News From Philadelphia & Thoughts On Regional Touring

Peter Dobrin’s ArtsWatch blog at the Philadelphia Inquirer featured a post yesterday which examined the ongoing negotiations at the Philadelphia orchestra and also brought up a good discussion about regional touring…

In this blog entry, Peter mentions that one of the points in this year’s negotiation centers on expanding regional touring. And since Peter is Philadelphia’s living cultural archive, he points out that the organization used to maintain a significant presence outside of Philadelphia:

“For an institution that never lets you forget the good old days, musicians might take some time to research the archives. The orchestra once had an active presence in the region, with regular concerts in Baltimore and small towns across Pennsylvania. No one thought any less of them.”

Although the issues are different between big budget groups like Philadelphia and smaller budget professional orchestras, I think increased regional touring is a good thing for the bigger ensembles. It is important not to confuse this issue with long term residency programs that are becoming more popular these days (such as Cleveland Orchestra in Miami) but a five day regional tour program among bigger budget groups is something the business could benefit from.

At the same time, it would be shortsighted for these groups to put together tours which had the ensemble playing for a 40% full house of a few hundred listeners. In order to be worthwhile, especially in the early stages, managers will need to ensure that the concerts will be sell-out events or they will only justify any concerns against the idea.

Furthermore, you only have to look at many of the run-out style concerts many smaller budget ensembles regularly plan to see why these concerns even exist. I’ve been to more than my fair share of these anemic events and they are never any fun: poor attendance, terrible acoustics (not just the snobby “I don’t like the way the middle frequencies speak” nonsense, I mean really terrible acoustics), and zero media attention (mainstream or otherwise).

If we can avoid that in lieu of returning to a grand era of regional tours, then it can only be a good thing for the business.

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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2 thoughts on “News From Philadelphia & Thoughts On Regional Touring”

  1. Some vaguely recalled study for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra had some points I vaguely recall as downplaying regional touring. I don’t remember the reference (one step down from vaguely recalling), but I’m betting that Drew either remembers the details (many, many steps up from vaguely recalling) or will run across them before I do (Help combat vague recollections!).

    I do like the idea of regional touring, with the caveats in the article about proper planning.

    My first guess is the SPCO study you are referring to is either part of the Mellon or Knight programs. I’ll have to look over both and see what can be turned up. If any reader’s out there remember, thank you in advance for writing in with details.

    Either way, it would be interesting to see the conditions under which the study in question examined the impact of regional touring (were they planned at the last minute, low marketing budgets, etc.). ~ Drew McManus

  2. An orchestra’s value can be measured by how many people would miss it if it died. Growing your base can’t be a bad thing. Why is this even a topic of debate?

    I doubt anyone in Philadelphia is debating whether or not regional tours are a good or bad thing and there is nothing in the article above or in Peter’s Dobrin’s blog suggesting that in such black and white terms.


    However, the end value of run-out concerts and regional touring worth discussion are those mentioned in the above article, especially with regard to ensuring that these performances are well attended and well planned. To that end, there are a host of additional issues to be worked out to mutual satisfaction between musicians and managers, especially with regard to work rules.

    Here is one example from the many issues discussed in negotiations over touring: It would be unreasonable to expect the musicians to sit on a bus for nine hours and be expected to play an evening concert and then schedule a rehearsal for 8:00a.m. and then get right back on a bus for another nine hours and do the entire process again.

    Conversely, it would be unreasonable for the musicians to expect that management should give the them seven consecutive days-off following any regional tour of two concerts when both events take place over four days and are no more than 200 miles away from their primary ~ Drew McManus

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