A Voice From Academia Weighs In On Atlanta

On 9/11/2012, Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas Dean Peter Witte published a letter at his Posterous site that was originally composed to the editorial board of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The letter examines his perspective on the current ASO work stoppage and it is a worthwhile read in that Witte is a voice inside academia, an executive administrator, and the son of a current ASO musician.

Dear Editors:

writeWith a reported $600,000 distance on a roughly $40M budget, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s management and musicians are in accord on 98.5% of their next contract, a statistical agreement.

These next steps are delicate because they are about the ASO’s identity as much as its finances.

In 1973, Robert Shaw hired my father. Today, my Dad helps anchor one of America’s storied horn sections. Most importantly, he is part of a generation of Atlantans who helped to grow the ASO into an internationally regarded and locally committed band.

I consider the ASO family. In the front office and on stage are my friends, colleagues, mentors, and heroes. During my time as Chair of the Department of Music at Kennesaw State University, I was blessed to work with twelve ASO musicians who served on KSU’s faculty, and with the gifted ASO managers who partnered with us to get thousands of KSU students to the ASO every year.

For many, the ASO is Atlanta’s finest team. From Bartow to Berlin, the ASO exemplifies Atlanta’s Olympian spirit. Like its home city, the ASO is greater than its current challenges.

Atlanta has made great strides toward becoming a destination city, rubbing shoulders with Chicago, London, Barcelona, and Los Angeles. The ASO family led the way, recording for Telarc and Deutsche Grammophon, performing in Vienna and Vinings, making a difference from Ebenezer to Ojai.

For more than six decades, past and current boards, administrators, and musicians flexed and pushed to advance Atlanta’s finest team, making new opportunities and negotiating obstacles.

More than it fights about these last dollars, I hope the entire ASO family will treasure its relationships, among musicians and managers, with sister organizations in the Woodruff Arts Center, and in the city it celebrates.

To her community, and for her leaders, music director, staff, and musicians, the ASO is more than a job. It is a calling.

Especially now, Robert Shaw’s choral salutation is a gentle reminder.

The ASO is Dear People.


Peter Witte, Dean
Conservatory of Music and Dance
University of Missouri-Kansas City

Peter Witte is the Dean of the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Raised in Atlanta, Mr. Witte is a graduate of the Atlanta Public Schools, an alumnus of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchrestra, former conductor of the Atlanta Wind Symphony, and from 1998-2008, served as Chair of the (then) Department of Music at Kennesaw State University.


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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