Monday, March 26, 2007

A New York State of Mind

I just returned from a trip to New York to interview at the Finals for the Orchestra Management Fellowship Program from the American Symphony Orchestra League. This is my second time in the finals, so I went in having experienced it all before. Now I just needed to show the panel just how passionate I am about the orchestra industry.

This set of interview was the hardest challenge I have ever faced to date. 48 hours of group exercises, mock negotiations, one-on-one role plays, concert attendance and discussion and three paneled interview sessions.

The best part of the weekend, though, was the interview but connecting with several old friends. A day in New Haven allowed me to experience music in an Ivy League setting. One of my dearest friends is studying for her master's degree at Yale. She knows that the music field can be harsh to break into, so she is working towards a degree that will give her a firm background to do whatever she wants.

I had an exquisite dinner with my old roommate and her friend at a Brooklyn hotspot. Great conversation, great wine and cupcakes from SoHo make for a perfect evening. I even got to spend a night drinking with several of the Cincinnati Ballet's principal dancers. No matter where I go with my career, it is the connections I make with other artists that will fuel my passion.

Friday, March 16, 2007

What's in a name?

In an attempt to get squeeze in one more year of data from the annals of the International Musician's Help Wanted section, I went over to Blegen Library and recorded the 88-89 Season. The library would soon be entering a week long hiatus for UC's Spring Break and I would be busy with performance's this weekend and traveling to New York the next. I was one of only three people in the entire library, so fighting for the microfilm room was not an issue. It almost never is. I wonder at times if this information is already in electronic form that I could download to a .pdf file, but this the moment is fleeting. Conducting research like this makes me feel like an adventurer, cutting through the uncharted forest to find a lost civilization. Or, something like that. I have found that entering the information directly into the spreadsheets on my laptop is easier on the hands, but my wrists get tired and the chair is not all that comfortable to sit in for an extended period of time. Such are the prices for discovery, eh?

At the conclusion of this session, I did a quick review of the data I have collected to date. Most of the 67 orchestras I picked to analyze had substantial records. While there was no noticeable pattern displayed, there was a natural-feeling rhythm and cycle to the records, which made me pleased. I was building an actually history of labor on which I can be able to confidently make conclusions.

But, there were a handful of sparse pages. These six or so symphony orchestras had mid-sized budgets (less than $5 million, but more than $1 million) and were in populous cities all around the United States, but do not immediately strike you as being a big name in the symphony world. Examples include the Richmond (VA) Symphony, the Tulsa Philharmonic and the Toledo Symphony.

I also noticed several symphonies that had name changes or have recently closed. After I come back from New York I will complete the last two years of data, and then go through all of the reels again to catch these under looked orchestras, as they provide the front line training grounds for future stars of the major orchestras. Examples of these changes are the Louisiana Philharmonic (formerly the New Orleans Symphony), the Florida Orchestra (formerly the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony) and the Florida Philharmonic (declared bankruptcy in 2003).

This also brings up a very interesting tidbit of music history and marketing. How does an orchestra decide if it is a symphony orchestra or a philharmonic orchestra? Today, the terms symphony and philharmonic are often used interchangeably to describe the local orchestra. Yet there is a distinct difference that characterizes the origin of the organization. A group of patrons interested in music would form a philharmonic society to sponsor a series of orchestra concerts. A symphony would be organized by a large governing body (town government, royalty, etc.) or the musicians themselves. While these conventions are not used today to in an attempt to provide an entomology back to the group's formation, I think it is always fun to wonder how it would sound to hear the Chicago Philharmonic instead of the Chicago Symphony.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Labor Landscape

For the past three Sundays I have spent two hours each day hidden in the lone microfilm room in the CCM Section of Blegen Library. Despite the weather becoming increasingly more spring-like, I sacrificed the pleasure of having a relaxing afternoon to continue to develop a picture of the labor situation for orchestras during the 1980s.

As I add more openings I strip from the pages of the International Musician into the various spreadsheets, I begin to see a curious pattern emerge from the seemingly independent organizations. While I am waiting to overlay all the data until I finish out the last three years I have access to on CCM microfilm, I get the feeling that there are two separate actions driving the number of openings.
  1. Smaller budget organizations must replace several musicians a year due to losing players on part-time contracts.
  2. A large budget orchestra will often post an opening and in the following months another orchestra will post a similar opening. The data may infer that individual musicians attempt to move up to larger/better orchestras, something that happens in every profession.

I will wait until I have at least 10 years of data before I begin to even rudimentary compile it into anything that could form the basis of a report, but it is still nice to conjecture.

I also received another three reports back from personnel managers. I am now near a 10% reply rate and second, more forceful reminder will be going out this weekend. While I am not confident in a 100% return rate, having at least 50% would help me to be able to compare against the data I am collecting from the International Musician.

Also on the agenda at the end of the month is to meet with Mr. Seltzer in person to discuss my research and where I can go from here. I do not yet know what information or opportunities may open through this avenue, but I welcome the discussion.