The New Realities Of Orchestral Life

Like a lot of music schools, orchestra faculty at the DePaul University have to adjust to the realities of Zoom based education. To that end, Michael Lewanski, Associate Professor of Instrumental Ensembles at DePaul was kind enough to invite me as a guest for one of those Zoom sessions.

After some back and forth on the topic, we settled on an updated version of my Realities of an Orchestral Life program. The updated component came in the form of updating the content to acknowledge how much the pandemic is impacting the traditional career path. Unlike most of my presentations, I don’t include detailed speaker notes for the slide deck, but I wanted to make it available nonetheless.

Given that we had 60 minutes, this is a somewhat truncated version of the original.

The students were engaged and had some terrific questions. While this isn’t the traditional learning environment I can’t imagine that they won’t be better for it. Lewanski was kind enough to share his syllabus and I found it fascinating. It’s a great example of just how much orchestra conductors are adapting to their environment.

DePaul Concert Orchestra

Syllabus, 2020-2021

​​​The DePaul Concert Orchestra exists to support the artistic, musical, and intellectual growth of its students.  The orchestra studies and performs a diverse range of works—standard repertoire to new music, from the 18th to the 21st centuries. The orchestra’s concerts feature adventurous programming designed to provide thought-provoking aesthetic experiences that re-contextualize well-known pieces, present unfamiliar ones, and connect musicians and audiences more deeply to the music of their past and present. The Concert Orchestra collaborates annually with faculty soloists, the DePaul Symphonic Choir, and members of the DePaul Symphony Orchestra; it also presents a joint concert with Ensemble 20+.

During Fall quarter of the 2020-21 academic year, this ensemble will focus on the history, performance practice, harmonic/formal analysis, and context of music of the Classical era.  It will study, and eventually perform, works by traditionally played composers (Mozart, Haydn, CPE Bach), as well as women and Black composers (Anna Amalia, Joseph Boulogne, Marianna Martines, José Maurício Nunes García, et al) of this time period.  We will aim to better understand the relationship between the Enlightenment, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the music that was composed during the late 18th century.  We will move towards a decolonized way of approaching this music, with the eventual goal of suggesting positive future models for the classical music industry, and an artistically fulfilling vision of what an orchestra can be.

During Winter quarter 2021, this ensemble will learn about a wide range of music for large ensemble, chamber orchestra, and orchestra starting around the turn of the 20th century.  We will some widely known composers and some more rarely encountered; our exploration will span music from Latin America, the US, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

“There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” – Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

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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