Terrific ideas

All week I’ve been part of a blog on the future of orchestras. This hasn’t been public; it’s for people taking part in the Mellon Foundation’s Orchestra Forum, a long-term funding project involving 14 orchestras, which is about to half its semi-annual retreat. The blog (moderated, and wonderfully, by ArtsJournal’s own Doug McClennan) was meant to focus everyone on the subjects to be discussed at the retreat, and I’m sure it did that.

Generalities aside, this means I had a week of blogging with orchestra administrators, board members, and musicians, along with some sympathetic outsiders. And the discussion was wonderful — stimulating, thoughtful, full of excitement and ideas.

Here are two posts from this blog, quoted here with permission of the Mellon Foundation and the people who wrote the posts. If orchestras really did what these two posts propose, we’d be in a fabulous place.

First, something from John Shibley, a long-time management consultant and expert on systems theory, who now works for an energy company, and serves as a fellow of the Orchestra Forum (along with me, Liz Lerman — a choreographer, though it’s misleading to pin any label on anyone as thoughtful and full of feeling as Liz — and Paul DiMaggio, a very smart and sensitive sociologist at Princeton. And please, don’t think I’m quoting this because John keeps mentioning my name. It’s his idea that counts:

Weekly podcasts about the Orchestra’s programming. Here’s how:

Arrange deal with Apple, if possible, to have iPod-minis Retail – $199) branded with your orchestra symbol. Unlikely, but worth a call.

When they say no, ask for a volume discount.

Hire Greg Sandow to compose and “perform” a weekly 30 minute preview of the pieces being played this week at your orchestra: half music, half talk. You’re welcome Greg.

Sell the iPods at cost to season subscribers, and load them with classical music.

Sell the iPods at a little more than cost to others, loaded with classical music. Have them available at concerts.

Use subscriber emails to mail instructions and software to season subscribers.

When iPod users sync with their computers they will automatically be sent the latest version of the podcast.

Make available for download recordings of symphony performance in mp3 format within a week of the broadcast, and have Greg mention this in each podcast.

Send me an iPod-mini as thanks if you do this. The lime ones are pretty. 

And then this, from Hugh Long, Board Chair of the Louisiana Philharmonic:

Do no more than half-a-dozen concerts a year for people who can’t stand applause between movements and think no one who’s not in formal wear could possibly play “real” music.

For the other 99% of the world, never play more than a forty-minute set (max of two sets), never play complete works but always include both older and newer stuff, rarely if ever have a guest artist–use your own talent, always mingle and talk with audience members before and after and between sets, make sure there are munchies available, ensure a large percentage of the seats costs no more than a movie, and after the last set, make sure there is an encore.

Well, maybe I’d put complete works on more than 1% of the concerts, but as with all new ideas, we have to work out the details. The important thing is that both these ideas go somewhere real, new, and important.

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