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Six economic remedies to America’s orchestral crisis

1 Lock out the players for half a year and erase the wage bill

applied by: Minnesota, St Paul CO

2 Slash the players’ wages by 20% or more

Atlanta

3 Slash the orchestra to Mozart size

Columbus (Oh), Louisville (Ky)

4 Put the musicians on part-time contracts

Indianapolis

5 Abolish music director’s post

Boston

6 Engineer a strike before a major tour

San Francisco

Some ostriches still pretend there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a system founded on management-musician confrontation. Think again. And think once more, before it’s too late.

orch sad

 

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Comments

  1. Mark Francis says:

    I’ve been in orchestra administration for over ten years. I remember hoping at the beginning of ’08 we wouldn’t waste a prefectly good recession to make needed changes in our business. Not only did we waste it, we doubled down on the same bad ideas that got us here in the first place. The management-musician confrontations are only a symptom of the real problems. I’ve tried for years to point out what’s going wrong and how to get it right and have been completely ignored or ridiculed. I’ve lost hope that needed changes can be made in time. Too many have a vested interest in the old system. The worst is yet to come.

  2. David Burgin says:

    Erich Leinsdorf suggested that orchestras have two sets of contracts: one with a core group of about 60 players (the “Mozart-sized” orchestra) and another for about 40 part-timers to come in for heavily orchestrated pieces as needed. He didn’t comment on the management/musicians conflict, but just remarked generally how expensive it is to keep a 100-member orchestra afloat financially.

  3. The two-tier model only works for ‘regional’ orchestras, sadly. The idea that 40 ‘part-time’ musicians of equal caliber would stick around for that 1/2 salary, is not realistic. You’ll end up filling out the orchestra for big works with lesser players, who don’t blend well with the 60 full-timers, and get a product – on Mahler, Shostakovich, R. Strauss – that isn’t befitting the rest of the orchestra’s repertoire.

    Make ARTS a priority – or suffer the consequences. Minnesota won’t notice the hit for a few years probably, but the whole community will suffer eventually from the loss of great players, great teachers, and great artists. It’s a long-term investment – and a long-term rebuilding if you let it go, You want music schools… or gun retailers… on your corner lot? Think about it.

  4. Thanks Norman. There is much evidence illustrating how the american “non-profit” corporate model in the performing arts is flawed, highly inefficient and unsustainable. I urge all my fellow musician colleagues to look in a new direction artistically and administratively; requiring all of us to listen less to the opinions of performing arts organization executive directors, arts council staff, volunteers and board of director members, managers and musician unions responsible for staining classical music on multiple many levels today. Here’s the medicine…..the corporate platform for the performing arts organizations must exist like a small “for-profit” business. We can embrace a new style of corporate model in the performing arts that rewards innovation and brings classical music to people efficiently while satisfying the needs of performers, creates musician ownership, develops audiences and strengthens communities on multiple levels, empowers classical musicians to collaborate with community resources via marketing incentives to reallocate wasteful administrative expenses (increases savings and profit), eliminate board and admin involvement to decrease distractions and micro-management, and end the burden of “failed expectations” with volunteers as part of the non-profit model who simply want to support the music. It is unnecessary for musicians to throw away their careers to third parties in the name of the “non-profit” world. The application of these new ideas may be found in Vermont as lead or pioneered by Burlington Ensemble (www.burlingtonensemble.com and facebook.com/burlingtion.ensemble). Burlington Ensemble has not used a “tax deductible” donation in order to pay its musicians to perform many concerts (chamber music and opera), and also donates a bulk of its gross revenue to local charities. This is worth looking at. Please contact Burlington Ensemble at burlington.ensemble@gmail.com for more information.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      The same old, the same old…

      “We can embrace a new style of corporate model in the performing arts that rewards innovation”…

      why innovation? … seriously. why? Enjoying classical music has nothing to do with innovation. Enjoying classical music has everything to do with education. Humanistic education that does not educate future money makers but future high spirited, ethically balanced and aesthetically refined minds and bodies of our children.

      And that type of education is traditionally underperforming in the US, hence the lack of classical music support in the wider society beyond the few ivory towers.

      We need innovation in education. Or more precisely a re-orientation back to the core issues that really matter. We need to educate homo sapiens, not homo faber or homo economicus.

      If that’s not happening, classical arts are in general are doomed, because no gifted minds are left to practice, cherish and perceive them.

      Switch off the TVs and stop wasting time on Facebook. Get yourself and your immediate environment better educated. Search for truth and beauty, not for convenience and big bucks.

      • Please visit the Burlington Ensemble website at http://www.burlingtonensemble.com to understand that my opinions are not “the same old, same old…” Please provide an example or two of a similar professional “for profit” classical music ensemble in the United States, and then I will agree with your comment.

        Enjoying classical music has everything to do with innovation and education the past 400 years as linked to the development of concert hall styles, seating and access, changes to instruments (i.e. piano), compositional techniques, etc. Listeners benefit from this innovation, and this is education.

        In addition, if we do not change our business model and paradigm to decrease a dependency on 501c3 “non-profit” corporate models in the United States, it will be increasingly difficult to deliver classical music for people to enjoy its benefits (i.e. the inherent conflicts associated with the “non-profit” symphony orchestra management and musician conflicts). I also think it is important for musicians to own their performances and the audiences cultivated, and not hand it over to a Board of Directors who own the corporation via a 501c3. We need to improve the vehicle in order to provide sustainable and more music experiences. I think the music making will improve with ownership.

        I provide a business solution that delivers more artistic programs efficiently. A part of Burlington Ensemble’s formula is a “benefit concert” series concept that enables the non-profit beneficiaries to help with administrative tasks which in turn saves a significant amount of money. This type of collaboration also engages the beneficiaries to engage their constituents who do not attend classical concerts typically (again, more education). For example, Burlington Ensemble will perform a concert on March 23 which will benefit six non-profit organizations, and include a program which involves a local high school. This simply would not occur unless collaboration via this innovative thinking existed. The Burlington Ensemble model is not dependent upon an internal marketing, development, executive director, office space, administrative assistant, etc.

        I am not debating the merits and enjoyment with regard to classical music listening. My concern is that there is a better model to deliver it (yes…it is a business issue), and we need an “enterprise” to deliver it. I think it will be increasingly difficult and most inefficient to deliver classical music as a non-profit organization unless we change the model.

        • Fabio Fabrici says:

          The innovation in classical music over the last centuries was an evolution. That’s not what you are talking about here. You are talking about the kind of “innovation” that has orchestra managers and program planners in desperation copy from commercial pop “culture” in order to make the masses turn their dumbed heads toward them. That’s a hopeless still born concept.

          Classical music was *never* profitable. So there is no “business solution” to the problem at hand. SImply because it is not a business problem. You can deliver it well in a non-profit model. Actually that is exactly what the whole world is doing.

          Talking about delivering classical music *for profit* is like talking about paying your wife for having sex. If the society has no contract for supporting the classical arts by direct funding and through education, all you can do is to say good bye to it.

      • Nameless musician from nameless orchestra says:

        Fabio, you hit the nail on the head: “Enjoying classical music has everything to do with education. Humanistic education that does not educate future money makers but future high spirited, ethically balanced and aesthetically refined minds and bodies of our children.

        And that type of education is traditionally underperforming in the US, hence the lack of classical music support in the wider society beyond the few ivory towers.”

        That’s where most orchestra managements have slashed their budgets the most–the education/outreach department. They hire bright, enthusiastic…music majors, fresh out of college (who were not able to get jobs in performance, and who therefore have no training for what really needs to be done), pay them a pittance, require 80-hour work weeks, and give them no budget to work with.

        And at the same time, schools have slashed their arts/music programs, so most of the children have never played an instrument, and rarely (if ever) have field trips to the symphony, opera, or ballet.

        Some orchestras, like the Seattle Symphony, do offer brilliant programming directed at families, and have areas of the hall directed at interactive activities for children.

        Other, major orchestras (who should know better) only offer 3 or 4 Saturday concerts a year for families with 3-5-year-olds, and have the conductor/educational staff (who are not trained for this and with only a couple of exceptions that I can think of, have absolutely no aptitude for this) write and direct programs for weekday school field trips (which are being slashed by school budgets, anyway).

        Problem 1: no concerts exist for families with 2 working parents.
        Problem 2: the majority of the school time concerts they do have are so poorly planned (having the orchestra play background music for a lecture on the life of a local philanthropic figure, for a concert for 4th-6th graders, for example), they succeed only in convincing 1800 or so children at a time that classical music is not just boring, but PAINFULLY boring.

        The idea of investing any money whatsoever in hiring outside professionals who specialize in theatrical family/school productions for symphony orchestras is, apparently, unthinkable.

        And then they’re surprised that there’s waning support, let alone interest, in classical music.

        • Fabio Fabrici says:

          good points. In all fairness to the shortcomings you pointed out: The reception of classical music is up against no less than the Goliath of mass media, TV and the whole corporate entertainment industry.

          Classical music requires a focused mind in search for truth and beauty. Classical music requires silence as background to be consumed adequately. Instead our children are bombarded constantly by the market forces that want to shape the dumbed down, consuming, manipulative mass trends following (non-)individual.
          Is classical music cool? Can you raise your social status with it? In Venezuela you can…

        • Increasing spending in music education programs (primarily petting zoos) will not keep orchestras, chamber ensembles and opera companies in business in the short term, only increasing debt. Secondly, artists and audience are seeking performance and listening opportunities in addition to education. We can’t separate performance and education in this debate. Many wonderful education programs exist already, but the fundamental problem of 40%-60% administration fees or expenses associated with non-profit corporate models are unsustainable. The non-profit model pays admin expenses (staff, benefits, building, etc,) first, artistic programs second. The challenge remains to create a better model or vehicle to allow for artistic programs (performance and education) to be sustainable. “Debt” is the white elephant in the room, not a “for profit” model based on collaboration. Again, see http://www.burlingtonensemble.com as an example of low admin expense, increased production, collaboration, artist employment, musician ownership, community involvement, etc.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            You fail to address the main issue. Classical music, classical arts have NEVER been profitable altogether.
            What you describe are details, organizational setups that work for some scenarios better, for other scenarios different ways of management are needed. Inefficiency needs to be fought always, that’s a given.

            What you suggest is selling yourself as a product exclusively. That’s part of generating income as a musician. But if it is the only paradigm, you depend 100% on the taste of your target audience. And who shapes the taste of the target audiences? What was first, hen or egg?

            Your model is a downward spiral, if applied to musical life in general.

            Musician ownership is a good concept. But music for profit is not.

            And what does “increased production” mean? Is this newspeak for “less rehearsal time”?

          • I am providing solutions to help classical music operate in the “black” versus the “red.” I define the term “for profit” versus “non-profit” models as “musician ownership or small business” versus “administration or board of directors” operating the business (the later model pitting admin against musicians with increased cost).

            The non-profit corporate model used in the performing arts is flawed 100% regardless of musical genre. The “LLC” Burlington Ensemble model is working, providing a practical solution compared to existing and costly non-profit entities (attribute them to creating the downward spiral you mention supported by volumes of evidence).

            Corporations, an Artist-in-Residence appointment at a Vermont State College, ticket sales and decreased admin costs are few elements of revenue and expense that make Burlington Ensemble operate in the “black” and not in the “red.” People and businesses support high quality performance and education programs because they love classical music, efficient operations, and access; they do not support financial waste and low quality.

            “Increased production” results when a new business model can reallocate former administrative costs to artistic programs.

            The product “Making Music with a Social Mission” for Burlington Ensemble represents a universal theme that classical music lovers can enjoy while introducing classical music to new audiences. Program themes are used constantly to appeal to a diverse audience base. Visit facebook.com/burlington.ensemble to see the type of repertoire and venues programmed in the coming months, offering a wide appeal to a larger target audience.

            The existing systems to enable music education and performance are broken. The debate often rehashes the need for more “education” and “performance” as a solution without a means to pay for it, and doesn’t address a broader operating type solution that would increase opportunities for the thousands of musicians who want to be involved in music directly, decrease a dependence on tax deductible contributions, decrease the role of management and empower the musician to make business decisions, engage corporations, and inspire creativity.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            For a musician you definitely know how to do a sales pitch, even if nobody is here for buying it. ;) I’m from Europe and here we pay for the high arts mostly with our tax money. And we do so more successfully than you in the US, judging by sheer number of classical music institutions, attendance numbers and ticket sales. So saying that the non-profit model is 100% flawed is not just bold, it is simply ridiculous. Maybe you need look a bit deeper. In the meantime good luck with selling yourself as a consultant.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            P.S.

            “The product “Making Music with a Social Mission” for Burlington Ensemble ”

            So you sell a product for profit with the attribute “social mission”. Do you maybe see anything wrong with that?

          • There is nothing wrong with operating a classical music business in the “black” while “Making Music with a Social Mission.” Hospitals and churches also do it under a different guise. “Making Music with a Social Mission” helps Burlington Ensemble maintain and develop new audiences for classical music. Artistic or musical standards are not compromised when employing a theme. There is no relevance.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            I guess only a mind brought up in the US could come up with such a sad one-dimensional business outlook at art and life. And you didn’t get my point about the antagonisms “for profit” and “social” either.
            And churches are “for profit” where you live? I rest my case…

          • Please note that the purpose of this forum is not to insult or attack the origins of a person’s country or opinions based on where they live. I will continue to offer advice and ideas about music as necessary. Thank you.

          • Nameless Musician from Nameless Orchestra says:

            @ Fabio: “I guess only a mind brought up in the US could come up with such a sad one-dimensional business outlook at art and life.”

            I understand what you mean, as I, too, complain that the typical US attitude is a sorry one towards art and music. But I grew up in the US, and am a product of US public schools, and I STILL managed to fall in love with classical music. So did many people I know.

            So I would respectfully request you not to assume that the attitudes you and I both deplore are universal amongst Americans. And for heaven’s sake, all of us reading this blog are obviously interested in classical music, so let’s not turn on each other, ok? There are few enough of us as it is.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            @Michael Dabroski: You are right, I’m sorry. For me your opinions are offensive, particularly the “social mission” for profit bit. That shouldn’t lead me to being offensive as well.

  5. Here are my suggestions: 1. pay the musicians a flat base amount that would include benefits, 2. Any compensation above that would be pay or play, based upon a bidding system using seniority. 3. Once a month do a chamber -orchestra sized concert, 4. Stop using so many guest conductors to eliminate travel and lodging expenses. A corollary is to have the often very high-priced music directors conduct more concerts. 5. Use more of the orchestra’s musician to be soloists (stop importing so many guest artists. Pay the orchestra’s soloists a bonus for their extra work, 6. Stop printing programs for everyone- give a ticket discount to those who do a print-at-home program, 7. and yes- increase the number of Pops concerts, including having the orchestra play soundtracks to films (ugh) 8. Have casual Fridays- it might fill seats with a different demographic, 9. and do what Leinsdorf suggested. Not pretty, I admit, but how does an orchestra contend with a $25 million dollar deficit without cost-cutting measures? In the US and outside of the major big 8, I am not sure many patrons will actually notice.

  6. Mark Francis says:

    There are some good ideas here and also some very bad ones. For many years the LOAO has been emphasizing the orchestra’s engagement with the community. Many claim to be doing this, few really are. Before any solutions can work there must major changes in attitude. For once, stop blaming the culture and the education system. We are the culture. Before any solutions can be tried or put into place, the thinking must change.

  7. To be honest, this discussion must also take a hard look at the musicians union and the attitudes and propensities to be found amongst its officials. In my (extensive) experience, they tend to be stuck in the 1960′s, mulish, sclerotic, confrontational and self-absorbed. Altogether a very unhelpful footing to engage the serious problems we face. The union has become a distant political entity, a dues collector, a rearranger of Titanic deck chairs. It no longer represents me.

  8. The arts are only one area that is impacted by the absence of a generalized education in the US as a core to a successful life. Civility, citizenship and a general sense of commonwealth are also being eroded. the “business model” is being once again applied as if there were a “product”. hat is the issue. Any “product” in US public schools is not able to be evaluated until at least 5 years after the schooling and the measurements are much broader than the salary, or monetary wealth.

    The most notable example of this fallacy is the “Burroughs Accounting Machine” which lost its innovative position at precisely the moment so many “operators” and “mechanics” had been trained. A smart HR person today would do well to hire the individual most able to think and think laterally because today’s model is tomorrow’s footnote.

    As for orchestras and concerts. there is no “product” except “experience.” If we were about marketing the “experience” in very real terms, not cute catch-phrases, and we were about celebrating the huge devotion and talent that musicians and artists lavish on producing these deepening life-changing experiences on a daily basis, we might actually end up with an educated and sensitively aware populace but it’s not likely. Sadly, the greatness of Indo-european ethnic culture has been denigrated and is now systematically being dismantled and locked away by those who are in the best position to insure its health and well-being.

    Thank you Norman for the list that started this whole discussion. It, in itself is telling and perhaps worse.

  9. Vicci U Johnson says:

    The reason our US major orchestra’s are having financial difficulties is because the K-12 schools have cut music programs that build a cities arts tourism audience base. Schools are cutting music education programs. Or shall I say, state legislatures are cutting the budget of K-12 schools. As the GOP constantly complains US schools are not good enough, then why do they vote to cut the education budget?
    If private businesses want to maintain the arts tourism economy in their city and state, businesses need to be vocal to their state officials to fund K-12 education, to the extend the school can afford a music education program that fulfills the Music Standards of the MENC. This booklet can be found by contacting the Music Educators National Conference in Resten Virginia.

    • I agree but as a career arts educator what actually happens re: “Standards” in the Arts is that it is always shy of mandate so the individual districts can opt to do as much or as little as they wish.

      Most of the standards documents are hard won with much compromise from the practitioners themselves so the document already accommodates something less than a higher goal.

      Public school in the US was never designed to provide a well-rounded education. Mr. Carnegie (of the Carnegie Credit) needed and wanted a work force smart enough to be productive but not so smart as to attain to management.

      It has fallen to the individual arts educator’s commitment to the discipline to deliver not only the experience but to model the joy of it as well. this fragile house of cards is dependent upon the experience the educator has had.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Per student spending in the US increases continuously (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66). If arts education is being cut, maybe you ought to ask where all that money is going.

      By the way, physical education classes are also disappearing but we don’t seem to lack for sports fans.

      • I agree with Greg. The original article that started this discussion was about new business models. Suggestions about improving education are wonderful and needed, but how will that bail out the Atlanta Symphony, for example, that has a huge current deficit? To blame education to some degree diverts attention away from how very expensive it is to operate a symphony and how, if we keep doing it the same way, we won’t have them at all- at least in the US.

        • But the ultimate problem is a lack of financial support for the arts, not simply the mismanagement of otherwise plentiful funds. The evolution of business models may slow U.S. orchestra’s decline, but without an upsurge in public appreciation of the fine arts, the decline remains inevitable. This is where education might help. There probably is no painless and sustainable solution for pickles like Atlanta’s; the best we can hope for is that a stronger, future Atlanta can rebuild its orchestra, which won’t happen if nobody knows nor cares what an oboe is.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            I don’t think the ultimate problem is a financial one. The ultimate problem is the lack of interest in the bigger society for the arts. The US has never had a big art and education interested middle class as the European nations had. In Europe after the age of enlightenment and the abolition of the feudal system, the middle class, the academics, saw their way to prospeprity and their social way up through focus on education. Arts were a major part of education and also important for social status.
            Not so in the US.

      • Nameless Musician from Nameless Orchestra says:

        Physical education is disappearing, yes, and we don’t lack for sports fans, true–but as a nation, we are the most overweight and out-of-shape in history.

        And academic achievement of students is going down. Between slashed art/music, slashed physical activity, and increased sitting on tushies in front of computers/video games, our culture is going down the toilet.

  10. Don Th. Jaeger says:

    Many of these suggestions are worthwhile, but I would like to add an additional idea. I recently attended a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Granted they are one of the great orchestras with a super conductor (Dudamel) and a hall (Disney Hall) to die for. But the concert was an “informal” evening, where everyone in the orchestra dressed down and even Dudamel wore jeans on the podium. After the concert there was a “meet and greet” the orchestra members gathering – which was great fun and brought the public close to the orchestra and visa-versa. It worked beautifully. Such enthusiasm ! Its time we get the orchestra into an environment that is comfortable for all the young people out there – and I say this as a 76 year old conductor who has worn white tie and tails far too long. Give it some thought.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      I don’t know. I like the “ritual” the concert is for the celebration of classical music. Getting out of the daily routine, having a feast for the senses, wearing nice clothes, women in full make up, going to a nice restaurant afterwards, have an evening in style, celebrate beauty of life. These casual concerts for me take value away from the art form and it’s ritual. But it certainly is the ‘Zeitgeist’ to trivialize everything.

      • This is an ideal but most people can’t afford the time or the money. So do I not go to concerts because I may be on my way home from work and I’m not dressed to the nines (nor do I have time or $$ for an expensive meal) – of course not! The play’s the thing . . .

        Would you rather people do the whole bit two or three times a year, or buy tickets more often and wear what is weather-appropriate (and here in the Midwest, that means your best Norwegian sweater because it’s 20 degrees below outside) and really have the experience become a regular part of your life?

      • Believe it or not, FF, it is not all about you; orchestras need Sarahs in the audience as well. Besides, there is no “trivialization” of music-making during so-called casual concerts – the listeners hear the same musicians performing the same pieces. And nobody forces FF or anyone else to attend such concerts. In fact, if you look at the LA Phil website, you will see that for about the same price you can get tickets (unless they are sold out) for a “regular” concert on a different day in the same week and hear a LONGER program that includes everything that is on the casual program plus a “bonus” piece or two: a pretty good deal, isn’t it? And by the way, at any of these concerts – whether casual or not – you can wear as much makeup as you want, no matter what your gender is.

      • Nameless Musician from Nameless Orchestra says:

        As an orchestral musician, I can say that we (the musicians) couldn’t care less WHAT the audience wears. We care that they love the music we play, and that they enjoy themselves. If they want to get dressed to the nines and have a fancy evening out, that’s fine, but what’s important is 1) the music and 2) the interaction between orchestra and audience.

        • Fabio Fabrici says:

          No question about music being #1. But isn’t there a different attitude also backstage when everybody feels going out on stage and making music together is special, and it also (of course not only) shows in the attire? Doesn’t that have feedback on the tension in the room and is inspirational?

          • Nameless musician from nameless orchestra says:

            Not really; at least, not that I am aware of.

            To be completely frank, the only time it makes any difference at all to us to see what the front row of the audience is wearing (we can’t see what anyone else is wearing from the stage) is when a woman is wearing clothes that leave either her top or her bottom falling out of them. Then it does seem a bit difficult to get the men in the violin section to pay attention to the conductor.

            Other than that, we really don’t see–or care–what the audience is wearing.

            Now, if they were to wear jerseys similar to football/hockey/baseball fans wear, but with symphony logos and instruments on them–THAT would be inspirational!

          • As an orchestral musician myself, I had the same doubts as those expressed by FF above here, before playing my first casual concert. What I discovered however was that when the orchestra comes on stage and sees the audience in the hall and then when the music starts, all doubts disappear and the playing happens exactly the same way as in all other concerts.
            On a slightly different but related topic, i can say that for me personally, although I do enjoy seeing fancily and fashionably dressed listeners in the audience, I feel, if anything, even more inspired when majority of the listeners are simply and modestly dressed because I know that these are for the most part the true music lovers who spend considerable portion of their income on classical music concert tickets and are in the hall because of music and musicians – and not because it is a cool place to show up and be seen.

  11. This is a wonderful conversation, and I suppose it is great that we are able to share various opinions in this forum. In my own opinion, it does little good to simply b—- and moan about what’s wrong with everyone in society and act like the institution of the orchestra itself is an inert dinosaur failing only because everyone in society is spending their entire life on Facebook or watching Dancing With The Stars. YES, it would be great if we could all get dressed up for an evening concert, and let the wine and spirits flow. YES, it would be great if we could all search for Beauty and Truth. YES, it would be amazing if we could all just throw our smartphones into the nearest river or landfill. Nevertheless, the situation is what it is, and real human beings who are employed and have given their lives to a very specialized skill set are relying on solutions. Let’s champion innovation, let’s champion education, let’s make this so enticing that people will look to classical musicians with great admiration and recognize the value in finding fulfillment. Programming needs to speak to contemporary culture, presenting older and newer works as relevant. Orchestra’s should aggressively promote their ability to speak to culture. With regards to education, YES, they need to employ those who are skilled at educating children and families. 10 hours a day in a practice room for 20 years does not make one a skilled marketer or orator. There is a difference between making a product (YES, a product because people pay for it and it represents livelihoods) that is attractive and one that panders.

  12. A very large majority of concert goers either played instruments in school or sing in their church choirs. I.e. most have or had a personal connection to making music. Music has been cut from the schools horrifically for something like 4 decades and now. This is the impact. It’s reversible over time. The El Sistema programs may yet breathe life back into music education.

    The good news is that in a recent survey 30 percent of young people under 25 claim to be interested in experiencing classical music.

    Financially, Americans pay about .35 cents per person for arts support in the US. That is dreadfully low compared to… well probably everyone else.

    We are in the worst economic recession of modern times and the arts always suffer in economic downturns. The idea that boards should destroy their orchestras for this phenomenon is questionable.

    I’m sure that innovative ideas are needed. I’ve done podcasts and YPC’s and the like. But at the end of the day, people have to want to listen for 80 minutes or more at a stretch in a reasonably quiet environment (so as not to disturb the listening experience of others).

    I truly believe that music remains relevant and worthy. That good leaders would foster an attitude of “we’re all in this together” and find less destructive solutions. And that creative solutions to outreach are available.

    Michael, I’m glad that things are working for you, but the Burlington Ensemble is not the Minnesota Orchestra or St. Paul CO. I’m sure that changes to the current model are needed, but excellence requires broad buy in from the community. And excellence must remain the first goal, because that is the raison d’être. But it can come in jeans or a tux as far as I’m concerned…

  13. John Wehrle says:

    In America, volunteers form, lead and support organizations that they believe will enrich and improve the community, with all staff hired to execute, and occasionally inform, the policy volunteers create to assure that the organization is contributing value (the non-profit model). These organizations need to become again exemplars of America’s commitment to volunteers creating value to benefit their communities. Governing bodies must accept that money is not an output in a non-profit organization; service to community (city, art form, etc.) is the only output that matters.

    Expense budgets must be scaled to short- and long-term fundraising potential in each community, with ticket and other earned revenue re-classed as a ‘bonus’ for the institution. Though many inside the current system view attention from the public as a failure, participation is the measure of sustained success.

    Artistic plans must be viewed as a central part of a business plan, not as the only valid driver of the institution, and our concept of acceptable tasks for all institutional workers must be reviewed with the needs of the community (as opposed to the egos of internal forces) in mind.

    All arts non-profits must break the cycle of serving internal constituencies (donors and governors, staff, artists and artistic leaders) at the expense of or before serving the community in which they reside.

    Desire is not license.

  14. Timon Wapenaar says:

    I think the elephants in the room here are the $700 trillion worth of derivatives which (presumably) have to be unwound at some point, the bond bubble (prices the highest in 300 years, in the case of the UK gilt, and the highest ever in the case of the US bonds), peak energy, unfettered money printing by the Fed, ECB, and BoE, and various demographic nightmares (obesity/number of workers about to take pension/minimum wage putting workers so close to the poverty line they are forced to take on a second job). Anyone wishing to chart a new course for the symphony orchestra has to do it with these factors in mind.

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