Comparing Orchestra In-School Programs Part II

To continue from where we left off in Part I, this is second half of a comparison of the efficiency and effectiveness of in-school programs from two orchestras: the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the Richmond (VA) Symphony.  In Part I we heard from the education directors of each orchestra and in this part we will hear from orchestra musicians about how they view their programs.

Although listening to what the Education Directors had to say about their respective programs is quite important, it is just as important to hear from the people that actually create the music.  Their attitude toward the efficiency and effectiveness of their in-school programs contribute greatly to their overall artistic satisfaction.  In order to speak freely, several players requested to remain anonymous.

Brooklyn Philharmonic

I spoke with several players from the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and they were all happy with the current system of in-school performances implemented at their orchestra.  They are glad to have input on the program material, however, they are equally happy that they are not required to write concert scripts or arrange music.  They said that most performances are well organized and always led by either the Education Director or another member of the education staff.  One common theme among all interviewees was their high level of overall artistic satisfaction.  This was due to the selection of high quality music as well as having several pieces professionally arranged to fit their instrumentation (the number and types of instruments used in a particular performance).

David Calhoun, a 20 year veteran with the orchestra, said that their in-school program has improved a great deal over the years.  He especially likes that the players get to focus on being musicians as opposed to teaching artists.  This way, their in-school programs now feel much more like an extension of their regular performance responsibilities.  All they are required to do is simply show up and play a quality program, beyond that; it is their choice how involved they are in the programs.

Richmond Symphony

After speaking with several players in the Richmond Symphony, I heard a mixture of feelings.   The veteran players tended to feel their in-school programs have greatly improved since their initial years with the orchestra, while the most recent players tended to feel much more frustration.  All of the players, however, had two common criticisms; that they had no control over the topics they were being asked to create programs around and that they did not receive any additional pay for creating scripts and selecting music. 

A  veteran of the orchestra said that he did gain a higher level of artistic satisfaction by having control over the concert scripts and that the quality of their programs is a step up from when they were written entirely by one of the assistant conductors.  Nevertheless, he did feel that not being paid any additional compensation for work beyond performing certainly decreased player morale. 

Some of the newer players to the orchestra said they felt exploited by being required to write concert scripts and run their performances without a member of the education staff present to assist.  All of the players felt that their overall success would be much higher if they were not required to “fit” music to a specified topic, rather create programs that focus on presenting exciting performances.


It appears that on average, there are more players that have a higher level of artistic satisfaction with the system implemented at the Brooklyn Philharmonic.  One significant reason I can see for this is Brooklyn’s use of professional Teaching Artists as opposed to requiring orchestra musicians to write concert material (the details of which we learned in Part I).  Although both orchestras seem to write their concert material based on topics dictated by the school systems, the Brooklyn method manages to create a higher artistic product due, once again, to the employment of professional Teaching Artists.

In Part I, I mentioned that I was impressed with how the Brooklyn Education Director was “Leading from the Front” by directly participating with writing the concert martial and emceeing performances.  It seems to me then that it’s no surprise to hear frustration from several of the Richmond players that they did not have the same level of logistical and artistic support from their Education Director. 

In the end, it would appear that some of the critical elements for an efficient and effective in-school program would include:
 Musicians having the option of contributing to program material.
 Music education professionals engaged to author concert scripts.
 The musicians receiving regular artistic and logistic support from the orchestra education department.


It was certainly good to hear that veteran musicians from both orchestras felt that their in-school programs have improved over the years.  However, I think that an important goal of a successful in-school program that appears to be overlooked is artistic satisfaction among the musicians.  If the players are not excited and enthusiastic about performing for the children, then the children are not going to receive the experience they need to spark an interest in live orchestral music.  And if that’s the case, then it’s not really worth having an in-school program at all.  Every orchestra should strive to provide their musicians with whatever they require to make each and every in-school performance an exciting event.

I invite musicians in other orchestras to share their in-school program experiences, write in and tell me about them.  I would also like to hear from orchestra patrons, do you remember an in-school concert from when you were a child?  Did it influence how you relate to classical music now?  I’ll post excerpts from among the best in future articles.

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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