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

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About this Virtual Discussion (Click to Show)


Yvonne Caruthers's Statement (Click to Hide)

Yvonne Caruthers  

Yvonne Caruthers

Senior Editor

If nothing else, this discussion has highlighted extraordinary efforts being made in cities throughout the country: Denver, Tucson, NYC, Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington — and many, many towns in Canada, thanks to the great work radiating outward from NACO. (How I wish we had a broadband studio at the Kennedy Center!)

I think the challenges remaining in the next few days online are twofold:

· getting the word out to the rest of the country,

and, hardest of all,

· figuring out how to ensure that our community engagement (outreach, education) keeps an orchestra in the spotlight of its community.

The "easy" one first. Polyphonic is a wonderful resource for all of us. This discussion will be archived so that our colleagues can read what's posted here in the weeks and months to come. They can get in touch with us, or our organizations, and presumably they can flesh out their own ideas, gain inspiration, and get advice if/when they need it. I hope each of us (panelists) will use our last message on August 31 to add any websites that would be of interest to someone reading this discussion 3 months from now. Is there an article you want everyone to read? Is there a foundation you want everyone to know about? Is there a site featuring your orchestra's most successful project?

Now the hard one: There seems to be a hidden assumption from all of us and I want to question it. We are all assuming that we have to educate our public better (I think we agree on that part), but the unspoken part is that if we do a good job of reaching out to them, they will buy more tickets or make larger donations. With that goal in mind, I'd like to tell you about something that happened in Washington last year.

One of the initiatives we undertook last season (our 75th anniversary) at the NSO was to take an education survey of the orchestra. We defined "educational efforts" as ANY KIND of teaching done by an orchestra member: private students, university students, masterclasses, lecture-recitals at any venue, summer festival teaching, etc. I think of this as "free outreach" — there is no cost to the orchestra when its musicians teach private students or engage in any other musical activity, but the entire community is enhanced by the quality of that teaching or musical activity. At the end of the survey we mapped the states (and countries) where the educational efforts took place. We came up with astonishing numbers: NSO musicians taught over 38,000 students in 44 states and 14 countries. That's just in one season!

Click here to view a PDF file of the study. [Moderator's note: The file is ~700K and may be too big for some dial-up modem users to open.]

We highlighted the breadth of our activity in the community, the country, the world. It's impressive. Yet...did more dollars flow to the institution? Did we sell more tickets? Do people in our city assign a higher value to our institution? I think they would realize the true value of the NSO if the orchestra disbanded tomorrow, because there would suddenly be a dearth of teachers at all levels, from elementary schools to youth orchestras to universities. There would be fewer chamber music concerts, fewer performances in churches, fewer recitals — in short, the music scene in Washington DC would be substantially poorer. The same situation is true of any city with an orchestra.

Many orchestras in the country have been struggling with higher expenses and smaller audiences. We worry about future audiences because we know that schools don't provide music education on a regular basis. We don't want our art to die out, so we've responded with creative, innovative programs to educate our audiences, inspire students, and increase our relevance to all populations. But do our efforts translate into increased ticket sales? Are there studies that prove it?

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Comments for Yvonne Caruthers

I'm excited to learn about the survey of the NSO orchestra musicians' work in the community. The LA Phil implemented this summer a similar survey with the following goals in mind:

1. To acknowledge the incredible depth and scope of work that LA Phil musicians do in schools and communities.

2. To share this information internally with musicians and staff, and externally with funders and community partners, with the intention of making the LA Phil's impact in the community visible.

3. To learn more about LA Phil musicians and to use this information as a tool to help identify musicians to work on new and expanding Education programs. Staff will be able to see musicians' personal passions and where official Education programs overlap with musicians' self-motivated work in the community.

As individuals invested in arts education, specifically orchestra education, it is our job to make our work visible and transparent to all stakeholders. Especially as we begin to innovate in our field and experiment with new learning formats and creative programs, we need to know more about our organizations, specifically the heart and soul of orchestras - our musicians. I wanted to share that as part of Mellon's Orchestra Forum, EmcArts is developing a survey for participating orchestras in order to ascertain information about musicians' careers, which may provide new level of useful information for the field. Results of the survey will likely be available in the early spring of 2007.

It's thrilling to see the ways in which orchestras are beginning to make their work/art form more visible through marketing and programming, in, as Philadelphia so wonderfully says, "raising the invisible curtain," or bridging the space between the artistry on stage and the audience. By taking the time to crack open our art form for people through genuine investigation, whether through getting to know orchestra musicians better, sharing the creative process of a composer, or adding context to music in live programming, we are helping to develop the intellectual intimacy and emotional connection that audience members or potential audience members long for. I can't say if this translates to increased ticket sales, but I am quite interested in seeing the impact of this kind of approach over time.
GretchenNielsen on August 28, 2019 at 5:49 PM
I'm really happy to see that another orchestra is trying this idea too. May I add one more goal for you? "Identifying and using contacts that musicians have already made." All of us musicians have many, many contacts in our communities, whether they are parents of students we are teaching, or whether they are teachers at our child's school, or the head of music at the church where we played a recital ... seems to me that orchestras would want to reach out to those contacts in the community first, before setting up a new program.
yvonne on August 28, 2019 at 10:08 PM
I forwarded the NSO survey to key board members here. What a wonderful perspective of audience development! I recently had a close encounter of the "CE kind" when I was volunteering at downtown community fundraiser. I introduced myself from the symphony and a fellow teammate exclaimed,"I am a 'secret' fan of Seth (Krimsky, our principal bassonist)!" She is especially looking forward to hearing him in the bassoon concerto in November (has her tickets already). She worked at Microsoft and was on a project that included Seth's wife. She was "thrilled to be so near to greatness" (yes, her exact words!) I also told her about Seth giving the pre-concert lecture for Bluebeard's Castle in the spring, another seat sold.

Yvonne's question, "Do our efforts translate into increased ticket sales?" They will I believe if we continue to keep focused on the over arching purpose of audience development. These activities keep "the pot stirred up," a phrase sometimes used by sales managers.
NancyGosen on August 30, 2019 at 1:49 PM

Geneviève Cimon's Statement (Click to Hide)

Geneviève Cimon  

Geneviève Cimon

Acting Director of Music Education, NACO

In response to Yvonne's Day 4 post: The two challenges you raised definitely deserve our collective reflection and hopefully, ideas for concrete action. I agree that Polyphonic is a great resource for "getting the word out" (as is the ASOL edlist), but I think we could all use these resources better to share information. The four points that Aaron Flagg listed are examples of some of the categories within which we could all contribute our ideas and research findings - perhaps through Polyphonic. There is so much valuable information out there that we each hold - but the findings are scattered and we definitely need a central resource where it can be accessed easily and quickly. To add to Aaron's list, I would be particularly interested in "topic stations" that address program evaluation with measurable outcomes as well as cultural economic impact studies, advocacy initiatives and calls for immediate action to save programs, testimonials about music's cultural relevance from celebrities / public figures, etc.

Your second point on how to ensure our community relevance causes me to pause and reflect on several issues. The idea of the "why" of music education and more specifically, classical orchestral music, is one that we tend to talk around and not address directly. I think it would be beneficial to all of us to have a forum where we address just this question. The answer I believe resides with our audiences and that, in my opinion, is where community engagement is so essential.

What type of language do our communities best relate to as we try to address the "why" of music education? We tend to look primarily at education models, but what about business, economic, health and sports models for communicating music's impact in our society? What studies exist that address these questions?

To give an example, there was a brilliant government campaign in Canada called "participACTION" that rewarded physical exercise through the use of certificates in the school system as well as through a savvy media campaign. Values such as team building, self-discipline, excellence, achievement, were effective in mobilizing the public towards physical activity. The economic gains were considerable. See for more information.

If we look at music as a verb - "musicking" - to use Christopher Small's word - we remember that music is dynamic - changing constantly depending on the participants and context within which it is created. That said, to maintain our cultural relevance within our communities, we need to adapt and be visibly present to our communities - getting out of our buildings.

Advocacy for music education within our communities is also key. How do we get the word out when a music program is in jeopardy (whether in a community orchestra, school system, community centre, etc.) so that we can mobilize all our colleagues to lobby in favor of that program? How do we use our collective voice, power, resources, to ensure that we both celebrate and maintain existing music education programs in our communities that are successful? Do we celebrate our local teachers and musicians enough?'re sure to spark many more ideas from your readers. I can't wait.

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Comments for Geneviève Cimon

Genevieve is right - effective advocacy for music education is critical in the overall quest to engage our communities around the value of music in our lives. If we believe that school is the foundation for everything we want our future to be, then we must ensure that school includes music and the arts. And while I think we (and I'm using the royal 'we' here) have been quite successful in talking to and supporting the 'converted' - our music and music education peers, we have a very important need to get out to the 'unconverted' - to the people (parents, media, administrators, etc.) who simply don't support music in education. Not because they don't believe in it but simply because they don't necassarily know any better; they haven't been exposed to the benefits in a very meaningful way.

The Coalition for Music Education in Canada has been working hard over the past several years to do more to engage a broader public through initiatives like our Champions for Music Education campaign which we will be expanding this year and our PSA campaign - all available at our website: We have developed an active and effective partnership with the NAC around an event we launched in 2005 called Music Monday, where on the first Monday of each May, students, teachers, and parents join with their communities to perform the same song at the exact same time across the country ( The effect was magical this past year and we estimated over half a million students were involved in every corner of the country. Now, the beauty and wonder of the event is that it is not only a totally grassroots event with incredible concerts and events of all shapes and sizes from the tiniest, most remote, northern communities to our largest urban centres, but that it is a powerful and dramatic demonstration of the power of music to unite not only a community but an entire country! Music Monday gives everyone who participates a platform to deliver positive, consistent key messages (which we carefully provide in downloadable kits) to a very broad public through the media attention the event captures. While we are heading only into our third year of the event, we anticpate that particpation could double next year.

I suppose my point is that we need to continue to find positive, constructive ways to talk about the need to protect and enhance quality music education in our schools because people want to rally around something positive.

School really is the foundation for a vibrant musical community and I shudder to think what this world would be like when we turn over a generation of children without the benefit of the arts in their education. We need a kinder, more compassionate world and music can help us get there. There's no question that literacy and numeracy are important but its music and the arts that gives us our humanity.

ingrid on August 29, 2019 at 10:12 PM
Different community building models - What about the county fair model? A 1921 newspaper article describes the fair as an "educational clearing house" for farm & home..."an agricultural & industrial institute for residents of town and country" (we could say those in music and those yet to step through the door). And for the urban dweller, the fair "furnishes an avid picture of the agricultural resource of the community." Wouldn't it be just as appropriate to furnish an avid picture of the musical resource of our communities? Celebrating Canada's Musical Mondays or in the states MENC's Music in our Schools Month (March) in the context that 4H clubs are celebrated at county fairs as well as various professional and amateur musical groups. Seattle Symphony has produced in three "Days of Music" over the past 6 years. The last was May 20, 2019. We opened with representatives from Seattle Schools elementary school bands & orchestras in pre-concert performances before a side by side concert with Seattle Youth Symphony; followed by a free community concert premiering a work commissoned by a revered elder of the Coastal Salish People; followed by performances by the University of Washington Wind Ensemble; ending with the last performance of our Made in America II Festival of living composers! How much more visible we would be if we consistently had a "Day of Music."
NancyGosen on August 30, 2019 at 3:22 PM

Aaron Flagg's Statement (Click to Hide)

Aaron Flagg  

Aaron Flagg

Executive Director, Music Conservatory of Westchester

A working definition of community engagement I enjoy is "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 apply to 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; a field with a much larger and deeper commitment to connecting with communities than symphony orchestras.

For our field, a simple title like "Engaging the Community" really has the panelists touching on several key questions, namely:

1. How we build on and innovate 150 years of presenting orchestral concerts?

2. How should musicians be prepared in school, and supported on the job, in order to play effective, active roles in engagement activities?

3. How big of a role should orchestras play in ensuring arts education for all in their community and in addressing our industry's history of racisim that is the core cause of the current racial imbalance throughout the institution of orchestras (i.e., board, staff, and musicians)?

4. How can we learn program design concepts for interactive concerts?

At the end of the day, our mission statements should guide priorities. One per-service orchestra I perform with is called the West End Symphony. It is part of a small New York City arts in education organization called Music Outreach: Learning through Music Inc. Founded in 1965, its sole mission is "To demonstrate creative strategies for engaging young learners through the use of music and literature as catalysts for learning across the curriculum." This clarity of mission leads this orchestra to carefully design the most engaging 45-minute program I've seen or participated in by an orchestra. The concerts are prefaced by in-school visits by musicians of the orchestra who teach the children songs played at the concerts and read stories, which will have orchestral accompaniment at the concerts. The conductor and individual orchestra members speak, there are solo features for several musicians, dancers, visual aids, and every concerts features children from the attending school performing with the orchestra. Despite many of the typical complaints, musicians are engaged and stay committed to these concerts; playing in the aisle for the kids, laughing together on stage, and knowing that they have made an impact.

I too wonder about Leonard's figure of 4%. Perhaps it includes only music by folks like Beethoven, Schubert, and Hindemith. Although I don't include video game music as great music (at least not yet), I do include music of Hailstork, Frank, Daughtery, Higdon, Marsalis, and others who are still alive and quite interesting. With this diversity in mind, I believe that we should be passionate about sharing great music with everyone, including the other 96%.

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Sarah Johnson's Statement (Click to Hide)

Sarah Johnson  

Sarah Johnson

Director of Education and Community Partnerships, The Philadelphia Orchestra

In response to Yvonne's Day 3 post: Thanks very much for this post! We are just about to begin using video cameras in the hall during some of our Access and education concerts in this way, so it's great to hear your success stories. I completely agree that it can be very compelling for people to actually be able to see what it is they are hearing; we take this for granted, knowing what instrument it is we are hearing, and knowing where to look for that person on stage. It's also possible to communicate so much information in an image without any words at all. We'll be starting to play with this technology this year - maybe I'll come down and visit one of your concerts to see IMAG in action. Thanks again for your program description!

To respond to Yvonne's comment regarding Jon Deak's brilliant work: True, Jon is absolutely incredible, and watching him work with young people, or people of any age actually, is inspiring. I do think it is possible to train other musicians who have some experience with teaching to do the type of creative work that he does in the classroom.

Professional development/training is one of the things we are (and we need to be) working on as a field right now. Many musicians playing in our orchestras haven't had much, if any, training in working in educational settings. As we ask more of our musicians, in terms of performing interactive concerts, speaking to audiences more frequently, and going into classroom and community performance settings, appropriate training is one of the things that orchestras must address. Conservatories are dealing with this to varying degrees (some extremely well!), but until those programs become stronger across the board in this area, orchestras will need to find ways to support our musicians in this work.

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Comments for Sarah Johnson

Professional development: this summer while teaching at our Summer Music Institute, I worked with students on simple public speaking skills. In our first class they had to state their name and tell why they chose their instrument, while holding their instrument and a microphone at the same time. We added more requirements in successive classes, and by the end they agreed that polished presentations aren't as easy as they look, but the ability to communicate verbally with an audience is something all these students will surely face in the future.
yvonne on August 29, 2019 at 9:44 PM
A little more on the topic of professional development: In Philadelphia, we began an organization-wide initiative several years ago called the "Raising the Invisible Curtain" initiative. Its goals are shared by most of us, I believe, to bring more people into the concert hall, and to deepen the musical experiences of our concert-goers. A cross-constituency group of musicians, staff, and board members developed core strategies for accomplishing these goals, and then programs on which we wanted to focus. We have started a number of new programs since then, and also infused existing programs with the philosophies and strategies of "RTIC."

As part of this initiative, musicians are doing a variety of things that they were not necessarily asked to do before, including speaking from the stage, sometimes at subscription concerts, working in a variety of ways in community settings, creating and leading more interactive performances for school and community settings, etc. We knew that our musicians would want to work on what in many cases were already considerable abilities in this area, so we hired someone to help support them. Our Music Animateur, Thomas Cabaniss, does a variety of things at the organization, including serving as a creative catalyst for all of us, particularly connected to this intiative, but one of his major roles is to provide support and professional development for musicians.
SarahJohnson on August 30, 2019 at 8:39 AM

Jon Deak's Statement (Click to Hide)

Jon Deak  

Jon Deak

Associate Principal Bassist and Creative Education Associate, New York Philharmonic

In reply to Yvonne's comment on my Day 3 post :

Yvonne, thank you for your comment, and as far as any special 'ability' or insight I may have and whether the technique is transferable to another, all I can say is: Ha! Absolutely. Not only are others doing this, but differently, and in many cases, adding improvements and their own signatures. Composers may seem more readily equipped to work with kids' creativity, but we have seen instrumentalists, dancers, vocalists doing wonderfully as well. And of course, I learn from THEM. As long as the mentor is willing to expect the unexpected, use personal contact and live music (incl jazz and hiphop, by the way), the kids really are unstoppable. More on this later, and thanks!

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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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