Orchestra ideas

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been taking part in the glitzily named Orchestral R/Evolution blog, run by the League of American Orchestras as a lead-in to their annual conference.

I got tired of all the generalities being posted there, and decided to confine myself largely to specific suggestions. And I thought I’d share some of them here. Fits right in with my “solutions” series.

 Here’s one of my posts, reacting to some thoughts from others about how orchestras should become more involved with their communities. How could they do that? Here were three ideas I shared in one of my posts:

Greg McCallum, a pianist in North Carolina, had a terrific idea some years ago. He planned to take his concert grand to every county in the state, and give a concert there. And give a master class, for any pianist, playing any kind of music, who wanted to work with him.

And he also planned to organize a concert in every county, in which local pianists would play any kind of music they chose.

Greg had to curtail his plan, because of illness. But I’ve long thought he had one of the best ideas I’ve ever come across. Imagine if the Chicago Symphony (to choose a big orchestra at random) went to every county in Illinois, and did the kinds of things Greg was planning!

Well, it’s expensive to go to every county in the state. But maybe you can raise money and do it. Maybe you don’t send the whole orchestra. Maybe you send chamber ensembles from the orchestra.

Or maybe you do this just once, on a large scale, in your home city. Call it a festival. A concert (or two or three). Master classes for local musicians. And performances, on the orchestra’s stage, by local musicians.


At Northwestern University, there’s a major charitable effort each year, in which musicians at the school join in a marathon concert. Classical musicians, jazz musicians, rock bands, singer-songwriters, whatever. All playing on the same program, to raise money for charity.

Why can’t an orchestra do that? And do it every year. Find a worthy cause (there’s no shortage of them, given the world we live in), and invite every musician in town to help raise money for it. With a large institution like an orchestra taking charge — and especially if the orchestra had terrific community concerts — this could last a week, rather than a single marathon day, and could be held in all sorts of venues, not just the orchestra’s concert hall. Imagine the concertmaster playing unaccompanied Bach in a rock club. (As Matt Heimovitz of course has done.)


WDAV, the public radio station in Charlotte, NC — and one of a minority of public stations whose main programming is classical music — used to have a show called “Main Street Sessions.” This show did live broadcasts of concerts that one of the station’s producers (Jennifer Foster) organized, featuring music in many genres, classical and otherwise.

After each concert, Jennifer made mashups of the music played, and put them up on the station’s website. She did this wonderfully well, and I can imagine that people who went to the concerts or listened to the broadcasts now were delighted to hear the music in an entirely different way.

It’s easy to see how orchestras could do something like this.

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  1. Katy Clark says

    Hello Greg,

    Orchestra of St. Luke’s just did a project that might be of interest here. As an Orchestra that has always been itinerant, this year we decided to do a musical “Subway Series”. Five free concerts over five days in the five boroughs. We played at Snug Harbor, Wave Hill, the Brooklyn Museum, Flushing Town Hall and the Church of St. Luke in the Fields. We even had music for five players – all Mozart. WNYC was our media partner and we launched the series with a webcast from the Greene Space. We had two great partners, City Harvest, and the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. 2,000 people came and loved the concerts and we collected almost a ton of food! Hope we can do it again if our budget permits, but it was a wonderful way to make a lot of new friends.

    Nice, Katy! Good project. Thanks for sharing it here.

    And a question for the future. Well, a few questions. Are you keeping track of your new friends? Staying in contact with them, giving them things to participate in on your website? Planning future events they’ll take an interest in, and letting them know in advance what these are?

    I don’t mean to say you’re not doing enough. But these are the directions that marketing and audience development are going to take in the future, and I love to know about people who are taking them now.