Historically, most orchestra musicians take a very passive role in how their orchestra functions; artistically, and administratively. They play the music and administrators make the decisions, end of story. But one orchestra has taken a large step toward moving musicians from passive to active participants. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra recently underwent a massive transformation that now provides a much larger role for musician participation. You can find a great deal of detail about this new model in the October issue of Harmony, published by the Symphony Orchestra Institute.
Although I plan to focus future blogs on the changes at St. Paul, the important message their situation sends to the rest of the industry is that musicians need to take a much more active role in how their organization functions. The old mentality of “you’re only a musician, so just do your job and play” is as archaic as believing the world is flat.
In order for musicians to actively participate, a few critical factors will need to transpire:
- Musicians are going to have to try much harder to understand how their orchestra functions, even if it’s only on a minimal basis. I know there are many players that merely want to show up, play their music, and go home. But that won’t work as standard operating procedure anymore. Active participation will become a necessary component to the life of a future musician.
- Management must provide the musicians complete access to all of the organizational information. They can’t expect musicians to be involved if they aren’t willing to share all there is to know.
- The board and management must provide a genuine level of control to the musicians. Mostly in the form of artistic personnel issues, artistic planning, and how that artistic vision is marketed to the public, but also in other form of governance. I talked about this at length in an earlier blog; Empowerment Issues.
Will this be a difficult task for present day orchestras? Certainly, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is a good example of how challenging this task is. But that is why we should start to think about breaking the cycle of passive participation among musicians of tomorrow by instituting a music business component into the standard music conservatory curriculum.
I was fortunate to have participated in some of the best conservatory programs in the country. But no where throughout my music performance curriculum did I learn about the business of the industry. I remember a graduate level course in bibliography, but unfortunately it didn’t do me very much good. I would have been much better off having a class in music business focusing on the how an orchestra operates.
There needs to be a concerted effort throughout the university music industry to include a music business component as a required course for upper-class and graduate level music performance students. Having educated, knowledgeable musician’s for tomorrow’s orchestras will guarantee a much more productive climate for orchestra administrators.
So what do you think this curriculum should include?