Substance Over Shadows


Last week’s article examining how orchestras should approach using new online technologies generated a great deal of interest. As it turns out, it was also well-timed as the Minnesota Orchestra (MN Orch) launched a website during the same week designed to feature nearly all of the online tools discussed in the article. The website came to my attention via an invitation at Facebook from Sam Bergman, MO violist, to attend a concert event from a series that is the new website’s namesake Inside The Classics. The website’s home page, (featured to your left, click to enlarge), is dominated by photos of Bergman and MO assistant conductor Sarah Hatsuko Hicks and demonstrates that this is not a typical orchestra website project…

Even though there isn’t a dedicated “About” page available yet, you can learn a great deal about the project by watching some of the video interviews featuring Sam and Sarah (could it be any more Mid-West?) as well as reading their initial blog entries.

According to Sam in a telephone interview, the website has been designed from the onset as a tool to help develop a connection with patrons that extends beyond the traditional “we play, you listen” relationship.

“I hope that the site will eventually develop into the type of online community that draws people back day after day, not just to read, but to participate,” said Sam. “Our primary goal isn’t to sell tickets – it’s to offer people a window into an industry that is typically far too closed off and uninviting to the public.”

Functioning as the centerpiece for the site, the blog co-authored by Sam and Sarah will feature the most frequently updated material and provide the connection points for interaction with the majority of readers. Although Sam has a good bit of experience in the blogging arena this will be Sarah’s first attempt at authoring a blog.

When asked during a telephone interview about her maiden voyage into the sea of blogging, Sarah said she was grateful to have someone with Sam’s experience along for the trip.

“I’m a total blogging newbie and since Sam is a real pro I feel like I’m in good company,” said Sarah. “At the same time, I read a number of blogs like The Rest Is Noise, Think Denk, NewMusicBox, and Adaptistration on a regular basis so I’m comfortable with the way blogs feel and function.”

When asked about the enduring issue of whether or not the blog component will accept comments, Sam said that including an open comment format was a deliberate decision.

“We felt that some of the best online conversations seem to occur in the comments that spring from blog posts.” Said Sam. “Basically, this is the type of project that I think most orchestras are loath to try, because it requires a great deal of organizational trust, and a willingness to let people say whatever they want to say, even if you don’t like all of it.”

Sam couldn’t be more correct and more than a few of the initial attempts at blogging by orchestras have run afoul due to the issue of comments. Another encouraging sign is that the comments will be moderated directly by Sam and Sarah.

“Orchestra PR offices are notoriously terrified of [allowing open comments], but we’re lucky to have a PR staff that has been quite willing to take chances in the service of making the orchestra more accessible,” said Sam.

Although certainly a team effort at the MN Orch, it is good to see this sort of project originating from and being developed by those on the artistic side of the equation. At the same time, it is worth noting that MN Orch is doing exactly what it should do in posting the following blog disclaimer:

“Any opinions expressed here, except as specifically noted, are those of the individual authors or commentators and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA). The MOA is not responsible for the accuracy of information supplied by bloggers and commentators.”

It will be interesting to keep an eye on the website to see how content develops and what sort of responses it generates. In the meantime, stop by the website and take a look around for yourself at

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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