Philadelphia Wins The Prize For The First Big Eight Orchestra To Ditch Tuxedos

Regular readers know that musician dress codes are a well-worn topic here at Adaptistration. The latest installment was from last month where I wondered when I could use more than one hand to count the number of professional ICSOM, IGSOBM, or ROPA orchestras to remove tuxedoes as their primary attire.

I’m happy to say we’re one finger closer to that goal thanks to the first Big Eight orchestra to replace tuxedos with black suit, shirt, and tie. The Philadelphia Orchestra has replaced white tie and tails with a new dress code and Peter Dobrin examines the details in an article published in the 10/5/21 Philadelphia Inquirer.

Dobrin includes a broad perspective of views, including one from Philly violinist Boris Balter who doesn’t see a connection between the change in attire and ticket sales.

[Balter] finds it “difficult to see how monochromatically casual attire would result in increased attendance and revenue. In my mind, this is another willful attempt to remove what is so unique in this distinctive art form,” he said.

I’m willing to bet money most musicians, like Balter, aren’t familiar with the tuxedo’s history (you can learn about that history in this article from violinist Holly Mulcahy). If so, they may start to think there’s even less reasons why orchestras should continue to hook their attire wagon to that long-faded star.

I also found the statement from a Philly Orchestra spokesperson about not knowing exactly when white tie and tails became commonplace fascinating. Given that tuxedos started to enter mainstream fashion at opera and orchestra events right around the time some of the oldest US orchestras were becoming a thing, I’m curious to know if there are any records confirming when white tie and tails were adopted as part of the on-stage dress code.

I’ve reached out to some archivist friends and will report back if anything turns up. In the meantime, what do you think about Philly’s decision?

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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5 thoughts on “Philadelphia Wins The Prize For The First Big Eight Orchestra To Ditch Tuxedos”

  1. I guess no one looked at “The Philadelphia Orchestra A Century of Music.” In that book, what might be called the predecessor to The Philadelphia Orchestra, an 1899 photo of The Symphony Society of the Academy of Music shows the orchestra, on stage at the Academy in white tie and tails. A 1900 photograph of The Philadelphia Orchestra at Woodside Park (an amusement park located in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park) shows Fritz Scheel and the Orchestra in what looks like wing collars, black ties, and either tuxedos or tails. In the book is a photograph from the 1916 performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony all squeezed onto the stage at the Academy of Music. In this case, the musicians appear to be dark business suits, with white shirts(some wing collars, some round, others more standard like collars) and a mixture of neck ties: from long ties, to bow ties, and a few other options. At Stokowski dot org, there is a 1925 photograph of the orchestra in full white tie and tails. There is the also the photograph of Stokowski on a circular Art Deco podium with the orchestra appearing in tail jackets, but either black and gray pants (so it may be a morning suit variation). By 1937’s “One Hundred Men and a Girl” the orchestra is shown in full white tie and tails (while The Philadelphia Orchestra played the soundtrack, actors (or musician – actors) were portrayed in the movie.

  2. Although not ICSOM, the Harrisburg Symphony, a ROPA orchestra, has also replaced tails with all black (suits, shirts, ties). So far, no pushback at all. The orchestra seems to be delighted with the change and the audience did not seem to care at all.

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