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March 22, 2007

More on Musicians and Managers...an Evolving Relationship

In my previous posting, I wrote about the remarkable degree of change, over the forty year span that I have been involved with orchestras, in the relationship between musicians and managements (and boards). I noted the growing involvement of musicians in many governance issues, in music director and executive director searches, and direct or indirect involvement of musicians with boards of directors.

Another area where the role of musicians has changed dramatically over that time span is in musicians' roles with the public and with the community that their orchestra serves...

Musicians now are more and more frequently being asked to interact with various segments of the public, whether at educational concerts, community events, donor receptions, board meetings, or even fund-raising calls. Musicians may not be asked to "make the ask" at a solicitation, but may find themselves being called on to speak about the orchestra to prospective donors. Some orchestras are also asking musicians to speak from the stage to entire audiences, as well as to participate in pre-concert conversations. I cannot imagine this ever being anything other than voluntary - but clearly musicians who have these skills and a degree of comfort with this part of the job may find themselves more in demand in future years than those who lack in that area.

I think that this change in roles, happening as a gradual evolution to be sure, is a very good thing. There are reasons that many people in our society find symphony concerts "stiff," "remote," or "too formal" - and surely one of those reasons is the invisible curtain between musicians and public that turns an orchestra of talented and unique individuals into an anonymous group of penguin-look-alikes up on that stage. Anything that humanizes the members of the orchestra, and allows the community to get to know their individual and special talents and qualities, can only be a good thing.

Where we still fall short in some important ways is for music schools to fully prepare future orchestra musicians for the parts of the job that take place off the stage and away from their music stands. This area of education is changing - some conservatories have begun to cover some aspects of extras-performance life, particularly the public and community engagement piece of the job. But there are still many who simply prepare their students to play their instruments at the highest possible level, and only a few that fully examine for their students the workings of orchestral institutions. Even for those musicians who might eventually choose a life that does not involve orchestral playing - a complete education to help inform that choice would include a full exploration of orchestral life. How does the institution of the orchestra work? What does management do? How does the board function? (I do teach such a class, at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts, and some of my students were stunned to learn that board members volunteer their time, rather than being paid for it). What are the economic realities of orchestral structure? What might be expected of me besides playing my bassoon terrifically? What is an orchestra committee? How do I evaluate a conductor? These and so many more questions are an essential part of the education of the next generation of orchestra musicians, and one can only express the hope that more conservatories will explore this aspect of their role thoroughly.

Posted by hfogel at March 22, 2007 4:01 PM

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