Reader Response: Examining Events At The NJSO

Many readers took the time to respond to the questions posed in the article from December 30th, 2004.  The vast majority of responses were related to the question,

“Does owning and using these instruments make the NJSO better than or distinguish it from any other orchestra in the country?”

Many of you answered the question not with a “yes” or “no” but instead took the time to convey what you do consider important.  One reader an industry insider – did a great job at summing up a considerable amount of opinions shared by others,

“There are multiple factors in what makes an orchestra good to great. The skill level of the individual players; the ability of the concertmaster, section leaders, and conductor to get the players working together; the leadership skills of the music director and the management team; the programming and musical/conducting abilities of the music director; the history of the orchestra and continuity among the orchestra members; the support of the audience and surrounding communities; the facilities available.”

Notice that nowhere in that list was there a mention of the instruments the musicians perform on. 

Only one response from a long time orchestra patron mentioned the actual instruments as being a key factor in making one ensemble better than another,

“If I know that the instruments on stage are all priceless I’m going to automatically enjoy the concert more just because I know those instruments are special.  It doesn’t matter who is playing on them, I know it will be great.”

There’s certainly no denying that some people are drawn in by a fascination with “name brand” appeal.  The Stradivarius String Quartet (the quartet of instruments owned by the Smithsonian which are also under tight scrutiny) has been enjoying the free publicity associated with the instruments for some time now.

From the outside looking in
It never ceases to amaze me how someone completely removed from this business can look at a complex issue with an extraordinarily clear, concise, point of view.  A woodworker friend of mine from an online woodworking discussion board sent in the following observation,

“I read your article today with a certain degree of interest because I’ve had countless discussions with woodworkers that are very similar in nature.  Woodworkers spend a great deal of time honing our skills and practicing techniques in order to produce a quality final product.

To that end, we have a number of different tools we can use, all of varying quality and design.  As I’ve grown in the pursuit of woodworking I’ve also learned to appreciate using the best possible tools to help achieve the best possible results and over the years I’ve acquired an extensive collection of Lie Neilson hand tools [a maker of some of the finest woodworking hand tools available].

These tools certainly help me work at the peak of my ability but in the end they’re just tools; they don’t actually make me better.  Proof of this is found in a woodworker friend of mine who lives a humble lifestyle and can’t afford the quality of tools I own, but she produces much better quality work than I do.

I think it’s a combination of this person simply being more talented and more creative than I am.  She complains from time to time that it takes her so much longer to build projects than me because she wastes more time “fixing” mistakes due to lesser quality tools (as compared to mine) but her end results are still nothing less than stunning.

My work is good (and sometimes even great) but her work is art.  I would give up all of my Lie Neilson’s if only I could have her level of skill and talent.”

That’s an awfully fascinating point of view that helps put a number of things into perspective, or at the very least gives everyone plenty to think about.

A novel solution
One Adaptistration reader and regular concertgoer in the New York City area wrote in with what I thought was a novel idea (and not a bad marketing gimmick):

“If the [NJSO] wants to distinguish themselves from the New York Philharmonic or the Philadelphia Orchestra, why not have all three orchestras play the same selection at Carnegie Hall on the same night, back to back, with the same audience comprised of an equal number of subscribers from each orchestra and then poll those in attendance to see which group the liked better and why.”

Nothing like good old fashioned competition

Next week we’ll begin examining the actual NJSO Trustee report in detail.  There’s quite a bit to go over but in the meantime, continue to send in your opinions.

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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