Training Administrators from Within--at Youth Orchestras and Beyond

Last month I wrote about a stimulating, thoughtful meeting that took place in Elgin, Illinois, between the staffs of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra. In that blog I focused on the spirit of the meeting, the intellectual quality of the discussion, and the vital role that Midori, the residency artist, played in making the meeting happen and in propelling the thinking as the meeting progressed.
Today I want to comment on one of the specific issues that came up for discussion as the two staffs explored ways for their organizations to provide a more complete and holistic education to the youngsters in the youth orchestra. The subject came up--I can't remember who initiated it, but the great thing about this meeting was that ideas developed organically--of education that went beyond the playing of instruments, beyond even the specifics of symphonic music. Education that incorporated not only chamber music and opera into the curriculum, but non-musical areas as well.

In my moderator/facilitator role, I asked what percentage of the musicians in the most senior of the youth orchestras were likely to seriously consider orchestral playing as a career. They guessed it was perhaps between a quarter and a third of them. I pointed out the harsh realities of the supply-demand equation for orchestral musicians in the U.S.--the fact that there were far, far more talented musicians than there were positions open, with the ratio getting worse each year. I then observed the serious shortage of talent in the music administration area across America. The whole field of orchestra administration feels this, and rightly so. I pointed out that when orchestras in the approximately $750,000 - $1,000,000 annual budget range advertised for a music director, they were likely to receive more than 300 applicants! (That is not a typo.)  When they advertised an opening for executive director, they could expect to receive about 10.

That led to a wonderful discussion of a role that the Elgin Symphony Orchestra could play in broadening the education and the thinking of musicians in the Youth Symphony, by making available--perhaps on a voluntary basis, perhaps as a requirement--an opportunity to learn about music administration as a career. The ESO already offers some internships to members of the EYSO, but agreed it could deepen and broaden those internships.

That discussion, in turn, led me to think about the possibility that orchestras across the United States could think about providing this kind of education. The League of American Orchestras ( already has many programs to recruit people into the profession and develop their skills, and it recently launched a Career Center to address the need for information about opportunities in the field of orchestra management; this new, free resource offers information for pre-college, college, and graduate students as well as career changers--including job descriptions, career profiles of people working for orchestras, FAQs, and online career forums. These programs are national in scope, however, and administrative training should also happen at the local level. All professional orchestras (and for that matter, many youth orchestras) have professional staffs who have chosen music administration as a career, and who function in that career in various ways. What a resource those staff members are to local youth orchestras, conservatories, high schools on career days, and universities! I have hardly ever discussed this subject with an orchestra board or manager without hearing a lament about the shortage of talent in the field. But I have not encountered too many orchestra administrators who see that they could play a role in addressing it. There are some, of course, but they are the exception.

I understand that just doing the work of keeping an orchestra alive and vital is hard enough; orchestras are chronically understaffed and overworked. So I can hear the agonized cry of "Are you kidding? Where would we find time to do that?" But the truth is that we must find time to do it, because infusing the field with a greater abundance of administrative talent is vital to our future. I believe that most of us find the time to do things that we prioritize as a must. So I guess what I'm suggesting is that this qualifies as a must.

November 14, 2008 12:36 PM | | Comments (2)




We couldn't agree with you more about getting people involved in the business side of orchestras.

In fact, this year we've developed a year-long internship at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre which will give someone the opportunity to help run the Metropolis Youth Symphony (MYS). Our goal is to truly get them involved in the day-to-day details of running every aspect of MYS. From overseeing budgets, to help securing performance opportunities, to scheduling rehearsals, heading our parent group, working closely with our Conductor and be a key figure in this organization, this is a true hands-on internship.

We came to realize this past year that the business side of orchestras seems to be constantly overlooked. That being said, we want to give someone the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and learn what it takes to run a youth orchestra along side of professional staff. We're just now accepting resumes for this internship and we're hopeful about the outcome.

Thank you for covering this and bringing it to light. We hope more organizations find a way to open this door for aspiring administrators/executive directors.

Thank you again.
Jim Jarvis
Executive Director
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre
Arlington Heights, Illinois

While we're on the subject, what can we do to get music schools/conservatories to offer mandatory courses on the "business" side of the music business, which would naturally include career options such as music administration? I know that a few schools have such courses but, clearly, not all do and many do not make them mandatory.


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This page contains a single entry by on the record published on November 14, 2008 12:36 PM.

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