Embarking On An Innovative Project

At the beginning of January, 2006 I started work on a landmark, comprehensive project in association with Eastman School of Music’s Orchestra Musician Forum and Polyphonic.org…

The project requires me to serve in two separate capacities; as the research principal for a qualitative, orchestra-musician focused research project designed to identify the issues and events which the professional American Orchestra musicians and to serve as Senior Editor, Special Projects for Polyphonic.org (coming in April, 2006).

The Orchestra Musician Forum
The Orchestra Musician Forum (OM Forum) was established under the auspices of the Eastman School of Music, through its Institute for Music Leadership, by a gift from the Symphony Orchestra Institute (founded in 1994 by Paul R. Judy). The OM Forum’s mission, “to enhance the professional development and broaden the perspectives of musicians in North American symphony orchestras and other music arts organizations” is overseen by a board of distinct music professionals:

  • William Moyer – Boston Symphony Orchestra trombonist (1952-1966) and Orchestra Personnel Manager (1966-1987)
  • Joseph Polisi – President, Juilliard School of Music
  • David Stull – Dean, Oberlin conservatory of Music
  • James Undercofler – Dean, Eastman School of Music
  • Fred Zenone – Past President and Director, Symphony Orchestra Institute

  • The OM Forum Sponsored Research Project
    The OM Forum’s mission, (to enhance the professional development and broaden the perspectives of musicians in North American symphony orchestras and other music arts organizations) is the impetus for the research project. The project, entitled “Defining the American orchestra Musician – learning which questions to ask”, will serve to help fulfill that mission by identifying which issues and events American orchestra musicians identify as defining their professional existence.

    In other words, in order to begin broadening the discussion surrounding the perspectives of musicians you must first know which issues and events musicians currently perceive. Furthermore, once those issues are well defined, targeted field activities and subsequent research can be directed toward those areas which require attention.

    In order to accomplish this task, I designed a research project with the goal of gathering data in qualitative fashion; meaning the aim of the project is to utilize a thorough process of interviews and surveys to analyze data and create a complete, detailed description of the subject matter.

    In order to meet these goals, I’ll be interviewing approximately 1,400 musicians from 90 different professional orchestras. The need for such a comprehensive sample base is due to the fact that the events which define musicians are significantly influenced by their individual environments. In order to make reasonable conclusions, the musicians comprising the sample group are selected based on a set of standard characteristics.

    Once completed, this data will be able to serve as the basis for ongoing sponsored research and field activities directed toward improving the environment and culture within professional symphonic orchestras. Furthermore, the data will allow educational institutions to design targeted curricula which will better equip their graduates to deal with the realities of orchestral life. Theses are only a few of the examples of how this study will serve as a positive force within this business.

    I have a great deal of respect for Eastman and the OM Forum based on their willingness to support a study of this nature. Most sponsors prefer to direct their funds toward “solutions” regardless if the issues are well defined or not. Directing resources toward identifying issues and developing questions isn’t a very sexy endeavor and this organization deserves a great deal of credit for understanding that without a strong foundation on which to build, any structure you put up may not be very sound.

    Then again, maybe it isn’t surprising that Eastman realizes the importance of this type of research since every good conservatory musician knows that in order to be successful in this career; you must first learn and internalize the fundamentals.

    Polyphonic.org will be the orchestra musician’s long-term learning center; the best and most innovative resource for information on orchestra life and professional development.

    A few of polyphonic.org’s key features include,

  • Articles by professional musicians, orchestra managers, academics, and other music professionals on orchestra life, the business of orchestras, the arts world; and a streaming video interview series hosted by fellow AJ blogger, Greg Sandow.
  • Daily news feeds from ArtsJournal.com.
  • A dynamic interface allowing visitors to participate directly by contributing comments about what they read.
  • Virtual public discussions on hot topics facing orchestral musicians featuring a panel of musicians and business experts associated with each discussion topic.
  • and much more…

  • Serving as Senior Editor, Special Projects I’ll be identifying musicians and other music business professionals to contribute articles which address the issues and events that define what it is to be a professional orchestra musician. Additionally, I’ll be helping the polyphonic.org team to set up several special features at the website which will be unveiled as plans finalize. Guaranteed, they’ll be as entertaining as they are stimulating.

    I’m honored to be a part of polyphonic.org and the OM Forum; it will serve as a complementary yin to my management focused yang here at Adaptistration. Fortunately, these new responsibilities won’t prevent my writing Adaptistration although you can certainly look forward to seeing how the two streams intersect from time to time.

    There’s more exiting news on its way about polyphonic.org and the OM Forum research project, but I’ll save that for another time. You’ll be able to visit polyphonic.org beginning in April, 2006.

    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.

    Related Posts

    2 thoughts on “Embarking On An Innovative Project”

    Leave a Comment