Yep, It’s Time For Conductor Finishing School

Holly Mulcahy published the first in a series of articles today entitled “How To Alienate Your Audience In 10 Easy Steps.” Although written from a satirical point of view, the article does an excellent job at identifying some of the fundamental problems that turn good conductors into not-so-good conductors, all of which leads to alienating the audience for classical music. The article reminded me of my time with the post-graduate orchestral conducting students at Arizona State University (ASU) in 2007 when we had a frank discussion about pitfalls that ensnare many conductors…

Holly touches on nearly every one of those issues and more in an entertaining and enlightening fashion but the article made me reconsider whether or not the business could benefit from a sort of “finishing school” for conductors. Based on the fact that a portion of the problems that produce alienated audiences can be traced back to conductors falling victim to one of Holly’s ten steps, it would be worthwhile to develop my informal talk with the ASU conducting students into something more structured. But go read Holly’s article before putting too much contemplation into the topic and then come back and weigh-in with your thoughts.

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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