A Silver Lining Has To Begin Somewhere

With all this talk about diminishing classical music coverage in traditional media outlets, I think it is appropriate to mention that new forums of discourse seem to be popping up all the time…
For example, there is an excellent blog that gives you some first hand insight into being an orchestral musician. Michael Hovnanian’s CSO Bass Blog offers a refreshing, and unedited, look into the inner workings of a Big 5 orchestra (in case you haven’t guessed, Michael is a bass player in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).

If you’re just stopping by for the first time, I highly recommend you start off with either of these two posts: Hangover or Showdown at the CSOK corral (although I thought the title Showdown at the IMOK YOUREOK Corral would have been funnier).

Next is a new column by a professional violinist who starts off by presenting a proposal designed to build interest and community pride in orchestras. She points out that throughout the time when they first pick an instrument up until they win a professional job musicians are inundated with competition. She goes on to suggest that orchestras could benefit by capitalizing on this learned culture through organizing competitions designed to raise the general level of understanding among listeners about orchestral music.

Personally, I think it is a novel idea and the author does a good job at addressing some of the initial, and unavoidable, questions which come to mind when thinking about orchestra competitions. However, in the spirit of transparency I have to mention that this commentator is my wife and she’s taking over my monthly column, Neo Classical, at The Partial Observer (at the same time, I feel that I should point out that I am not, nor have I ever been, married to Michael Hovnanian). You can read her initial foray, entitled How Competition Could Revive Classical Music, here.

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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1 thought on “A Silver Lining Has To Begin Somewhere”

  1. I agree with your wife (perhaps someday you could learn her name?).

    I have often suggested, but as a sort of “truth told in form of a joke,” that orchestras would pack them in if there were some way to pit them one against the other, as in athletic competitions.

    I also think, as I watch concerts, how much sheer athleticism is involved. Orchestra players perform feats of concentration, physical endurance and skill, and teamwork that would put any athlete to shame.

    It’s a shame to people are so focused on competition. But, since they are, let’s exploit it — although I’m danged if I know how.


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