Fond Farewell: Moving On from the League of American Orchestras

As you read this in early July, an important phase of my professional life is ending: my formal association with the League of American Orchestras. I stress "formal" because I hope and expect to maintain an informal relationship with this remarkable organization that has served American orchestras for all of the 67 years that I've been on this earth. (The League and I were both born in 1942.) But after two separate terms as a member of its board, five years as its president and CEO, and another year as senior advisor, I depart the League in order to start a new professional life as dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
I am excited beyond words to come to Roosevelt, a conservatory that has made enormous leaps of quality in the past decade. It is both a theatre and music conservatory with great accomplishments in its history and great promise for its future. I have been teaching there for six years, so I know the school and look forward to this extension of what has always been a strong interest of mine--the way in which we go about educating the artists of the future.

But all life changes have an element of schizophrenia about them, and as much as I look forward to this new chapter, it is with more than a bit of a tear that I say a formal farewell to the League. The general public doesn't know a great deal about the League--nor should it. The League's role is to help orchestras relate to their public and their communities, not to compete with orchestras for attention from that public.

The League has almost 1000 member orchestras, a fact that astonishes most people when I tell them. About 400 of those are what we call "professional" orchestras--our definition of that being any orchestra that pays all of its musicians each time they rehearse or perform. The remaining 600 are youth orchestras, college or conservatory orchestras, and community orchestras that consist of volunteer musicians. This country is filled with symphony orchestras. Whenever I hear someone say "there are too many of them, there's an excess of 'product' in the marketplace," my answer is that we should just sit back and let the marketplace sort it out. When a cynic responds by noting that the marketplace isn't operating here because these orchestras require contributed revenue to survive, I point out that contributed revenue is quite specifically an aspect of the marketplace. In any community, those who believe that the presence of a particular orchestra is important to that community--and who recognize that earned revenue cannot pay all of its costs, at least not if we want to have musicians who are actually paid for their services--have chosen to contribute to the orchestra. That is, in fact, a marketplace reality. And what the marketplace tells us is that this country values its orchestras--and values the art form that they preserve and enrich for the future.

For well over 35 years I have had an association of one kind or another with the League, and for around 20 of those years that association has been formal. It has been one of the most treasured relationships of my life, and I say goodbye to it--at least to the formal aspect of it--with some mixed emotions.

It has been my League work, and my visiting of orchestras, that has been the principal inspiration for this blog on Artsjournal. However, because I intend to stay active in the music world, though perhaps in a different way, I am going to continue the blog--and the League will continue to serve as the editor and facilitator if it, at least for a while. We shall see if I can continue to find content of interest. Your feedback will always be, as it always has been, very welcome.

July 10, 2009 2:39 PM | | Comments (5)

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5 Comments

I wanted to congratulate you on your terrific work and leadership for the League, and wish you the best in your upcoming deanship at Roosevelt.

Your mentioning that the year of your birth coincided with that of the League reminded me that Helen Thompson was the founder (or one of the chief founders) of the League, and I had the honor of meeting her when she was the manager of the Charleston Symphony (now the West Virginia SO) in 1941. My dad played bassoon in the orchestra and knew Helen very well. I was just finishing high school and had, on a few occasions, subbed in the Charleston flute section in addition to my regular position as second flute in the neighboring Huntington Symphony. (Huntington was actually our home.)

By happy coincidence, a former student of mine at Northwestern, Lindsey Goodman, is now the principal flute of the WVSO. She commutes from Columbus, OH!

Meanwhile, as principal flute of the Lake Forest Symphony and piccolo of the Ars Viva Orchestra, I'm enjoying the experience of again being part of the "regional orchestra culture". It's truly fascinating.

All the best,
Wally

A big THANK YOU for your service to the League...and to the orchestral world and beyond. It was 25 years ago that the Washington Bach Consort borrowed your 'radiothon' idea and raised the final $33,000 in one day that we needed to get the ensemble to Leipzig to perform at the festivities commemorating the 300th anniversary of Bach's birth. Chicago puts you a bit closer to Ann Arbor where we'll hope to have you over sometime to speak to UMS audiences and UMich music students. Very best wishes.

Dear Henry:

It is sad for me to see your formal association with the League end. Nevertheless I am excited for you at your new appointment. It is wonderful, too, that you intend to continue this blog, as your columns have become something I look forward to reading and sharing with my Board. I still remember with gratitude your visit to the Traverse Symphony Orchestra in Michigan when I was ED there.

Be well.

Please, donĀ“t give up this blog. I discovered it very late, because of your article on the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and have been reading the archive. I love music and your blog is just wonderful.

Henry,

I can't imagine a day where you will be unable to find "content of interest" to share with friends and colleagues.

Best wishes in your new venture and thank you for your years of exceptional service to orchestras.

Andrew

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This page contains a single entry by on the record published on July 10, 2009 2:39 PM.

Why Nominating Committees Should Not Exclude the Executive Director was the previous entry in this blog.

Orchestra Administrators Needed: A Satisfying Career Choice is the next entry in this blog.

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