Business jargon the shortest path the muddled thinking about orchestras

(Ivon Bartholomew photo)

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra music director William Eddins, who lives in Minneapolis, recently wrote about some challenges currently faced by the respected Minnesota Orchestra as it leaves its hall during a major renovation — a scenario many Toronto Symphony supporters remember with a shudder.

Eddins summed up his post on the blog Sticks and Drones like this:

Wiser heads could prevail.  The extra money raised in this renovation campaign could be earmarked for artistic sustainability.   A strong campaign of internal discipline and rethinking could pave the way for a stronger business model, as it has done in Oregon.  A recommitment to the Minnesota’s outstanding artistic legacy, hand in hand with a long-term plan for financial stability (10 years at the very least!!!) could make a huge difference in the working ideology of the Minnesota.

That paragraph reads like arts-administrator boilerplate, which made me stop and take notice.

It’s one thing for granting bureaucrats, bankers and arts-admin graduates of MBA courses to speak a special, meaning-deprived language. But it’s another for a music director to use it.

What is Eddins — and anyone else who buys in to this meaninglessness — thinking when he writes “artistic sustainability”?

Is it something basic, like being able to pay this month’s payroll? Is it about selling as many tickets as possible? If it’s the latter, will it affect adventurous programming?

Is “artistic legacy” a stack of recording masters scattered among the half-dozen or so different labels that have issued Minnesota recordings over the past generation? Is it endowed chairs for principal players and the conductor?

Even financial stability doesn’t pass a scratch test. The richly endowed, iconic Philadelphia Orchestra is still only just crawling out from under a bankruptcy filing that allowed it to force a financial restructuring.

It really all boils down to this: If an orchestra, which needs to plan at least a couple of seasons into the future, doesn’t connect with its community today, things fall apart quickly. It’s all about staying engaged.

Meaningless words, like tepid programmes and so-so performances, don’t engage anyone.

I may grumble that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s programming is too staid, and I do wish they spent more time outside Roy Thomson Hall (like they will on the closing night of Luminato, in June). But I count my blessings every time I speak with anyone on either the administrative or artistic sides. Everyone, from CEO and music director down, answers questions clearly, backed up with sound reasoning.

Maybe that’s why they’re doing fine.

Or could it be because they’ve given such fine concerts over the past few seasons?

John Terauds


2 thoughts on “Business jargon the shortest path the muddled thinking about orchestras

  1. Well stated – and yup, I think these kind of meaningless words are “gobbledegook”.
    I agree that “probably the TSO has give such fine concerts over the past few season” and this contributed to “being fine”.
    “Answering questions clearly, with sound reasoning” might just be the new model for all failing symphony orchestras!
    Thanks for the post John!
    Susan Weiss

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