How do we save our musical institutions?

November 5, 2008 at 07:51 PM ·

What can we do about this avalanche of crashing classical music organizations? The art is sound, but the financial model is not.

Replies (53)

November 6, 2008 at 01:10 AM ·

Let me state out the outset that some of my questions are rhetorical. I am not anti-art.

If no one wants to listen to the music or look at the art then is there any reason for it to survive? If art can be delivered to people in new ways (iTunes, CDs, DVDs etc.) do we need the same number of arts institutions? Why has tap dancing disappeared from professional performance? Why are magic acts, ventriloquists, and jazz singers so rare? Why is the Cymbalon not as popular as the piano? 

Should people who study Bosnian literature expect a job on graduation?

Its clear to me that there is a hierarchy of values. Some things are more valuable than others and are worth preserving. But we can preserve them only if there is public interest and public interest will only exist if the public at large agrees with those values.

Our Western Art started in church and stayed largely in Church for a long time. It was launched into the theater and then to the concert hall. The texts were different but the harmonic, instrumental and and melodic modes were quite similar. What started for children in church caused many to extend their interest into the theater and concert hall.

But church is passé with many and the music one hears there now isn't the music we want to play.

My conclusion is that classical music is slowly dying and nothing we do can save it. We'll always have the classics but we will have fewer performing organizations. Someday it will approach the relatively small number of repertory theaters who specialize in Shakespeare.   

November 5, 2008 at 10:42 PM ·

We can attend more performances. If everyone registered on this site went to one concert this year (or just one more concert than they have a subscription to, or ordinarily would), it would make an impact.

We can also interject the arts into our everyday lives. We can talk at the office about the neat concert/play/musical/opera/art show in town this month. And we should talk about it like it's really accessible and fun to attend (which it is, of course!).

We have to be responsible to make the arts seem really accessible, intellectually speaking. If people aren't afraid of attending a performance, they'll go and find that they really enjoy it.

November 5, 2008 at 11:20 PM ·

I'm not the most creative, well not at all. But I'll try to give you some ideas. . .

Advertise advertise advertise. The arts department of my school is doing this through a Barnes & Noble book store. The visual arts department will be displaying ceramics, paintings and other things, and the music department will be preforming in chamber groups.

Maybe you could do this with your orchestra... Take volunteers of the orchestra and go play chamber music in places and tell about your orchestra and situation... I don't know, probably a bad idea, and won't work, but...

November 6, 2008 at 04:29 AM ·

I don't know... if Rock & Roll did not kill classical music, then my parents lied to me. If disco did not make it suicide, it must have more strength that it seems.

I suspect it will not die, however it will always be changing. When you think of classical music, do you mean Baroque, or German Opera, or Italian Opera perhaps? Waltzes, Etudes, all are different forms of music.

The Big Band sound may not really be in vogue, but even that music with such a short advent is still around.

Classical music will always be here, but there are times when different aspects and different venues are where it will be found. I remember one album from the Moody Blues that I couldn't decide if it was Rock or Classical when I first heard it. I remember The Wall as a Rock Opera.

Classical will be reinvented, modified, changed, and twisted. isn't that what keeps it alive?

November 6, 2008 at 04:58 AM ·

Look at Venezuela. I don't think it has to die, or that it SHOULD! Symphonic music has so much power, power to inspire, to make people work together, to bring beauty to life. I think it is such a monumental human achievement that it has a kind of inherent will to survive, too. Not that it will survive without great effort, but it inspires great effort.

November 6, 2008 at 05:51 AM ·

It won't die.  It'll just never be as popular as you want it to be :)))   And you'll never get Josh on Oprah.

Speaking of S. America, you want music, visit Brazil.  Sun! Sand! Sangria!  Beautiful women too drunk to crawl!

Symphonic music played well in a good hall is an essential sound.  It'll stick.  The audience doesn't have to understand what's going on.  It's a striking, visceral, unique sound.

 Dirt bike tour of Peru would be fun.

November 6, 2008 at 01:02 PM ·

Some ideas...  I think that one needs to study the demographics of the region to organize a season that will appeal to many of its resident.  Sometimes, that means that you have to mix in different things that are symphonic, but not only all classical.  The trick is to offer enough variety to satisfy a larger number, but that will also stick around for the other things (that way you "educate" people to classical music that may not have at first been drawn to it - we need to educate the public).  Also, you can't offer more concerts than you can hope to sell (preferably sell-out - the less something is available, the more valuable it seems...).  Get the city and companies from the community to participate.  Pay the musicians in the orchestra at scale (no deals with the union).  Musicians that are treated with respect tend to play better.  The word gets around too, and you attract better talent.  Offer a quality product that is well played.  Be happy to play and make music on stage.  Playing music is not a gig only.  You are communicating music to the audience.  People are often stingy of giving of themselves.  The public senses someone who focuses on giving the music generously and will want to come back.  By the same token, it is about the music, not the individuals.  The public also picks-up on that.  Nothing is more of a turn-off than people focusing on their own egos.  On the administrative level, get competent people to work - that way, you need less of them.  Be an non-profit organization.  No one can get out of a deficit easily, so the best thing is not to be in that situation in the first place.

Some random early morning thoughts on this matter...

November 6, 2008 at 01:35 PM ·

Tell us more about Venezuela. The unemployment rate there is 9% and the poverty rate is about 40% . How many professional orchestras do they have? Do they pay a living wage? I can only see one on a Google search. Lots of youth orchestras though. 

Classical music inspires me too but based on the dwindling audience it appears that it doesn't inspire so many others.

My inspiration comes primarily from older recordings. I attend live performances of professional events only three or four times a year and usually on a comp ticket. Most of the performances are yawners. Houston has one full-time orchestra and two part-time orchestras (one each for ballet and opera). I wouldn't be sorry to see one of the part-time orchestras disappear. It would provide more stability for the full-time orchestra. The HSO has been on shaky financial footing ever since they quit being the opera orchestra. 

November 6, 2008 at 02:54 PM ·

Okay, I own a business.  I am curious why these organization's are canceling shows.  Do they not pre-sell the tickets?  Does not the revenue from the ticket sales pay the organization's bills/salaries?

As a business owner, no one donates a cent of free money to my future existence.  Yet, I survive.  I don't  get free money from the government no matter how bad my economic outlook is for the upcoming year.  No one is dying and leaving me huge endowments.  I sink or I swim on my do thousands of other businesses every day operating on revenue from sales...not grants and endowments.

It seems to me if an opera company or a community orchestra has to cancel shows because of the current economic situation...then there is a problem with their business model.  Economics 101 teaches us that we have to make a profit to pay the bills.

Laurie, you mentioned before that your orchestra has 25 people on the payroll who are in management position's.  That is outrageous.  It's a perfect example of why such organizations are falling apart.  It's especially ridiculous when you factor in the amount of free money that is donated to the orchestra every year.  As a public entity,  I would be curious to see how monies have been allocated. 

When you build an organization/business on credit and donation's, no one is accountable.  It's easy to keep moving money from column A to column B.  Then, when cash comes in from ticket sales, it's not put into the business, it's spent on other non-necessities.   Then a recession hits and now the credit line is frozen and the donation's aren't keeping pace.  It's the same scenario that is played out everytime we have a recession in this country.  The organization's which are managed well will survive because they have the cash flow to live through the tough times.  The rest disappear.

I don't feel the arts are dying.  I'm in a rural area where we are starved for performances and when a concert/performance is scheduled at the area theatre, they usually sell out.  When I'm paying $60 + dollars to see a two hour performance...someone better be making money.

I have one complaint.  Why the heck aren't there more refreshment booths during intermission?  I've been to concerts in a few different cities and it's always the stand in line for twenty minutes to get a glass of wine or a coffee.  That is lost revenue. 

November 6, 2008 at 04:54 PM ·


I think the issue is the distribution. There is a lot of new symphonic music out there, but it is delivered as movie sound tracks and the like. Via Net Flicks and other movie distribution chains many people hear music, but don't need to bother going to hear it live in a hall. They don't have to move off the couch! Now I think the question becomes what makes paying a ton, paying for parking and hiring a baby sitter because the most concerts are in the evening worth sitting in the back of a big hall where you can't see what is going on? You don't get to watch up close which is very interesting and you don't get to talk to your companions or the artists. I think the format might be antiquated more than the music. I go to a lot of chamber music because it is more intimate. You get a chance to see the artists after the show and it is a lot of fun. I think the hassles of attending a big concert on a regular basis is not always worth the experience.

In the end I think a lot of symphonic music is more fun to play than it is to listen to sitting still in a little chair where you can't move. It is the experience not the music I question in many cases. Think about it, you can watch a movie or listen to a CD and have a drink or dessert. At a chamber concert you get to have snacks and interact at a little reception. The big concerts just are not very compelling when there are so many fun options. I do go to them, but they are never as fun as the small venues.  Many people say that Hilary Hahn is always available to meet people after her shows. As a result, people I know never miss hre shows no matter how big. Some artists and orchestras just connect and others don't.

November 6, 2008 at 04:42 PM ·


I would say the issue will be that large coorporations that once supported the arts will now be faced with rising cost of programs that the gov. will force upon them. They will be faced with the decsion to support such programs which are nice and I feel worthy to provide money to or survive as a company.  Which one do you think they will pick you or survival?

November 6, 2008 at 05:10 PM ·

corwin, that is a good question on venezuela which has been on my mind as well.  it seems that they have a very convincing youth movement going but whether the us can adopt such a system is a question but  worth exploring.  as you mentioned, the socioeconomic climates between the 2 countries are quite different, not to mention socio-cultural factors.  on a scale of 1-10, on the definition of "cool", i wonder how kids there vs us rate their daily interests.  what roles do their central, local govt play, sources of funding,  in or outside school systems, parental involvement, etc.  i am pretty sure the us can benefit from...something.  

tess, as a business owner perhaps a fundamental question one has to ask is what do people need and what can i do.   do they need a computer?  do they need a meal?  what musical interests do they have?   if judging by the ability to fill the seats,  can we say andre reus and venessa mae are what people need?  what if what we want to do is not a good business model but it is something we believe in,,,is that a hobby or a business?  

imo, unless the current classical classical scenes change dramatically, probably much to the dismay of the performers,  it is not a good business model in the usual sense.   if we continue with the same format, to keep classical classical, then there is a need for subsidy from donations or govt, as it always has been. 

so, if that is the route to take,emphasis should be put on finding the right, if not better,  people to lobby for this cause.  we need people people, people who can spin and make others open wallets with delight:) 

just saw j's post; agree that there are growing number of competing interests in the field of music alone putting more pressure on classical music.  that applies to me,,,with cd/dvd/youtube, it is much easier to skip live shows that are during weekdays, passing kids' bedtime.

 PS,  all you DC violin teachers, time to hook up with the president elect and start the 2 kids on violin, i say.   so let's  see some change:)

November 6, 2008 at 05:15 PM ·

I agree Al.  My husband says he would attend church more often if he could sip his coffee during the sermon and if they would replace some organ music with guitar....

It's tough to please everyone.

But a business has to have the goal of making a profit; to have reserve funds in the bank for the thin economic times.  Ticket sales should pay the bills.  Grants and endowments are for the extras...soloist fees, equipment upgrades, etc.  That takes good management with people who's only agenda is seeing the opera company or the symphony succeed and be here for the next generation. 

November 6, 2008 at 05:13 PM ·

I hate to say it, but kids aren't really taught to appreciate the arts in schools anymore (nor are they taught how to think for themselves). There seems to be more of a focus on music and movement in the primary grades, but not as much detail is placed on the technical aspects of music, such as note reading, or appreciation. There's much more focus on rhythm, which brings in a whole different world of musics, primarily from africa and the far east. Unfortunately, there's little attention paid to the great western composers. Most schools stop with general music classes after the 5th grade (here in America). The only experience in music that they get is either through vocal music or band, which far outnumber schools with orchestras.

Even so, schools with orchestras don't really play music that is well-written. Most of the music is just an immitation of some other work (like a movie soundtrack), or a fiddle tune, or just something that's just plain silly. These composers are writing their music to suite the temperment of the child, rather than having the child adjust to the temperment of the music. By doing this, we don't teach the kids how to express different emotions, rather we just teach continue to push them along down the same path mediocrity and the "ra, ra, we're the best" collective mentality.

There's no reason that kids can't listen and understand the music of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and the countless sea of great western composers. There's a story for each of them, and at least one of those stories will touch every child out there, as will the great number of timeless compositions these men gave us. I think we need to stop dumbing down the kids and let them show us how much they are really able learn and comprehend.

November 6, 2008 at 05:20 PM ·

I think you need to be creative. Do something others don't. What's going to stop people from saying "why should I choose you?"

Do the members of your orchestra have meetings? We do this in mine, and the teacher calls them "town meetings'. Do you talk about ideas you have to save the orchestra?

But maybe do theme nights, or offer things that others don't... Feature a talented young local soloist. Or a talented local student quartet. This will draw non music students in as well to see their friends preform. The average teenager thinks that watching an orchestra perform is boring- but if it is their friend on stage, they're going to go to support them. And while there, they may find something they like, and want to come back.

You need to offer something different and unique and I think that could help. If your not willing to try something, than your orchestra will go under.

November 6, 2008 at 07:29 PM ·

Hmmm....  Venezuela seems to know what they are doing.  Maybe we can get President elect Obama to appoint Hugo Chavez as the "People's Minister to the Arts" or something for the United States.  Maybe instead of increasing the taxes of the current wealthy business owner patrons of the arts our government can institute a mandatory "Arts Support" program instead whereby these business owners will make a percentage based "contribution" to arts organizations for the good of the common people.  Sounds reasonable.

November 6, 2008 at 08:22 PM ·

Oh, by the way...  I forgot to add this morning that our strategy enabled us to sell-out our first season with our new orchestra, that we sold twice as many subscriptions this year and are in the process of selling out this season as well.  So far, we have yet to play a performance in front of less than a fully packed hall (hopefully, that will not happen...).


November 6, 2008 at 09:37 PM ·

1. Overhead cut to a minimum

2. Instead of relying on donations and federal or state funds or large endowments from large corporations like Exxon, GE or smaller corporations etc... Which will most likely dry up?  I would say you need to market your service and seek investors. 

3. To make your service attractive to investors seek to partner/collaborate with other like organizations and set up a consortium or even an LLC.

4. You may have to market your service to a broader audience or simply just broaden your service to such things like big corporate events or even smaller AHHHHHHH wedding's or like events to generate operating capital. 

5. Contract for reoccurring events within the community and develop small ensembles and quartets to provide a broader range of capability in order to have the big ART event of a symphonic season.

6.  It appears if the assumption is that donations and charity money will dry up due to the current economy then become self reliant or fold.

Good, bad or indifferent just some ideas



November 6, 2008 at 09:48 PM ·

It's simple, we need to increase music in school programs.   Here in Seattle there is a kids show called tiny tots which is 30 min long on Teus.  My daughter's old daycare went there every week.  She loved it.   It is simply the fact that our schools are dropping music from their programs which is leading our kids to not caring about music when they grow up. 

Then again, the Wii is trying to convince kids to pretend to play an instrument instead of actually learning an instrument so... we may be doomed. 

November 6, 2008 at 09:57 PM ·


You are absolutely correct the wii is really a horrible device your example of music is only one false claim of what it can do it also attempts to claim is can take the place of exercise and outside.  But music is as important as learning a language and I am having a hard time keeping my 11 year old in playing the SAX which he likes he just doesn't like getting up 30 min earlier 3 times a week to go to school band.

November 6, 2008 at 10:26 PM ·


With all due respect, arts organizations are non-profit.  This means that arts organizations are technically not allowed to make profit in a sense.  Any profit that is made must be put back into the organization.  Grants expect you to spend their money for the purpose that it was asked for and you must promptly provide proof of it.  On average ticket sales only cover 10-20% of each performance, especially when you factor in all the reduced ticket prices for certain audience members like students and senior citizens.

Arts organizations are not business in the same sense as corporations.  They are viewed by the government as providing public services and therefore get a majority of their money from government grants and charitable trusts.  There's plenty of money out there if organizations knew how to handle their fundraising.

November 6, 2008 at 11:23 PM ·

i'm young and don't quite understand what it takes to run an organization, but



i think the key to many of these issues is education.


i think we should start little kids in music program, try our best to instill love of the orchestra or any musical group as soon as possible.  in adult life, they will identify with an orchestra with being a kid.  take them to concerts (kid friendly ones?)  teach them when their minds are a sponge, not a teenage firewall.


it is our job in this generation of musicians and students to transfer our knowledge and passion of classical music to future generations.  if music fails in the future, we have ourselves to blame.  everything good and worthwhile is difficult to figure out.


it would be interesting to note, however, maybe if there was an orchestra thay only played pops programming.


how successful are pops orchestras vs. regular symphonic ones?

November 7, 2008 at 12:13 AM ·

We're fighting peer pressure. Almost impossible to overcome. (See drugs) I find many

orchestras absolutely boring. Big time. For heaven;s sakes, get away from the stuffy atmosphere, oh yes it is, and play something the teens won't be embarrassed to attend. Oh yes they are. At our new St. Louis Civic Orchestra's first concert in our super gorgeous new hall Saturday our 24 year old "loves rock," son was blown away by Dvorak's 9th. "Hey," he said,

"that's Star Wars." He loved the concert. We have to attract the teens who love the garbage singers out there somehow. The first thing we can do is lighten up a bit.

On another note, I can't get these lines to fall under each other. Any ideas?

November 7, 2008 at 04:29 AM ·

To get the lines to stay together
Try <SHIFT><ENTER> instead of simply <ENTER>

To get the kids involved with music, make it somethint that cares about them; reading to kids help kids learn to read, so maybe more exposure could help kids get interested.
How many of you have kids in school? Have you ever considered offereing to show up once or twice a year, for a 'Show & Tell'? SHow them what the music can be when they are young, it will give them something familiar to latch on to when they get older. No guarantees, but at least it won't be foreign to them.

November 7, 2008 at 06:00 AM ·

I'll be putting up a little user guide to the text editor, once it is stable. But, yes, now you don't need to hit "enter" twice (the way you used to) to get a double-line break. Now, a single stroke of the "enter" key yields the double-line break. Use the "shift" and "enter" together to get the single-line break. Thank you for sharing that tip with others on the board, Roland.

(And FWIW, everyone, I did not program the text editor. It's a widely-used program called FCKeditor. Yes, an awful name. I am trying to tweak its configuration on to make it a bit more stable and user-friendly, though.)

November 7, 2008 at 12:58 PM ·

I've been noticing that the advertising and publicity for classical music concerts isn't very good. 

Organizations with fancy-sounding latinate names like "New Philharmonia Musica" (I just made that up off the top of my head--sorry if that's a real organization) send you glossy postcards and leaflets in the mail, with artsy come-hither pictures of soloists (after, presumably, buying your name from another organization that indicates you might like classical music).  I'm sure a lot of effort and expense went into producing that brochure and mailing it out, but I'm so overwhelmed by junk mail that I just toss that stuff straight into the recycling bin. 

And simpler, lower-cost alternatives such as community newspaper calendars, library bulletin boards, town and university listservs, are often overlooked.  

November 7, 2008 at 03:13 PM ·

one thing i would consider doing is to link the community closer to the orchestra. 

1.  give away some tickets in high profile situations.  an empty seat is worth close to nothing anyway.  for instance,  on high school orchestra level, the conductor will decide which student has made the most progress and award the student with 2-4 tickets to see the city orchestra.  repeat this to each up and coming city orchestra performance.   how about local radio ticket giveway?  why not consider giving away classical music tickets in popular music station?  prominent local teachers should receive some free tickets to distribute at their discretion.    since money is short, use the tickets as a currency, more effectively and creatively.  

2.  establish a buddy system between high school orchestra members and city orchestra members.   between the local high schools, there could be 100 kids plus their extended family members that will know personally each member of the city orchestra.  imagine that.   once the net is in place, all it takes is one phone call from you...someone who has been providing guidance to them.   isn't this how we end up buying cookies from school fund raising events?:) 

3.  each season dedicate one concert to young performer concerto competition, allowing area high school kids to compete for several spots to solo with the city orchestra.   with friends and relatives, right there, we are talking about 100 -200 tickets easy.   

4  design tasteful, eye catching poster with orchestra calender and make it a fixture in the local community hangouts.

5.  each concert there should be a piece that is highly "entertaining" to the youth.  (my kids just love to go to the library,  above all else, but they don't go there to read shakespear).   classical musicians, have to say it, have had it easy because playing off someone else's score is below average when we compare that with what others have to put in in other fields to constantly reinvent themselves to stay competitive.  find a popular music piece and improvise on it---  you make your own score!  don't know how,,,well, learn, just like everyone else.  your listeners are average folks, not scholars, so save those classical pieces that are so boring to listen to.   you have not sold yourself short because your audience has been entertained.   please joke around like this more often:

6.  learn to sell ad space or mouthpiece ahead of time and prominently feature those sponsors in concert ad.  this whatever concert is brought to you by or made possible by  joe the plumber or something.   in recession, some businesses are more resilient:  essentially all the medical practices and some law outfits.  high end realtors, high end restaurants, or local pawn shops:)

and then my question: those in the management of the orchestras,,,,do they really have the best interests of the musicians in their heart or is that just another job?  why can't musicians in this lean time learn to manage themselves?

November 7, 2008 at 03:17 PM ·

Marina...the fact that some of these organization's can't survive during an economic down turn is due largely to mismanagement of monies.  That is the point I am trying to make.  Who checks the books on the orchestra?  Who is accountable?  If an organization is indeed 'non-profit'...why do they need 20+ paid staff members and who determines what those salaries and benefit packages are?   

A business is a business whether it's for profit or not, and it needs intelligent management to survive.

Roland...that is an excellent suggestion to the members here.  To take your instrument and some of your time, and volunteer to give 5 minute concerts in your local classrooms.  I can imagine the elementary school music teachers would support this 100% and you may just spark an interest. 

We all know, music is fighting an uphill battle competing with sports in schools.  Kids need more access to music programs and real life musicians. 


November 7, 2008 at 03:05 PM ·

We have to consider the possibility that some arts organizations should not survive. If there are two orchestras in a region that are both part-time for the musicians and they each require a staff of 20 then there are clearly some scale economies available. Merging the two orchestras allows the same 20 staff to handle a much larger concert season and provides more job stability for half of the musicians. So sorry about the other half but that is the way it is in the real world. Ask anyone who has been downsized in a merger.

Another opportunity for scale economy is to hire the staff from among the musicians in the orchestra. That creates incentive for efficiency. 

November 7, 2008 at 03:14 PM ·

Marina...the fact that some of these organization's can't survive during an economic down turn is due to gross mismanagement of monies.  That is the point I am trying to make.  Who checks the books on the orchestra's?  Who is accountable?  If an organization is indeed 'non-profit'...why do they need 20+ paid staff members and who determines what those salaries are?  

A business is a business whether it's for profit or not, and it needs intelligent management to survive.

Gross mismanagement yes, too much staff, possibly.  Non-profit does not mean nobody makes money.  The money that an organization makes is not for profit, it's supposed to flow back and forth into the organization.  Presumably if you are doing a job you expect to get paid right?  Although all non profit organizations rely heavily on their volunteers for many job aspects the people that are running the organization need to be paid.  Their executive salaries are dramatically lower than their executive counterparts in a for-profit company, all in keeping with non profit status.  Non-profit organizations are essentially run by a board of directors who decide who gets paid what.

The difference between non-profit and profit organizations is that one has a product  and the other does not.  In a typical business the business buys a product (let's say shoes for example) and buys them at wholesale prices and then in turn sells them at a retail price, therefore making a profit.  Music is the opposite.  You hire some (Itzaak Perllman for example) with a priceless education behind him and a loyal following of fans and have to pay him accordingly in the range of $50,000 but on the other hand you'd have to charge the audience at least $500 a piece in order to cover the cost of that concert.  By law that cannot happen.

November 7, 2008 at 03:43 PM ·

"Another opportunity for scale economy is to hire the staff from among the musicians in the orchestra. That creates incentive for efficiency. "

Absolutely.  The organization has to want to survive.  The people with the most at stake, the musicians, have the most to lose should the orchestra or opera close the doors.  Paid outside managment simply walks down the street and finds a new job.  The musicians are the ultimate losers.

Marina...yes, it would then make more economic sense if the musicians were board members who could then keep the 'outside' board members in check.  Unfortunately, most people are out for themselves and this is a rabid problem in big business and in non-profit organizations as well.  Where there are large sums of money...greed will follow.

Perhaps this conversation will encourage more music students to also study business. 



November 7, 2008 at 03:41 PM ·

well, tess, there is also the other side of the issue:  some musicians are stretched thin already; even if they have the talent say, in marketing, they may not have the time to commit. 

some outside help in management are hired for their expertise, that is, they can do better than what the musicians can do for themselves.

however, this is a good time to take a hard look at the situation and agree that unless you are sitting in a rolls royce, it is probably better in the driver's seat:)

November 7, 2008 at 04:05 PM · man washed the Rolls this morning.  Before the snow fell.

When an organization reaches a certain size, both in managment and in contribution's, indeed you need to hire outside consultants.  But the musicians should not give sole power to those who have no personal commitment to the orchestra.  Herein lies the problem, I feel, and now, instead of being an art form, the orchestra becomes a business and all the shareholders (the musicians)  need to have a say in how the business is operated or you end up becoming another version of the Chrysler corp.

November 7, 2008 at 05:47 PM ·


Your points are well taken and I truly understand where you are coming from.. In businesses there is a move to employee ownership. It seems the musicians should not just share the risk in the bad seasons, but the upside in a great season. I don't know how you could do that in a non for profit but it works on the commercial side quite well. It seems the musicians are always taking pay cuts. Do they get a bonus or profit sharing when they get people to come to the shows or find a sponsor for their chair? I honestly don't know. Comments welcome.

The fact that you have college loans does not entitle musicians yet, if all goes well it seems they should share the rewards. I am proposing sharing risk but not just when times are bad. That way they could save money for when the cycle is in a downturn. Do orchestras do it that way. Would unions oppose such an idea? If you never own some risk, you never have skin in the game and that goes for admin and artists. People are happy for a few good seasons maybe they need a rainy day fund instead of expanding programs. A trust of sorts for bad seasons that represents a % of income or some other equation for the seasons that don't work out. Also as others mentioned it never hurts for all to keep building future audiences through outreach and education. It is tough to count on public schools however. They have their own problems.

November 7, 2008 at 05:48 PM ·

"In businesses there is a move to employee ownership." Wow, does anyone here realize this is socialism in it's purest form?

"Workers shall own the means of production" (The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx)

Just trying to provoke thought, of course, but it's funny how sometimes we can be dead against something in principle - and then go out and do it without realizing..!

November 7, 2008 at 05:56 PM ·

I was thinking this morning that one of the reasons I don't go very often to the symphony or orchestra is because of the atmosphere.  It is very high end, very rich, and (while I know of no dress code) everyone else is dressed to the 9's.  I see them going into Benaroya Hall on Saturday night and the clothes are very nice.  There is an attitude of a "special occasion." 

If you want to hear Jazz music, you go to the local jazz club or bar.  If you want to hear folk music, you can get that too.  Rock and roll, rap, etc, you can find lots of places.  Last time I went to eat at a local Greek hole in the wall, they had a guitarist playing.  It was nice.  In fact, here in Seattle, you can just head out, pay $10 or the price of a meal, and get great music.... unless you want to hear the violin. 

Perhaps we don't want to save these "institutions."  Maybe it is the "institutions" fault for having an air of high class, luxury, and exclusivity.  Maybe if the soloist wasn't wearing a Dior gown the cost of tickets wouldn't be $160 for a family for one show. 

And maybe this is part of the reason I like Irish fiddle music a lot more than I like classical. 

November 7, 2008 at 06:40 PM ·

Here in NYC, two or so years ago a young guy named Ronen Givony launched a fascinating concert series called Wordless Music.

The mission (from the website):  "Wordless Music is devoted to the idea that the sound worlds of classical and contemporary instrumental music -- in genres such as indie rock and electronica -- share more in common than conventional thinking might suggest. To illustrate the continuity between these worlds, the series pairs rock and electronic musicians in an intimate concert setting with more traditionally understood classical music performers. The goal: to bring audiences together, and to introduce listeners from both worlds to composers that they might otherwise not encounter, for a completely new concert experience. In so doing, Wordless Music seeks to demonstrate that the various boundaries and genre distinctions segregating music today -- popular and classical; uptown and downtown; high art and low -- are artificial constructions in need of dismantling."

The series has been a smashing success. I don't know if it's extrapolatable or transferrable, although I don't know why it wouldn't be.  I've attended several of these concerts and I have to say they are an absolute blast.  It's amazing to see the different crowds (and yes at the concerts I attended it was pretty clear who was there to see whom) mingling  -- and responding positively to each other.  The rock crowd went nuts when two kids from my daughter's ensemble played Hallelujah Junction by John Adams, for instance.  It was downright exciting.  The last I went to was at La Poisson Rouge (formerly the Village Gate) and it was great sitting a table with a drink and snack, watching my daughter's ensemble on stage with cool lighting and an excellent sound system peforming Yo Shakespeare and Philip Glass etc.   I can't remember the music director's exact words that night, but it was something to the effect that classical music was alive and well.  And that night, it sure was. 

These concerts have been a great success, and the website has some interesting highlights (and links) to reviews for anyone who's interested:

One reviewer wrote: "Here was the young audience everyone wants to attract, out in force, attracted to a genuine classical concert, without advertising." 

Definitely food for thought.



November 7, 2008 at 07:06 PM ·

Dimitri, not at all.  Not at all.  If your workers take your company away from you, then maybe :)  Otherwise it's a good way to retain skilled employees, among other things.  And we frequently pay people in poker chips (company stock = part ownership...).  And the dream of every capitalist is to own the means of production as well.  We scrap and save, and save and scrap, and scrap and save, to buy our own truck with ladders on the side.  KM just said it couldn't be done.  Nice case btw, I understand, if that's you.


November 7, 2008 at 07:20 PM ·

Jim, I agree with you of course. Human nature is what it is - we seek progress, and progress is advancement: socially and financially. That is why Communism failed. (and yes that is me, thank you!)

November 7, 2008 at 07:23 PM ·

I knew you would of course too.  We were just sort of razzing ;)


November 7, 2008 at 07:41 PM ·

The role of the board members is uniquely financial.  Most often the board members are people who themselves will make sizeable contributions, and will also reach out to their powerful connections to do the same.  The board of directors does not run the ins and outs of the organization, but they do have the power to hire and fire people ultimately. 

Like you say I wish musicians would take a more present role in the organization and that is precisely my point.  I remember as a student at a conservatory I was not taught any of the business skills that have proven to be essential for me to survive in this industry.  Good thing I was thrust into a management position and learned for myself, otherwise I'd be like a lot of other musicians who don't know the first thing about what non-profit truly means.

November 7, 2008 at 08:01 PM ·

"In businesses there is a move to employee ownership." Wow, does anyone here realize this is socialism in it's purest form?

His statement isn't completely untrue.  There is a move here in America toward giving employee shareholder status.  There is a move toward group meetings that determine company decisions based on employee input.  I do feel like there is a move toward socialism in this country in which the people elect officials who write policies that all companies have to encorporate into their business models.  The entire purpose of governmental regulations is to even the field that businesses have to play in.   Meanwhile, taxpayer dollars are being used to prop up failing companies. 

All of this belongs in a discussion of non-for-profit state subsidized music organizations.  They get money from the government, from donation, from endowments, and from ticket sales.  It isn't a business.  It isn't a government agency.  It's something else entirely and a lot of things go into the discussion of how to fix it.

To be honest, in a straight capitalistic model, it would fail.  It is the very infusion of socialism that makes it exist at all.  Not saying this is a bad or wrong thing, it just is.

November 7, 2008 at 08:18 PM ·

Joy, I believe you've got it right. Communism doesn't work - history's proved it. Pure, unadulterated capitalism doesn't either - look at the mess we're in right now. Is it too much to ask for a mix of the two - or perhaps better said - some good sense in applying the underlying sound principles and rejecting the extremism?

November 7, 2008 at 09:06 PM ·

Dimitri,  you are right that we have to mix the two.  It is in the extremes that everything fails.  A capitalist company does a whole lot better if it listens to it's employees on how to improve things.  A society does better if it puts tax dollars toward parks, art, culture, and music in governmental programs.   So, I guess we go back to my origional point (lost pages up) in that we need to get the society in general to care about music.  We'll never save the symphony if 99% of society isn't interested in it and interested in investing in it with taxpayer dollars + ticket purchases.  Whether it's a socialist or a capitalist model, the people need to care.

November 8, 2008 at 01:47 AM ·

There are lots of great opinions and ideas in this thread.  I have to admit that my philosophy is "survival of the fittest".  I know some absolutely fantastic managers and administrators who are currently running major organisations that are coping pretty well with the credit crunch so far.  Yes, they've lost value on their endowments, corporate donations are down etc, but because these individuals are really excellent, hands-on managers who understand the business of running an arts organisation and adapting to change where necessary - their groups are in a decent position to survive and even prosper.  Some of them have had to lay off staff, some are restructuring projects - but all have one thing in common: a well executed business plan which is able to respond to change in the economic climate without damaging artistic values.

On the other hand, you have situations such as the one Laurie has been describing recently in Pasadena, where you don't need to have an MBA or even a high school diploma to realise that management have messed up big time.  I have every sympathy for the musicians, I'd hate to be in their situation, but like any business - there has to be basic competence at the sharp end for it to succeed and even survive.   Look at Lehman Brothers - bad management  and poor judgement by those at the top led a company which should have enjoyed a rock-solid future to go down the plughole. 

It is like the dinosaurs all over again: Time to adapt when the credit crunch meteor hits your planet, or die.

If I was a member of the Pasadena orchestra I would be seeking to empower myself and my fellow musicians.  I'd be forming a  musicians' committee to approach the members of the Board with requests for detailed info on the orchestra's financial position and making suggestions as to the urgently required next steps.  It isn't rocket science to get a consultant or expert retired manager to come in for a month and survey "what's wrong" from the bottom up putting together a neutral independent assessment of the situation and hopefully a  contingency plan to secure the immediate survival of the orchestra.  Executives making a beeline for the exits, strikes me more akin to rats fleeing the sinking ship...

It might mean hard decisions.  Perhaps the area is over-saturated with classical music?  Perhaps the orchestra needs to take a different approach in seeking its audience?  Maybe there has to be more contractual flexibility?  For example, breaking up into smaller ensembles to service smaller, more economic/easy to fill venues or areas not previously served. 

Orchestras are dinosaurs, we've got to admit that to ourselves.  The ones which can adapt or even mutate into a viable species - that will cope with economic climate change no matter how severe - well, they are the ones that wlll stlll be around in 2012.  The rest - perhaps it is the most humane thing for them to be made extinct at this point? 

Looking at London with its self-governed orchestras would be worthwhile for some American bands I feel... power to the musicians!


November 8, 2008 at 03:01 AM ·

I can't offer you a business model, but I was struck by the comment of an earlier poster who indicated his early experience with classical music . . . in church.

That was also my first exposure to the genre. Choirs, pipe organs, Bach and the other regulars, on a daily basis for a half-hour before school, every day for seven years. This served to imprint a familiarity with great music, and had a profound effect on a little kid's mind and perceptions.

When Latin was outlawed, and folk music took over the churches, I left. But the music stayed with me. If we want classical music to survive, the best way to ensure its survival is to plant the seed in young fertile minds. Everything else flows from that, as I see it.

November 8, 2008 at 08:00 AM ·

I once had dinner with the governor of the province of Limburg, in Maastricht (Holland). He told me that they were increasing spending for the arts as a way of getting people to think less of economic problems, because, as he said, money wasn’t the only thing in life. And he was heading a center-right coalition!

That’s an enlightened way of working out a lot of problems, in a way similar to that young peoples’ orchestra in South America, or a current project for a children’s orchestra in Ramallah which is to join Israeli and Palestinian kids to make music instead of war.  
What I'm trying to say is that music can serve a purpose which goes beyond itself as an art form, or cultural activity - making it worthy of being supported financially for different reasons.

December 26, 2008 at 07:14 PM ·


The interesting thing is, the very 'attitude of special occasion' that turns you off is a draw to others.  When I was a young girl, and even today, it was an exciting thing for me to get dressed up in my finest.  I have friends (my age -- mid twenties!) who, like Bob, love the grandeur of the Mass: the organ, the Latin, the architecture.  Can there be a place for both?

P.S. You were sure to tip the guitarist, right? :)

December 27, 2008 at 01:34 PM ·

Nicole, I think you're right, there can and should be a place for both.  I tend to say, aloud, that I prefer the informal atmosphere, but recently I did have occasion to dress up and play a concert, and I enjoyed that process too.  

But I think it comes back to one of Laurie's other questions:  is music a necessity or a luxury?  To me, all that dress-up stuff, especially when/if fashion or newness or labels matter (whether in music or clothes), is absolutely a luxury.  It can be a draw, I enjoy it on occasion, but I don't *need* it on a basic level the way I need music in my life.

If one can find any bright spot in these economic times (which is difficult) one thing I've been noticing is that you can be dressed-up, formal, and look nice without spending a lot of money.  I've always done that--bought clothes at overstock, consignment, and Goodwill, and worn them until they wore out--and for a lot of years I was "out."  Unfashionable and nerdy.  But these days I feel more in step with everyone else.  It's not such a faux pas to admit you got your concert dress 5 years ago at the overstock outlet store for $15 or that you're wearing your grandmother's vintage coat.  Suddenly I'm a savvy shopper.

December 28, 2008 at 01:16 AM ·

Karen, we think alike: luxury can certainly be had on the cheap if you know where to look. 

Music is definitely a need for me; I've started playing in an orchestra regularly again after a long lapse, and it was like I hadn't been breathing.  Suddenly the oxygen flooded in and I can't get enough of it. 

In spite of all the negative things we hear, I think the biggest innovation serving this need today is the internet, with its abundance of inexpensive (yes, even free) music of all genres.  I've found it hasn't made me less likely to go to a live concert or purchase an artist's CD, but it does help eliminate the disappointment of buying something and discovering I don't like it, and it has introduced me to music and artists I would never have known I liked before.  The ones who figure out how to harness this power and use it to draw in an audience are going to be in a much better position.  That's a topic that probably deserves its own thread, though...  


December 28, 2008 at 03:44 AM ·

one word only: culture.

tour your schools, watch your TVs, listen to your radios, review your government policies... therein lies your answer.


December 28, 2008 at 05:56 AM ·

Very well said Ron! Classical music is still very much alive in Europe and it seems so nature that way given other aspects of culture heritage are also well-preserved there, apparently well-supported by their government.  It made me wonder if most classical music fans here in North America are aging European immigrants?

By the way Ron, sorry to hear what had happened to your wife in Vienna. My husband and I were there in early October. It is a somewhat rough area outside the opera house, but we didn't run into any problem fortunately. We went to a couple of concerts there, one of them was Belcea Quartet, fantastic!

Nicole, I share your sentiment about music. Is music necessity? Vengerov said one point that music is fantasy. Is fantasy necessity? Absolutely!

Have a fabulous and fantasy-laden 2009 everyone!

December 28, 2008 at 08:20 PM ·

Anazazi, Toltec, Maya, Aztec, Rome, Ottoman, Ishi whom was discovered in the very early 20th century. Much lost, a remnant still arround.

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