A Guide For Programming In The “New Economy”

Between reader suggestions following last week’s orchestra management Venn diagram and all the reactionary discussion about the “New Economy” throughout the business, I put together another Venn diagram illustrating the decision making process behind bean-counting programming. In a nutshell, if you’re an orchestra manager and this diagram strikes you as a useful tool, it might be time for a sabbatical (or to consider a new vocation).

A Guide For Programming In The New Economy

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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8 thoughts on “A Guide For Programming In The “New Economy”

  1. Drew, I resemble that remark! (:

    Besides, Symphonie fantastique uses a LOT of extra musicians; as you know, one of the few works that calls for not one but TWO tubas!

  2. Sure, Symphonie Fantastique uses extra players, which is why it’s a separate component of the diagram. According to League statistics, it’s the third most programmed piece in the business (it’s performed so much that it’s in danger of becoming pseudo-pops IMHO). Nonetheless, it’s something audiences have come to expect which is why even the most bean-counting happy artistic manager will continue to work it into programs.

    But beyond that, the Bean Counter’s Big Book Of Orchestra Programming states anything else requiring extra players or music purchases/rentals is verboten. After all, audiences don’t want to hear anything new or challenging, right?

    It is so easy to slip into those stereotypes but I know so many managers are much better than that and it never hurts to reaffirm the value of meaningful programming.

  3. I teach an evening course for adults where each class is a preparation for a symphony concert soon after. It’s meant as an intro to the symphony for novice concert-goers. The recommended reading is the excellent, ‘Classical Music for Dummies’.

    I was a little taken aback at one class where not one person had ever heard of Berlioz, much less the Symphonie Fantastique. Beyond Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, awareness drops off fast, it seems. Just because something is ‘standard rep’ doesn’t mean anybody who’s not already a concert-goer has ever heard of it.
    One one hand, I thought, ‘Wow, this class is necessary. There’s a lot of work to do!’ On the other, it gave me some sympathy for those easily-bored Music Directors who might say to themselves, ‘Well, if it’s all new to them anyway, why not drop Berlioz and Franck, and substitute Martinu and Nielsen?’.

  4. Yikes
    We are playing both the Beethoven and Berlioz this season in Springfield MO! We haven’t done either in 5+ years and are heavy audience requests…..I promise as long as I am here we will wait along time and definitely wont put them on again in the same season!
    Ron PS We are throwing in a world premiere, and plenty of pieces with extra musicians…am i forgiven now?

  5. There’s a reason the Beethoven and Berlioz are in the Top 10 lists but it’s that last category that really defines artistic insignificance; so long as you stay out of that trap, I doubt the orchestra gods will smite you any time soon 🙂

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