Beginning To Examine The Events In New Jersey

  • What makes one orchestra better than another? 
  • What makes an orchestra good? 
  • What can an orchestra do to improve its artistic product? 

I started my analysis of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s Report of Trustee Review Panel by writing those questions down on paper and then writing down answers as they popped into my head.

I asked these same questions to a number of my orchestra musician friends as well and none of them responded to any of the questions with answers having to do with the instrument an orchestra player uses.

In the Executive Summary of the report, it states:

“This [collection of string instruments] is a wonderful asset for both the City of Newark and the State of New Jersey, and, over time, it will serve to distinguish the NJSO from its powerful and much respected competitors to the east and south.”

The authors of the report claim that the instruments are an asset; that really made me think,

  • What sort of asset would owning these instruments be classified as?

The first thing that comes to my mind is a financial asset, however, 

  • Could you even consider the instruments as an artistic asset? 
  • Does owning and using these instruments make the NJSO better than or distinguish it from any other orchestra in the country?

The NJSO has spent more money on these instruments than they will cumulatively spend on each and every one of their musician’s salary over the next three seasons (and that doesn’t include the interest they have to pay back on the $14 million in loans and bonds).

The NJSO also spent enough money to have allowed each one of their 49 string players (violin, viola, and bass) to purchase a $346,938.77 instrument. 

  • How much do you think the average string instrument is worth at orchestras in Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Minnesota, or San Francisco (all of which have a base salary at least twice of what NJSO musicians earn)?

Before the remaining articles in this series dealing with the NJSO Trustee Report are published, I would like to know what you think.  How would you answer all of the questions above?  Send in an email and tell me what you believe and why.

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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