The Business Of Youth Orchestras

Given how much youth orchestras have expanded in recent years you would think that the demand for classical music is going up.  Unfortunately, that’s not precisely the case in most cities; nevertheless, youth orchestras are becoming a big business. 


The biggest budget youth orchestras have budgets larger than a quarter of all ROPA ensembles and they attract managers from big budget orchestras.  And why not?  Those top ensembles pay more than some executive directors earn managing ROPA orchestras and far more than all but the highest budget ICSOM ensembles pay their base salary musicians.  They also don’t have to deal with those “pesky” musicians unions and their collective bargaining agreements.


But the real issue is how successful are professional orchestras and youth orchestras connecting to build a better classical music culture in their respective communities.  Are youth orchestras really a barometer for measuring changes in future interest for classical music or are they just becoming another “planned activity” for parents to schlep their kids to and from?


The Partial Observer published an article of mine today which examines those questions in more detail.

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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