A Great Way To Recognize A Group Of Employees

I had the pleasure of attending a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert last week and witnessed a wonderful way they acknowledged the effort from their stage crew…


Between the first and second pieces, the stage required a good five minutes worth of strike and set work. As such, one of the MSO’s musicians, bassist (and self described historical figure) Roger Ruggeri came out to talk to the audience during what would otherwise be time best described as concert purgatory.

Although having someone come out and talk to the audience during prolonged stage changes is not a new technique, this particular instance was unique because Roger didn’t talk much about the music for that evening’s performance. Instead, he took the time to tie in the choreographed work on stage being executed by the MSO’s stage crew.

The evening’s repertoire was all about concertos (Brandenburg 3, Beethoven Triple, and Bartok’s concerto for Orchestra) and Roger used that theme to set up a narrative about the similar amount of teamwork and coordination it takes to execute an efficient stage change.

It would be great to see more groups using something like this to feature segments of the organization which typically don’t get to enjoy sharing in the limelight. All you have to do to make it work in your group is find a musician who understands what and/or who will be featured, make sure they are comfortable speaking in front of (hopefully) large groups, and are genuinely entertaining. The one thing you want to avoid is making it come across as something scripted. After all, nothing shuts people down faster than pandering to them.

Postscript: The concert itself and the soloists were just fantastic. Their orchestra’s rendition of the Bartok only reinforced my belief that the Milwaukee Symphony performs at a level far beyond their pay grade. It is always a treat to hear this group play the big stuff.

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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3 thoughts on “A Great Way To Recognize A Group Of Employees

  1. This sounds like a great idea, and having a member of the orchestra speak is one small way of engaging the talents (and reducing the anonymity) of a group of highly-skilled professionals.

    As for how well the Milwaukee SO plays, I’ve never heard them in concert, but some of their CDs (esp. Ma Vlast with Zdenek Macal) have been outstanding. And competition for orchestra jobs being what it is these days, any orchestra that pays a living wage (and probably many that don’t) is likely to be good, even outstanding.

  2. Drew, about time someone recognized what I and so many of my talented colleagues do. Sometimes the moves we have to do are more choreographed than a ballet! Thanks for taking the time today to write about the MSO crew.

  3. Trisha Brown has done this for years. Even incorporating music and improv into complicated change overs. It was a pleasure working on her crew as an intern at American Dance Festival several years ago. As an arts manager, I carry that philosophy into my every day work. Always recognize and appreciate the crew. Each piece makes the whole and each person is a valuable resource.

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