meetings made any material difference to their organizations. Because board members tend to be busy people whose time is valuable, they increasingly want to find ways to structure board activities to be meaningful, engaging, and tailored to make the best use of their time and attention.
Axelrod explained that the performance of the board is directly related to the quality of the partnership among the board, the executive director, and the music director. If the board has confidence in its chief staff officer and views that person as a leader, it can devote more of its time to overall governance matters. Conversely, if the executive director views the board not only as a fiduciary body and legal necessity, but also as part of the symphony organization’s “brain trust,” he or she can more effectively engage the board in shaping the organization’s policies and programs.
She suggested that there is no single effective model for a nonprofit board, nor is there one “best way” in the domain of trusteeship, but she does think there are critical principles, best practices, and promising new approaches to governance that can help boards become more effective. Since the needs of symphony organizations vary so widely, board members must determine how best to fulfill their responsibilities in light of several organizational factors, including the leadership capacity of the people involved, the organization’s age and maturity, and the organization’s traditions and culture.
She then reported on a recent study conducted by Chait, who along with several colleagues, investigated what makes effective boards work. From this study, Chait and his colleagues developed five benchmark behaviors that characterize effective boards:
◆ Helping management discover and decide what matters most to the long-term future of the organization.
◆ Providing opportunities for the chief executive to think aloud about issues of importance to the organization.
◆ Developing and implementing mechanisms for institutional oversight and ways to monitor organizational performance and progress.
◆ Pushing against the organization’s natural resistance to change by using new models and metaphors and by asking different questions.
◆ Modeling the behavior the board would like to see incorporated into the culture of the organization.
Addressing the third and fifth benchmarks, she noted that those who work in the business sector know that board members and professional leaders of both privately held and publicly traded companies often use very specific indicators to measure performance, such as earnings per share or return on investment. Unlike for-profit boards, she said, most boards of nonprofits do not systematically monitor critical performance measures beyond indicators of the organization’s financial performance. Boards are given large amounts of data on easily quantifiable inputs, such as numbers of tickets sold or the costs of various programs, but they receive less information about and give less attention to the impacts or results of those activities.
One of the biggest challenges for nonprofits is to develop ways for both the board and management to measure the performance or results of their organization’s programs and services. Axelrod suggested that boards, in concert with senior management, should develop sets of specific performance indicators that enable them to monitor performance. But in order to do this, the board and management must first agree on the critical factors that will define their particular organization’s success and identify the variables that will determine whether their organization will flourish or falter.
According to the Chait study, said Axelrod, an effective board is also one in which board members model the behaviors they wish others in the organization to develop and incorporate into the organization’s culture. Thus, board members must “walk the talk.” If boards are concerned about high levels of productivity, accountability, and creativity for staff, musicians, volunteers, and others in their symphony organization, they should likewise apply the same high standards and expectations to themselves in their work as a board.
I concluded the panel presentations by first exploring the meaning of “organizational effectiveness.” I noted that the Symphony Orchestra Institute was formed to foster change in the ways in which symphony orchestra organizations functioned, toward the achievement of greater effectiveness. In our founding charter, we defined an effective symphony orchestra organization as one in which the external and supporting constituencies, being well informed, were satisfied on a sustained basis and in all significant respects with the performance of their symphony organization, and the internal constituencies— employees and working volunteers—were engaged and challenged by their organizational participation and by the opportunities which existed for professional and personal growth.
The Institute’s steady view has been that organizational symbiosis would contribute significantly to the community’s valuation and regard for the symphony institution and therefore to the community’s sustenance of that institution through audience and charitable support.
I then pointed out that attaining and maintaining a high level of organizational effectiveness was important, in fact vital, to the life of a symphony organization, and absolutely necessary if the institution’s musician and staff employees were to receive growing rewards and recognition for their work at levels competitive with employees in business organizations in their communities.
I went on to explain that to date, I have not heard or seen anything which much altered my view of what effectiveness means in the symphony organization world. It is the participants directly involved in a symphony organization—staff and orchestra employees, and active volunteers (representing themselves as non-compensated workers, as well as the eyes and ears of the community), along with audiences and contributor representatives—who must determine the level of effectiveness of this community enterprise. Effectiveness involves a multidimensional self-appraisal; the stakeholders in a symphony organization must decide if the system they work in and support is functioning in a really satisfactory way, in all of its human interactive, productive, artistic, and economic dimensions. Given that judgment, they are obligated to decide what improvements they can and must bring about. They need to resolve among themselves their level of commitment and energy to pursue a course of positive change, ongoing over time, in such a way as to weave change and learning right into the cultural fabric of their organization.
I then explored the following question. Within this framework, what is the role of a symphony board in evaluating and improving the effectiveness of the organization for which it is charged, under our laws, to oversee?
Given its significance to longer-term institutional survival and vitality over time, and in some cases to short-term survival, I said that it is my opinion that a concern for organizational effectiveness should be pretty high on the list of board duties, if not at the top of the list. When we think rather traditionally about the most important tasks of a symphony board, many would put fundraising and high-level financial oversight as central tasks, with perhaps some role, every three to five years, to engage in long range planning. Others would then add the performance evaluation of the executive director, and even others, the ambiguous oversight and judgment of the music director’s performance. But, unfortunately, not many board members would list “organizational effectiveness” as one of their primary concerns.
If asked about this topic, many board members would perhaps respond as follows:
Well, how our staff is functioning is pretty much a management matter . . . and how the orchestra is doing organizationally is pretty much the concern of the music director, and some staff, and maybe the orchestra committee . . . and how we, the board, are functioning, or might better function, is really the concern of the chair or the executive committee . . . and, of course, the volunteer leaders have responsibility for how their groups are functioning . . . but then, of course, each of us individually, as participants, has some responsibility for how our group is doing . . . but, then, if you also mean how are we functioning overall, such matters as, are all participants working together toward a shared vision, are we improving the level of interpersonal working relations and communications all around the organization, are we developing cross-constituency coordination, orientation, and engagement, are we sharing information more broadly, and bringing about greater personal and professional development, involvement, and satisfaction within the organization, and, more generally, are we improving as an organization …ormattersofthisnature…well…nooneisreallythinkingabout that, or in charge of that . . . but, then again, many of us in all the various constituencies do probably think about these matters . . . I certainly do . . . but, then again, we hardly ever discuss what we are thinking and wondering . . . questions are on our minds, but they just don’t get out on the table and discussed, never mind acted on.
All of that, I explained, brought me to the conclusion that in most symphony organizations, how the organization is functioning within and between its components is given thought by many participants, but doesn’t generally get discussed or acted on in a positive, constructive, and ongoing way toward steady organizational improvement.
Under most state laws, boards of directors of for-profit and nonprofit corporations usually have the very simple statutory directive — to provide general oversight to the affairs of the corporation. In the case of a nonprofit organization with such a broad and central community service role as a symphony organization, I observed that boards, in my view, should be composed of representatives of all the constituencies making up the organization, coupled with representatives of the diverse segments of the community, with due but not concentrated emphasis on the board’s responsibility for assuring the financial strength and integrity of the institution. Many symphony organizations have achieved greater diversity in their boards’ composition, and are experiencing the positive effect that this breadth of membership can have on how the board functions. It is a real challenge to bring diverse points of view together in the pursuit of common action, much as it is a challenge to develop throughout the larger, also culturally diverse symphony organization a shared vision for the whole institution.
The board of directors is the senior work group in any corporation. How a symphony board functions—the practices and processes which are followed— sets an example and establishes the temperament for how work groups throughout that organization are composed and might and should function. The level of engagement and commitment of board members to their work permeates either positively or negatively throughout many symphony organizations. How a particular symphony board should be composed and function is a matter for each board and organization to address, and there are no formulas. However, every board should raise and deal with the question of its own composition, functioning, and effectiveness on a regular basis, at least annually, and probably in a facilitated self-appraisal, and thereafter take actions toward steady improvement.
In conclusion, I expressed the following beliefs.
◆ Boards of symphony organizations should give high priority to understanding how their symphony organization is functioning, as a holistic human organism, and what steps are being taken, including the board’s own operation and effectiveness, to regularly improve the total organization’s effectiveness.
◆ By broadening the composition of the board and its subgroups to include leadership and representation of each significant organi- zational and community constituency, as well as involving the community’s civic, social, and business leadership, and by utilizing innovative group processes to reach decisions as to the direction and main policies of the organization, the board can become a microcosm and example of good group process and practice within the organization.
◆ Boards should regularly assess how they are functioning as a work group and how they can improve that functioning, and in the process, set an example for learning and steady change throughout the organization.
The author thanks Emily Melton for her preparation of the material making up this report.
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.
Chait, Richard P., Thomas P. Holland, and Barbara E. Taylor. 1996. Improving the Performance of Governing Boards. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press. Also available from the National Center for Nonprofit Boards.
Houle, Cyril O. 1989. Governing Boards: Their Nature and Nurture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
High Performance Nonprofit Organizations: Managing Upstream for Greater Impact
Now I understand why most managers I know long ago stopped reading this self-professed “let me tell you how to run your business right” kind of stuff. Maybe I’m getting old (I am) or just plain impatient (I am), but another preachy book advising how to more effectively manage my business—from ivy-towered academics seemingly without a whole lot of “in the trenches” experience—is just about the last thing I need. Or so I thought when on my stoop arrived High Performance Nonprofit Organizations: Managing Upstream for Greater Impact by the Harvard-heeled team of Christine W. Letts, William P. Ryan and Allen Grossman.
And, truth be told, I wasn’t all wrong. This book, in classic textbook style, is pretty dry. Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence) or Jim Collins (Built to Last) these authors are not. The book, however, is about important, nitty-gritty stuff. No earth-shattering revelations here. But, as we all know well, the devil is in the details. It is the consistent execution of sound business practices that separates the great from the good. This might as well be the book’s mantra. Consideration about innovation, vision, and creativity—where quantum value is really added— is pretty much absent.
If you can stand the medicine, this book will make you ponder. The authors’ simple premise—that further investment in organizational capacities will yield greater organizational results—merits consideration in this time of heightened “bottom line accountability.” While this may seem obvious, the hard reality is that most nonprofit organizations (which are constantly operating on the margin) typically do not have the human or financial capital to invest in achieving such results. With pressures to keep administrative costs at a minimum (in order to maximize the allocation to programs), finding money to support these activities can prove elusive. Letts, Ryan, and Grossman hope that that will change.
The authors say that the book “grows out of an inquiry into the prospects for expanding successful programs so they can create large-scale social impact.” They aspire to “shift the focus from expanding effective programs to building effective organizations that can sustain and improve those programs.” The missing ingredient is organizational capacity. They posit that “programs need solid organizations behind them—organizations focused on fulfilling a mission in a changing environment.” (Bet that’s news to you!)
The book is organized in three parts. Part one provides an in-depth exploration of the relationship of organizational performance to organizational capacity. Part two consists of an examination of four organizational processes that nonprofit organizations can use to improve their performance:
◆ Quality processes: to continually review the quality of services and to generate improvements that will benefit clients.
◆ Product development: to maximize the chances for creating effective program ideas by tapping the talents of employees throughout the organization, supporting the passion and creativity of staff, and studying the needs of clients intensively.
◆ Benchmarking: to identify and implement the best practices that respond to an organization’s particular learning and improvement needs.
◆ Human resources management: to attract, motivate, and develop employees to advance the organization’s goals and mission.
Part three explores how nonprofit stakeholders other then managers—boards, national service organizations, and funders—can lead the way in creating support for developing organizational performance.
Real-life examples and mini-case studies, from both the nonprofit and for- profit sectors, are paired throughout the book. The idea is to demonstrate that effective business practices can be applied in both environments; that effective business practices really are sector neutral (tell that to a board member next time she or he admonishes you to “run your nonprofit like a business”).
The authors point to Ted Turner’s $1 billion gift to the United Nations as an example of the reluctance of funders to invest in building organizational capacity. Apparently, Mr. Turner stipulated that none of the funds were to be used to support overhead. (Can you imagine Mr. Turner applying the same principles to his own organization?)
The chapter on “Strategic Human Resource Development” corresponds well with what has appeared in earlier issues of Harmony (as well as the work of Christine Letts’s associate, J. Richard Hackman, at Harvard)1 about employee job satisfaction. It is useful to consider that “good salaries may be important in recruiting, and important in helping to prevent dissatisfaction, but are of little use in motivating employees and supporting performance. . . . Achieving results is what motivates people.” Low wages for nonprofit employees are an all too common condition. We need board members, and the public at large, to recognize nonprofit employees (such as musicians) as committed professionals, not as volunteers with stipends.
About boards, the authors believe that “to succeed in building organizational capacity, as a resource for the social missions they believe in, boards need to build a culture that values organizational performance.” Boards can do that by looking beyond financial goals and considering other dimensions of performance, such as quality, innovation, and staff performance.
The authors’ comparison of for-profit venture funding and nonprofit foundation funding models is interesting. They say that “the day-to-day grant- making practices of many foundations actually undermine the ability of nonprofits to develop the capacity for sustained high performance.” Grants are given primarily to develop and test new ideas. Few “aim to invest in the broader capacities organizations need to sustain and improve the delivery of effective programs.” The good news is that some foundations have begun to reexamine this program-centered approach. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s new orchestra initiative exemplifies a substantial and impressive commitment in the “building organizational capacity” direction.
In a nutshell, “managing upstream” means attempting to build effective organizations in an unsupportive environment. To succeed, nonprofits need to experiment with new organizational processes that could produce better results, and then assess what type of support is needed to advance their work. With an approach that links organizational performance and results, nonprofits can start pressing their case with funders. They need to “tell the world what it takes to build and sustain a strong organization.”
There you have it. For seasoned and capable managers this book is a good refresher (with some interesting twists and thought-provoking ideas) on how to run a business effectively. For novices, in the orchestra field and otherwise, it can serve as an instructive primer on what it takes to run a topflight organization. For board members and other volunteers, the material may prove enlightening.
High Performance Nonprofit Organizations: Managing Upstream
for Greater Impact
Christine W. Letts, William P. Ryan, and Allen S. Grossman
John Wiley & Sons, 1999.
202 pp. $29.95
Reviewed by Roland Valliere, executive director, Kansas City Symphony.
1 See Harmony Number 2, April 1996, “An Interview with Harvard’s J. Richard Hackman.”
Iam a musician, often present on the concert stage, but virtually unknown to the audience. My knowledge of repertoire, scores, and parts is extensive— often eclipsing that of nearly everyone in my organization. I am highly self- motivated, work under tight deadlines, and must be efficient. I love my work, and take my greatest satisfaction from a flawlessly played performance. Who am I? As readers of Harmony are about to learn, “I” am an orchestra librarian.
In its ongoing effort to illuminate the uniqueness and complexity of symphony orchestra organizations, the Symphony Orchestra Institute is pleased to highlight the role of the orchestra librarian. Even for participants who have worked for many years in symphony organizations, the librarian’s vital, central contribution to orchestral performance, and overall organizational effectiveness, is not well understood. The Institute recently became better informed about this pivotal organizational role, and invited five orchestra librarians—whom you will soon meet—to participate in a roundtable discussion of their day-to-day work and organizational roles. An edited transcript of the roundtable follows.
Institute: Please introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about your backgrounds.
Marcia Farabee: I am the orchestra librarian for the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, a position I have held for 13 years. Prior to that, I was assistant librarian for three years. I hold a bachelor of music in violin performance and education from Capital University Conservatory of Music in Columbus, Ohio.
Margo Hodgson: I have been the principal librarian of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for 12 years, and also served as assistant librarian for one year. My degree is an honours bachelor in music education from the University of Ottawa, with a double major in oboe and piano accompaniment.
Karen Schnackenberg: I have served in the libraries of several orchestras, and for nine years have been principal librarian for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Previously I worked as principal librarian of the New Orleans Symphony, librarian of the Santa Fe Opera, and assistant librarian of the Oklahoma Symphony. I was also a section violinist in New Orleans, Santa Fe, and Oklahoma. I hold a bachelor of music education and a master of music in violin performance from the University of Oklahoma.
Larry Tarlow: For the past 14 years, I have been principal librarian with the New York Philharmonic. Before that, I was the librarian—with a variety of titles— with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra, and the Berkshire Music Center Orchestra. I started my formal study of music as a tubist in the pre-college division at The Juilliard School, earned a bachelor of music at the Curtis Institute of Music, and returned to Juilliard for postgraduate study.
Ron Whitaker: I feel as though I should introduce myself as grandpa, having been head librarian of the Cleveland Orchestra for 24 years! And I was even a librarian prior to that, as assistant librarian with the Minnesota Orchestra. Actually, I started at age 13, working in the orchestra library for the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. My father had worked there for a number of years and got me the job, initially on a part-time basis. The next summer, I worked there full time, and by the following summer realized that this was the profession I wished to pursue. I worked in the orchestra library at The New England Conservatory of Music while I earned my undergraduate degree, and also worked with Victor Alpert of the Boston Symphony during that time. I was probably one of the first people to actively plan and train to be an orchestra librarian from high school onward.
Institute: That’s fascinating, Ron. And it makes us wonder how the rest of you came to be orchestra librarians?
Tarlow: Thanks for asking, because I was about to say “not so fast, Ron.” I was led to this profession by a great love of score reading. One thing followed another, and I ended up as librarian for my high school instrumental ensembles. I kept going from there, including summers at Tanglewood. Actually, Ron’s taking the job with the Minnesota Orchestra created the vacancy at Tanglewood that I was so lucky to fill. His father was my boss at Tanglewood.
Farabee: Well, I don’t want to get into a “can you top that” mode, but I have been working with music preparation since junior high, although it never occurred to me at that time that it could be a career. In addition to being the orchestra librarian for my conservatory’s orchestras, I worked summers in a library reference section, and after graduation, implemented a music library system for a large county junior and senior high school where I was the orchestra director. As part of my freelance musician career, I became a freelance librarian, which led to a call from the librarian at the National Symphony Orchestra asking if I would be interested in a very part-time bowing position. I’m still there!
Hodgson: I cannot claim a lifelong plan to be an orchestra librarian. My predecessor at the Winnipeg Symphony was about to retire. He had observed me during my years as a freelance musician and recognized my strong organizational skills, neatness, conscientiousness, and an interest in attention to detail. Out of the blue, he asked me if I might be interested in learning to be an orchestra librarian as his assistant, and eventually taking the job over when he retired. I accepted.
Schnackenberg: I’m afraid I’m another one of those high school stories. I am an orchestral violinist, and that, plus my interest in the organizational challenges of the orchestra library and part preparation, started me on this path in high school. Working in my college orchestra library, combined with additional focuses in theory, history, and Baroque performance practice, led to becoming an assistant librarian while I was a section violinist in the Oklahoma Symphony. I continued to meld playing and librarianship as I moved on, and here I am.
Institute: Now that we know how you became librarians, we would ask you to explain to our readers the complexities of what you actually do.
Farabee: Let me paraphrase for you a few items from the National Symphony Orchestra’s job description of librarian. The music library is the informational hub and music preparation center of the symphony. This involves music preparation for approximately 190 concerts and more than 500 pieces of music per season. In this setting, the librarian’s duties include researching, locating, acquiring, preparing, and distributing all music for all services. Preparing the music includes proofreading all parts, editing, transposition work, string bowings, and possible manuscripting and repair. The description then goes on for eight additional points covering music storage and cataloging; communicating with everyone from conductors and artists to publishers and arrangers; developing budgets; researching copyrights; assisting with programming for pops and education programs; attending rehearsals, recording sessions, and concerts; touring with the orchestra; and responding to and researching music-related questions from Kennedy Center personnel and the public.
Schnackenberg: Marcia, I would summarize all of that by saying that my job is to get the right music in the right place at the right time! But I guess if we are really trying to educate the Harmony audience about the complexity of what we do, there are several thoughts I would add. So let me give you my long sentence and hope that the next time your nonmusician readers (and maybe even musician readers) see folders on music stands in the concert hall they remember my sentence. The orchestra librarian obtains program information from the artistic staff; rents or purchases materials from publishers in a timely manner to meet deadlines for music preparation and distribution; consults with the music director, guest conductors, and string principals about bowings, cuts, inserts, and any other markings that need to be placed in the parts; prepares each part for performance as required; places music in folders for distribution; distributes parts and provides music-related services to players; sets the music on the stage for each rehearsal and performance—changing them as the set changes; separates the parts following each performance; and returns music to the publisher or to library shelves.
Tarlow: I like to think of our tasks as divided into three groups: music preparation, stage librarian, and administrative librarian. Karen and Marcia have certainly covered the basics of those tasks, but let me add a little detail here. When they talk about editing, or
cutting and inserting, they make it sound simple. But here’s how it really works. You get a call or a note from the music director or guest conductor saying, “Let’s only use three trumpets for this. Write the fourth trumpet part into another instrument.” Or during a rehearsal, the conductor says, “I can’t hear the second oboe. Add that part to the second clarinet.” Sometimes the music we receive from publishers is in really bad shape—or maybe it’s music from our own libraries that’s in bad shape. Librarians do the repairs. We’re masters of Scotch® tape and the photocopier! We fix bad page turns, too. When the program includes a piece of new music, librarians often make corrections during the rehearsal process. Mind you, these are not wrong notes entered by a copyist. They are rewrites requested by the composer as he hears the piece in rehearsal for the first time. We orchestra librarians do a myriad of small things, sometimes under great time pressure, that add up to a set of parts from which an orchestra can play a concert.
Hodgson: Compared with you, Larry, I work for a very small orchestra. There’s a big difference between New York and Winnipeg! But we need to accomplish the same things. I would like to add a bit about the time I spend with budgets, bills, and financial records. Budgets are prepared when the new season is planned, and most often I must give “guesstimates,” because I don’t have a complete program for nonclassical events such as pops and kids’ concerts. Based on experience, you get to know how much these should cost, and then you must try to keep the costs within the budget once the programming is done. I also authorize invoices for payment, and maintain and revise forecasts throughout the season. Librarians also file all of the reports with the licensing agencies.
Tarlow: Margo, it’s not all that different in New York. We file the licensing information, too. And if we use more Scotch® tape during a season, it’s only because our season is longer. But none of us has really talked about the time we spend fielding miscellaneous public inquiries. I think we would all agree that it is not all that unusual to get a telephone call in which the person on the other end says, “If I sing you something, can you tell me where to find the sheet music?” To describe the library as the “hub” of the orchestra is very accurate.
Whitaker: Can I sum this up by saying that as librarians, we are musicians, accountants, computer experts, copier experts, archivists, and musicologists?
Institute: We wonder if we can take all of this information you have shared with us and cast it in slightly more organizational terms? Can you describe for us the organizational roles—not necessarily particular people—in your organization with whom you have regular, ongoing contact that is important to the overall functioning of your organization?
Farabee: In the material I prepared prior to this conversation, I sent you a diagram of a hub and spokes which I think shows where the library fits.
We interact nearly every day with nearly every department. Notable exceptions might be development and marketing. Once we have the proposed program for the season, the library is responsible for obtaining and disseminating appropriate information to the various folks shown in the “wheel.” And occasionally, we are even asked to put on our creative hats and design a program, or decide how many clarinets we really need to perform a particular piece! Equally important, in my opinion, are the relationships we maintain with various folks outside our organizations: our library colleagues, publishers, music dealers, and even John Q. Public—who may well be a subscriber.
Whitaker: My answer would be that the foremost organizational relationships for the librarian are with the personnel manager, the stage manager, and the artistic administrator. None of these positions can function without information from the other three, and constant communication among them is essential. A good relationship with the orchestra membership is extremely important. There are times when we are all under stress—the scheduled conductor is ill, and the substitute just changed the entire program—and it is important that orchestra members respect and understand those times in the life of a librarian, just as we must understand when an orchestra member is under unusual stress.
Hodgson: I agree that we interact regularly with nearly every part of the organization. For example, the artistic director programs the concerts, informs me of the editions, cuts, program orders, and any other information I need to know to prepare the music. Likewise, I inform him of anything he might not already know, such as currently available editions, instrumentations, costs, and problems which might mean that the orchestra cannot perform the chosen piece—such as complete unavailability of the music. We must all keep one another informed and updated at all times, so that each member of the production team knows what is going on. None of us can do our jobs properly if there is a weak link in the chain.
Schnackenberg: Because we are talking about organizational behavior, you’re probably going to ask us a question about our frustrations. But I’m going to beat you to the punch! I agree that, as librarians, we interact with nearly every office within the organization. And if I could send one message to all of them, it would be “timing is everything”! I want music out there for the orchestra to have access to a month in advance. Rental music only arrives a month in advance. Because we know the programs for the next season’s classical series well in advance, we can order and prepare the parts in a timely fashion. But the frustration begins with secondary concerts, when we might only get the program a month in advance and be expected to put it together.
Tarlow: You might get less than that! And for the first half of a pops concert, you might get the program 10 days before the first rehearsal.
Schnackenberg: Or for the second half of a pops concert, you might not get the music until the bus arrives.
Tarlow: The music arrives under the bus, right there with the luggage! Schnackenberg: The music arrives with the band, and you just have to be ready
to react. But I generally try to work with that in mind.
Hodgson: Let me offer a real example to emphasize your point, Karen. Our orchestra recently played for the opening ceremonies of the Pan Am Games. Three weeks earlier, we prerecorded the thirty-one pieces of music in three three-hour sessions. When we started on the first morning, I only had 15 of the pieces. The rest arrived during the sessions. So picture this: The music would arrive at the back door, one or two pieces at a time. Working alone, I would race upstairs to the library, make complete sets of parts, and bind five sets for each before the next break. Then I would run down to the stage, distribute these, and the orchestra would basically sight-read and record the music. Then I would rush again to the back door, hoping more music had arrived, so I could repeat the process!
Whitaker: Margo, we can all tell such stories. And it happens with scheduled programming, not just special events. I’ve been the librarian in Cleveland for a long time, and I’ve often been asked, “How much leeway do you need?” My answer is, you can never tell me too soon. A year and a half out? That’s not too soon. Please tell me. There seems to be the idea that if you tell me what is being programmed, the librarians are going to blab it to the press. Nothing could be farther from our minds. We don’t even know the press. The more advance time we have, the better we can do our jobs.
Tarlow: You can put big red stars around that one! Because it’s a message we would like to get to our boards and our managements. Share the information as soon as you know it. Let us collate the information; let us decide what’s important.
Schnackenberg: We don’t get hysterical for our health! If you can, provide us with program information three months out, even though you think six weeks is enough. We’ll all be happier and produce a better product.
Institute: Receiving advance notice about programs and changes is obviously a sore spot for each of you, and perhaps this roundtable will help to educate those with whom you interact. But in our individual conversations, you have all expressed pleasure and satisfaction with what you do.
Schnackenberg: You’re right. There is a special feeling about getting a challenging and complicated project done against all odds, and realizing at the first rehearsal that the orchestra did not have to stop even once to fix anything. Only the librarians know the amount of work that went into that particular set of parts, but because we know what was entailed, we can be proud of our accomplishment. Working on great music, then hearing it played, is what keeps me remembering why I do this. The detail can be overwhelming at times, but keeping all the balls in the air is satisfying to me.
Tarlow: Without a doubt, the most satisfying aspect of my work is hearing the New York Philharmonic play great concerts, and knowing that I played a part in that performance.
Farabee: I truly appreciate the interaction with my fellow musicians. I also enjoy utilizing the skills and knowledge I have acquired during a performance career when I can suggest and implement musical opportunities for the public.
Hodgson: I agree with you all. My greatest satisfaction occurs when rehearsals and concerts go off without a hitch, especially after a problematic piece of repertoire or set of parts has been prepared.
Whitaker: There is no pleasure greater than when I actually have the time to prepare a set of parts properly, according to what the conductor and players have indicated, and absolutely nothing goes wrong during rehearsals and concerts. The absence of comments is the ultimate compliment, because no one really knows when things have been done correctly, but everyone knows when something is wrong.
Institute: From what you’ve shared with us so far, would it be fair to say that a good orchestra librarian has to have a very broad and deep interest in all forms of classical ensemble music, and a dedication to lifelong learning about the repertoire?
Schnackenberg: To the second half of the question, the answer is absolutely. Because if you don’t keep your mind open to learning, you are never going to survive in this job. The amount of knowledge one begins to amass over the years really helps.
Tarlow: I would disagree with the first half of the question. It’s not a broad and deep interest, it’s a broad and deep knowledge of the classical repertoire. It’s easy to be interested. I’m interested in lots of things that I don’t know much about. But to be a good orchestra librarian, one needs broad and deep knowledge.
Whitaker: No question, the more you know, the better you can do your job. For example, an assistant conductor will come in and say, “I want to do a program by this composer, but I don’t want to do the standard works. Is there something off the beaten track you can think of?” Larry’s right. It’s a broad and deep knowledge.
Schnackenberg: I would add that it depends to some extent on what your orchestra does. For example, if your orchestra does opera performances—and Dallas does—and the librarian knows something about preparing opera literature—and I do—the job is easier. Some orchestras do runs of The Nutcracker, or jazz programs. I guess we develop the knowledge we need to do our jobs.
Institute: There are two or three additional topics that we would ask you to address. First, let’s explore for a few minutes the ways in which technology has changed or is changing your work.
Whitaker: Since, in this group of librarians, I have been at it longest, I’ll lead off. As recently as 10 years ago, photocopiers made straight copies, period. Now we take reduction and enlargement for granted. And given the amount of music we are now required to process over the course of a year, copiers are an absolute necessity. Fax machines and such computer services as e-mail have streamlined communication among parties scattered worldwide. Receiving written confirmations from people in Europe or Asia can now be as fast as getting something from across town.
Tarlow: The use of a database to track the New York Philharmonic’s 157-year history of concerts, artists, and repertoire is certainly an achievement. One no longer has to rely on a card file, and everyone with access to the database has the same information available.
Farabee: E-mail and faxes are wonderful for more than receiving confirmations. They make it very easy to communicate with my colleagues who have specialized knowledge of ballet, or opera, or gospel, or Latin music, or women composers, and so on. We are all able to be teachers and helpers to one another. The research capabilities offered by the Internet make locating pieces and editions much easier, especially with international works. The Internet also makes it easier for us to track some of our recalcitrant conductors!
Hodgson: While I agree that these technological advances have improved our work, there is a downside. I find that I spend much more of my day sitting at the computer, and this cuts into the time I have for hands-on preparation of the music. Since I don’t have very many hours of assistance in Winnipeg, this can become problematic. I must have a clear goal of what I need to accomplish in any given day, and stay until it is done.
Whitaker: I agree with Margo. I spend three-quarters of my time in front of a computer. But there are certain things that we can do that we were not able to do years ago. My hand manuscript is not the greatest. Today, it doesn’t have to be, because I can use the computer to generate inserts that before were handwritten. But that said, I certainly don’t think we are close to seeing the end of hand work.
Tarlow: Ron, we’re not yet using music engraving software in our library. But I know that will change in a year or two. And if you will let me repeat a favorite aphorism, I must say that one thing the computer has done is take a really bad copyist with bad handwriting and make him a really bad copyist with really good handwriting!
Whitaker: Oh, are you right! Bad computer-generated music is truly awful!
Schnackenberg: Music has been created and notated in a certain way for hundreds of years. Just now, we’re making a gradual change to digital format. The issues remain constant in terms of the errors in materials, but what is exciting to me is that we—those of us who are orchestra librarians at this time—are in a unique position to help develop the technology to get the end products we want. I think that’s pretty neat!
Institute: Finally, let’s turn our attention to the organization through which the Institute found you— MOLA. We suspect that the majority of our readers are not familiar with the Major Orchestra Librarians Association. Three of you are currently officers of the association, so educate us.
Tarlow: Well, I’m not one of the three who is currently an officer, but I certainly know the MOLA story. I was president for three years in the 1980s, and have attended every conference. The association was founded in 1983 because three orchestra librarians recognized that each of us was working in a vacuum and reinventing the wheel on a weekly basis. I wasn’t one of the three founders, so I can’t take credit for the idea, but the thought was, why don’t we use each other’s wheels? And I want to make it clear that MOLA librarians are all orchestra librarians, but they are not all symphony orchestra librarians. They are also opera librarians and ballet librarians. What we all have in common is that we prepare orchestral music for live performance.
Farabee: I am one of the three, currently past president. Ron is vice president and Margo is secretary. MOLA had just begun when I started with the National Symphony Orchestra, and my predecessor was a charter member. From the outset, I learned on a weekly basis how important intercommunication among orchestras was.
Whitaker: There are now nearly 140 orchestras around the world that hold membership in MOLA, and as our seasons become longer and more complex, the interaction among the MOLA librarians is becoming crucial to our business. When you are up against it, you can get an answer to almost any question within half an hour because somebody somewhere has dealt with the same situation.
Tarlow: Here I go again with an example. The American Symphony Orchestra League, on behalf of MOLA, publishes a booklet that contains the repertoire that every member orchestra plays. Here’s the scenario: The New York Philharmonic has an 8:00 p.m. concert. It’s 7:45 p.m., I’m in the library, and the phone rings. When it’s another librarian on the line, I know they’re not calling to inquire about the weather in New York! “My second trumpet left the music at home. I know you’re playing this rented piece next week. Can you fax me the part?” Of course I can. No more reinventing the wheel!
Hodgson: I’ve learned so much through MOLA! Particularly such things as which copiers, pens, papers, and pencils are best. In Winnipeg, we’re the only orchestra of any size within several hundred miles. But I don’t feel isolated. I have friends everywhere, and I know that my questions will be answered.
Schnackenberg: There’s another issue here that I at least want to touch upon. And that’s the fact that we are musicians first and foremost, doing musicians’ work. Among the five of us who are participating in this roundtable, Ron and Larry are formally members of the orchestra, and Margo, Marcia, and I are formally members of the staff. And without wanting to spoil what has been a delightful conversation, or getting into contractual implications of the distinctions, I want to make the point that, in the broadest sense, the position of orchestra librarian is an artistic position. You can’t just hire a good orchestra librarian off the street—we are not clerks! We are self-motivated; we are able to work on our own; we don’t need someone over our shoulders. We are musicians.
Tarlow: And musicians work under the collective bargaining agreement; nonmusicians do not. My personal feeling is that since we’re all musicians, librarians should be part of the bargaining unit. So if our participating in this roundtable has helped to educate the Harmony audience about who we are and what we do, it has been time well spent. As long as an orchestra is still used in concert, or as live accompaniment to an opera or ballet, the work of the orchestra librarian will remain constant. There will always be errors to be corrected, inserts to be made, page turns to be fixed, music to be repaired or acquired, and information to be disseminated. This will not change, although the methods of doing these things certainly will, as they have been changing since the creation of the symphony orchestra.
Institute: Our thanks to each of you for joining the Institute in this special educational effort. The work of the librarian is one of the more complex roles in an orchestra organization. Your role requires a very high level of musical knowledge and administrative skill, coupled with deft interpersonal communications, particularly as you interact with orchestra members, conductors, and artistic administrators. You are among the primary “organizational boundary spanners” within your symphony institutions, as you help link the musical constituencies within your organizations. We hope this roundtable discussion will help all symphony orchestra organization participants to better appreciate your unique positions, the diverse skills required, and the potential you have—if you are properly integrated into the organization’s planning and information systems—to help create more effective orchestral workplaces and more flawless concert performances.
The Marketing Process
Author Stephen Belth opens his essay by reminding readers that the growth of the arts in the Unites States since the 1960s has been, in his words, “staggering.” As this decade ends, the numbers of symphony orchestra concertgoers are numbered in the tens of millions. He then posits that organizational stability for orchestras requires steady audience growth, and proceeds to explore ways in which to accomplish that growth.
A Commercial Model
Belth suggests that the commercial world offers some key marketing tenets that will serve symphony orchestras well. He reviews the commercial world’s “Four Ps” of product, price, place, and promotion in an orchestral context. He goes on to explain that marketing is a process that begins with the orchestra’s inception.
Involvement of Participants
In sections describing opportunities for board members, music directors, musicians, volunteers, and staff, Belth outlines ways in which all members of the symphony orchestra family can, and should, contribute to the marketing effort.
In a section headed “When Time is Money,” the author suggests that there are no shortcuts for integrating the marketing process into the overall orchestra organization, and details the timelines that all participants should understand.
A carefully detailed sidebar outlines the collaborative steps that the marketing department and all other staff and volunteer leaders should undertake to implement a successful marketing plan.
Growth in the arts since the 1960s has been staggering. Five state arts councils existed in 1965; today there are fifty. Nearly 2 million Americans are currently in the work force as artists, and patronage of the arts represents a $37 billion industry.1
The number of orchestras has grown by only 25 percent since the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts. Yet, with an increase in the number of performances each year, overall attendance at symphony orchestra concerts may well have doubled.2 In 1999, approximately 1,800 orchestras will enrich the lives of tens of millions of concertgoers.3 As the decade ends, American orchestras have become not only a fundamental part of the cultural landscape, many are also considered among the best in the world.
Organizational stability among orchestra institutions requires steady audience growth as part of its equation. Rising costs and broadening community roles require that audiences expand. As a consequence, the marketing process has become a particularly vital activity for symphony orchestra organizations.
From the major orchestras on down, what was once called the press office— with one or two staff responsible for distributing the season brochure and managing the promotional budget—has evolved, out of necessity, into the marketing department, with more personnel required to accomplish an expanding array of tasks. Elaborate communications tools, such as databases and the Internet, have become commonplace, and the “take-us-or-leave-us” attitude that concertgoers once encountered has been replaced with a philosophy of customer service.
Yet, despite increased budgets for producing and distributing season brochures and developing new and creative tactics within the promotional mix, symphony orchestras have experienced a leveling off of audience interest. Subscriptions have dropped consistently in the last five years, and younger audiences are not
making their way to classical music concerts at the same rate as in previous years. Ironically, this comes at a time when other art forms are boasting audience expansion. As orchestras have realized that they face competition to win a greater share of the growing arts audience, they have also discovered that successful marketing is not simply a matter of money. Were that the case, more elaborate season brochures would guarantee large audiences.
So if developing audiences is not simply a matter of budget, might the problem be the marketing process itself? Were the marketing process to serve orchestras more efficiently, it should be possible to improve concert attendance significantly without automatically increasing budgets, and without sacrificing artistic integrity in the process.
However, before beginning any discussion about marketing, it is important to recognize that central to audience building is fostering trust and credibility among customers. If marketing efforts fail to gain repeat business, they are doomed. For orchestras, this means that the integrity of the orchestra and its institutional mission must rest at the core of any promotional campaign. Pandering to audiences with gimmickry and cleverness may cause the customer to buy the product once. But if those customers are disappointed, they will never buy again.
Exploring the Commercial Model
Key market development tenets that have proven successful in the commercial world can serve as a model. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals.”4 This means that decisions at all levels of the company must be made with an awareness of their impact on customer reaction and response, and that marketing must be embraced with an institutionally integrated approach.
In the commercial world, some of the most critical marketing functions are in the hands of non-marketing executives. Market research, promotion, and advertising are accepted and understood as tasks of a marketing department. However, product and package design, product engineering, customer service, and product distribution are led by separate groups that have influence on consumer response. Minimally, these groups must have an understanding of the marketing process to interpret consumer feedback and to improve results of their output.
In the three decades preceding the current one, orchestras may have intuitively employed an integrated marketing approach. Boards, volunteers, music directors, and management had simpler tasks. Fewer concerts and fewer activities made attracting and serving audiences easier. Board members and volunteers, as consumers themselves, may have more easily communicated their interests and concerns to management. Changing lifestyles and increased competition for leisure time created conflicts with the primary marketing effort, building audiences through concert-season subscriptions. But organizational expansion within orchestras themselves has also complicated the process of keeping up with audience needs, while these organizations simultaneously move forward with their artistic goals.
To understand how marketing functions as an integrated discipline in the commercial sector, and how it might apply to orchestra management, it is helpful to define the core marketing components. Regardless of product, service, or idea, marketing professionals develop their plans around four conditions, known as the “Four P’s.” They are product, price, place, and promotion. As in commercial market planning, these same conditions apply to selling concert tickets.
Product refers to the offer. What is the consumer solicited to buy? The product can be a manufactured item, such as an automobile, or a service, such as financial advice. For orchestras, the “product” is concerts, the music that is made on stage. Concerts can be “positioned” or presented with different focuses—the orchestra itself, the repertoire, the solo artist, or the overall event or theme, such as a festival or exploration.
In the commercial world, effective pricing is based on supply and demand. A product with limited supply and high demand will field a high price. If the goal is high sales volume, the product will invariably be positioned to appeal to the broad marketplace through perceived lower, more “affordable” pricing.
In the case of orchestra subscription tickets, however, supply and demand are not easily followed. Because of the complexity in the decision-making process, subscription prices are often set before programming is known. Concerts that might sell out with higher prices are matched with others where seats will go empty. Thus, in an attempt to achieve balance and consistency, some concerts may be underpriced while others are overpriced. Were pricing to better conform to consumer interest, popular concerts might generate higher returns at the box office, and less popular concerts might have fuller houses. The factors that ultimately affect ticket-price decisions often have less to do with audience response and more to do with budget-balancing issues.
In consumer marketing, place refers to the location of sale or the distribution point. It also includes seasonality, or timing and ease of purchase. Goods and services to be sold must be accessible to their buyers, stores need to be conveniently located, and mail-order catalogs should be easy to use. Timing of product releases is equally important. Putting winter clothes on the racks at the end of winter (other than for a closeout sale) is an obvious mistake. Creating long checkout lines is another deterrent to successful selling.
“Place” to the concertgoing public is both a noun, as in the venue (the traditional point-of-purchase), and a verb, referring to placing or setting the number of performances, the night of the week, and the time of year. Place, as much as product, has a powerful influence on ticket-sales results.
As a convenience to the public, and to help improve the volume of ticket sales, orchestras have developed multiple distribution channels. These include mail-order, incoming phone sales, outbound telemarketing, group sales, and the oldest traditional form of venue sales, the box office. These primary sales methods fall into the category of place.
Interestingly, different segments of the audience utilize different sales outlets. Most subscription sales are made by mail or phone order, with trusting buyers providing credit card numbers to unseen agents. Many single-ticket sales are made in the same way, because buyers do not want to make a special trip to the box office or stand in line at a ticket window. But a significant segment of the audience will purchase only at the box office. These concertgoers are willing to wait until the night of their first performance before buying additional tickets for upcoming concerts. Ticket buyers are also further motivated to buy tickets for future concerts when they have just heard exhilarating performances. They can do so more easily when the box office is near at hand. Thus, the full power of “place” is not realized until after the season starts and audiences begin coming to the hall in large numbers.
With all other factors being equal, a concert program including a world premiere by an unknown composer, performed over five nights in the fall, and an all-Beethoven program performed over three nights in the spring, would have a substantially different aggregate sales result were the placement of the two programs reversed.
One way to increase overall sales for the season, without any effect on either artistic integrity or promotional budget, would be to place the more popular concerts at the beginning of the season, and programs predicted to have less box office appeal in the spring. The popular concerts have full houses regardless of seasonality, and the less appealing programs can benefit from enthusiastic audiences on-site and ready to buy more concert tickets at the box office.
Promotion refers to communication and sales activity, such as advertising, press and public relations, and discounting, and is where virtually the entire marketing budget is spent. Yet, it constitutes only one-quarter of the marketing process. Non-marketing professionals often interchange the terms “promotion” and “marketing.”
Whether or not orchestra managers ultimately believe they can, or even want to, take into account all four of the marketing “P’s” in their planning and decision making, and use them to best advantage, it is essential that they recognize the limitations that promotional efforts can achieve in the context of the complete marketing process.
At the same time, an exploration of the marketing process within the orchestra paradigm demonstrates how the myriad decisions dealing with fundamental institutional activities affect the outcome of audience attendance.
Marketing as a Process
The process of marketing an orchestra begins with that orchestra’s inception. A group of community leaders determine that their community should have an orchestra and that audiences should have the opportunity to hear it perform. The group forms an orchestral association and hires a managing director to administer the orchestra and a music director to determine and lead its artistic direction. The first steps of the marketing process have begun, and the initial stages of product development have been put in place.
The community leaders have identified a consumer need—orchestral music— and put together the beginnings of what could be metaphorically deemed the marketing team. The music director’s work could be likened to design and engineering. The artistic vision, in terms of quality of the orchestra, repertoire, and artists, are answers to the needs posed by the community leaders, who are both consumers and strategic initiators.
By approving an operating budget, the board determines the level of orchestra performance the community can and will support. By empowering an artistic leader to develop concepts and direction, the board moves further towards deciding on the quality of the product.
The music director makes the next set of marketing decisions. Quality of the orchestra, repertoire, and artists are the elements that represent product, and are the three most important influences in attracting and keeping audiences.
Executive directors have tremendous marketing responsibilities as they approve details of product, price, and place. These decisions include accepting the terms and availability of artists, making available ample rehearsal time in order for the orchestra to perform pieces at the highest level of quality, and working with the music director to develop musicianship based on what the community is able and willing to support.
As to price, and place, the executive director must sign off on where, how, and how many concerts will be performed. These decisions involve scheduling performances, as to both time during the season and program frequency, and setting prices which will balance the operating budget while meeting with the approval of audiences as evidenced by their ticket purchases.
Collectively, these decisions are the equivalents of the commercial marketing process in which design, engineering, and budget management determine which products and services will be accepted by which consumer groups.
The board, the music director, and the executive director are responsible for making or approving most of the decisions critical to the marketing of an orchestral season before the first word of the promotional plan is written. Once those pieces are determined, the advertising and promotional team, or the marketing department, receives its assignment to develop and implement the sales campaign.
Because concert success is measured by several factors, including the quality of the performance, the enthusiasm of the audience, and the percentage of concert-hall capacity sold, marketing must find not just any audience, but rather the right audience, and in sufficient numbers.
Looking at an orchestral concert season as a consumer product for sale may be distasteful to some in the industry. However, if one accepts that concerts should be well attended, and in light of current audience patterns, orchestra organizations must explore every means available to improve long-term attendance of the concertgoing public.
The Marketing Chain
In order to make informed decisions about market-influencing factors, the board, the music director, and the executive director depend on feedback and information they receive from senior staff. And so artistic administration and orchestra management are next in the marketing chain. These managers work with the music director to determine the organization’s ability to carry out the artistic concepts, and to shepherd the steps necessary to achieve artistic goals. When will artists appear? How many performances of the program will there be? Which hall will be used? What is the overall balance of the season? These staff members have significant input on “product,” and are responsible for virtually every aspect of “place.”
The finance director also wears a marketing hat. He or she develops a budget of income and expenses required to operate the season, and monitors it throughout the year. Boards and management insist that budgets be balanced, and the finance director assumes a marketing role by agreeing to ticket prices and sales projections for the season that are designed to help balance the budget. Accurate sales data, backed by a meaningful marketing plan, are necessities. Without them, prices and sales goals may well be set beyond realistic levels, resulting in budget shortfalls.
Finally, the last of the “Four P’s,” promotion, is in the hands of the marketing department. Ironically, because of relatively high renewal rates and a loyal following of subscribers and ticket buyers, only a small portion of the promotion budget is needed to announce the season and deliver sales of 50 to 70 percent of the tickets that are likely to be sold. The bulk of the promotional cost is devoted to selling the 30 to 50 percent of the tickets, at a time when success has already been affected by decisions made by the board, the executive director, and the artistic, orchestra management, and finance groups.
Designing an absolute blueprint to integrate marketing into an orchestra’s management system is impossible, since virtually every management team is set up differently. As with sets of fingerprints, orchestra administrations may have similarities, but they also have unique characteristics which set them apart. Therefore, a more constructive direction would point to a checklist that the different constituencies within the orchestra family could use as a starting point for a more complete marketing plan.
Additional Board Opportunities
Inception is but one of the board’s marketing responsibilities. Board members’ ongoing enthusiasm as consumers and funders is necessary for orchestra survival. Because board members are chosen for their leadership roles in the community, their presence on the board serves as an endorsement of the orchestra. Board members also serve as spokespersons for the orchestra to the public, to their company employees, and in their social circles. Their words and deeds do have an impact on the orchestra’s audiences and supporters. The institution should help prepare them to understand and be able to present the organization’s message.
Also, as they make decisions that affect the concertgoing public, such as approving prices and the marketing expenses of the operating budget, board members should be provided with meaningful marketing data and receive recommendations to help them make their decisions effectively. A board marketing committee can help. The committee, as a subgroup of the board, can review marketing plans and promote support among the larger body. The marketing committee can help flush out questions and concerns in advance, so that the complete board can receive a concise, but thorough, marketing proposal to approve.
More about Music Directors
Music directors are not only key marketing decision makers, but also part of the product as well. Their faces represent the images of their orchestras. Music directors have the ability to rally constituencies in support of their seasons, or to turn them away. How well they are connected with their communities and how the public perceives them will influence audience attendance as much as will their abilities as conductors. Engaging music directors to help audiences understand the programmatic and artistic philosophy of the season will further help to build loyalty.
Providing the music director with demographic research to help understand who the orchestra audience really is can influence artistic decision making in a positive way. Neither music directors nor members of the orchestra enjoy seeing empty seats, and understanding the level of audience sophistication will help in the timing of programmatic decisions.
One of the most important constituencies, and often overlooked in the marketing process, are the orchestra members themselves. Orchestra members’ acceptance of the marketing message can help support the sales outcome. Musicians are both members of their communities and voices of their orchestras. They are also part of the product. They function as both official and unofficial spokespersons to the media, and they have a direct influence on the music community through their individual teaching and performances beyond their orchestra concerts.
Because their personalities vary, not every musician will want to be involved in helping promote the orchestra. However, each member should have the opportunity to at least know from the inside how the season is being promoted. This can be accomplished through either a marketing presentation or by providing printed information. Orchestra members will eventually see the season brochure once it reaches the public. But the marketing effort will be furthered by making the orchestra itself part of the process.
Orchestra organizations are, by their nature, volunteer institutions. Boards provide volunteer leadership, and other volunteer groups help support fundraising. Some orchestras rely on volunteer groups for a percentage of ticket sales, through drives for subscriptions or special concerts and events. In that sense, volunteers serve as both direct and indirect sales forces of the institution.
As such, volunteers serve as mouthpieces, and therefore are publicity arms to their communities about orchestra activities. They should be involved in the marketing process, and the messages they present, as with those of board members, should be consistent with the institution’s mission.
One way to accomplish this is to provide a marketing presentation to the various volunteer committees to help them buy into the institutional message, with the result of making them more effective as a sales force. Other methods to win volunteer acceptance include developing motivations and incentives to help them achieve their fundraising and ticket-sales goals. While professional sales forces earn commissions, volunteers can win prizes and awards for their successes.
Just as each musician is responsible for a piece of the musical result, each department within the orchestra’s administration affects sales results as well. The artistic department affects selection of programs and artists. Operations impacts scheduling and performance space. Development creates messages that generate contributed income from the public. Finance sets income requirements relating to budget and pricing.
The orchestra staff, as much as any other constituency, needs to have an understanding of institutional message. Their support for that message will further help the public to recognize and bond with the institution.
The staff should be presented with the marketing plan, and have their roles explained, department by department. They should have the opportunity to ask questions about the parts they play and the impact they have in reinforcing audience loyalty. Virtually all orchestra staff members interact with the public. From ushers to the box office, from maintenance to accounting, well-organized and integrated communications can help save disgruntled subscribers and keep them as satisfied ones.
Reverse Marketing Timeline
The following timeline highlights critical collaborative steps between marketing and other departments.
Month 18 through month 12
◆ Meet with artistic and executive Leadership
– Review concepts for the season
– Develop themes
– Establish program and artist highlights
– Identify special concerts and events
◆ Meet with development staff
– Coordinate institutional messages for marketing and fundraising
– Determine scheduling conflicts between marketing communications and fundraising efforts
– Coordinate timing of shared resources such as databases, direct mail, and telemarketing/telefunding
◆ Meet with operations staff
– Determine logistical issues for special marketing/public relations events
– Confirm number of concerts in season and per series
◆ Meet with finance staff
– Set revenue goals
– Determine pricing issues
– Establish expense budget constraints
◆ Meet with executive director and senior staff
– Present season theme or message
– Selling points
– Strengths and weaknesses
– Price plan
– Scheduling and timing issues
– Make adjustments to messages and marketing schedule
When Time is Money
While there are no shortcuts to integrating the marketing process within an orchestra institution, results are achievable without restructuring organizational responsibilities. The two necessary elements are time and cooperation. Sufficient time is required for planning, decision making, approvals, and implementation. Cooperation by all involved to fulfill their parts of the marketing process is essential for the timeline to be meaningful.
◆ Develop and present final marketing plan
– Production schedule
– Market segments
◆ Receive majority of confirmed programs and artists
◆ Schedule season announcement
◆ Set presentation date with constituent groups
Month 8 and Month 7
◆ Hold constituent presentations (marketing committee, board, staff, musicians, volunteers)
◆ Season press announcement
◆ Launch renewals
Month 6 through Month 3
◆ Launch and continue new subscriber campaign
Month 2 and Month 1
◆ Launch single ticket drive
Enough time must be allowed for follow-through for each marketing and selling step. Lost selling weeks resulting from delays or poor planning can rarely be made up. Trying to compensate by reducing lead time may result in errors, missteps, and extra expenses from unbudgeted rush production charges.
Understandably, some changes in artists and programs will occur after established deadlines have passed, and these occasional problems can be worked into the marketing production schedule without threatening results. However, an institution’s interests will be best served if the various departments plan to complete the majority of their tasks permitting the marketing process its full time allotment.
Ideally, the time to begin marketing the next season to the public is during the orchestra’s current season. That is the time of greatest public awareness to help support the marketing effort. Audiences are in town and highly conscious of the orchestra as they attend concerts. The orchestra has its highest visibility in the media through reviews by music critics and paid advertising.
Most orchestra seasons start in the fall, and the best time to launch the marketing campaign is the preceding winter. A winter start gives subscribers enough time to complete their renewal orders, and allows the marketing department to work on acquiring new subscribers and ticket buyers. A byproduct of marketing the upcoming season during the current one is that it helps create greater awareness for the orchestra and supports single-ticket sales for the season in progress. That is yet another reason spring sales tend to be generally stronger than fall sales.
So, working backwards, when should the marketing cycle for a particular season begin? Orchestras should be ready to start approximately 18 months prior to a season’s opening. Unlike rock impresarios and mainstream concert promoters, whose artists will only confirm weeks or months ahead of a performance, orchestra artistic departments should be well along in booking soloists and guest conductors 18 months in advance, since the most sought- after artists commit their schedules years in advance. Season themes and special performances must also be sketched out early, if only to allow the orchestra the opportunity to book the artists most appropriate for these performances.
Budget projections also need to be drafted this far out, though not necessarily finalized, so that the planning for ticket prices, and sales and fundraising goals, can go through the proper senior management and board approvals.
The responsibility for setting the marketing timeline and scheduling the necessary meetings of the various constituencies involved falls to the marketing director. In addition to having creative ideas about promoting a season, marketing directors should be well organized, detail oriented, and excellent interviewers and presenters. They are the ones who facilitate the different constituency meetings, and they should be capable both of providing relevant marketing and sales information and knowing how to draw the participants into the process.
If the full timeline is in place, the orchestra organization is working on at least three seasons at any given time. The current season is well under way, with the final promotions in place for remaining concerts. The marketing for the upcoming season has reached the point at which new subscribers are being solicited and renewal subscribers are finalizing their orders, and the season to follow is at the start of its planning.
All that is left to complete the marketing process is cooperation among the various departments. Without departmental cooperation to prepare their pieces of the process, the marketing department is only able to do part of its job. Cooperation is not just a matter of attitude. In this case, it may require changes in the timing of task completion.
Change is hard to accept. Yet, if orchestra organizations are to succeed in cultivating and expanding their audiences, they must rethink institutional attitudes towards marketing. It is not simply a matter of learning the techniques. For orchestra leadership to make marketing work, they must embrace the concepts. Promotion departments can no longer alone be held accountable for the growth or decline in ticket sales because they manage only a piece of the process. Audience development and growth is an institutionally shared responsibility and can only succeed when the process is a fully integrated collaboration.
Stephen Belth is a consultant with Arts Marketing Network in Chicago. He previously served as vice president for marketing and communication with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He holds a B.A. in fine arts from Queens College, City University of New York.
1 National Endowment for the Arts. 1999. Learn About the NEA. Washington, DC: NEA. <www.arts.endow.gov/learn/Facts/DidYa2.html>
2 Hart, Philip. 1973. Orpheus in the New World: The Symphony Orchestra as an American Institution—Its Past, Present, and Future. New York: W.W. Norton.
3 American Symphony Orchestra League. 1998. U.S. Department of Education Releases Nation’s Arts Report Card. Washington, DC: ASOL.
4 Bennet, Peter D., ed. 1995. Dictionary of Marketing Terms, 2nd Edition. New York: American Marketing Association.
About the Cover
The score on our cover, Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, in B-flat major—we show the beginning of the “extra,” scherzo-like second movement—launched a unique partnership among conductor, composer, and orchestra. At the first performance, on October 27, 2019, with the Meiningen Orchestra, the composer himself played the piano solo, under the baton of his new champion, Hans von Bülow. We chose this score because in 1886, Bülow became chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which had been formed four years earlier and is the subject of a case study that appears in this issue.
Bülow is the first important conductor who was not himself a composer. He is the figure on which the conducting tradition turns—from such composer giants as Liszt and Wagner, who took up conducting not just to earn a living, but to promote their new works, to the interpretive specialists who have become the norm in the 20th century.
For six years, from 1880 to 1885, Bülow led the Meiningen Orchestra, known at the time as one of the finest and most disciplined ensembles in the world. Bülow was fiercely demanding of his 48 players, both in rehearsal and in performance. He drilled them daily into an ensemble of nearly inhuman precision (in his famous primer, On Conducting, Felix Weingartner wrote that after Meiningen under Bülow, no orchestra could afford to be sloppy). And he insisted that his musicians play from memory—a feat they could not always manage, although by the end of six years they did know most of the standard repertoire by heart.
Bülow was also something of a fanatic and a showman. He regularly lectured his audience and sometimes chastised his critics from the stage, and, apparently with a straight face, he donned black gloves to conduct the Funeral March from the Eroica Symphony. He made his musicians play standing, to demonstrate their commitment, and once, to test the commitment of his audience, he played Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony twice on the same program. (“He baptizes the infidels,” the critic Eduard Hanslick wrote, “with a firehose.”) Some listeners found his interpretations cold and overly intellectual, but even his detractors marveled at his control over the Meiningen ensemble; Hanslick remarked that Bülow played his orchestra “like a little bell in his hand.”
It was in Meiningen that Bülow and Brahms became friends and colleagues. Bülow had long known Brahms’s music—he was the first pianist, after Brahms himself, to play the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in public. But Bülow had begun his career in the camp of Brahms’s supposed archenemies, Franz Liszt, whose daughter Cosima he married in 1857, and Richard Wagner, whose music he idolized until the composer ran off with Cosima—at once depriving Bülow of both wife and musical hero. Even after Cosima divorced him and married Wagner, Bülow continued to conduct Wagner’s music, although, understandably, he declined to champion his cause.
Shortly after Bülow settled in Meiningen in 1880, he invited Brahms to try out his brand new piano concerto with the orchestra. Their collaboration in preparing that score cemented their friendship and provided Meiningen with one of the most important dates in its rich history. From that point on, Bülow placed his orchestra at Brahms’s disposal as a testing ground for new works. And Bülow began to tour with both Brahms’s piano concertos, sometimes conducting from the keyboard. Bülow called Brahms “the great lion” (to his “little leopard”) and later, linking him with Bach and Beethoven, he coined the term “the three Bs” of music.
Near the end of his Meiningen tenure, Bülow hired the 25-year-old Richard Strauss as his assistant. As a budding conductor, Strauss was deeply influenced by the clarity of Bülow’s exacting and penetrating readings. “Learn to read the score of a Beethoven symphony accurately,” Bülow told him, “and you will have found its interpretation.” Bülow, who was famous for conducting both rehearsals and performances from memory, also left his pupil with these famous words: “You must have the score in your head and not your head in the score.”
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.