So who wears the pants in this orchestra anyway?


No, this isn’t a blog about who’s in charge; rather, it’s a blog about lack of communication.  This lack of communication is centered on uniforms .  Here’s the firsthand account of a situation from a female member of a notable Northeast orchestra whose name rhymes with "Muffalo":

The management decided that it would institute a new uniform for some of our casual concerts. This uniform would be worn by all members of the orchestra and would consist of specific clothing as opposed to the ambiguous "white top with black bottom."  I can’t remember the exact uniform, but I know that it involved wearing men’s tuxedo pants, and possibly some sort of a vest. I’m not really sure who designed the uniforms, but I know that no females were consulted, and the only details we were given were that we needed to be measured for the uniforms. Many of the women players immediately complained, because when we went for measurements, they measured our waist and inseam – that’s it. We tried to explain that any woman with hips wouldn’t even be able to put on a pair of men’s pants with only the waist being considered, but a men’s tux shop was our sponsor, and they said there was nothing they could do. Once all of the other women realized what was going on we convinced our executive director that this idea couldn’t work. For some reason, he never came up with another plan, and we never heard anymore about it. I don’t know why they never bothered to simply ask us about a uniform that will accommodate a wide variety of body types so no one feels self conscious or embarrassed to go on stage.

And she never did find out why management didn’t take the time to include the musicians in the decision making process.  Perhaps we can chalk this up to a male executive director that is simply unaware of specific issues regarding the differences between men and women’s clothing. However, I think it’s more along the lines of a communication shortage. 

  1. Someone in upper management made a decision about new uniforms. 
  2. That decision then went to a middle manager in the operations department with the responsibility to implement the new uniform policy. 
  3. The same middle manager then scheduled the fittings and sent notices to the musicians telling them when and where to show up.

This is an all too common situation in orchestras; a lack of communication between relevant parties.  Or what I like to think of as stovepiping.   Stovepiping is the result of building a hierarchy within an orchestra administration that has no contact between individual departments or the musicians.  This is the antithesis of what is needed to meet the threats that menace the future of orchestras. 

Unfortunately, this particular situation only reinforced a negative image in the musician’s mind about their executive director and built additional obstacles that prevent sharing information.  Hopefully, there was some silver lining in this cloud by means of the executive director realizing that he should have consulted with additional members of his staff and the musicians before formulating such a sweeping policy.  Maybe then he could have had his new uniform, the players would feel appreciated, and an atmosphere of respect and thoughtfulness would seed itself into the organization.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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