Musicians: The Fourth Leg of the Stool
In a recent discussion with members of the board and some musicians
from one of
For those who don't wish to read the entire article, my
answer to the question posed in its title is "no, three legs are not sufficient."
The traditional "three-legged stool" structure refers to the leadership
triumvirate of music director, board chair, and executive director. In the past
20 or 25 years, a fourth leg of the stool - orchestra musicians - has been
ever-so-gradually lengthening. Some orchestras (Colorado Symphony, Louisiana
Philharmonic) have gone close to the full route in involving musicians on their
boards. Some have placed musicians in important roles on their boards and
committees, in a few cases even as chairs of music-director search committees.
Some have made slight nods in that direction. In some orchestras the musicians simply
go on stage, play the notes, and go home with no other input or involvement --
and many musicians prefer it that way: Their training is in music, after all, not
in accounting, marketing, development, or management.
But it has never made sense to me that musicians, the only
constituent group inside the orchestra who have professional training and
experience in the art that's at the core of orchestras' missions, would have
nothing to do with helping to determine that mission and the strategies we
would use to achieve it. (And yes, I know that many orchestra administrators also
have significant musical training, and some of their board members do as well.)
I liken musicians in symphony orchestras to the faculty of universities and
colleges, or the doctors at hospitals. Universities have independent boards,
and administrators who are distinct from the faculty. But no university or
college would run with no or minimal input from the faculty. I never heard
anyone seriously argue that an English or zoology professor has not been
trained to understand management issues. Faculty committees have very strong
influence on university policies, and any university president who loses the
support of a meaningful portion of the faculty is probably going to be in the
job market fairly soon. Decisions on how to allocate resources for that
university -- on diversity policies, on just about every important issue the
university will face -- will not be made without significant, meaningful input
from a representative group of faculty.
Musicians cannot, in my view, be excluded from issues of governance or strategic planning, or from any major internal debate and discussion undertaken by orchestral organizations. That means a mutual acceptance and understanding of ground rules -- rules regarding confidentiality, mutual respect, and the understanding that meaningful input does not always equate with full acceptance of your views.
There has been enormous change in this area over the last quarter-century, but it's interesting to me that musicians' involvement in the running of their orchestras is still a matter of debate and discussion. While there has been great progress, my observations lead me to believe that there is still some distance to go.