Here Are Some Of The Reasons Why Conductors Don’t Win Music Director Jobs: Poll Results

Adaptistration People 177Thanks to everyone who took the time to participate in last week’s poll asking readers to weigh-in on whether or not they thought certain types of artistic activity could help or hurt a conductor’s prospects at landing a music director position at a professional US orchestra.

There were just under 300 respondents and the results were fascinating. If nothing else, they indicate the potential value in studying this issue in a far more scientific fashion.

Beyond measuring possible predisposition toward one artistic activity over another, it could codify the need for a larger public perception effort. For instance, it would be fascinating to discover if any of these activities have bearing on selecting a music director in the first place and if so, is there any evidence to correlate success among current music directors and stakeholder predisposition.

You could also examine existing music directors hired within the last 10, 20, or 30 years and cross tabulate their artistic activities with research data to see if what individuals perceive as influential elements match what actually happens.

But for now, here are the poll results.

Holding an adjunct or tenure track academic position at…

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Composing, primarily…

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Actively performing as a classical…

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Overall Positive Favorability Results

Adaptistration People 003Overall positive favorability, the cumulative percentage of “definitely does help” and “probably does help” responses, generated some intriguing results.

For instance, that conductors actively performing as a pianist have the strongest perception edge with 85 percent overall favorability. That was followed by composers of traditional symphonic music, which generated 67 percent overall favorability while academic positions in general held the least amount of positive influence. For the latter group, conductors with a position at a traditional conservatory managed to garner 57 percent overall favorability.

Overall Negative Favorability Results

Adaptistration People 011Among the available artistic activities (academic positions, composing, and performing), only three generated overall negative favorability, or the cumulative percentage of “definitely does not help” and “probably does not help” responses.

Academic positions in general garnered the greatest overall potential for negative favorability; 88 percent felt that holding a position at a community college had a negative impact while 51 percent felt the same about those with positions at state schools or universities.

Composing primarily pop/holiday music was the only artistic activity that garnered an overall negative favorability at 54 percent. Similarly, the only performing based artistic activity to generate an overall negative favorability score, and it was just barely over that line, was working as a vocalist.

Moving Forward

Although it shouldn’t be excepted that an orchestra could Moneyball its way into selecting a successful music director, it would be fascinating to discover if there are any genuinely quantifiable artistic activities successful music directors have in common.

What’s more, increasing public awareness and discussion on whether or not those activities should matter in the first place is another fascinating angle.

More than two decades’ experience makes me wary that increased study could be used to make an artificially negative environment worse. Having said that, if the process remains transparent and open to peer review and public examination, then it could have just as much potential to produce something positive.

I’m curious to know what you think. I encourage everyone to take a moment to share your thoughts and observation in the comments and/or use the poll results to start a discussion at your social media profile.

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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2 thoughts on “Here Are Some Of The Reasons Why Conductors Don’t Win Music Director Jobs: Poll Results

  1. Maybe it’s important to consider historically that most great conductors weren’t necessarily active piano performers but were good enough that they could accompany singers if needed, maybe conduct a Mozart piano concerto from the keyboard, etc. That kind of ability is important, but the kind of practicing necessary to play the more difficult piano repertory would take time away from other potentially more valuable activities. That could also apply to the college position (and composing) – while obviously both are important connections.

    • Many of the past greats were string players – Koussevitsky (bass), Ormandy (violin), Toscanini (cello), Haitink (viola), Monteux (viola), Munch (violin), etc.

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