Virtual Discussion Panel
:: Engaging the Community
:: August 21 - 31, 2006

Thank you for visiting this Virtual Discussion Panel. Although active discussion between panelists has ended, you are invited to post a comment to any panelist’s contribution or to the discussion in general. Once submitted and approved, your comment will appear on the Polyphonic.org home page along with other recent comments to Polyphonic.org content.

About this Virtual Discussion (Click to Hide)

Ann Drinan  

Ann Drinan

Senior Editor
Discussion Moderator

The August Virtual Discussion Panel, Engaging the Community, focuses on symphonic educational and community outreach programs, often referred to as community engagement. We've put together a panel of musicians and symphonic education directors, plus a music director and a board member, all of whom have a great deal of experience in designing and running the education and community engagement projects in their own orchestras. The panelists will examine programs that work very well and try to identify what makes them successful, and also take a look at a few that are works-in-progress. We invite your comments on successful programs you've experienced, as well as the lessons you've learned from programs that didn't work so well.

Yvonne Caruthers, a new member of the Polyphonic.org board of directors and a cellist with the National Symphony, has been my partner in putting together the August Virtual Discussion Panel.

From Yvonne:

I’ve been active for about 15 years in the field of orchestral outreach and education. I find it to be some of the most rewarding work that I do as a professional musician. I know that many, many other people are doing similar work in cities across the country and around the world, but until now there hasn’t been a good way for us to be in contact with each other. I’m very excited by this Virtual Discussion Panel on the topic of Orchestral Outreach/Community Engagement because I’m hoping that it can be a vehicle for many of us to talk to each other about what we’re doing and how we can do it even better.

Before I got involved in this aspect of my orchestra, I was often a dissatisfied player. I performed in many concerts where I felt the audience hadn’t a clue as to what they were hearing, and had very little appreciation for what the orchestra was presenting to them. I talked to our management team several times about schemes to re-think the way we presented concerts—all to no avail.

But that’s no longer the case with my orchestra —is it with yours? What’s going on in your orchestra? Have any changes been made in how your orchestra presents concerts? What are those changes? Are the musicians involved in helping to make those changes? Do you like the changes? How do your audiences respond? What do you think still needs to be done?

From Ann:

I was inspired to put together this VDP in part because of the intense response to my own orchestra’s (Hartford Symphony) engagement with Hartford’s African-American community through our annual Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” concert, for which we won a MetLife award in 2005. The weekend-long celebration includes a black-tie gala that has become one of the most important social events of the year, the concert itself at a 3,000 seat Baptist Cathedral featuring recent winners of the Sphinx Competition, and several repeat performances for student audiences from throughout Hartford. The audiences/participants for all these events are very racially mixed, and the initiative has spawned a series of Sunday afternoon concerts, Musical Dialogues, that feature discussion and performances by young African-American and Latino artists in urban Hartford churches, hosted by Edward Cumming, music director of the Hartford Symphony.

One concertgoer to the “I Have a Dream” concert wrote to Mr. Cumming, “I have personally watched you take the threads of this community and try and make a tapestry that attempts to bind, not divide.”

But what makes this MLK concert successful for the entire greater Hartford community when so many orchestra’s MLK concerts seem mere obligatory events or, worse, tokenism? What are the ingredients necessary for an orchestra to truly engage its community – especially if part of that community does not typically embrace Western classical music?

Related Articles

During the Engaging the Community VDP, we feature Yvonne Caruthers’ interview of Eric Bertoluzzi, in which he describes the very successful education program, Up Close and Musical, run by some musicians of the Colorado Symphony. This program can serve as the starting point for a hopefully spirited discussion of the nature of community engagement and how it differs from community to community. How can a program that works so well in Colorado be adapted for a New England or southern community? Can it be? What is a symphony's obligation to its community? Just what do we mean by "outreach" and how can we judge whether we're successful at it?

Additionally we urge you to take a look at all the excellent Education & Community Engagement articles already posted on Polyphonic.org:

Panelists

Eric Bertoluzzi's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

Eric Bertoluzzi  

Eric Bertoluzzi

Cellist, Colorado Symphony Orchestra

I felt myself inspired in the late 1980s to become intensely involved with educational outreach. Although I had been teaching private lessons in the Denver area for more than 15 years, that was the extent of my activity with music education. My interests, though, were never far from wondering about our orchestra's limited involvement in outreach. By the way, outreach is probably a good word for it, but I've come to think of it in other terms as well: community awareness, music exploration and enlightenment, classical music promotion, etc.

During the 18 years since the founding of Up Close and Musical (UCAM) and the 9 years I served the Colorado Symphony as its education director, I've learned much about the importance of outreach. It extends far beyond the desire to educate the community about symphonic music. Just as important are the opportunities it provides to musicians to learn from and about the communities in which they live.

Musical tastes vary greatly, with classical music just one in a great spectrum of genres. Familiarity with the musical interests of the community will help greatly when designing programs. I really believe there is much more to outreach than playing great music for (or at) audiences, especially when youngsters are involved. A special type of communication must take place during the presentations that breaks down barriers associated with classical music. The listening environment created by presenters (musicians) must be one of mutual sharing. I have learned an enormous amount by listening to the comments and seeing the reactions of the audience. Attention to this has enabled UCAM programs to gain credibility and establish its presence throughout Colorado. Finally, I want to stress the importance of striving for and maintaining high artistic and educational standards with outreach programs. Endeavoring to have the right musicians on the job and being prepared to share relevant information must never be compromised.

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Comments for Eric Bertoluzzi


I love Eric's word imagery of "...playing great music at audiences..". Although the intention is to share, it accurately describes how so many people feel; just the physical set-up and the one-sideness of the exchange alone are daunting. Living in that feeling may help us develop better ways to share "main stage" as well as "outreach" performances.
AaronFlagg on August 21, 2019 at 1:06 PM


Charles Burke's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

Charles Burke  

Charles Burke

Director of Education, Detroit Symphony

It is with great excitement that I write this opening dialogue for Polyphonic.org and the Engaging the Community VDP.

My work at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has revolved around the central question: How do we create and sustain high-quality educational
environments in a cultural institution while breaking down barriers and providing accessibility for all people of all backgrounds?

During my tenure at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, it has been our goal to find efficient and innovative ways in which the symphony industry can effectively connect with the community while bringing a diverse audience
together under the unifying umbrella of quality. Further, through training, exposure and partnerships, our goal has been to reshape the
role of a cultural institution by fulfilling the needs of the community while providing artistic excellence in a diverse array of genres.

At the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, we have worked extensively in the area of large-scale supplemental music training (the DSO's Civic Youth Ensembles), while filling the gap in music education created by the public school system. At the same time, we will focus on preventative
advocacy measures, by our staff, musicians and board, to ensure the growth and survival of music education at a macro-level (district,
regional and statewide).

I believe that the product we offer, high-quality music, is a powerful catalyst for change and can serve all people and all communities. We must be willing to step out of our comfort zones and be willing, with
great enthusiasm, to explore new genres, incongruous partnerships and embrace change at a rapid pace.

I look forward to participating in this exciting effort. It is my hope that we can create an open, honest and important discussion that ends in results.

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Yvonne Caruthers's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

Yvonne Caruthers  

Yvonne Caruthers

Senior Editor

If you watched the World Cup matches on TV a few weeks ago, you felt like you were on the field with the players (even though you were at home and they were in Germany). You could see them sweating and concentrating; you could even hear them shouting back and forth. You watched the games from several different angles and when there was an important play, you'd see at least one re-play of it within a few seconds. During breaks in the action, knowledgeable announcers described fine points of the game using diagrams and statistics. At any time, the announcers could show us interviews with the players, their coaches, and other players of the same caliber. No possible opportunity was lost to bring the viewer to the heart of the games.

Contrast that with what "average" concert-goers experience when they come to a concert hall: performers sitting onstage in formal dress, hardly moving, hardly acknowledging the audience's presence, playing music that the audience didn't choose. As soon as the concert ends, audience and performers both go their own ways. It's possible to attend a concert and never speak to another person during the entire evening, and come out of the hall no wiser than when you entered. ("Was that a "good" performance? Don't they ever smile? Why did the harp player leave the stage after the first piece?")

There are many differences between a televised sporting event and a concert experience but I believe one of the most important differences is education. The World Cup is broadcast with the assumption that many viewers want to know more about soccer, so every effort is made to educate them in real time, as it happens. I don't know if it's possible to replicate that experience in the concert hall, but what fun it would be for audiences if we could!

I think there are many, many opportunities for education in the orchestral world. Sometimes "education" comes from a conductor like Leonard Slatkin, who speaks easily to an audience before they hear a newly-commissioned work, reassuring them about it, as well as giving them a few "landmarks" to listen for. Other times it's a pre-concert lecture about the music of a particular composer. It could also be a group of musicians playing in a school and talking about their instruments. Or it might be a private music teacher telling their students about the composers of the pieces they are practicing.

We can no longer assume that "everyone" plays an instrument (if that was ever the case); in fact we must assume that most people have no experience with our instruments. We can no longer assume that "everyone" will pay top dollar for classical music; in fact we know that people hear lots of free music every day from a wide variety of sources (iPods, CDs, radios), in non-concert settings (jogging, bathing, driving). We can no longer assume that "everyone" wants to hear Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven; we can rightly assume that people know little about even these famous composers.

But with creative thinking and energy we can overcome these obstacles, and I know that all of the panelists in this discussion find the challenges stimulating, not daunting. Each of us has been working in our own community, and I'm excited by the prospect of hearing about all of these projects!

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Comments for Yvonne Caruthers

Hi Yvonne. I love your comments about the World Cup games, and the comparison to orchestra concerts. Definitely worthy of further exploration!"

See Sarah's full comment about Yvonne's post in her Day 2 statement. Ann Drinan
SarahJohnson on August 22, 2019 at 8:30 AM
I was drawn to Yvonne's comparison between the efforts to educate, in real time, viewers watching any sporting event on television. We're mulling around ideas about how to do something similar at a concert this fall with the Utah Symphony.

We're calling it Casual Thursday. It will be a performance of a Masterworks subscription concert, minus one of the pieces, to allow more time for talk. The current plan is to have the conductor and guest artist engage in real conversation, possibly including some members of the orchestra. But this is still us talking to the audience.

What we're also hoping to do is find a way to let the audience contact us with their questions or comments, to which we can respond directly, in real time, from the stage. We may solicit the submission of questions via e-mail prior to the concert. But we're also considering ways the audience can submit questions/comments during intermission. We might have a few computer terminals set up in the lobby. We may invite the audience to use text messaging. We haven't decided. It will mean that we have a short space of time to receive, screen, and select audience inquiries to which the performers can respond after intermission.

We would appreciate knowing if other orchestras have tried anything like this. Or if anyone has any thoughts and reactions about it.
BHawkins on August 24, 2019 at 1:44 PM
In reply to BHawkins:
Though I said I applaud sporting events' ability to educate in "real time", I don't think it works quite the same way for music events, largely because we want the audience to listen to what we're playing, i.e. you can't broadcast an announcement while the orchestra is playing or the audience won't hear half of what's being played. I've experimented quite a bit in my programs outside the orchestra with letting the audience ask questions during programs and I was stunned to discover that many people in the audience don't like it. They came to the performance to hear either the music, or the "expert", and many of them don't want to hear other opinions.

If you try to set up a situation where 1000 people are asking questions all at once, it's unworkable. The idea that you mentioned about setting up terminals in the lobby, or using text messages to ask questions would need to be carefully thought through so that at no point is the audience forced to wait for results. I think that would be deadly. In my experience, if you have more than approx 300 people in a room, it becomes more and more difficult to take questions. You can talk before the performance, then play the piece, and afterwards have a Q&A session for those who want to ask questions--Leonard Slatkin does this several times a year and audiences love it. Out of maybe 1500 people who come to the concert, approx 500-600 will linger to ask questions and hear the answers.
yvonne on August 24, 2019 at 3:06 PM


Geneviève Cimon's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

Geneviève Cimon  

Geneviève Cimon

Acting Director of Music Education, NACO

The National Arts Centre Orchestra faces a slightly different problem than most orchestras when it comes to music education. Our mandate is both local and national in scope. Playing both roles is no easy task in a country the size of Canada. Our strategy has been to place great emphasis on community involvement, as this is the only way we can bring meaningful artistic experiences to the varied faces of Canadian society.

Since Pinchas Zukerman became Music Director in 1998, we have made education a part of our core mission and focus on three key areas - young audience development, young artist training, and the production of education resource materials. I would like to share two of our programs that have been successful in establishing processes that build social capital and inspire creativity and partnerships within communities.

The first is our national and international NAC Orchestra Performance and Education tours (see Claire Speed's article, describing these tours). These tours, offered annually, seek to foster cultural exchanges amongst elementary students and our musicians (see Doug Burden's article for the musician's view of these tours), support artist development, and provide much needed music resources to teachers in marginalized communities. Our post-tour contacts with the communities we have visited, through the NAC Reconnexions program, take the form of on-site residencies, broadband teaching, or invitations to Ottawa, and re-energize our relationships.

The second is the recently launched three-year Music Ambassador Program to support music teaching in rural elementary schools in Alberta and Saskatchewan. This past year, teaching artists in both provinces made 100 school visits and held 10 teacher clinics to support classroom teachers. Together with the support of organizations such as the Calgary Philharmonic, Edmonton Symphony, Regina Symphony and Saskatoon Symphony, we have managed to establish an effective, community-based program that brings classical music to those who have scarce resources for music-making.

Partnering with local arts organizations has been central to our success. But many challenges lie ahead of us. We are, after all, a symphony orchestra. We cannot replace the music specialists and music resources lacking in schools; we can't replace the ever-changing family unit where time and financial resources for lessons, practice, and attending concerts are scarce; and we can't promise the incredible young artists we train that a ready market-place will understand the value of their talent in the years to come.

So we continue to actively look for collaborative opportunities. At a recent symposium organized by the Canadian Music Educators Association, Coalition for Music Education in Canada and the National Arts Centre called "Uniting our Voices," symphony orchestras were brought together for the first time with over 40 organizations representing industry, lobby groups, academia, and both English and French music education associations to discuss the future of music education in Canada. Our moderator began by challenging us to prepare for some "discomfort" over the two days of the meeting.

He continued by identifying four characteristics playwright John Murrell associates with artists and creative people - restless, dissatisfied, secretive, and stubborn. I was startled. I expected to hear words like innovative, visionary, inspired, and resourceful; these are, after all, what we strive for in our work. But the discomfort came when we realized that Murrell's description was often not far off the mark. And the result was that our collective message on the importance of music education sounded more like a confused crowd than a chorus. The message was too dilute to have much of an impact on those who have the greatest ability to effect change, the nation's policy makers.

That's where joining forces with disparate partners who share the same concerns is so essential. As a result of the symposium, we have plans to establish a steering committee with national representation from varied stakeholders in music education as well as a networking and advocacy infrastructure. We committed to a new paradigm of collective responsibility in order to realize bold visions for our common future.

My hope for this discussion is that we can think of further ways to work as a collective to effect change. Whether we speak about outreach, in-reach, engagement, dialogue, capacity-building, fundraising or friend-raising - we need, as cultural brokers, to learn effective ways to work together and advocate a unified message about music and its cultural relevance first to each other and then to our communities.

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Comments for Geneviève Cimon

I particularly love your observation that re-connecting with a group you've already visited is very important. I'd love to hear more about how that works.

[Read Genevieve's reply in her Day 3 post. Ann Drinan]
yvonne on August 21, 2019 at 3:57 PM


James Copenhaver's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

James Copenhaver  

James Copenhaver

Arts Consultant and former Executive Director/CEO, Colorado Symphony

As is often the case, changing how we describe something helps us better focus on what is our real intent and our desired outcome. So it is with the recent change in how we describe the various actions orchestras are taking to better connect with their broader community. The shift from "outreach" to "community engagement" reflects an important change in the nature of the actions we should be taking. Outreach tends to represent a one way "me to you" dialogue, while community engagement reflects a two-way interactive dialogue. Engagement requires an interactive progression toward an improved connection or shared ideas. This has lead, I believe, to an improvement in the nature of the efforts of orchestras to better engage their communities and in particular to provide better and more engaged music education actions.

In more than sixteen years of working with and for orchestras as an executive, a board member, or arts consultant, I have watched, and supported, the change from mostly "kiddie concerts" to small in-school ensemble performances to mentoring programs and, more recently, to real educational actions. A pattern of one-way dialogue to interactive and more experiential education. While the experience of seeing an orchestra in their home environment, the concert hall, always brings smiles and wonderment, it was an experience - not lasting learning.

More recently, I have participated with Eric Bertoluzzi and the Up Close and Musical ensemble in an even more important expansion of this notion of engagement. In Englewood, a Denver suburb, the community's elementary schools are part of a federally-funded program called Progressive Education in Arts+Academics for Kids (PEAK). Here the key difference is that the teachers are learning how to integrate music (and other arts disciplines) into the core curriculum, be it a math lesson, a science lesson or a connection to social studies. With these new skills, and teaming help from professional artists, enhanced learning by the student is achieved. Far more important, the teachers are now provided with new capabilities that last after the musicians return to their regular activities. Thus, the learning goes forward led by the student's primary teacher, not the visiting guest artist.

This is, I believe, the key lesson for those of us interested in and committed to arts education for children and adults. The process must be designed to be an engaging one, and have a retention factor. Arts experiences, which are merely field trips or one-time events, do not create the kind of engagement that leaves a lasting impact and a thirst for personal exploration of the arts. If we are to have the impact we seek, we must be more creative and participatory, to connect with those with whom we wish to engage. The good news is that the simple change and clarity provided by viewing this as community engagement has opened the aperture for real connection with those we wish to share our love of the arts with.

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Comments for James Copenhaver

Hi Jim, I've never heard of the PEAK program you mentioned. Perhaps in your next post you could expand upon that? Yvonne

See Jim's Day 2 post for an explanation of the PEAK program. Ann Drinan
yvonne on August 21, 2019 at 9:56 AM


Aaron Dworkin's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

Aaron Dworkin  

Aaron Dworkin

Founder & President, Sphinx Organization

Classical music is an art form that thrives on new interpretations and cultural influences. Currently, it is thirsting for new oases from which to sustain its artistic vibrancy. The supply of musicians exists, as The Sphinx Organization has learned through direct experience, to attain diversity without any sacrifice of quality. The challenge is to achieve it.

I'm an optimist, and I like to look forward more than to focus on the past or present. But it's necessary to define our starting point if we are to understand how much commitment it will take to achieve the goal of diversity onstage. We all know that orchestra membership does not reflect the nation's population.

According to the ASOL's annual survey of its member orchestras, nearly 90 percent of the players are white, three percent are African-American or Latino, and most of the remaining seven percent are Asian. Compare this to the overall population, of which 25 percent are black or Latino and five percent are Asian.

And, again according to the ASOL, of the ten composers whose works were scheduled most often for the current season, there are, expectedly, no minorities. And if we look at the top ten most-frequently performed American composers, there are still no minorities.

Given this climate as a starting point, one of the most important things orchestras can do in the immediate term is to create an environment that is visibly more inviting for minorities. As an African-American violinist, I can tell you that, on the whole, orchestras seem like uninviting, intimidating, unfriendly, scary places to minority musicians - and that doesn't even begin to describe playing before an audition committee! Creating an environment that visibly invites diversity will be critical to achieving diversity on stage. This process will require thinking outside the box - and acting outside it as well.

For example, I believe that screened auditions should be rethought. It's not my intent to cause a great uproar; I only use this as an example of the extent to which I believe structural changes must be made if, ultimately, diversity is to be achieved. As a preliminary step, perhaps orchestras could move towards including race as a criterion during their audition process. Other industries across the board - including Fortune 500 companies and universities - recognize the importance of such changes, and have been working to implement them for years. It is time for the orchestra industry to wage that battle as well.

We should also consider rethinking tenure policies. As currently implemented, it ultimately limits orchestras to hiring a mere handful of new musicians each year. Suppose, hypothetically, that your orchestra decides to institute an absurd, aggressive policy that no one should adopt: that 50 percent of all new hires will be African-American or Latino. Even assuming an orchestra takes this unrealistic posture, it would take more than 20 years just to reach a point where the orchestra minority representation accurately reflects that in the overall population, let alone the minority population in any major urban center.

Any orchestra whose membership and programming does not reflect the community will be hard-pressed to build interest among an audience where there is no precedent for it. But in major cities with large minority populations, if the orchestras reflected that population, I could envision the orchestras' audiences becoming as diverse as their membership.

We know for a fact, especially since the Sphinx Competition and the Sphinx Symphony have increasingly brought them to the fore, that there is currently a pool of highly-talented minority musicians. We know for a fact, from Sphinx's programs and from special orchestral concert programs, that diverse audiences will attend concerts. And we know for a fact that there are volumes of high-quality repertoire written by minority composers. Taking these facts into account, we are left only with the actions taken by orchestra boards, administrators, and musicians to develop and implement an appropriate plan to interconnect these realities.

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Comments for Aaron Dworkin

OK, so there is the premise that orchestras need to hire and promote minority players and soloists and perform work by minority composers. I agree completely with the caveat that such works and performers be of near-equal quality with anything else an orchestra can offer.

On the issue of composers, ALL minority composers for orchestral works fit in the category of "modern" or "contemporary" music. It's difficult enough to promote this music even if it is accessible. National giving statistics indicate minorities give less than non-minorities of equivalent socio-economic backgrounds. I hate to say it, but outreach to minorities will have no or little effect on the bottom line. Unless you do Beethoven and Sibelius, the nice fluffy white haired ladies won't pull out their checkbooks.

The central problem here is with the funding model. American orchestras survive on at least 50% individual donations: these donations come from non-minorities. In most regional orchestras, the donations are given to raise property values (look: we have culture here).

Only a public (or private foundation) funding model with multi-year funding commitments reaching a significant budgetary percentage will give orchestras the security to take the risk of including contemporary music (the only large body of quality music for orchestra by minority composers) on their programs.
gibarian on August 21, 2019 at 2:02 PM
I believe Aaron raises an interesting point regarding the use of the screen in auditions and the possiblity that race should be considered an acceptable parameter to consider when filling an open position. Perception is the name of the game. Even though orchestras are not purposely excluding minorities from their ranks, when one looks around and sees that the level of diversity in the orchestra trails behind that of every other major governmental, public, and cultural institution in town, it creates an impression that can have effects ranging from a young child being discouraged from studying music to a city council denying an important grant.

But while we are considering the removal of the screen, could it also be time to consider including a musician's community outreach, educational, and public presentation skills and experiences as acceptable criterion for a more well-balanced audition process? As orchestras perform less subscription concerts and more community outreach activities, and donors and funding sources increasingly look for proof of the goodwill engendered and positive results achieved by education and community programs, the importance of hiring musicians who have proven credentials as both artists and community engagers will only increase.

What does everyone else think? Can orchestras maintain the highest levels or artistic standards while also building a membership of individuals who can be effective agents for music in our communities? Is a new approach to the audition process the way to do that? Is the answer in better and more frequent training sessions that teach musicians to be as successful out in the streets as they are on the stage? Or do orchestras need to hire more properly trained and effective administrators to be the ambassadors to the community who use the musicians as secondary allies in the cause?

Scott Harrison
ScottHarrison on August 23, 2019 at 4:00 PM


Aaron Flagg's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

Aaron Flagg  

Aaron Flagg

Executive Director, Music Conservatory of Westchester

American orchestras have been performing for school audiences and participating in civic-related events for well over 150 years, despite the recent realization by some that orchestras must be cultural citizens. The New York Philharmonic was presenting thoughtful education concerts with city school officials sitting on the orchestra's board 50 years before Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts ®. Today, there are ample numbers of exemplary orchestra education programs, such as the recipients of the Bank of America Awards for Excellence in Orchestra Education administered by the American Symphony Orchestra League. To read about these recipients, click the following link: www.symphony.org/edu/bankawards/index.shtml .

Clearly, there is no shortage of creativity and growth in orchestra education programs, and the basic principles behind effective school partnerships are not a mystery. What may be a mystery is why, in too many orchestras, engaging the community is an after thought; not in their mission statements or a core value to the institution, but left to the marketing department or in education grants. I suspect the current urgency for community connection and relevance is related to rising orchestra costs; reduced funding options; government and legal challenges around equity (think racial diversity); and a loss of the unquestioned position of civic prestige and cachet formerly afforded symphony orchestras across the country.

Whatever the ultimate reasons, I for one am thrilled that our collective attention is squarely on figuring out how to "add value" to our communities in ways that are mutually defined. Learning how to do this well has already begun for individual artists at many educational institutions such as The Juilliard School. As Director of Educational Outreach there, I worked with young musicians, dancers, and actors who wondered if they were being prepared for a life in the arts or a job in the arts. Would their employers care to develop and benefit from all of their artistic and "non-artistic" gifts and interests? Those gifts include writing, speaking, lobbying, organizing, passing on knowledge, leadership, performing many styles, and volunteer work.

Many schools are starting to nurture these gifts. As an example, Juilliard's Community Service Fellowship allows student groups to create and lead interactive performances in a variety of health care settings (i.e., hospices, pediatric wards, drug abuse clinics, etc.) after workshops with therapeutic specialists, role-playing, and peer coaching. These types of educational experiences do not throw artists into unfamiliar territory nor assume that a "natural aptitude for people" translates into an ability to create a rich learning experience regardless of age or setting. Instead, these experiences respect the endeavor and the artist enough to prepare and rehearse for success.

The professional world needs to take heed. Your future artists are coming with an expectation of artistic and human fulfillment in their professional life that includes being a part of their community. If orchestras truly value community connections and the individual gifts of their musicians, then orchestras will have to demonstrate that commitment in mission statements, in the audition process, in the contract (what are all the ways you could "add value" to the organization?), and on the board.

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Comments for Aaron Flagg

I think you've touched on a key point, Aaron, when you say that "engaging the community is an afterthought" in many orchestras...this is certainly a topic that deserves more discussion.
yvonne on August 21, 2019 at 4:02 PM


Sarah Johnson's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

Sarah Johnson  

Sarah Johnson

Director of Education and Community Partnerships, The Philadelphia Orchestra

Artistic Work in Schools and Communities: the Orchestra's Role

Education and Community Engagement departments in American orchestras have grown dramatically over the last few decades, largely in response to two major trends: dwindling ticket sales and cuts to education funding in the public schools. Orchestras, which had been among the most exclusive organizations in most cities and towns, have earnestly attempted to make the case for the importance of their role in their communities, hoping that if they are seen as central to the cultural life of the city, and if members of the general population have some experiences with orchestral music when they are young, more people will want to go to concerts (and buy tickets) on a regular basis in the future. In addition to the audience development aspect, following this line of thought, if an orchestra is seen as central to its community, it is more likely to secure funding for its continued operation. This helps us make the case to donors.

It is true that in most cases smaller orchestras embraced community and education work first, but now most orchestras in this country, including the big ones, do a range of these kinds of activities and include them as part of their core mission. This work is extremely interesting and important both for orchestras as organizations and for the musicians who play in them. That being said, we should be clear about what it is that we are trying to accomplish, and how the various programs we run address our goals and the needs in our communities. What can and should be the orchestra's role in its community?

In Philadelphia we have a range of education programs that fall into three major categories. First, we have programs that connect with children and grandchildren of our core audience and invite new families into the fold. Second, we have programs that are designed to support music educators and music students in the region. Third, we run programs that fulfill our responsibilities as a major cultural citizen in the city of Philadelphia. Several of these programs go into great depth, and make significant contributions to the cultural life of the community.

I am articulating these three categories in part to be clear about what we do not claim to do. We can not ultimately fill the gap created by severely cut funding for music programs in schools. We don't have the resources or the capacity to do that, and it isn't our role. So what can we do? We can provide programs and resources to support and inspire students and educators. We can function as a convening force, inviting educators and colleagues from other cultural institutions to join conversations about city-wide challenges. We can advocate, along with educators, parents, and our cultural colleagues, for better funding for arts education. We do run in-depth programs in schools which fall into the third category of activities, like our School Partnership Program. This program does provide significant and varied resources to the partner schools, but it still is not designed to take the place of having strong music educators in the school on a daily basis. We run these programs because they do give back to the community in substantial ways, something that we consider to be part of our responsibility as a cultural citizen, and we also learn an enormous amount through these in-depth relationships that we can fold back into our other activities.

Taking into consideration this range of programs and our advocacy efforts, the education and community activities will drive ticket sales for the orchestra, but that will not happen because a student had two positive experiences in the concert hall in third and eighth grade. It will happen because the breadth and depth of our programs make the case for the cultural relevancy of orchestras in today's society.

I dislike the word "outreach." It comes from a time when orchestras thought of themselves (positively or negatively) as somehow separate from a large part of their communities, either exclusive or excluded. It implies an "us versus them" dynamic. Instead I like to describe what we do as artistic work in schools and communities. Describing the work in this way goes to the heart of what I find to be most valuable and interesting about it, both for orchestras as organizations and for the musicians who participate in it.

Many musicians say that working in schools and with community members feeds them artistically, that it helps them rediscover why they love what they do so much, that it challenges them to think about what turns them on about music and to then invent a way to share that passion with others. It can also be extremely moving and exciting for musicians to experience an audience's personal reactions to live music in a smaller, more intimate classroom or other informal setting. As we know, those personal reactions or impressions don't often translate from the audience to the stage in today's concert halls. To get back to this notion of artistic work, though, I think that some of the most interesting work occurs when musicians and community members undertake joint artistic projects. This can happen on a small scale, with a classroom composition project in which a musician participates, or in a large flashy way, as in the case of some of the Berlin Philharmonic's education projects.

I would like to challenge all of us to think about what might be possible in this area during our panel conversation, to brainstorm ideas and share successful projects. What kinds of things might we do artistically with our communities that might genuinely begin to shift the way in which we are perceived, making the orchestra into a place where people go not just to appreciate the great artistry on stage, but where they also periodically have opportunities to discover and experiment with their own musical capacities and skills? I'm happy to share some of our thinking in Philadelphia, and look forward to hearing from others throughout the conversation.

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Comments for Sarah Johnson

I appreciate the thoughtful questioning in Sarah`s remarks, and I`d like to extend that into the area of adult education.

When one speaks with regular concert-goers, it is not always the case that they have had a love of classical music since childhood, nurtured by the sorts of activities we offer to children. Often it happens much later, as the result of some chance exposure to great music, or through relationships with music lovers.

I am wondering if anyone has looked, more or less methodically, at cities with both orchestras and universities/colleges and focused on the health of "Music Appreciation" as part of the liberal arts curriculum. This may be related to the health of the liberal arts curriculum overall. Is there a healthy "ecology" encompassing the universities/colleges, their music departments and the orchestras that are nurturing an interest in symphonic music among young audiences ?

Is this something that orchestras and their musicians should/can be actively promoting ?

Are there examples out there you could refer me/us to?

Thanks, Tom Mirhady, Calgary

lanemirh on August 22, 2019 at 8:39 PM
Thanks for your comments, Tom.

I've been urging my own orchestra (Hartford Symphony) for years to get involved in music adult education through our local small liberal arts colleges -- take our lecture/concert programs on the road around the state to smaller colleges that can't afford a large music department. I think it's time for this to happen nationally!
AnnDrinan on August 22, 2019 at 8:55 PM
Outreach vs. Community Engagement: I agree, that the terms can be troubling. How the efforts feel when enacted seems more important to me.

I'm reminded of a favorite definition of community engagement, namely "the process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well-being of those people."

To what extent would or should this definition describe our individual orchestra's efforts? An interesting fact is that this definition is taken from the medical field, specifically from the Atlanta-based Center's for Disease Control.
AaronFlagg on August 23, 2019 at 12:54 AM


Leonard Slatkin's Opening Statement (Click to Hide)

Leonard Slatkin  

Leonard Slatkin

Music Director, National Symphony Orchestra

During the past three or four years, there has been much discussion about the so-called graying of the audiences. This, coupled with the diminished role of music education in our public schools, has led to great concern about the future of classical music.

First of all, I think it needs to be understood that our audiences have always been older. One only has to look at the photographs of concertgoers from a virtual time in the 20th century to see that they are not youngsters at all. But there is one significant difference - those audiences had the benefit of musical knowledge through education in the formative years.

It is easy to understand how one can draw a conclusion regarding a projected lack of attendance in the future. I prefer to think of this particular time as being a transition period. During the NSO Residency projects and in my own personal work in public schools, I have noticed a distinct shift in the cultural makeup of young people involved in those schools that have music programs. Instead of the perceived background being predominately European or Slavic, we see more students from Latino and Asian heritage and, indeed, the countries of origin generally have superior music education programs for young people. Chances are most of them will remain in the states, but not go into music. However, most of them will become regular concertgoers. What we play will not change, but the makeup of the audience that listens will. It remains to be seen whether or not our music education systems will move forward. I would like to think that the demand that comes from parents of the new immigrants will prove instrumental in promoting the value of strengthened music education programs in our public schools.

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Quote:
First of all, I think it needs to be understood that our audiences have always been older.
This is so true. It would be like complaining that not enough middle-aged adults these days are engaged in the beauty that is skateboarding.
Quote:
What we play will not change, but the makeup of the audience that listens will.


Although celebrating the current symphonic canon is an important and comfortable goal, why shouldn't the field be responsive to the changing composition and interests of our audience and musicians? The first orchestras in America were started to satisfy the preferences of a tiny group of stakeholders (mainly immigrant musicians from Europe). Their sense of nostalgia and prestige dictated what music was played. However, today we proport to serve a much larger group of stakeholders,and depend on that larger group for survival. Equally important, more great music from different places is available. I would suggest that this requires an awareness of the community's evolution and a responsiveness to its expanding musical palette.

Read Leonard Slatkin's reply in his Day 2 post . Ann Drinan
AaronFlagg on August 22, 2019 at 3:53 PM


 

General Comments on This Discussion (Click to Hide)

We invite you to send us short descriptions of programs that have worked in your orchestra that have successfully engaged your community. And please consider writing an article for us -- we hope to document lots of outreach/educational programs that really made a difference.
AnnDrinan on August 22, 2019 at 9:06 PM
Thank you Ann and Yvonne for putting together this virtual discussion. Thank you to all who have contributed to this worthwhile discussion. Questions raised are so very important. Seattle Symphony's Community Engagement program, ACCESS (Artistic & Cultural Community Engagement with the Seattle Symphony) is a recent recipient of ASOL & MetLife Foundation best practices award. Community partnerships are at the heart of this program: Seattle School District, Washington Music Educators Association, Viva La Musica, Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, and Seattle Symphony Community Engagement Council, a fluid inclusive think tank. As James Copenhaver in his Day 1 post described, "community engagement reflects a two-way interactive dialogue." It is adaptive learning situation. A renewable, sustainable development of a diverse musical eco-system of which the symphony is integrated into the daily musical lives of its community. Perhaps even a variant of the "cultural incubator" that Charles Burke describes. Community engagment will look different for each project, every year as resources and "what is important" to our communities shift. However, there seems to be ever deepening ties that bind us to each other.
NancyGosen on August 28, 2019 at 3:42 PM
Is there a direct correlation between diversity in school & youth symphony training orchestras and our audiences? What about musical experiences in the home and primary grades and participation in school & youth symphonies? Any thoughts on this?
NancyGosen on August 28, 2019 at 6:42 PM

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