Musicians and Managers...an Evolving Relationship
Some recent conversations at various orchestras, and with students in a class I teach at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts, have made me realize how much the role of musicians in today's American orchestras has changed over the past three or four decades...
My involvement with orchestra actually began with the very first concert of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra in 1961, and gradually strengthened so that by 1967 I was a member of its Board of Directors. Thus I can claim over forty years of very direct connection with orchestras.
Forty years ago, the normal relationship between musicians and the orchestral organizations that employed them ranged from distant to antagonistic. "Us and them" was the norm - musicians had little or no involvement with any decision making or even any discussion about the mission or direction of orchestras. When orchestras engaged music directors, it would have been virtually unheard of for there to be musician representation on the search committee. It was so much the norm that it was rarely questioned by either musicians or managers.
This never made sense to me. Universities and colleges didn't make major decisions about their direction and philosophy without serious input from faculty committees, which were also either represented on the university's board in a meaningful way, or were connected to it through some other governance structure. Hospital administrators did not operate in a vacuum that excluded the professional doctors who were the heart and soul of the hospitals. But the norm in orchestras was to exclude the views of the professionals - the people who performed the art we were preserving and presenting, and whose lives depended on how the organization functioned.
Over the past two or three decades, I've watched that change - ever so slowly, painfully at times, in fits and starts, and with resistance often on both sides. For some musicians, it was much easier to take the attitude of "our job is to play the music - your job is to run the business." And, to be honest, for some musicians it was also easier to criticize decisions if they weren't a part of making them. And for managers it was simpler too - the musicians were, after all, part of the union. And besides, it would just complicate the whole decision-making process to add another major voice. But nonetheless, change has come - and for some who haven't been around as long as I have, it might not be clear just how dramatically that has happened.
Today, it is almost impossible to imagine an orchestra that would not include musicians on a music director search committee. Frequently, they comprise 50% of the committee. In addition, they are usually included on search committees for executive directors! What a sea change that is. More and more orchestras have musicians on the boards, or on board committees, or have evolved other structural models to assure that musicians are a part of the shaping of institutional decisions. In some orchestras, musicians constitute a significant part of the board and/or the decision making process (Colorado Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, to name just three). Orchestras throughout the U.S. are experimenting with different models, and while there are certainly bumps in the road occasionally, it is impossible for me to believe that in the end this greater institutional involvement of musicians is anything other than a very healthy development. Our orchestras are about music, and about the musicians who make the music. As I like to say, "No one ever bought a ticket to see me manage." It is only logical that the professionals who comprise our orchestras are an important part of helping to shape their futures.
In my next posting I'll talk a little bit about musicians' roles with the public, and with the community that their orchestra serves, and how all of that is evolving as well.
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