What Executive Directors are Looking For In A Music Director

Wanted: Youthful, yet experienced, world class conductor who possesses commanding grasp of all traditional, modern, and pops orchestra styles whose mere artistic gravitas is capable of inspiring musicians to accept work concessions. Applicant must demonstrate previous success with charming big buck$ out of donors, corporate types, and politicians. Candidates who respect executive authority and resist temptation to challenge board decisions are encouraged to apply. Residency required.

Okay, that might be a bit over the top but next Thursday, January 5, I’ll be taking part in the What Executive Directors are Looking for in a Music Director panel, which is part of the Conductors Guild 2012 Annual Conference. The panel is moderated by Quad City Symphony Orchestra executive director Jeff vom Saal and fellow panelists include Stephen Burns (conductor and founder of Fulcrum Point New Music Project) and Donald Schleicher (Professor of Conducting and Music Director of the University of Illinois Orchestral program in Urbana-Champaign).

The conference runs from January 5 – 8 and takes place at Chicago’s very own Roosevelt University and is presented in conjunction with the Illinois Council of Orchestras. The entire schedule is available via the conference website and you can register online at the Guild’s website or download a pdf registration form. As I don’t believe the sessions are being streamed online or recorded, you’re going to have to attend to take part.

This will be my first Conductors Guild conference and I’m honored to have been asked to take part on the panel. I’m looking forward to discovering what sort of conference vibe unfolds and for those of you planning to attend, drop me a note and let’s find some time to touch base while you’re in town.

Register online for the 2012 Conductors Guild Conference

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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0 thoughts on “What Executive Directors are Looking For In A Music Director”

  1. Drew,
    Great to hear the Guild has you on board for the conference!

    Re: the Music Director Search question. As a conductor you are usually told by organizations what you should be; the conversation rarely flows the other way.

    When I posted my concerns about the unrealistic and – as I see – detrimental requirements for potential conductor candidates, I received private responses from conductor-colleagues giving it thumbs up. Unfortunately, our side of the story remains all too private.


    Perhaps in your role, Drew, you could help build better connections and understanding between hiring organizations and conductors.

  2. Thanks, Kim. I enjoyed your post. I wonder what the alternative search method would be in an ideal world for conductors. I’m a horn player and am currently on a search committee and I hate that the first 30 seconds of video defines the future for a conductor when there is so much more than that to evaluate. If conductors were to write the search process how would it be different especially considering the fact that committees often receive 100+ applications?

    Hope to see you at a Guild event soon!

    • Amanda, thanks for reading and asking.

      I’d love to sit down with member/s of orchestral management and put out on the table the all contingencies and goals related to each side. Then, look for ways to re-assemble and re-direct the process within this framework.

      The biggest aspect I see influencing an organization’s decision process is their huge insecurity in knowing they are making the right choice. The process has become over-engineered with exact check lists to ensure that at the end of the day all can feel confident the ‘right candidate’ has been chosen.

      This is understandable, conducting is an elusive art and difficult to quantify. Further, the quality of a future relation is even more intangible.

      In this way, I tend to see the process a bit like dating and have posted a “personal ad” for a hypothetical “Orchestra-Match.com”.


      I realize that by doing so I bucked the system completely — like a politician taking a political stand on an issue before the poll results come out. I probably lose job offers because of this, but then I’d prefer working with a group on genuine grounds – rather than by making the correct pose.

      I sense there are ways forward in this ‘dating process’ that neither side has considered yet. Count me in for any future forums on this topic.

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