The League of American Orchestras Conference: An Essential Investment in Troubled Times

Reading over the listservs of the League of American Orchestras (chat groups for administrators of orchestras) I am getting depressed about the number of entries that go something like this: "Our orchestra isn't sending anyone to Conference this year. We can't afford it."
"Conference," for those not in the business of orchestras, means the annual conference of the League of American Orchestras, where representatives of orchestras get together to exchange ideas, to learn from each other, to pick up great innovations that are happening around the country. It is professional development in the very best sense of the term.

I do understand that the current economy is a serious problem--I live in it too--and I do understand that orchestras are looking to reduce expenses everywhere they can. But it is precisely in conditions like these that one should not eliminate opportunities to come together and use the collective wisdom of the orchestra field to deal with problems and solve them, or at least adjust to them.  

If ever there was a dictionary definition of the phrase "penny wise and pound foolish," to me this would be it. In the more than thirty years that I have been attending League conferences, I have never not learned something that was of greater value to me, and to the institutions I served, than the cost of attending.  

Professional development has traditionally been undervalued in the orchestra field as a whole. The corporate world has always better understood the value of investing in professional training and development, and so has the university world.  But when orchestras are facing an economic downturn that is far deeper and more serious than any we have seen in most of our lifetimes, I think wisdom would result in perhaps the greatest attendance at a League conference ever.  It is not just administrators, but also board members and board chairs, volunteer leaders, even conductors and musicians, who now more than ever need to learn from each other, to come together and use their collective intelligence and creativity to ensure the survival and health of our orchestras.  This is precisely the kind of investment one makes in difficult times. It is not the kind of expense one eliminates.

Sorry for the tone of frustration, but I just had to get that off my chest.

March 13, 2009 1:06 PM | | Comments (3)



My own comment is that I would LOVE to come to this year's conference, but it is right at the same time as a major fundraiser. In an organization of our size, it would be very difficult for me to be absent. That being said, I haven't ruled it out!

I think Jeffrey Biegel's idea is a great one! I would love to meet Keith Emerson and hear his concerto live. Mr. Emerson did more to interest people of my late baby-boom generation in classical music than anyone I can think of, yet he is largely disdained by the mainstream classical music society. It would be interesting to have him participate in a panel discussion on how to engage younger audiences.

Lastly, the writer of the anonymous letter needs to grow up. That was a mean-spirited and cowardly comment.

A few years ago, I offered to bring some of my eclectic repertoire to the conferences, with the composer to be present. I believe that these conferences need to have a visible presence of artists with composers of fresh and exciting works--even an old one being revived--as is the case of the Keith Emerson Concerto. How many orchestra administrators would like to meet Keith Emerson and hear his concerto? Would events like this bring more people to the conferences without batting an eye? Would having a composer session with the likes of the serious composers and pop composers speaking be helpful? Would this help break the walls down of having the two meet more to create new works for the concert hall? Worked for Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin.

Perhaps orchestra are getting wise to the fact that spending thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars on dues and then being charged to attend conferences and professional development programs isn't really in their best interest. Or perhaps you're overestimating the value of attending the conference which has far more to do with the League validating itself than actually befitting members.

I disagree with your conclusion: the conference is precisely the sort of expense orchestras should put on the chopping block before anything else. If the financial situation is particularly bad then they should drop League membership entirely.

Rant all you want, it is time for the League to collapse under the weight of its own bloated carcass.

It is unfortunate that the writer of the above has chosen to remain anonymous as clearly I have a dissatisfied customer on my hands. As director of customer delight at the League I would truly like to have a real discussion with him or her. However, we already have over 200 registrations for the Conference in Chicago, 9-12 June, and that is a record number this far out. What we are hearing is that this is the year, more than ever, that orchestra managers wish to come together to understand the economic uncertainty and share the ways in which we are all coping. If providing the forum for these important conversations to take place is validating the League’s own interest, I am happy to plead guilty. And for the record, readers may be interested to know that our dues make up just 24% of League income. We are proud that our successful fundraising allows us to subsidize the full cost of the League’s services and programs for orchestras across America.

Russell Jones
Vice President for Marketing & Membership Development
League of American Orchestras

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This page contains a single entry by on the record published on March 13, 2009 1:06 PM.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel: A Phenomenon to Celebrate and Watch was the previous entry in this blog.

Building Your Board: Look for Qualities, Then Names is the next entry in this blog.

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