Guest Blogger: Paul Judy

For over 70 years, since a boy, I have been an engaged and passionate listener of classical music.  For over 40 years I have had an affiliation with a major symphony orchestra organization, and for the last half of that period, have been a student of the organizational behavior patterns and decision-making processes within orchestral institutions.  During 1995-2003, I published Harmony, the journal of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.  Harmony presented the thoughtful inquiry and critique of North American symphony orchestra organizations by over 60 authors closely familiar with the field.  Over 1,200 pages were published. During this period, the Institute also sponsored or reported on six concerted and facilitated organizational change efforts.

The content of Harmony and these various interventions had the goal of bringing about positive change in how symphony orchestra organizations functioned — toward greater effectiveness, greater constituency satisfaction, greater community value — to be achieved particularly through greater involvement, stake, and responsibility by musicians in the decision-making and longer term development of their organizations.

In 2003, the work of the Institute was brought to a close and the residual funds were contributed to the Eastman School of Music for the development of the Orchestra Musician Forum and the website www.polyphonic.org. Here the goal was to advance the personal and professional outlook of symphony orchestra musicians in North America.

As I look back, particularly over the past fifteen years, it is disappointing to see that despite these efforts, and those of others, like the Mellon and Knight Foundations, there has been little change or innovation in the way orchestra  organizations operate.  While the need for greater community engagement and social value has mounted, it is discouraging to see how little has changed. Orchestra organizations have done little to redefine the community services they should be providing and, thus, there has been little modification of the job descriptions of all employees, but especially those of musicians.  With a few exceptions, no significantly modified or truly innovative models of organizational structure and decision-making processes have emerged.  At the same time, there have been recurring examples of serious organizational dysfunction entailed by adhering to the “isomorphic institutional” [1] model employed in the orchestral world now for some 50 years.

As reiterated frequently in Harmony, the structure of the larger conventional symphony organization is implicitly unsound and ineffective, and leads to organizational dysfunction. Through natural bonding heightened by unionization, the ensemble of musicians— which is the very reason for the organization’s existence — is separated from and pitted economically and psychologically against governance — the management and board — and through them, against the organization’s audiences and contributors –and the local community at large. These fraught relationships, buttressed by traditional industrial management and board attitudes about governing and managing unionized enterprises, along with the intransigence of national and local union leadership, assures a fundamentally adversarial relationship and sows the seeds of permanent distrust. The “we and they” of the orchestral structure essentially undermines the development of a common vision and operations designed to achieve it. Collective bargaining agreements have become complex organizational straitjackets that preclude flexibility and responsiveness.

There are various stages in the lives of traditionally structured and operated symphony organizations.  For some, despite steady and relatively high cost inflation—even when coupled with a lower breadth of community service and value—managements and boards are able annually to coax higher ticket fees out of audiences and larger gifts from contributors.  Boosterism and generosity prevail, with perhaps subtle, growing concern and mounting resistance. This situation exists in the organizations in a number of major cities. These prestigious orchestras will likely move forward but with growing stress.  They already gobble up a major portion of the philanthropic dollars devoted to musical organizations in their communities, and thus have little chance for increasing “market share.”  Over time, audience and contributor fatigue will set in.  Poor general economic conditions and dips in or the lack of growth of endowment capital will accelerate this stress.  It is just a matter of time before this pattern of existence becomes broadly unsustainable.

In many smaller cities, these trends are accelerating, or are already at hand. The next season’s revenues are used to fund the last season’s deficit.  Reserves are drawn on and then exhausted. Angels may offer relief but only defer the inevitable.

In due course, there is or will be a relatively abrupt cessation of business, accompanied by conflict and accusations within the now defunct organization, and around the community.

Sometimes, a successor organization emerges. But deep scars exist all around.  Even so, in a triumph of hope over experience, the new entity will quite typically take on the same conventional organizational format as its predecessor, in part because there is no other model. These traditional structures are doomed to failure—the cycle will be repeated. Such a waste—such a terrible waste.

Certainly, there may be some organizations which, despite their traditional structure, have so far avoided serious conflict and dysfunction, and whose leaders are looking constructively forward.  These leaders may well wish authentically and fundamentally to change their institution’s dynamics, and have the will and courage to undertake the effort.  Unfortunately, these situations are rare and the odds of a successful intervention leading to a radically different organizational structure are poor.  For example, check out the favorable trends and positive outlook of the Philadelphia Orchestra as of early 2002, based on organizational development efforts in 2000-2001, as very accurately reported in Harmony #14. Compare this optimistic 2002 status with the organization’s more recent status.

Changing the culture within traditionally structured orchestral institutions on a sustainable basis is almost impossible. We need to devote our thinking and ingenuity to creating some larger scale musical organizations using fresh, new ideas and forms.

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So now, let’s step away from all this history and pathology, take a pencil and a clean sheet of paper, and sketch out a new organizational model for the field.

Firstly, the notion of a “symphony orchestra organization” needs to be tossed out and replaced by the concept of a “musical arts and services organization.”  Such an entity would have a larger musician membership than a symphony orchestra, and its musicians would perform a wide range of classical and high-standard popular music. Among the activities would be symphony concerts performed in a central venue or venues. But more broadly and extensively, the organization would present a wide range of music in many smaller venues and settings throughout the community.  It would serve broad and diverse audiences, and such performances would be coupled and integrated with music education.  The reader will recognize this as the “community of musicians” concept put forth in 1987 by Ernest Fleischmann[2]

Ernest Fleischmann

and more recently endorsed and expanded by Bruce Coppock.

Secondly, in another major departure from past practice, these new organizations must be musician-governed and musician-driven.  By this, I mean the legal beneficial control of the organization through its organizing documents needs to rest with the musician membership. What’s more, the central board/executive committee functions, and particularly the artistic decision making (personnel and programming), need particularly to be led by musicians. [3]

These organizational concepts should be the foundational principles for those filling the voids created by unsuccessful traditional symphony orchestras.  There are a number of cities today that are ripe for such a new approach, and there will be more in coming months and years. But these cities will need a core group of musicians, supported and advised by a cadre of non-musician civic leaders, who together possess the imagination, will and courage to build a new flexible “network” organization valued by the community, gratifying to all constituencies, and capable of fulfilling the economic needs of musicians and staff.

In many large metropolitan areas, there may even be room for such an organization to develop and prosper as an alternative and supplement to the dominant symphony orchestra association.  Here again, a core group of musicians supported and advised by a group of community leaders will need to take the lead in galvanizing free lance musicians to participate in such an organization.

Symbolically, and practically, these organizations should be “musical arts societies”, as

Conductor Robert Shaw

Robert Shaw suggested — collaboratives in which all musicians and non-musicians, performers and audiences, join together in a covenant to provide and sustain high standard classical and popular musical and music educational services throughout the community.

In terms of legal format, these new organizations, under state law, should be either not-for-profit corporations or limited liability corporations. In either case, the organizing documents would provide for more than one class of members, with the musician member class having voting control. And in either case, the entity would obtain a 501 (c) (3) exemption in order to receive contributions which are tax deductible to donors.

The management and staff of such a new organization would have a structure and duties generally similar to that of any not-for-profit musical arts organization. However, given the breadth of musical performance activity envisioned, and the greater dynamism, flexibility and creativity needed, managers of these musician-driven musical arts organizations will need to develop high level skills in planning, logistics, and communications.

Although many musician members of such organizations might well be members of the AFM, there would be no need for collective bargaining agreements because the musicians will control the governance of these new organizations.   The musician members will have agreed in writing in by-laws or an operating agreement, and supplemental documents, how the enterprise is to be governed, managed, and operated, including compensation and work policies and conditions for all employees.  Any changes in such agreements would be voted on by the musicians and/or their elected representatives.  It is of questionable applicability and legality to propose to have a collective bargaining agreement cover a group of employees who together legally control and are responsible for “governing and managing” a corporation.

Some musical arts communities might consider and adopt multiple tiers of musician membership, following the experience and success of the London Symphony Orchestra.  In this arrangement, the level and nature of participation by each musician member would vary based on individual preference. There would be the flexibility to alter preferences and choices through annual personal employment contracts. Along with flexibility in work participation, there would be flexibility in compensation, depending on the nature and value of the work and the talents and experience of different employees.  Also, in such new organizations, sensible patterns of incentive compensation could be established.  All compensation policies would be developed in ways that flexibly serve the organization’s needs, as determined principally by the musicians themselves.

These new organizations will need to invest in personal and professional development of their members. On the musical front, the quality of individual and group musical performance will be primarily in the hands of musician colleagues; training in fair and compassionate evaluation processes will be needed. Musicians being periodically elected by their colleagues to fill overall governance and artistic decision-making roles — and their successors — will benefit from regular professional training in team building and team decision-making processes.

It would not be surprising that some new organizations develop primarily under the leadership and through the active participation of “younger-to-middle age” vs. “older” musicians.  Indeed, music school/conservatory leaders have recognized that members of the younger generation are highly tuned-in to societal change and community diversity. Trained in entrepreneurial skills and prepared to make musical careers outside traditional orchestra organizations, the students of today will most likely favor less hierarchical governing structures, and will exploit the enormous potential in electronic media.  Their achievements in developing smaller scale musical arts societies could be carried forward into large scale musician collaboratives.

A Far Cry

Some emerging musician-governed organizations, such as The Knights in New York, and A Far Cry in Boston, exhibit these potentials.  The philanthropic community will hopefully support these enterprising groups, as we are likely to see more and more of them come into existence.

To support and accelerate the development of new models of musician-governed arts organizations, it would be valuable to have a central advisory association. Such an association—which might be called The Association of Musician-Governed Musical Arts Organizations—could provide an exchange of “early best practices,” “experience-based insights,”or “lessons learned.” It could pair new groups with some of the existing symphonic organizations that already operate with some degree of musician governance

Memphis Symphony

(New Orleans, Colorado, Toledo, Memphis, and St. Paul come to mind.[4]) It could facilitate collaboration between fledgling groups and professional entrepreneurs. It might also research the experience of the many small chamber groups and chamber orchestras that are “self-governed,” to understand how their business models might be adapted to larger scale organizations.

In summary, we need to develop a new model for larger scale, musician-governed, diverse, and flexible musical arts and services societies. These entities would galvanize and liberate the creative potential of musician members, management and staff, and community participants.  They would better serve audiences, donors, and the community at large. And they would provide economic sustenance for the musicians, who would have the primary and controlling stake in the success of the organization.

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[1] This is a phrase coined thirty years ago by DiMaggio and Powell to describe cultural organizations which adopt business practices not because they are efficient and effective, and suit the needs of the applicable constituencies and of tasks to be performed, but because they furnish legitimacy in the eyes of outside stakeholders and help to maintain the confidence of poorly-informed outside parties, despite being uncreative, non-innovative, and unresponsive to their environment.

[2] It might be noted that Fleischmann’s 1987 call for a “community” or “golden pond” of musicians was preceded as early as 1969 by Pierre Boulez who said that musical institutions suffered from a “sterile standardization” and should be reorganized or replaced by “polymorphous groups” in a “consortium of players” or a “cooperative of performers that could be drawn on for ad hoc purposes.”.   Further, in 1977, Robert Shaw put forth his ideas, held for many years, that orchestra organizations should be replaced by a “Society of Musical Arts” which “would embrace all musical activities and all areas of performances” and might have two hundred or more musician members. (http://www.polyphonic.org/harmony.php?id=2).

[3] In a recent article in Symphony (Summer 2001), Robert Levine states that a great deal of time and money has been spent discussing the “the formal role of musicians in governance” but that none of that discussion “has changed, can change, or will change the basic structure of American orchestras (as) “non-profit entities governed by volunteer community trustees” and this is a “reality” which must be faced.  As can be seen, I totally disagree with that assumption.  There is absolutely no reason why musical arts organizations can’t be musician governed.

[4] Further study might also be made of the Berlin and London Symphony organizations as reported in Harmony #9 and #13, or of the Louisiana Philharmonic, also reported in Harmony #9.

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7 Responses to Guest Blogger: Paul Judy

  1. Susan Reed says:

    Great article. Keep them coming! A renaissance is in the air…

  2. L Streby says:

    Thank you for this excellent guest post. I couldn’t agree more. As a former orchestra exec, I’ve been writing about an alternative orchestra model on my blog for the past few months. I feel validated a little more now. Thanks again.

  3. Pingback: » Project MAD (Part 5): The Musicians Lee Streby

  4. Pingback: Weekly Digest: Playing perfectly, who’s your audience, follow your heart « innovative ideas in performance and pedagogy

  5. Pingback: Around the horn: grantmakers edition | Songcography.com

  6. Very great article, thank for this information ;)

  7. Pingback: Polyphonic.org – Guest Blogger: Paul Judy

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