More on Education: Observations from the north

Last April, our Canadian neighbors at Orchestra Canada established a program designed to identify common issues, challenges and successes among orchestras across Canada. All in all, it’s a very good report. I’m pleased by its candor at identifying the problems and deficiencies among its member orchestras. And unlike the type of “one-sided and guarded discussions [which] are contrary to learning” that fellow blogger Andrew Taylor mentions in one of current articles, it focuses more on the problems that currently hinder success among many Canadian orchestras. They willingly dive into such taboo topics such as Music Directors, ineffective management techniques, and problems with orchestra education programs.

Here’s an excerpt from their findings on education programs as they relate to relevance in their communities:

  1. Orchestras are attempting to fill the void caused by the reduction in school music education programs without adequate financial resources.
  2. The demand from the schools for assistance with music education far outstrips the orchestras’ financial ability to respond.
  3. An orchestra hires musicians for their musical accomplishments. The majority of musicians are not trained for, or are disinclined to undertake, education initiatives in the schools.
  4. Musicians in the schools” programs do not necessarily constitute an orchestral experience for the students and few such programs are tied to bringing the students into the concert hall. Those that do result in students hearing a concert are very successful.
  5. “Musicians in the school” programs are seldom integrated into a longer-term audience development strategy.

Wow, we don’t hear anything like that in this country. The industry equivalent to Orchestras Canada is the American Symphony Orchestra League. After a search through the ASOL website, I couldn’t find any information like that related to the frank observations made by the OC report. I also went through the list of seminars and workshops at the most recent ASOL annual conference from June 2003. After reading the detailed description for the five education seminars listed, I found none of them focus on how to identify the problems or present solutions to the issues that were discussed in the OC report.

Well, at least we’ll be talking about the five issues that OC determined here. I look forward to receiving some good responses from those that currently work with orchestra education programs that will be willing to share their opinions with all of us. All too often these discussions turn into a generic affirmation related to an education program mission statement as opposed to dealing with theses issues head on. I also look forward to sharing first hand experiences from orchestra patrons about orchestra education programs in their communities. Likewise, we can look forward to hearing from orchestra musicians around the country about many of their experiences and how they identify existing problems and propose solutions.

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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