We Are The Very Model Of A Modern Major Orchestra

There’s an article by Mark MacNamara in the 4/17/18 edition of the San Francisco Classical Voice that casts a retrospective eye toward one of the first new model orchestras, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Adaptistration People 214In addition to Orpheus, the article examines a few of the other ensembles that have attempted to walk a similar path. If you’ve been in the field long enough, you’ve seen groups come and go and others twist new models that espouse egalitarian governance into nothing more than a vehicle for personal gain for a few key members.

While the field should never stop experimenting with governance and artistic leadership models, it should never forget the fundamental truism that any model, plan, or process is only as good as the people involved.

In fact, this is such a well-worn topic, I’m not entirely comfortable discussing it in a strictly amelodic format.

As such, I’ll just sum it up in this (very) truncated parody sung to the tune of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance:

[THE ORCHESTRA MODEL]
We are the very model of a modern major orchestra
First chair is shared, there are no holes
We’re never in abstensia
We also sit upon the board
a governance bohemia
The plans are made, we’re paid the same
There’s nothing left but share the fame.

[CHORUS*]
The plans are made, we’re paid the same there’s nothing left but share the fame!
The plans are made, we’re paid the same there’s nothing left but share the fame!
The plans are made, we’re paid the same there’s nothing left but share the fame!

Several amusing verses later…

[THE ORCHESTRA MODEL]
But in the end as time grinds on
we learn to sing the same old song
That best-laid plans get trashed by those
who end up being more head-strong
The more we like to try and change the more we simply stay the same
And that’s the very model of a modern major orchestra!

[CHORUS**]
The more we like to try and change the more we simply stay the same
And that’s the very model of a modern major orchestra!


*Strictly volunteer but ½ price parking vouchers.

**Yeah, we’re going to need you to pay a $450 annual membership fee and parking is $20/hr

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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