Reader Response: Power to the People

I recently received an eloquent letter from Frank in Alexandria, a reader that considers himself a “knowledgeable nonprofessional classical music activist” (I like that term). I believe he has some important insight to share:
“In my judgment the factors underlying the maiaise with America’s magnificent classical music system were already identified long ago, one of the eloquent expressions being by Leonard Bernstein in his book of the early 60’s, where he speaks of a “frozen ocean” separating the music establishment and audiences.

Instead of reaching out to audiences, my perception is that the professional music leaders, with few exceptions, have circled their wagons and become even more inwardly oriented. They have relegated musical audiences, amateurs, and other nonprofessional consumers of music to a role essentially limited to buying tickets – or, if they have big money, to be invited to become part of honorific support groups where they meet leaders and noted musicians.”

I believe Frank cuts to the heart of the trouble with his assessment, and I’m especially pleased to see those sentiments coming from a “nonprofessional”. Frank goes on to observe:
“When one compares this one-way communication system to the vibrant, seething world of popular music, with its tens to hundreds of thousands of web sites, passionate argument and opinion sharing, innumerable independent servers, formation of chat rooms new recording, publication and music group ventures, it’s not hard to understand why the younger generation has become rock based.”

This topic has been covered on several occasions by fellow AJ blogger, Greg Sandow, and I can see you out there, scratching your head and thinking to yourself “this doesn’t apply to orchestra management”. But allow me to expand on Frank’s observations, the “frozen ocean” mentioned above has not been created by the audience, nor by the musicians. Rather, it has been consciously developed over the past sixty years by orchestra management.

At the beginning of the 20th century, twelve tone music, pioneered by Arnold Sch

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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