Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Dutch Perspective

Thanks to google we were also able to stumble on to another reaction to conference - specifically on the Social Networking Session.

Marc van Bree has some interesting thoughts on how organizations should be thinking about social networking, but in my mind, the most intersting thing is that he followed this session primarily through this conference blog and twitter. Here is his post.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Final Word About Conference 2009

Jason Nicholson:

As I'm sitting at my desk looking at the sea of brochures from fellow
orchestras, I have to say that we all do a pretty d*mn good job with the
resources we have. Especially Groups 3-8. A lot of us don't have a staff
of 10,5 or even 2. We manage to do what we do with what we have. We all
should be proud.

I've been thinking of all the Toolboxes, Perspectives, beer, Roundtable
discussions, Sessions, beer, and everything else that went on in
Chicago. When I looked at my "to do" for the day, it didn't look like a
lot, but when I got going, talking to vendors, friends (new and old),
concerts and all the sessions, it got a little crazy.

There were some sessions that I was thinking, "Really, you could've
handed out an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper and called it a day because I'm
really not getting anything out of this." But then again, the session
wasn't all about me, there are others in there might have gotten some
little nugget of enlightenment. Instead of complaining about what I'm
not learning, I needed to focus on what I could be learning. Whether it
was from Mr. or Mrs. Power Point presenter, someone from Group 8 or the
big dogs in Group 1, there is ALWAYS something you can take from all of

I grade this conference an A-. The minus simply because I wanted more
toolboxes/sessions and less morning concerts (which were awesome!). But
like I said, the conference isn't all about me.

Good luck to all my fellow orchestras on their 2009-2010 season!

Jason Nicholson
Marketing Director
Austin Symphony Orchestra

Re: Convention after thoughts

Hi All – Liz here,

The entire experience at the conference last week reminded me of two things-

1. We contribute so much value to the organizations we represent and provide a vital service that enriches lives

2. Networking with other people in like positions in other orchestras is essential to growing our own orchestra but also to keep our budgets in line. We can test theories and projects through others experiences and learn from them and adapt them to our own situations

If you have not been to a convention – try to get to one – I think you will be surprized at the depth of the experience and the fun you will have – this was my first convention and it will not be my last!

Liz Burnham
Director of Sales and Marketing
South Bend Symphony Orchestra

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Other thoughts on the Conference

If you've enjoyed reading what our Conference delegates had to say about their experiences in Chicago (and we know you have!) you might also be interested in Ann Drinan's blog.

Ann is the Senior Editor at Polyphonic and she has extensive posts on her time in Chicago, you can find it all here.

Do you know about other people who were blogging in Chicago? Let us know and we'll link to them here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Random Post Mortem Musings

Post from Alan Jordan (from 35,000 feet.)

Quasi-quote: “There isn’t a mayor in this country who doesn’t come to Chicago and see this (the Pritzker Pavilion) and say, ‘man, I want on of these for my city!’”

I never thought Shostakovitch could sound like Brahms until last evening. And no one would know why his Songs of the Forest would be unfamiliar to American audiences until they read the translations. (And we still would have be in the dark had communism not died there!) Wonder where I can find a recording?

2009 conference may eventually be regarded as one of the largest group therapy sessions ever offered. One can’t help feeling a little better about our industry—and careers!

A constituency session comment re-iterated a line shared with me a long time ago from a concert hall manager in Concord, NH who passed away from cancer a few years back: the official moniker for 501(c)3s is not “non-profit,” but “not for profit.” For profit firms are obligated to their shareholders to produce results. We are obligated to the public to produce results, and those results are not necessarily—and most beneficially—financial ones.

I haven’t been sold yet on a laptop as a classical music instrument. And I wonder how percussionists will feel about seeing performance opportunities for them wrested away by pre-programmed computers? Is this much different than using a CD for Nutcracker?

I wonder if the Palmer House will find any lost delegates on Monday morning?

And now a final image; one not taken by our official conference photographer, and not at an official conference event:

Ari Solotoff (Portland, ME), Alan Jordan (Vermont), Emily Pawlak (Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA), John Gingrich (NY, NY), Joshua Worby (Westchester, NY), and Bill Capone (NY, NY) with the Chicago skyline in the background following the Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago White Sox game at Comisky Park (aka, US Cellular Field).

Enjoying America’s second favorite pastime after orchestra concerts: baseball!

Looking forward to Atlanta!

Alan Jordan
Executive Director
Vermont Symphony Orchestra

well worth the trip

John Thomas Dodson:

It occurs to me that when you look at the cost of attending the annual conference you have to ask some hard questions. CAN we pay for this and SHOULD we? For me, it was well worth the trip.

I was in a meeting yesterday with an educator planning one of our concerts for junior high and high school students for next season, and I found myself including new ideas I had gotten from the conference. As things went on, we got more and more excited – realizing that we were creating something genuinely innovative for young people. Score one for the session on Social Communities. We’ll be borrowing some ideas from that one…

A conference, or for that matter, the League itself, is as valuable as you choose to make it. Reaching out to old friends, and being open to making new ones creates not only new contacts in the field, but incredible new resources who will respond to an e mail or a phone call - helping you wrap your mind around an issue that needs more wisdom that you feel you have at the moment.

More than that though, being in Chicago helped me remember that the tough times aren’t just local and that I’m a part of something larger. It helps us belong to the entire field. It removes isolation and replaces it with community.

See you next year!

John Thomas Dodson
Music Director, Adrian Symphony
Principal Conductor, Toledo Ballet Theatre
Creative Destruction Blog:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A few words.

Posted by: Carolyn Nishon

Early flight and a forty-seven pound suitcase--massive overpack. Monroe street, please. Back-to-back-to-back in the lobby. That ceiling. Suits and heels and nametags and business cards. Itineraries and blackberries. Awkwardly staring at peoples stomachs to get a glimpse at their names. Faces to accompany phone voices. Three days will feel like three weeks. Corner Bakery. Waiting for the elevator. Getting on the wrong elevator. Getting lost in the hallways. Starbucks. Starbucks again. Friends and Fellows. Remember when. Wabash street exit umbrellas. Two trumpets sounding like one. Event and experience. Cheese and crackers and pointillism. Gin and tonics. Laughter. Lack of internet. Spirituals and bird songs, Hiawatha, bohemia, and the B9 scherzo. Standing ovations. Everyone move up closer--this should be a discussion. Cutting costs and sympathizing. Constantly asking. Questioning habit. Churn. Humanizing. Booths and pamphlets and discs and folders. 2010. 2011. 2012. 2013. Lack of sleep and blurry eyes. Seven-thirty croissants and community, rolls and relationships. Booked myself through lunch. Beyond the beyond. Bernstein and the Bean. Shaking hands and embracing arms.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A British Perspective

Mark Pemberton:
Sorry I've been so quiet but a) I've just been so busy and b) I objected to paying for internet access at the Palmer House. Now that I've re-located to the Park Hyatt for a few days of sightseeing, and have access to free wi-fi, I can give you my views on a fascinating few days.

So, highlights for me definitely include the drinks at the Art Institute. What an amazing building. And great views. Slightly embarrassed that it should be the Brits who have to be kicked out at the end of the night.

In terms of the conference, we can't avoid the fact that the state of the economy has drowned out all other topics. Which is a shame, as the conference is the opportunity to look to the future, while also sharing the problems of the present day. For this reason I gravitated towards discussion on new technology. I found today's Social Networking session interesting up to a point. But Russell Jones was spot on in his cry of "what about the dollars?". The speakers kept talking about the "new business model". But Facebook and Twitter have no business model! They have no means of generating income. So while they provide opportunities for communication and audience development, they have, I fear, limited income potential.

I enjoyed the Round Table, though found it hard to hear the speakers. If the League is going to repeat this, then, if it can afford it, booths would work better. And I know times are hard, but could they not have stretched to giving us a cup of coffee this morning?

Benchmarking for Success provided some useful information and will certainly help my organisation.

But the main benefit of attending the conference has to be the range of people you meet. Everyone is so friendly and has a story to tell.

As for Chicago - what a great city. Though all those ribs and deep dish pizzas have done nothing for my waistline.

See you in Atlanta.

Blog entry

Can it be Friday already? I just came out of a session devoted to the implications of social networking. At one level I'm sure the subject seems either just "an extra bell and whistle" or a subject too daunting to think about, but when all the smoke clears we'll remember these days as the beginning of a new approach to working together. Ripples of this session will show up in future master agreements and even in the way we view content ownership. It will mean opening ourselves up to audience-generated content after a concert (including the freedom to lose control of comments). I hope we get this right soon enough to be here to reap the benefits. It will mean a lot of new thinking from everyone involved and a significant cultural change across the field. I loved the open-ended qualities of this session. No one knows exactly where we're going, but we DO know that the old models won't be sufficient anymore. Opportunity knocks!

League Staff

The League Staff has done such a good job this conference. Melanie Thibeault is awesome! Thank you Melanie for all your help and support! You made this easy for me. Major Props! Thank you Jim Holt for setting up this blog!
I have one more blog in me that I'll save for later!

Chicago: Day 4

James Barry:
When I started at the League back in October I often heard around the office phrases such as: "just wait until conference, remember at conference, well... at conference." I was fairly certain this conference thing must be a pretty big deal. Now in Chicago on my fourth day I have the bragging rights to speak phrases that end in "conference." Simply: it has been a whirlwind. I expected and was warned about the long hours, having to rise at the crack of dawn, the non-stop work - which all happened. But the things I didn't foresee or expect are those that have left the strongest impression on me. On Wednesday just before 1pm I witnessed the Palmer House Hilton bristle to life with delegates: reunions of old friends, hugs, handshakes, new introductions, the beginning of new relationships. The inspirational power of the Beyond the Score presentation of the New World Symphony reinforced why all "this" matters. And when the CSO's facilities manager spoke at the Operations/General Managers constituency meeting about hall/office utility consumption I understood the level of detail and insight orchestra staff members have brought to coping with the new economic reality and their willingness to share successes with others.

day 3 begins...

people strolling into Orchestra Hall. Chicago youth symphony and MusicNOW beginning soon.

RE: Social Networking Time Management

Hi Liz here again -

Yesterday I engaged is some lively conversations about how to manage social
networking and not let it rule your every waking moment. It is very
important to keep these outlets fresh and new, but how can you fit updates
to these social sites in check. The suggestions I received were to limit
the social networking time to 5 to 30 minutes a day and no more----


Thursday, June 11, 2009

dead name badge

posted by liz Mahler via jim holt:

did liz "lose" her badge? yes.
did jim "find" it? yes.


live from the bottom lounge. mmmm... bottom lounge.

RE: Churn Revisited

Hi Liz here again -

The Churn Revisited is a follow-up to the Churn study from the last
conference. This presentation will be up on the League site next week- this
information is not to be missed! The presentation shares some initial
findings from offers sent out based on the research on single ticket buying
habits and behavior-- I found it this insight helpful,and exciting to test
in my marketplace -



Post by Alan Jordan

That's the word that first comes to mind to describe the pace of this
conference. And I don't mean that in a bad way but, honestly, it's been
non-stop since 7:30AM, and I have about 20 minutes until my next appointment.

So, why is this? From what I've experienced, people seem more interested in
getting information, making connections, sharing experiences, and finding
solutions. What I haven't seen as much are the war stories. Perhaps, we
all have had enough of our own war stories in the past twelve months that the
"venting" is just too painful—or unproductive. In any event, there's
drive here in Chicago. The people with whom I've interacted see the
challenges and are ready to take them on.

A long-time colleague remarked about how humorous it was that no one was
willing to admit how tough things are. In my mind, that's a given. We all
know it's "the worst of times." And there's a lot that we cannot
control or fix. So our focus should be on what we can fix. (First
"take-home:" get, "Polarity Management" by Barry Johnson. It
addresses just this topic. Thanks Andrew!)

Other notables today:

1) Beyond the Score—very interesting and enlightening presentation. Glad
the Civic still had enough chops left to play the whole New World in the
second half.

2) Churn and churn busters—THE buzz word and topic. Be prepared to hear
more on this for years.

3) "Being non-profit does not mean being stupid." (Actually, a quote
from yesterday, but so true! We don't need excuses like that. When this
economic mess is done, wouldn't it be nice to hear the phrase, "you should
run your business more like the Symphony!?"

4) Henry, the accolades today were wonderful but still do not convey how much
our field owes you! I add my thanks to everyone else's.

Off to my next meeting.

# # #

Peer-to-Peer Presentation

Posted by Jason Nicholson:
I gave my Peer-to-Peer presentation just now. I believe it went well. The people at my table were responsive and asked great questions. I hoped they got something out of it. I love talking about the BATS!

Presentations and Concerts

Posted by Jason Nicholson:

All I can say is WOW! The people I've met so far have been wonderful and what I have learned from them is invaluable.

The Chicago Symphony's performance last night was simply amazing. I don't think they are human because they don't make a mistake, yet the color and dynamics show everything only a human can possess. I know Chicago is proud of the gem they have here.

Blog entry

John Thomas Dodson:
Beyond the Score was extraordinary this morning - a model of imagination. I remembered thinking that there must be a number of orchestras rethinking their capacities for audience engagement as it took place. At least I hoped it did. In a Discovery Channel world, this is one of the fruitful ways forward for the field. Strangely, it was so well done that I had one private worry: I hoped that all of the marvelous technical achievements wouldn't discourage the smaller budget groups from pursuing this idea. There is a LOT that can be done in this vein - even without the vast resources we experienced today. As an aside, kudos to Sir Mark Elder, who completely entered into the project and brought his artistry to the young musicians of the Chicago Civic.... I can't imagine that they would ever forget such an event.
I heard a wonderful question today in one of the conductor/artist administrator sessions: "Are you doing anything NEW or just making incremental cuts to survive these times?" The question didn't come from the podium - perhaps it should have - but it really captured the challenge of these economic realities. We can't just cut, wait and survive. We have to create and re-imagine ourselves. I loved that moment: a quiet, thoughtful challenge to all of us.
Off to Peer-to-Peer Roundtables. I had better hurry...I'm presenting one of them. More later.

The Annual Refusal of the Gifts

Posted by Rachel Rossos:
As I go through my notes from yesterday's fantastic Annual Fund OLA in preparation for co-leading the Development Groups 3-8 meeting at 1:30pm today (Striking a Chord With Your Board), a particular phrase sticks out at me: "The annual refusal of the gifts."

During a discussion of how to choose an Annual Fund chair, Paul Hogle said that he has had great success when appointing someone who is brand new to the Board of Directors. He then suggested that a major trap that institutions fall into regularly is to court a member of the community for the Board of Directors, letting them know all the skills and leadership qualities that they will bring to the table, and then to not follow through on the promises in those discussions. The community member joins the Board and is under-utilized. In other words, we are refusing the gifts of his or her time, leadership, and skills.

By defining a brand new Board member's role as the chair of a campaign or committee, we can help ensure that we are taking full advantage of their skills and enthusiasm. Even if there is not an opening to chair a committee, we do have the responsibility to commit to a role for everyone on our Board of Directors. Otherwise, we are leaving valuable resources and talent untapped.

What is your orchestra's Board culture like? Do you have defined roles for most or all of your Board members?

day two begins

goodmorning everyone...

Re: Blog

Hi this is Liz Burnham -

This is my first conference and day one was wonderful - full of insight into
how to handle marketing challenges facing all of us today. I am impressed
by the creativity all the marketing directors have used to increase
audiences and promote themselves. It is nice to know we are not alone.

I will share two marketing ideas I thought were outstanding-
1. A symphony used a university gym to promote and sell tickets because 80%
of the students used the gym - giving away free tickets and found that 30%
returned to buy tickets to a concert
2. For new subscriptions - refer a friend - by e-mail or snail mail. Ask
current subscribers for names of people to offer a promotion - in this case
they offered 50% off for new subscribers - they received 200 new subscribers
in one year and retained them in year two by 50%

More later -

Tune up party report

Joey and liz
Joey and liz are at the tune up party after a great concert. Joey had the best seat in the house-behind the orchestra. Liz had a great view and listen of Alisa's Dvorak concerto. Its been a pretty good opening to the 64th league of american orchestras annual conference!
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Improving Music Education in Our Schools & Communities

Posted by Najean Lee:
Greetings from the Windy City! Forgive me if this is on the long side and believe me when I say this is already quite pared down! I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post, so there’s a chance this may be my only entry. For those of you following along at home, we really wish you were here! But it’s great to see just how many folks did make it out, and I have to say that having so many of you in one place is a huge part of why Conference is such a great experience, especially for me since I don’t often get to interact with members from our lonely DC office. Today I sat in on two sessions discussing music education. The first was the Education & Community Engagement constituency session, which examined how orchestras can be advocates for in-school music programs. Rather than recap everything, I’ll just note a couple of things that I found particularly memorable. First, the Dream Out Loud ( campaign is really fantastic, judging from the clips we saw today anyway. The CSO has found a way to bridge the gap between young students and professional musicians by profiling several orchestra musicians. In addition to a poster campaign, there are also more in-depth video interviews in which the musicians share their stories about how they got involved with music, some of the challenges they faced as they began learning their instruments, and what they gained from their early experiences – it was truly inspirational, even to the proverbial choir that already believes in the message! One common thread that ran between this session and a following Toolbox session titled “Music in Our Schools and In Our Future” was a focus on data. Before getting any successful project off the ground, you need to gather data so you understand your environment, the challenges, and the opportunities. Similarly, when Susan Bodilly from RAND was asked in the Toolbox session what one thing orchestras, or really any organization, should do in order to strengthen arts education in its community, she advised conducting an audit to learn about what types of arts are being provided. Once you have the data, you can begin to detect trends, and most importantly – you can begin building compelling arguments to convince other organizations to join in partnership with you and even contribute funding so that your efforts can be sustained over time. I’ll end here, but if any of you are interested to learn more about either of these sessions feel free to shoot me an email and I’d be happy to share my notes!

Thoughts en route

Post from Alan Jordan:

It's my first time. Be gentle! At nearly 48 years—and of a generation
that was grateful for access to an IBM Selectric for producing term
papers—this is my first effort at blogging. Indeed, I can count the number
of times on one hand that I've even read a blog, so feel free to critique
and make suggestions for improvement.

Presently, I'm somewhere over New York state, courtesy of Jet Blue, and
pondering what the week has in store. I have been attending League
conferences since 1987 and have only missed a few: one because of my son's
birth, last year because of my daughter's graduation, and a couple due to
extraordinary financial challenges with my orchestra at the time. So, yes, I
am a veteran.

As I head to conference, I have to think I'm not the only one who feels more
tired than usual. It has been a difficult year for many of us. Much more
time has been taken up with financial monitoring—at the expense of fund
raising, marketing, planning, and other duties. This goes for board and
musicians as well as staff. The glass-half-full observation is that our
conversations at board, staff, and orchestra meetings have forced us to focus
on the most important matters, and to discuss priorities. Even "sacred
cows" have been looked at for validation going forward. This has been
healthy for our organization, particularly as we embark on a new planning
process soon. It is exhausting, however!

So, what do I expect out of this conference?

(First thought: "Illumination," heard in the voice of Sean Connery. OK,

Actually, illumination covers much of the expectations. Specifically, I seek
validation for some of the decisions made and actions taken by our orchestra
in the past year. Even with list-serves and the occasional conference calls
(thanks LAO for facilitating monthly "group sessions" for 5-6 managers!),
we occasionally (often?) feel like we work within vacuums. Ours is the only
fully professional symphony in the state—not much available locally for
comparison. And, will what worked in Duluth-Superior or Westchester translate
to Vermont? How do our positions in the planning and financial cycles affect
outcomes compared to our peers? And what adjustments should be allowed for
the unique personalities and relationships that make up our organization?

My colleague Tom talks about "take-homes" or "take-aways" to justify
the expense of conference. While a policy sample, document or power point
presentation shared back home provides concrete evidence, the informal
conversation or introduction can proved just as valuable. Indeed, there have
been years when the "aha" moment hasn't come until some time on the
flight home. So, for me, I won't fret if I leave this Saturday without that
piece of paper or amazing brainstorm. There's always the follow-up e-mail
or list-serve posting.

Often, I learn more by answering questions from colleagues. Something we did
back home seemed so obvious, yet when analyzed by new eyes, a different
thinking emerges.

I am very impressed that 900 delegates have found the resources (including
time!) to make the trip to Chicago. Like back home, I expect the
conversations this week to be more focused and stimulating. While conference
is important to me in reinforcing the value of what we do, I find it even more
valuable for the volunteer leadership who join us. Their vacuums are often
greater, and I relish the "aha" moments they experience: from "we do
this just like they do" to "we're in better shape than most" to
"look at how they do this; maybe we should try…"

The clouds below keep me from sensing how far from Chicago we are, and I
better take a few minutes to review the conference schedule. Signing off at
38,000 feet and T-minus two hours and forty-five minutes from "showtime!"

# # #


John Thomas Dodson: We're back from the open rehearsal: I was delighted to see Peter Bay, a fellow Peabody Alum from way back. He's covering this week for the festival. We heard a lovely Dvorak Cello Concerto with some nice detail work in accompaniment by Sir Mark Elder and the orchestra. Alisa Weilerstein poured her heart out. Can't wait to see the concert tonight!

The booths are open now, and the Exhibit Hall is begining to fill up.

Blog Entry

John Thomas Dodson:

Yesterday was a whirlwind. The Adrian Symphony was part of a reconvening of the Institutional Vision 3 participants: seven orchestras from around the country taking part in a program based on Jim Collins' thinking. It's been an extraordinarily valuable experince for all of us - clarifying core values, setting long term goals, making those goals more "solid" through vivid descriptions. I suppose that, with every orchestra feeling understaffed, such a program might seem like a luxury. Instead, it has clearly helped many of these orchestras stay vital in difficult times. I wish there were a better way of conveying the value of this program to those who might consider applying in the future.

I was struck by the vitality of Palmer House's lobby throughout the afternoon: Old and newly-made friends having a drink and catching up. I visited with New Haven Symphony Orchestra Music Director William Boughton and later with Doug McClennon of It struck me that only this kind of convention allows you to discuss dynamics in Beethoven, articulation in Handel's Messiah and the new community-building tools available through the internet -- all in the span of an hour.

Off to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's open rehearsal. More later!

True confessions

Posted by Liz Mahler:

Let me start by coming clean with the fact that I am a first-time blogger. I rarely do Facebook updates, let alone blog, so it'll be interesting to try to round up my thoughts here and share them exponentially.

It's 7:30am and we just finished a League staff meeting. (I swear I will become a morning person by the end of the week!) After two days of OMFP sessions and a full-day OLA (helpful insights re: Pops programming, etc.), I feel like Conference has been going on for a while now. In reality, it is just the beginning....

So as I de-blurrify my mind this morning, I'm looking forward to the new music panel with CSO Composers-in-Residence Mark-Anthony Turnage and Osvaldo Golijov, both of whom I've found to be genuinely inspiring creative minds/speakers. Am also excited about the opening session, Dvorak concert, and Tune-Up. Because not only am I a first-time blogger, I'm also pretty much a first-time Conference attendee!

The Ultimate Question - Surveying our Audiences

Posted by Rachel Rossos:

I am one of the members of the 2nd class of the League's Executive Leadership Program - a group that I am honored to be a part of. We started off our week in Chicago on Tuesday with a presentation by two speakers from Bain & Company, a consulting firm that has developed a research metric called the Net Promoter Score. The basic concept is that when an organization surveys its customers (or, in our case, audiences and donors), it centers the survey around one main question, scaled from 0 to 10: How likely would you be to recommend us to a friend? The organization subtracts the percentage of ratings 6 and under ("detractors") from the percentage of ratings of 9 and 10 ("promoters") to find out their score. (Someone who gives a rating of 7 or 8 is considered "passive".) This score can then serve as a metric to both measure customer loyalty and to predict future behavior of the audience.

The ELP2 class was asked to conduct surveys like this (see mine here), followed by phone calls to our patrons to dig deeper into the reasons behind their ratings. We all seemed to gain a more thorough knowledge of our audience base. For some, the survey results confirmed things that the marketing or development director had already guessed; for others it brought to surface unexpected results. My survey results did both, and, as an added bonus, I got a lot of feedback from the New Century Chamber Orchestra's promoters that I will be able to use when drafting marketing messages over the course of the next few months.

How many of you out there are regularly surveying your patrons? Do you have a system in place for following up on the responses you receive?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pops and more....

Posted by Joey Young:
Today I spent 8 hours in a room discussing pops and special programming. Eight HOURS…it's a really long time, however, so much great information! Jeff Tyzik, Amanda Tozzi Williams, and Shelly Fuerte served as an entertaining, engaging and informative panel.

I found it fascinating how much time we discussed the training of conductors early in the session. Since I'm sort of "fried" for the day I thought I would just share one brief comment given from an administrator's point of view.

Great Comment: "If you insist on a staff conductor to do pops [or ANYTHING] why aren't we finding him or her the training in communication, acting, timing, and etc.??"

It's a valid question and hope many artistic administrator's have this attitude.


Posted by Mark Pemberton:
So here I sit, in the Hilton bar, waiting for a cold beer and paying an extortionate rate to log-in and submit my first blog of the conference. Just arrived on an 8 hour flight from London, feeling surprisingly chipper, helped not least by getting a free upgrade on the flight for the simple reason I gave up my seat for a couple who wanted to sit together and the purser thought I deserved an upgrade for my selflessness. Now waiting for Russell Jones for my first meeting of the conference, to discuss tomorrow's Noise session. I promise, it's more exciting than it sounds. Ah, that beer's arrived. Hurrah! Chin chin, and look forward to meeting as many of you as I can in what promises to be a hectic few days.

Day 1

Posted by Joey Young:

So I arrived in Chicago on Sunday night and spent my first day already learning great ideas!!


The league conducting fellows arrived a bit head of schedule to share our reflections from our current year. We all come from different orchestras, so it's great to hear about everyone's valuable experiences. We also had some very informative sessions throughout the day that included time with two conductors performing this week-Sir Mark Elder and Carlos Kalmar. They shared their insights on career building as well how music directors create and maintain an orchestra's artistic vision. Sir Elder brought an interesting perspective to the table being the music director of a British orchestra (Halle Orchestra). As we all are thinking about the current financial crisis he shared the perception of the problems in Britain. And Carlos Kalmar shared with us his unique artistic prospective between his two orchestras (Grant Park and Oregon Symphony).

They both brought interesting discussions to the table but I'm sure this week will be full of many more. Tuesday begins the Orchestra Leadership Academy and I will be attending Pops and Special Programs-the Next Generation. See ya there!! Oh and if you haven't arrived yet, the weather feels great in Chicago so far.

Hello, Chicago. Hello, World….

Today is the day I have been looking forward to since we decided to launch this blog. Today is the day that some Conference delegates will begin arriving in Chicago for pre-Conference sessions. Today is ALSO the day that we present to you our amazing cast of “live-from-Chicago” Conference-Bloggers.

From Maine to Texas, from Vermont to California, from England to Indiana…these are the people who will be reporting back to the world about their thoughts and opinions and reactions, about who they are seeing and meeting, what they are learning and taking home with them… hopefully more than just the fancy hotel towels! Either way, the only place to find out what they’re doing is right here.

So now, without any further adieu, our friends and colleagues reporting from Conference:
Liz Burnham, Director of Sales and Marketing, South Bend Symphony Orchestra
John Thomas Dodson, Music Director, Adrian Symphony Orchestra
Alan Jordan, Executive Director, Vermont Symphony Orchestra
Liz Mahler, Orchestra Management Fellow, League of American Orchestras/Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Jason Nicholson, Director of Marketing, Austin Symphony Orchestra
Carolyn Nishon, Artistic Administrator/Orchestra Manager, Portland (ME) Symphony Orchestra
Mark Pemberton, Director, Association of British Orchestras
Rachel Rossos, Director of Development and Marketing, New Century Chamber Orchestra
Joey Young, League Conducting Fellow, Baltimore Symphony/Peabody Conservatory

We will also have two members of the League staff contributing:
James Barry, Program Coordinator, Leadership Training and Recruitment (NYC office)
Najean Lee, Government Affairs & Education Advocacy Manager (DC office)

Bookmark this page. Make it your homepage. Set your alarm to remind you to check-in with us. Make visiting this blog the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night.

Do whatever you need to do to be part of this unique year in Chicago.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Chicago, here we come!

Posted by Jesse Rosen:

By this time tomorrow there will already be delegates from around the world participating in some of our pre-conference Orchestra Leadership Academy seminars. In little more than 48-hours, we will all be together again in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for our opening general session. Chicago, here we come!

Of course there are many of our members and friends who will not be able to make it to Chicago this year, and for a variety of reasons. Well, this is exactly why we decided to create this blog, so people who were not able to attend could still be involved.

Tomorrow we will be announcing who our conference bloggers will be – they are from all over the country and from a variety of orchestra sizes. Perhaps more importantly though, they have opinions and they will be sharing with us what they are learning, who they are talking to, and what they will be taking back home with them. We hope you will find this to be a valuable source for information whether you are with us in Chicago or at home with your staff.

If you see me, or any of the League staff, please say hello! We spend most of the year preparing for Conference and one of the great joys for us is seeing and talking with our members in person.

See you soon!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Beyond the Score

Today is the last of my four Friday posts featuring some of my favorite items from the League’s Innovation Forum, “a place where member orchestras can share ideas, programs, tactics, and strategies."

It is only fitting that I wrap-up with an item from the Audience Development area of the Forum, especially since it features the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and gives me an opportunity to remind you about a free Toolbox session on the topic a week from today.

On Thursday morning, during our general session we will get to witness one of the Chicago Symphony’s famous Beyond the Score presentations. Then on Friday afternoon be sure to check-out the Toolbox session called: Beyond the Chicago Symphony’s Beyond the Score.

Click here to read to about the idea for this project in our Innovations Forum and think of it as a warm-up for next week.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Free Beer! When? Thursday night.

Will the League be hosting another “under-35 event” in Chicago? Of course we will.

Will there be free beer and a room full of friends, colleagues, and the Next generation of the orchestra field? Of course there will be.

See all the details below and RSVP to if you haven’t already.

• Thursday, June 11 in the Volcano Room at the Bottom Lounge located at 1375 W. Lake Street

• Free beer courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing Co. from 8:00-10:00 pm

• Drink specials on Great Lakes Brewing brands all night

• Delicious and affordable dinner menu.

• Great views of the Chicago skyline from the rooftop deck!

• Starlight Mints, an indie pop band from Oklahoma, will play downstairs in the music room.

• Bring your business card for a chance to win free registration to the League’s 65th National Conference in Atlanta.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Who has time for strategy when we are just trying to survive?!

Today we welcome Debra Natenshon to the Conference Blog! Ms. Natenshon is the CEO of The Center for What Works and will be leading our June 10th Orchestra Leadership Academy seminar: Benchmarking for Success: Making the Case in a Competitive Environment.

Posted by Debra Natenshon:

The fact that "evaluation" has become the bane of many nonprofit leaders' existence does not mean that any strategic attempt to measure and thrive should be thrown overboard. It is well known that organizations which are better prepared to articulate successful outcomes are organizations that have a better chance of thriving – I would argue, especially in a down economy.

My OLA seminar next week will make a case for ongoing performance measurement as a key component for successful mission achievement. Better yet, we will discuss frameworks and tools that bring the process to life and cost little more than your attendance to this session!

Wednesday we will outline the process so individual orchestras can work to implement strategy as well as incorporate measurable indicators. Some of the topics covered include:

· Measurement for Orchestras – Why does it matter?
· Articulating Success – Strategic level and practical level
· Benchmarking – Learning from your own orchestra and your peers

Since we started working with the League in 2007, we have trained about 30 member orchestras to assist in their process toward programmatic performance measurement. We are also exploring deeper conversations with a handful of orchestras to assist with taking their strategic plans to the next level of implementation.

If you plan to attend my session, bring your current strategic plan and let’s get to work on actually using it!

I look forward to meeting you next week in Chicago.

Never Waste a Good Recession

Today is the last of my three Wednesday posts featuring content from the League’s website which you might not know even existed. This week I wanted to highlight two important League produced products which are being offered at a special limited time only price.

On the Road to Authentic Civic Engagement: An Assessment Resource for Orchestras in Their Communities and the Board of Directors Self-Assessment Tool are available for 50% off the regular price. These unique resources will enable you to gauge where your orchestra stands in these vital areas, and what you can improve on, making your organization stronger, more focused on your mission, and able to weather the current storm. To read more about these tools and to take advantage of this special offer click here.

Of course there will be a lot of programming in Chicago on these kinds of topics, here are a couple that come to mind….

Wednesday, June 10th
The OLA Seminars Guidance for Governance Leaders or Financial Management (there is an additional fee for these two sessions) and the free Toolbox session, Music in our Schools.

Thursday, June 11th
Be sure to check-out the Peer-to-Peer Roundtables.

And, Friday, June 12th
The free Toolbox session, El Sistema USA.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Do you have an Audience or a Community? Why Social Networking Matters

Today we welcome Douglas McLennan to the Conference Blog! Mr. McLennan is the editor of and will be one of our panelists for the Toolbox session called Getting the Most Out of Social Networking on June 12.

Posted by Douglas McLennan:

I’m trying not to freak out. Everything is changing. The news business is falling apart, the economy’s a mess, and every time I look at ArtsJournal, the website I edit, it seems about ten years out of date. This time next year, the news business won’t look anything like it does now. At least half a dozen major newspapers will be out of business, and at least one or more major American city will be without a metro daily paper.

This week General Motors went bankrupt. I recently saw a list of brands predicted to fail this year, including Budget rental car, Borders books, Old Navy, Chrysler, Eddie Bauer and United Airlines. And how many banks have gone out of business so far in this recession?

Business models that were fundamentally changing before the recession hit are in free fall as the economy tanks. Systems that have worked for decades suddenly no longer seem up to the job. And speaking of jobs, there don’t seem to be any. Something big is going on, not just in the way America does business, but in the ways our culture works, and even some of our usual approaches to solving problems don’t seem to be working.

It isn’t enough, for example, simply to reach for a new set of tools. Many industries (hello newspapers) have mistaken the business they’re in, confusing their platform for their product. In the new digital economy, this is a disaster. Platforms are transitory, tools are constantly changing, and if you’re not careful, today’s platform is tomorrow’s anchor tied to your feet.

Social networking is the It Girl of the moment. Everyone’s blogging, twittering and Facebooking trying to figure out how these tools fit in to a new business model. The good news is that the social networking movement is pushing arts organizations to reconsider their relationships with audiences. The bad news is that many social networking projects are more about the tools and the platform than the ideas under the hood.

Chasing after tools on the web is a losing tactic that puts you in the position of always trying to play catch up. The better strategy is to understand that social networking can fundamentally change the relationship between you and your audience.

The Open Source movement has proven to be a powerful model for a number of reasons, not least of which is because it allows users not to be tied to and limited by closed platforms. Progress is incremental and continuous and new tools can be absorbed without the need to be making radical shifts in direction.

I think there’s a big difference between building audiences and creating community. If you’re just about getting audiences, then you’re just one more product on an increasingly crowded shelf. It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do; when every other product is just a click away (or its equivalent), you’re not always going to be first choice of the fickle consumer.

If, on the other hand, instead of seeing yourself as a producer of product you’re also an infrastructure around which a community can form and interact, then the relationship is dynamically different and your importance in it fundamental. Social networking, at its best, is the tools that help you become that infrastructure for a community.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Video Podcast How-To

Today is the third of my four Friday posts featuring some of my favorite items from the League’s Innovation Forum, “a place where member orchestras can share ideas, programs, tactics, and strategies.”

This week I will focus on the Technology area of the Forum, specifically: Fairfax (VA) Symphony Orchestras Video Podcasts. One of our conference toolbox sessions will look at Getting the Most Out of Social Networking, and although audio and video podcasts may not immediately come to mind when you think of social networking it is a way of building a community around your organization and its mission through the web.

As we look forward to that session and what our guest speakers from,, and See3 Communications have to say about it, let’s take a look at what our friends in Fairfax have done.

Click here to find out more about how they made it work.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dreaming About the 21st Century Orchestra and the 2009 League Conference

Today we welcome Frank J. Oteri to the Conference Blog! Mr. Oteri is a New York City-based composer and music journalist. He is the Composer Advocate at the American Music Center and the Founding Editor of its web magazine, now in its tenth year. On Wednesday June 10, from 2:45 to 4:00P.M., he will moderate "Orchestras and New Music: New Idioms, Instruments, and Ideas" at the 2009 Conference of the League of American Orchestras in Chicago.

Posted by Frank J. Oteri:

Amidst all the gloomy news in the media about things getting smaller or getting cut entirely, it’s extremely important not to be disheartened by all the negativity and to continue to dream. Music is perhaps the greatest realization of dreaming in the corporeal world, and orchestral music is perhaps the biggest of such dreams both because it brings together so many people making sound in so many different ways and because it is able to do so effectively despite its seeming impracticality.

So let’s pause a moment to dream a little bit about how an orchestra can be re-imagined for the 21st century. I’m delighted to be moderating a panel at the 2009 League Conference in only two more weeks that will aspire to do just that. Back at the turn of the previous century, Gustav Mahler talked about how the orchestra was a universe of sonic possibilities. And indeed the orchestra he wrote for continues to be one of the most exciting and versatile of all of the world’s ensembles. But over the intervening years many other sounds have captured the imagination of composers and the hearts of audiences. From the vibrant vocabulary of jazz improvisation to the visceral energy of rock, to all of the world’s traditional musics and the new hybrids they have inspired through mixing with one another in today’s globally-connected communities, to all of the new sounds and manipulation of older sounds that have been made possible through electricity, and subsequently through computers and the internet—all of these are grist for the mill for the 21st century composer’s toolbox and have therefore become a part of the 21st century orchestra.

I’ll be talking to four composers who have each expanded the orchestra as we know it to incorporate some of these new 21st century possibilities—British maverick Mark-Anthony Turnage, whose music combines the spontaneity of jazz and the aggression of rock with classical compositional rigor; U.S.-based world citizen Osvaldo Golijov whose multicultural musical panoramas have connected seemingly irreconcilable musical traditions; plus Jeremy Flower and Michael Ward-Bergman representing the next generation for whom the laptop is a digital analog to an orchestra.

Our discussion promises to be a passionate and wide ranging. My only worry is that we only have an hour and fifteen minutes—seems a pity to limit us to the length of a 20th century compact disc! But the talk will hopefully serve as a preamble to countless conversations I hope everyone will be having afterwards throughout the rest of the conference and beyond as we strategize together to reinvigorate a way of making music we all love so much. It is a big dream but one that we’ll need to have not only when we’re asleep but even more importantly when we’re wide awake.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Commit to Local Action!

Today is the second of my three Wednesday posts featuring content from the League’s website which you might not know even existed. For example, did you know that we have two amazing staff members who work full-time in D.C. to advocate for music education and American orchestras? One of the many initiatives they have been working on is the statement of common cause, "Orchestras Support In-School Music Education,” and I want to take a moment to highlight this area of our website.

The statement of common cause was drafted with input from more than 50 orchestras and reflects a collective opportunity for all orchestras to take individual, community-specific action to improve access to music education in schools nationwide. Click here to download the pdf.

If you will be in Chicago for the conference, and you are interested in the topic of Music in Our Schools and in Our Future, you might want to check out the Toolbox session on June 10.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Can you hear me now?

Today we welcome Mark Pemberton to the Conference Blog! Mr. Pemberton is the Director of the Association of British Orchestras and will be one of our guest speakers for the Toolbox session called Protecting Musicians Hearing on June 10.

Posted by Mark Pemberton:

Just a few weeks to go, and I’m hugely looking forward to joining you all at the League conference. My first conference was last year, and what intrigued me then were the similarities and differences between the concerns of American and British orchestras, particularly in these difficult times.

We’ve not been immune to the economic shocks either. But to read of the collapse in endowments and pay cuts to players and managers in the USA puts in perspective how lucky we are to have public investment in orchestras and the arts in general. What makes the position in the UK so complicated is that we actually four different governments – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – each with their own arts strategies and funding models. In England, for example, the Arts Council has been able to maintain inflationary increases for its funded orchestras through to 2010/11. In Northern Ireland, in contrast, the Ulster Orchestra is facing a standstill in its funding allied to a drop in sponsorship (its major sponsors being banks).

Private income has inevitably been squeezed, with corporate sponsorship suffering particularly badly. Ironically, corporations have in some cases been withdrawing their sponsorship not because they don’t have the money, but because they are concerned it would look frivolous to be supporting the arts when they are laying off staff. We are working hard to reinforce the fact that support for the arts should be seen as part of their corporate social responsibility, not as just an optional line in their marketing budget.

The good news is that our orchestras are reporting an increase in ticket sales. It’s as if people are choosing to keep going to concerts while sacrificing the luxuries. And individual giving is also holding up. This is good news for those of our members who do not benefit from public funding. The key, we feel, is to hold our nerve, continue to take risks, while making what savings we can and drawing on what reserves we have to weather the storm.

But while the economy dominates our thoughts (as well as the distraction of a parliament in crisis through the exposure of dodgy expense claims by those that represent us) other concerns have to be dealt with. We have a new visa system in place, similar to the US model, which requires biometric testing of ‘migrant workers’ (which happens to include conductors and soloists). We have already had two high-profile artists cancel engagements in the UK because of their perception that the system is an affront to their dignity. We would like to work in conjunction with our colleagues in the League to enforce to our respective governments the need for the free movement of international artists, on the principal that cultural exchange is intrinsic to a civilized society.

And another consideration is the implementation of pan-European regulations that impose limits on the exposure of ‘workers’ to excessive noise. This is causing quite a headache for orchestras, as the sheer act of creating great music flirts uncomfortably close to the thresholds now enshrined in law. Plus orchestras are technically obliged to take noise measurements, which is a costly undertaking. I’ve been asked to speak on this at the League conference, and I am sure you will find it an interesting and alarming story of how well-meaning regulations can suffer from the law of unintended consequences.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sound Investment in Los Angeles

Today is the second of my four Friday posts featuring some of my favorite items from the League’s Innovation Forum, “a place where member orchestras can share ideas, programs, tactics, and strategies.”

This week I will focus on the Education and Community Engagement area of the Forum, specifically: Los Angeles Chamber Symphony’s Sound Investment. One of our conference perspective sessions will look at New Models for Consortium Commissioning, as we look forward to that session let’s take a look at what the LACO has done to integrate their commissioning program with their community.

For a summary of how the plan worked and why they declared it a “win-win” click here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Volunteer Perspective

Today we welcome Sandra Weingarten to the Conference Blog! Ms. Weingarten is a member of the League's Volunteer Council and the Eugene Symphony Guild. You will see below that we'll be keeping our volunteers busy in Chicago.

Posted by Sandra Weingarten:

As a member of the Volunteer Council, I have a great opportunity to connect with orchestra volunteers from all parts of the country. In addition, I am a volunteer with my orchestra and with its Guild. I know first-hand how passionate volunteers are about supporting their orchestras, how hard they work toward this goal, and the many challenges that stand in their way. These include attracting new members, identifying new leaders, creating a harmonious working environment within the organization and also with the orchestra’s staff and board. And mostly, the challenge of raising more and more money, which is needed and often expected, and which is an ever greater challenge in these economic times. I hear from other volunteer leaders that we all face the same issues and that we have many ways of meeting them.

Why are volunteer leaders coming to Chicago? Sure – there is the chance to socialize, to attend great concerts, to boast of accomplishments, to air gripes, to share challenges and ideas. But mostly, they come to learn.

We on the Volunteer Council, being volunteer leaders ourselves, have all been there. We understand what our delegates are looking for and our goal is to provide the best possible learning experience. Author Jill Fixler will address the challenges of attracting, working with and keeping younger generations of volunteers in the OLA session on Wednesday morning. That afternoon Jill will be guiding us through the new paradigm of engaging the contemporary volunteer – those of the “boomer” generation especially, and discussing how to utilize their wisdom, skills and resources.

Identifying and cultivating leaders is a constant challenge for volunteers these days. Our workshop “Great Leaders = Great Organizations” will address that very problem. This session will begin with roundtable discussions, where participants can talk about what leadership means to them, followed by a panel of diverse volunteer leaders commenting on the topic. Volunteers can learn all about identifying new leaders, developing new leaders, convincing members to become leaders and maintaining good leadership. This panel discussion anchored by Volunteer Council members includes question and answer opportunities and could be the help volunteer organizations have been looking for.

And of course volunteers want to learn about best practices in fund raising and other volunteer-led projects. The all-time favorite sessions are those including volunteer projects that have been selected by the Volunteer Council for awards recognizing excellence. After brief presentations of these projects, there is time for questions and discussion about what makes these projects great and how they can be used and/or adapted by other organizations. Here is where volunteers can learn more about successful fund raising, or outstanding educational projects, or new ways to collaborate with orchestra staff, or exciting examples of community engagement from those who have done it. The questions are stimulating, and the discussion lively.

Yes, volunteers come to Conference to learn. And learn they do. We hope that they will return to their organizations not only educated, but inspired, energized and optimistic.

The “Elephant” Task Force

Beginning today, and for the next two Wednesday’s leading up to Conference, I will be posting links to some important content from the League’s website which you might not know even existed. This week I will start things off with an item that can be found in the League’s Knowledge Center: The “Elephant” Task Force Report.

What is the “Elephant” Task Force? At the 2009 Mid Winter Managers Meeting, Bruce Coppock, former Executive Director of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra presented the findings of a task force of managers, musicians and trustees that addressed the long term opportunities for orchestras in the face of a challenging economy.

Click here for access to the full report, PowerPoint presentation, and streaming video of the presentation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Diversity and Inclusiveness: Let’s Really Talk About It!

Today we welcome Jim Hirsh to the Conference Blog! If you will be in Chicago, Mr. Hirsch will be one of our panelists for the Towards Greater Diversity and Inclusion Toolbox session on June 10.

Post by Jim Hirsch:

Want to start a spirited discussion with your musicians, staff and board members? Bring up the topic of diversity within your organization. A year ago one of the musicians from my orchestra, the Chicago Sinfonietta, wrote a blog for about diversity in orchestras that elicited a rash of comments – some of them downright angry. If you are feeling curious (or masochistic) read all 55 of them at the link above.

So why do so many orchestras, not to mention other arts organizations, have so much trouble addressing diversity and inclusiveness? I suspect part of the reason is that despite recent breakthroughs – yes I am referencing our new President – many of us are still uncomfortable talking about diversity and inclusiveness, especially as it relates to race. However, there are productive and comfortable ways of engaging in these discussions that can bring people together and strengthen our organizations.

At this year’s conference I will be joined by Maestro Paul Freeman, Founder and Music Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta, and AndrĂ©s Tapia, Chief Diversity Officer for Hewitt & Associates, to conduct a Toolbox Session on this timely and important subject. We will share with you some of our best practices and provide you with a set of tools that can help you begin the internal and external conversations needed to move your organization forward.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Citizen Journalist Night

Beginning today, and for the next three Friday’s leading up to Conference, I will be posting links to a few of my favorite items from the League’s Innovation Forum, “a place where member orchestras can share ideas, programs, tactics, and strategies.” This week I will start things off with a personal favorite from the Audience Development area of the Forum: San Francisco Symphony’s Citizen Journalist Night. This is particularly relevant here on the Conference blog since it discusses creative ways to use bloggers to promote your organizations programming.

For a summary of their planning, their evening and the results click here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In Troubled Times: The Case for the Arts

Today we welcome JoAnn Falletta to the conference blog! If you will be in Chicago, Ms. Falletta will be our guest faculty for the pre-conference OLA Seminar for Women Conductors on June 10. Below she makes her case for the arts.

Posted by JoAnn Falletta:

I am a musician. I have known that simple fact since my seventh birthday, when I wrapped my arms around the little guitar that had been a gift from my father, when I breathed the dusky fragrance of wood and varnish, when I touched the grainy fingerboard that would become my personal road to enchantment. Despite challenges, I have never had one moment of regret about that calling, nor a second of doubt about the vital role that music plays in the world around us. As a conductor, I have witnessed thousands of audiences – literally millions of listeners – come to the concert hall and leave, two hours later, in a place they would never have been able to imagine when they arrived, frazzled and distracted, earlier that evening.

I feel a certain conflict of emotions as I write this essay- gratitude certainly, for being given this opportunity to talk about the importance of the art form, but also a profound sorrow that classical music somehow finds itself desperately in need of advocates. Why should that be especially so in troubled economic times? We feel betrayed perhaps by Wall Street greed, by ineffectual governance, by political leadership. But music has never betrayed us, never let us down. It constantly gives back to us, as a boundlessly beautiful repository of the past or a vibrant mirror of our current society. The need for music is not learned – it is “hard-wired” into our being. Even infants respond to it and understand it. As we grow, our exposure to music sharpens our brains, awakens a heightened sense of individual awareness, helps us develop an appreciation for beauty and value.

The ancient Greeks in their extraordinarily sophisticated society understood the tremendous power of music. Plato himself espoused careful planning of the number of hours young people should listen to music in certain keys – so powerful was the influence of each key that it would have strong affects on the long-term personality and character of the young listeners! In my many visits to schools, I have observed that the musicians in the orchestra, band, or chorus are most often the students on the dean’s list, on the student council, in clubs and after-school activities and are often involved in community service as well. A strange coincidence? I don’t think so – I am convinced that the making of music teaches them the skills – discipline, patience, respect and dedication – that enable them to succeed in all their endeavors.

We remain for all of our lives extremely sensitive to that power of music, whether or not we choose to (or even can) articulate that power. I have always been fond of Garrison Keillor’s words: “An orchestra concert is where people go to find their souls. Having worked so hard to lose them, people come and sit in the dark under the spell of music and are reminded of their humanity”. What happens? That room full of people – all with different issues on their minds – experiences a force that we can never fully explain. Listening, our sense of time changes, our focus sharpens, our problems fade, our priorities shift.

We all know that the “music business” has a strong positive affect on our economy. Facts and figures will bear out the statement that concerts bring many times their cost back to the community. But that is truly besides the point. Music has a profound affect on our psyche, our understanding of ourselves, our view of a world grown astonishingly small. In a global community where solutions will be found through creativity, ingenuity and imagination, music holds the key to nurturing the values that will help us find answers to seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Why do we need music as a nation, as citizens of the United States? Some Americans might claim that we are not an artistic people. I could not disagree more strongly. Americans invented film, jazz, modern dance, musical theater, country music, abstract impressionism. We are expressive, innovative and imaginative. Our art echoes our essential American-ness – our willingness to experiment and to take risks, our desire to share and borrow and change, our egalitarianism, our inclusiveness, our endless curiosity and humor. This American art echoes every culture in the world, and has spread to the furthest reaches of the globe. The arts are how we explain ourselves and come to know ourselves. They are woven into the very fabric of our complicated democracy and into the lives of our people. They are, in a very real way, the sum of our collective soul. The American orchestra is at the center of the arts in our country, and the cornerstone of our cultural society. Orchestras preserve our heritage, foster diversity, encourage creativity, and stand as a shining paradigm for excellence.

What do we remember and value from great civilizations of the past? Certainly it is not their business plans, their economic challenges, their financial success; not their wars, their fleeting conquests, their eventual collapse. We remember the beautiful and telling legacy of their artistic life – the paintings, poetry, architecture, music, gleaming brightly centuries after their creation, still able to move and touch us. Through their art, we realize that these long-dead creatures were really not so very different from us, filling their small parcel of life with as much beauty as they could. What will our great-grandchildren inherit from us? What will they remember? Will the economic recession of the early 21st century color their world? Or will the next century – most probably more complex and more intense than ours – still look to the nobility in the arts as a touchstone for what is truly valuable?

In times of economic difficulty, the arts, rather than languishing as a discretionary luxury, becomes more vital to the human condition. Through the arts, we honor our past, celebrate our present and dream our future. The very best of who we are is inherent in the arts, and the arts are at the core of the continual reinvigoration of our human spirit.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Welcome to the League’s 2009 Conference Blog!

Posted by Jesse Rosen:

During the next few weeks leading up to our Conference we will use this space to hear from the remarkable individuals who will be making presentations in Chicago – they will tell us what to look forward to and perhaps surprise us with what’s on their mind. A group of delegates also will report from Conference about the sessions they are attending, what they are learning, and the ideas they will be taking home with them. You will be able to read daily posts from these people and stay connected with Conference activities. So if you cannot attend Conference, let us come to you! Whether you will be in Chicago or not, no one need feel alone or without a network of support.

As you know, this year’s theme is The New Reality: Economics & Public Value. We are designing and structuring this conference to address ways orchestras can achieve sustainability, vibrancy, entrepreneurship, and partnerships in this turbulent and uncertain climate. Coming together to face challenges is what League conferences are all about.

You can find out more about the programming at Conference here and the schedule here.

I am very excited about this blog – over the coming weeks we will hear from Joann Falletta (Music Director, Buffalo Philharmonic), Jim Hirsch (Executive Director, Chicago Sinfonietta), Sarah Lutman (President and Managing Director, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra), Doug McLennan (founder of, Debra Natenshon (CEO, The Center for What Works), and Mark Pemberton (Director, Association of British Orchestras).

We are confident that this will be a great source for information and perspective leading up to, during, and after Conference.

If you would like to leave a comment on this post, or any of the posts on this blog, simply click on the comments link below.