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Opus One: A Case Study of Innovative Organization in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra

Barry Gilmore

Part One: The Background and Development of Opus One

In May 2009, the concertmaster of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Susanna Perry Gilmore, had just finished lunch with another musician when she was struck by an idea. Throughout the meal, Gilmore and her colleague had discussed the dire financial straits in which the MSO found itself at the end of the season, the recent announcement of a major reduction in staff, and a plan to reduce the number of concerts for the next season. The idea was, in one sense, fledgling and undeveloped, but in another it encompassed a broad vision from its first moments. Gilmore conceived of a new series for the symphony with a new set of parameters—a series of unconducted performances of great works of art which would take place in the round, with the audience surrounding and close to the musicians, and which would occur in unusual venues around the city. Moreover, the series would be run entirely by musicians, from design to marketing to production, and would be targeted at a new crowd of concertgoers, the twenty to forty year-old demographic that orchestras have trouble attracting. And, finally, the concerts would include not just great symphonic works but also reception-like second halves in which various musicians would showcase their other talents with performances of big band music, bluegrass, or experimental string ensemble arrangements. Gilmore’s idea even came with a ready title: Opus One.

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Gilmore attributes her brainchild partly to the immediate necessity to fill in gaps in the performance schedule and partly to a larger environmental issue affecting the organization:

We certainly weren’t in a position to expect the staff to go out and hustle more work, when they were already overwhelmed…it was a moment of, well, here’s how we can solve all of these problems and not expect the staff to do more, to figure out how to do it ourselves. And all wrapped up in that was, “How do we change? How do we change our image in the community?”

It took little time for the idea to spread; within two weeks, it had been presented to several musicians, board members, and staff, and many of those were on board and excited. Within a month, initial funding had been secured and it looked certain that the initial Opus One concerts would take place the following year. What took longer to settle was the fallout of an idea that meant a radical shift for the organization at several levels. The relationship of the musicians to one another, to the staff, to the public, and even to the music were all subject to challenge and alteration as Opus One sped forward. In the end, an idea which to Gilmore had seemed relatively simple, if unorthodox, turned out to threaten a fundamental reshaping for the Memphis Symphony.

The Organizational Context

1. Changes in the Overall Environment

The MSO’s fifty-seven year history has been marked by relatively little change. In that time, only three conductors and three concertmasters—an average tenure of nineteen years for each position—

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have served the orchestra (Gilmore, the third concertmaster, has been with the symphony for thirteen years). Since 1983, the orchestra has employed a full-time core of over thirty musicians and a perservice cohort of another thirty-five or so musicians, with nearly twenty staff members supporting the artists. Yet in 2003, when Ryan Fleur became the orchestra’s president and CEO, constituents of all types had begun to worry seriously about the orchestra’s future. Specific circumstances were partly to blame. The symphony performed without a permanent hall for over six years while the city constructed a new performing arts center, and at the end of that time the audience base had dwindled, revenues had dropped significantly, and the community perception was largely of an outdated and irrelevant organization. Worse still, in a city with a history of deep racial tension, the MSO relied on a traditional audience made up of white, educated, wealthy, and elderly patrons, and that population, particularly as a concert-going group, was shrinking. In that sense, the MSO found itself in the same position as many arts organizations around the country; a National Endowment for the Arts 2008 survey, for instance, determined that classical music concert attendance declined by 29% from 1982 to 2008, with the steepest drop (20%) coming in the last six years (p. 3). During the same period of time, the average age of concert-goers went up by nine years (to 49 years old) and the number of 18-24 year-olds attending classical concerts dropped by 37%. Ryan Fleur sees this shrinking audience as a driving force behind innovation in symphony programming:

What this really is is a creative solution to something that, as we all know, is industry-wide. The institution of orchestras as they’ve been built has been built around three things: making great music, selling tickets, and raising money. I call this the Philadelphia Orchestra 1975 model. We did a really good job of this for a while; it was a very narrow slice of the population that came to concerts. Now you still serve that population plus a bunch of others…so we have to connect in a

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a cut of almost three million dollars. including the concertmaster. the MSO’s endowment had lost over 50% of its worth. Opus One was not the first innovation brought about by a new take on the larger environment. salaries. Under Fleur’s oversight and with participation from musicians. In each of these cases. a pivotal one in which a short list of Music Director candidates would be flown to Memphis for performance-based tryouts. In the economic downturn facing the entire nation. but there has to be a menu of other things that helps to create a new business model. had begun. as a short list of candidates formed. Real questions about the ability of the organization to survive at all had to be addressed. Recent Shifts: The 2008-2009 Crisis The MSO performs for thirty-nine weeks each year (in June. Part of what we do has to be what we’ve always done. though staff continued to fill most traditional support roles. Ryan Fleur called together a few key musicians. and at the very least it seemed certain that the next season. and informed them of another crisis. The product has to be different. Fleur discussed with the musicians the likelihood that whole weeks of the 4|Gilmore-Case Study . 2. the initial stages of a conductor search. In the fall of 2008. a small group of musicians was integral to planning and product. July. many file for unemployment during this period). The 2008-2009 season was the last for Music Director/conductor David Loebel. actual performances. who joined the MSO in 1998. all musicians except for the concertmaster are effectively laid off. which would see an actual hire for the position until the 2010-2011 season. the symphony also initiated a collaborative relationship with the Soulsville Charter School and a partnership with a Fortune-100 company that resulted in a portable leadership seminar titled Leading from Every Chair. and August. would see a reduction in staff.different way. and possibly even musical personnel. The ramifications of such a loss startled the musicians.

Mission and Revenue: A Changing Landscape for Symphonies Ryan Fleur admits that during the time he has been in Memphis. one which included a “capacity-building” clause in which musicians could be paid for non-musical services at the same rate they were paid for rehearsals and concerts. “The reality is that sometimes it’s just cheaper not to play at all. Another sign of strength soon came to light: none of the conductor candidates on the short list (three official candidates and one unofficial candidate were booked to lead concerts the next year) had withdrawn or balked significantly.season would remain empty. Morale plummeted. largely thanks to the investment of time and energy from musicians. 3. a think tank including musicians. By the end of the season. management and the musicians (along with union representation) agreed to a new type of contract. there were glimmers of vitality in the organization. while for per-service musicians it could mean a significant loss of income. possibly because the MSO was not the only major symphony undergoing a financial crisis in the wake of the economic downturn of recent months. At the same time. This opt-in portion of the master agreement meant that core musicians could choose from a variety of projects and could be compensated for their work in those areas. board members. Leading From Every Chair and the Soulsville Charter School affiliation showed real signs of success. all of the musicians knew the financial situation. and the end result of a difficult contract negotiation had resulted in a 5% pay cut for most musicians. and staff created a new mission statement. as he later said. The support staff was reduced from 18 to 12. at the heart 5|Gilmore-Case Study .” For core musicians this would mean sitting idle. In light of these developments. Shortly after Fleur’s arrival in 2003. there has been an active effort to change the mission—and the sense of mission—in the MSO. several weeks of the next season remained unscheduled.

What is it that’s important to Memphis? The idea of patron engagement is to be externally focused. across the country. They say it’s all about making great music. is partly intended to bring in new constituents at every level of the pyramid simultaneously by broadening appeal and access. it marks a strategic response to the changing landscape in which arts organizations operate. acted as the MSO representative in ROPA. with all of its attendant programs. and its manifestation in Memphis is not an isolated transition. and views the change as one rooted in commitment to the mission: 6|Gilmore-Case Study . Fleur describes the symphony-going audience as a pyramid. symphonies in particular and arts organizations in general are reacting in similar ways. such a change mission is not just for show. if it’s all about great music. This is a fundamental change in how symphonies operate.of which was the goal “to make meaningful experiences through music. people can go somewhere else. a little narcissistic.” The mission is meant to encompass more than the traditional performer-audience relationship of the concert hall and to expand the roles musicians play in the community. with a very small tip of committed (and aging) supporters—a group numbering in the low hundreds—and descending to broader and broader strata of less and less involved and committed concert-goers. So that we’re in the business of serving Memphis through making great music rather in the business of making great music. For Fleur. the Regional Orchestra Players Association. or who might consider the experience. The redesign of the MSO. The pyramid bottoms out with those who might go to a classical concert once in a given year. Fleur describes the change in priorities for symphonies in this way: Arts organizations tend to be inwardly focused. Well. or might once have attended a concert. for several years. the assistant principal second violinist of the MSO. Gaylon Patterson.

You invest in the right people. that’s the artistic engagement circle. immediate solvency and viability. the intersection of accountability (revenue). especially in the smaller orchestras. even more so than in the major orchestras that are paying well. That third circle is accountability. is our mission—that we’re trying to deploy our people in ways that create meaningful opportunities for both our artists and our audience. The level of commitment is hard to maintain. with music-making in the center (see appendix 1). but both also recognize that this change went far beyond any current offering of the MSO.The orchestras that are doing well are the ones that are trying not to be so traditional in their roles. where it’s very hard. service. and Opus One embodies it perfectly. and adaptation of vision that Gilmore proposed the Opus One project. Fleur has attempted to reorganize the organizational structure of the symphony itself. All of our measurement comes out of there. he now envisions overlapping spheres of responsibility. but we’re going to have solvency. that’s the patron engagement circle. we’re not going to profit. because pay scales are very low and people have to hold umpteen jobs just to make a living. Both she and Fleur attribute the roots of the project to reshuffling already going on within the organization. You can redefine it any way. if you do that. and that ultimately are tied to revenue sources. Instead of a flowchart and hierarchy. What do we have at the symphony? 85% of our budget is people. patron engagement (audience appeal). That’s ultimately what will create the business model. It was against this backdrop of change in historical position. The institution would now have to 7|Gilmore-Case Study . In concert with this change. but the heart of it is this notion. so people who do this work are very committed to it—there’s no other reason to do it. It speaks to a level of dedication that by far outweighs what the compensation offers. For Fleur. and artistic engagement (musicians) lies at the heart of a successful reinvention of the MSO: The model is people. that are truly relevant to the community. is this new notion that what we’re trying to do. you deliver the right service. for the Symphony. product.

and while the MSO had been heading in that direction in some ways. Bert had approached Gilmore earlier that year and issued a challenge to innovate.embrace the input and opinions of musicians. and a powerful board member. a difficult transition for an orchestra that had traditionally. “treated musicians collectively somewhere on the spectrum between the servant who comes in the backdoor and the gifted child. staff. Fleur. She recalls: 8|Gilmore-Case Study . as Fleur says. new marketing techniques to reach a younger audience. The Creation of Opus One: A New Type of Program 1. based on national models. embracing the concept fully represented a true leap of faith in what the organization could become. The concept of Opus One as Gilmore presented would mean:      unconducted rehearsals and performances.” The new model would place all musicians. Making the Idea Reality: The Initial Challenge Gilmore’s idea did not arise out of a vacuum. with three key actors. and management on a level playing field. new. alternative venues. but it still represented the most radical shift for the symphony to date. Paul Bert. each struggling to determine what to do with this idea. musician-led efforts at every level of concert preparation. new programming formats. In its initial stages. the presentation of the Opus One concept brought to the forefront the tension and distrust that characterized an organization in a difficult financial position. Gilmore. and there was no protocol for developing such an idea when it came from a musician rather than management.

When I told him about Opus One [several months later]. and convincing the Memphis audience. but doesn’t dwell on it: Initially there was a moment. almost clandestine. “I’m willing to write this check.” He was ready to get excited and back something new. In theory. he spent a lot of that time telling me anecdote after anecdote of how his success in his business career in many ways was to perceive potential innovation and potential leaders and groom them and send them off. where I had to pitch this to the staff.It was in my subconscious that back in September when I had made this conductor site-visit to Washington with Paul. not more of the same. convincing the musicians. and I’m waiting to be excited by something that’s happening in the symphony. she also saw the dangers of a board member micromanaging MSO efforts. like change of the whole nature of symphony orchestras to being musicianrun. on the other hand. “You’re that kind of person. and the way that Paul deliberately tried to keep it as far from the staff as possible until it was an idea that shaped. He was saying. and some people kept probing with all of these ways this could fail.” and what could anyone do? Whether it was right or wrong. She now faced three major hurdles: convincing the staff and management. within two weeks. Gilmore knew she had the support of Paul Bert. Paul immediately saw potential—he saw potential that I didn’t even want to think about. it gave me ammunition to make the pieces fit together. By involving Bert. Gilmore set wheels into motion that wouldn’t now be stopped. but 9|Gilmore-Case Study . Wrapped up in each of these stages were daunting logistical and resource-based tasks of creating such an unprecedented concert experience. the idea was a good one. with Susanna and Paul trying to feel out various people. presents her decision as strategic: That first meeting happened relatively fast. Gilmore. Fleur recalls the tension of the early stages. and finally Paul just said.

choosing which musicians would take part in marketing or second-half performances. I don’t know what the point of the project model was. venues in the city that could support such performances? How exactly did one go about running unconducted symphony rehearsals. I think that’s part of why this succeeded. and I was helped by staff to put it in a format that the top people wanted to see—I was like a poodle in an obstacle course. Gilmore felt out various other musicians about the project: I made a deliberate effort to go first to the people who always felt negative about the things we did and they were the ones who kind of wrapped me up in their negativity.C a s e S t u d y . Prove to me that you can talk like I talk. But I was even getting good results from them. I had to have a budget. it showed up at that meeting and everyone went. “Wow.were there. A meeting was scheduled with the staff in late May (near the end of the season and just before the musicians dispersed for the summer). most importantly. it wasn’t just another musician with a hair-brained idea. not the way I like to work. It was exhausting. if you want to do this. in fact. get information about what things cost. funding? The project soon proved to be far more complicated than Gilmore originally envisioned. creating the festive atmosphere she envisioned. securing alcohol and security or. 10 | G i l m o r e . It was something the administration wanted. you have to jump through my hoops. but a musician who felt strongly enough about the idea to be really uncomfortable and try to learn these skills. because people look at me. being told. the one with all of the staff and some key board members. which happens a lot.” and then maybe it was used again or maybe not. Armed with positive responses. figure out how to use Excel. and I’m the musician that when they’re angry at the symphony they think I’m part of the organization. During the final concert weekend. and do this document called a project model. I don’t know. for better or for worse. Gilmore prepared for the staff meeting: I had a meeting with a few people before the official meeting with the whole staff about two weeks later. beginning with the pitch to staff and management.

then. Then. risks. out of 11 | G i l m o r e . a musician-run. Fleur attended attended the League of American Orchestras convention in Chicago. In the process. at the same conference. and to meet with Eric Booth. the grant gave real possibility to an abstract idea and generated not only buy-in but a sense of excitement from key staff and management players. A little later. Bert held back his offer throughout the meeting. risks. Here. Most importantly. the staff was still somewhat suspicious though cautiously hopeful. And that was the public moment where Paul backed me. suddenly chiming in at the end of the meeting that he would offer the funds for the project.C a s e S t u d y . Within a month. and he spoke to others from around the country about Opus One. and the project stood a real chance of dying before it really got started. Even with the promise of some financial investment. tension was still present. as one musician put it. he discovered that few or no orchestras were trying anything this adventurous. that she should “think big” about what she need to make a start. he talked to a representative from the Mellon Foundation—the same organization that provided initial funding for Leading from Every Chair. a week or so later. Then. But what came out of that meeting were a couple of good things. He said he was willing to write a check for ten thousand dollars. the arts consultant who helped to develop Leading From Every Chair. the very nature of the project’s development was both a benefit and a challenge—most of the initial work was completed. was to bring musicians on board. The MSO.” and Fleur took the opportunity to pitch the new idea to the Mellon representative. Fleur had secured a $40. he called Gilmore from Chicago and told her the prospects looked good. instead of possible successes.000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to study and prepare for unconducted performances and Gilmore had proposed uses for the money that included travelling with a group of musicians to New York City to meet with the Orpheus Ensemble.Ryan wanted to talk about risks. because he used that money well. In fact. the risks were very real. unconducted group. was the “good child. The next hurdle. there was an atmosphere of cynicism.

contained four possible negative answers and only one positive answer.C a s e S t u d y . allowing musicians to vent their frustrations and express concerns right from the start. I have to convince my colleagues I’m not making some sort of power grab. and thus without the knowledge of the larger body of musicians. For a long time. “because the value system we’ve built before has been this quality of passive-aggressiveness.” In fact. We’re still fighting it. only one expressed mostly negative responses. The trick. but even so the surveys raised valuable questions and concerns that the staff and lead musicians could address. to try to disseminate the information. Gilmore is aware of the difficulty of pitching a project that relies on democracy and ownership in this way: When the initial idea of different committees fit in. in that first week or so. though word had leaked out about the project. I just plopped people in based on who seemed enthusiastic so far. several decisions helped to secure the investment and interest of the musicians. which was largely constructed in multiple choice format. here. but because it came from me. I couldn’t tell everybody anything because nothing was official. it was just based on wanderings through the rehearsals and breaks. It’s a catch-22. not to seem like a secret cadre of people who are in the know or in charge or who got to go to New York. and we’re going to tremendous lengths to do some damage control.necessity. the idea came from me and worked maybe in part because of that. That certainly wasn’t a democratic process because I hadn’t been able to talk to the orchestra as a whole. 12 | G i l m o r e .” says Fleur. at the tail end of one season and over the summer. of the nineteen surveys returned. Fleur credits consultant Eric Booth with the idea to distribute a survey early on that asked musicians to comment on the project. “The whole idea is to neutralize the negative energy. That turned out to be very difficult because of the timing. It probably would have happened regardless because ideas come from a person. Then we had to pick who was going to New York and start spreading information and make sure everybody knew what this was. was that every item on the survey. and then we weren’t together for the summer and I was out of the country for all of August. and so I then had to fight this perception that we had withheld information. not a committee. Nonetheless.

observe and discuss processes with the Orpheus ensemble. many of them musicians who had been involved in other projects such as Leading From Every Chair. funding was beginning to appear as Paul Bert spread interest among board members and other MSO patrons and time had been included in the schedule for the concerts. was a per service bass player who would donate his time to Opus One without the benefit of the extra payments involved in the capacity-building clause of the master agreement). Gilmore recalls a particular moment when she was at last able to sit back and watch as other musicians began to volunteer for roles in the new organizational scheme. it was clear that Opus One would become a reality. A full meeting of the symphony musicians and staff convened and the idea was officially presented to the full organization. In late September. hospitality.C a s e S t u d y . tickets and alcohol. Upon the return of this group from New York. By the time the ad hoc committee returned from New York. the other musicians even advised her not to take on an official role as supervisor of the project. the project wouldn’t succeed in either its short-term goals—creating a strong concert experience—nor its long-term objectives of redesigning the organization. It was during this trip that ownership truly began to emerge. Without musician ownership. but some coming from other constituencies (one musician. production. seven “bucket leaders” had been identified. at least for one season. Gilmore would be the bucket leader for development.By this time. Still. PR. A musician-only blog was created to allow internal communication to flow more freely. more significant buy-in from musicians was imperative. but other musicians stepped up to take control of six other areas: marketing. The committee of musicians (not management) presented the ideas and findings from the trip. for instance). and reflect on the survey data. and internal communications. for instance. 13 | G i l m o r e . including a possible non-binding code of conduct for rehearsals (unlike union regulations for rehearsal time. a committee of seven musicians travelled to New York City to meet with Booth. things moved swiftly. preferring to create a more communal structure of responsibility.

in that most of the donors are already MSO patrons and supporters: There’s always been some concern on the funding front. Leading From Every Chair. The first. The Way Forward: Opus One’s First Season and Organization At the time of this writing. this revenue may be misleading. An itemized vote on the code of conduct showed that over 90% of musicians accepted every part of the proposal.C a s e S t u d y . says Fleur. we have to make sure it’s generating new bodies and new dollars.000 has been raised for the season (the initial goal was $30. is a limited preview performance for patrons and other possible supporters—a dry run of sorts. it’s not really new dollars. which takes place in December. The third and final concert will help round out the season in May. nine chose to work on Opus One (others chose no project. otherwise we’re spinning our wheels. In every single case where we’ ve gotten gifts. 14 | G i l m o r e . scheduled for March. there are three Opus One performances scheduled for the 2009-2010 season. with one donor promising to pay more if there is a shortfall at the end of the series. In addition. This brought the number of musicians working in a staff capacity to sixteen.000).management and staff were not included. Approximately $25. At the end of the day. or nearly half of the full-time core. takes place in an ornate but empty bank lobby in downtown Memphis and features the music of Beethoven and a big band performance by the horns of the MSO. when core musicians officially opted in to capacity-building activities for the season. The second performance. By October 14. Nonetheless. two more important pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place. it’s shifting around dollars that were already being given. the venue is a privately owned performance space called the Warehouse in downtown Memphis’s up and coming South Main arts district. 2. or the Soulsville Charter School as their focus).

There are other people who have been more tunnel-vision oriented. Changing that to add more say in what we do and how we do it. she sees a small but entrenched pocket of resistance from musicians themselves. It’s generational. deep concerns persist. There’s a sense of loss from some people about not being able just to play. who say. somewhat. but focuses on possible positive outcomes: Some of us saw the change coming down the pike years ago. however. The two most clearly identifiable of these are continued resistance and the changing scope of musicians’ responsibilities. Most of those involved in the project agree that outright resistance is isolated to a few members of the organization and that even skepticism is shrinking. Gaylon Patterson. “That’s not what I signed up to do. an organization challenge not faced by those in the private sector: MSO musicians. According to Gilmore.C a s e S t u d y . but it’s my responsibility to do my best. because of union rules embodied in the master 15 | G i l m o r e . though other stakeholders evaluate the significance of this resistance differently. agrees.As development continues.” For me personally. There’s always going to be resisters. because you’re told everything about your job— follow orders—yet we as artists are trained to be original. here. I think. The first of these worries Gilmore. I’m further down that road because I’ve been involved in all that conversation…If you go and do the background on people’s level of dissatisfaction in orchestras. it has to do with lack of control very often. there are two sources of potential protest: Resistance comes from people who resist the musicians leading this. there’s something valuable in that. creative people. I’m going to do my job. In the midst of this early success. to have original ideas. but even they will come around. and also from people who resist their worldview of what a symphony is changing. a twenty-four year veteran of the symphony. the hope is that new donors will appear. There may be a program where there’s not a single piece that I would choose to play. There is also.

I’ll feel like it’s a personal failure to solve the problems that need solving. Patterson feels the shift in expectation acutely: It’s a double-edged sword. and it helps the bottom line or the public image or it helps fulfill a need in the city. not only through meetings and correspondence but on the spot. in rehearsals. to the new organizational model. The level of responsibility compared to compensation is absurd. A second challenge for the organization is more deeply embedded and presents less clear possibilities for resolution. For this reason. then we’re done. I feel that the future of the entire organization right now is largely in the hands of the musicians and how they respond to challenges that are coming down the pike.C a s e S t u d y . that’s somebody else’s problem. The positive side is that if I do something. Gilmore and other musicians who support the change must answer to colleagues who do not. Not that I can or should do it on my own.” as Fleur puts it. there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with that…it’s a gratifying thing to do. 16 | G i l m o r e . the assumption of responsibilities normally relegated to staff and management by musicians may sometimes feel at odds with their artistic sensibilities even as they offer more control and input. and expects more voluntary turnover in the next several years as musicians adapt. are nearly impossible to dismiss from their posts after the first year (when they gain tenure). really. and that’s a lot of pressure. whatever attitudes they hold. Nonetheless. The pressure. That’s the negative side. must in some ways be reflected in performances of the people who are in place at the right time. I feel a lot of pressure from it. In the meantime. It’s hard not to resent that.agreement between management and musicians. I don’t like—most people that have that kind of pressure are considerably higher up in their organizations and aren’t worried about paying their grocery bill each week. It’s an awful lot of responsibility. or fail to adapt. As Patterson and Gilmore hint above. the MSO cannot anticipate eliminating hostility to the idea by eliminating personnel—the idea of performing with the “right people at the right time. it’s an intangible. If the orchestra folds. but if we all just say. Fleur points out that nearly one third of the MSO has turned over since his arrival.

for instance. not in a country where the arts aren’t subsidized. why didn’t those other things work and what would you do differently next time?” after we construct a lot of feedback 17 | G i l m o r e . it can be too hot. and if it’s musically fulfilling for the artists who are participating. whatever. the sound could be bad. has found herself constantly balancing the demands on her time: It’s hard for me. This week. now. But the old model doesn’t exist. I have to fight this feeling of guilt that I should be working on Opus One. etc. there can be no chairs on stage. it’s not good for me as an artist.—all of those can fail. “Well.Similarly. doing development. presents success initially in terms of artist ownership and fulfillment: My take is the project itself can actually be a major failure. it means that they’ve learned something along the way about how to communicate. And the one thing that has to work is it has to be musically fulfilling for the artists who are participating. I probably had three days where I didn’t practice other than MSO rehearsal because of constant meetings. If it means that they’ve also learned something in trying to do all of the other stuff—the logistics.C a s e S t u d y . but if we’ve achieved the artistic and people feel good. Gilmore. That’s not good for art. nobody can show up. if there are ten fronts and it fails on nine of the ten fronts it can actually still be a major organizational success. we have the ground then to say. The need to balance the artistic demands of a symphony that wishes to perform at the highest possible level with the flattening of the organization promises to present logistical and artistic challenges on an ongoing basis. A Picture of Success: The Future of Opus One and the MSO All of those involved in the Opus One project are tempted by simple definitions of what a successful program might look like. when I start to practice. Fleur. as concertmaster and initiator of the idea.

to each and that’s the key. paints a picture of success in terms of audience fulfillment: I would consider it a success if the audience that comes has a positive experience. whatever that means to them. and as such imparts symbolic importance at several levels. is we just don’t know how to talk to each other. then five years down the road shows up at a concert hall and isn’t scared of the experience. create civic connections and purpose. to me that building of self-esteem is worth anything. If it’s an audience that we don’t normally see in the concert hall. and that younger people feel it’s cool to go a concert and be seen there. generate new revenue. And Gilmore sees the project as a spearhead for changing the MSO’s identity in the city as well as for fulfilling the needs of an organization with lackluster morale: My definition of success is a little touchy-feely. the project is a focal point for the MSO in part because it hits on every need faced by the organization. But I also want this to be something the musicians own. that’s a measure of success. and it’s not stuffy or highbrow. and. not least. inspire musicians and management.C a s e S t u d y . Even if it’s a small audience. At heart. create community in a way that symphonies have rarely seen 18 | G i l m o r e . There are big picture goals. That’s been the obstacle. that’s a plus…especially if it’s someone who shows up at Opus One. If at any point someone in the last chair of the violins has a moment where they make a comment that is actually tried. that we feel proud of. but I want this to be something that keeps our souls alive. I have a lot of high aspirations in terms of rebranding the symphony in the city. on the other hand. I want this formula of mixing classical and nonclassical music to succeed in keeping classical alive. that we feel we are playing better than ever and with a level of energy and interaction that has not been seen. and people to realize that watching a performance up close is an exhilarating experience. not just that holds us back but that holds every orchestra back. Opus One seeks to attract new audience members. Patterson.

with the word “LISTEN” written in block letters on his palm. there are still deep discussions both online and in person among constituents about branding and marketing. as an oboe player put it in a piece he wrote for MSO patrons. and orchestra members have begun to share their vision of what one member of the organization calls an “open-source symphony. as each new member of the community claims a stake in putting the project together. instrument in hand. excitement about the project continues to grow.” An early publicity photo for the project shows the same oboe player. 19 | G i l m o r e . The message is not lost: Opus One represents a new way for the audience to listen. and for the organization to listen to its environment. for musicians to listen to one another. on a city street in downtown Memphis. partly blurry. he or she also relinquishes that responsibility. Nonetheless. they reflect the difficulty of summing up in simple terms a project that is complex in both its public manifestation and its private aspirations. at this late date.” word filters out through new avenues for the MSO. These complex and interdependent goals both energize those closest to the project and make their work more difficult. Decisions are now being made by musicians about. And. these discussions lie in the realm of work by committee. outstretched.C a s e S t u d y .before. there is little doubt that it has created a new organizational model and a new expectation of organizational function for the MSO. others find themselves having to release the very control they worked hard to gain—as soon as one committee chair delegates his or her new-found responsibility. including Facebook and alternative city publications. for example. but on the other hand. On the one hand. Whether or not Opus One succeeds in quantifiable terms. The player and his instrument are partly visible. everything from the pieces on the program to “the napkin under your drink at the concert reception. while the focus of the shot is the musician’s hand.

Orchestral musicians such as those in the MSO are trained to think creatively. In orchestral rehearsals. by neglecting that complexity. however. Efficiency. As Levine and Levine (1995) describe it: 20 | G i l m o r e . these paradoxes mirror those one might find in corporate organizations. and all communication is passed in extremely deferential terms through the conductor. Drucker famously included the symphony as a model organization for companies looking to restructure. the high-grade level of individuals sometimes goes unfulfilled or is even diminished by the traditional process. Yet in the symphony context such paradoxes run deeper than one might find elsewhere. is not the main goal of an orchestra. artistically. What Drucker missed. Peter F. Drucker hit on a crucial concept: symphonies do not operate according to a corporate model. and collaboratively. necessarily. however. There is only the conductor CEO—and every one of the musicians plays directly to that person without an intermediary.Part Two: An Analysis of Opus One More than twenty years ago. musicians rarely interact. symphonies embody paradoxes. was the complexity of the symphony orchestra and. solvency. 1996). Drucker (1988) argued. To some extent. Perhaps more than any other organization. such as the tension between empowering others and retaining the power of command (Barach & Eckhart.C a s e S t u d y . nor is. (p. producing sometimes numerous full programs each week. under the direction of a single conductor. week after week. and yet they achieve a remarkably efficient output for the number of people involved. but that’s not how it works. Moreover. And each is a high-grade specialist. a symphony would have multiple vice-presidents and middle managers. he presented an oversimplification of the system. after all. 6) In one sense. indeed an artist. In the classic corporate model. most have played in chamber ensembles and all have likely played in small groups without artistic oversight as part of their education.

or how the music goes. rats in a maze. at the whim of the god with the baton.C a s e S t u d y . In addition. A number of writers have called for changes in this structure and for the inclusion of musicians in roles of governance. including boards. and technical performance often go unaddressed because to raise such issues would challenge the authority of the conductor. They do not control when the music starts. (p. but rarely are musicians themselves involved in high-level decision-making or key issues of governance and strategy (Allmendinger. Muringhan & Conlon. symphony musicians are specialists on their own instruments. They don’t even have the authority to leave the stage to attend to personal needs. and artistic directors. if musicians have traditionally been uninvolved in performance decisions in symphonies. yet issues of pitch. 1996.During rehearsals or concerts. 2003). 2002). Noteboom. however. 1991). ensemble. 1995.. in essence. but research has noted the deep dissatisfaction some musicians feel when they lack control over their work product and environment (Levine & Levine. including a notable appeal for a “paradigm shift” in response to ailing finances and shrinking audiences by Thomas Wolf in 1992 and responses by various proponents of changes in leadership for orchestras in the following years (Dempster. musicians experience a total lack of control over their environment. Many orchestras create great music and art despite these paradoxes. and are also highly trained musical practitioners. There are multiple leaders of such organizations. administrative managers. et al. their role in governance is generally even more marginal. when the music ends. They are. 20) Moreover. musicians continue to function in the traditional roles of cogs in the overall performance machine. By and large. 21 | G i l m o r e . moreso than any conductor can be.

ultimately. In a study of British string quartets. for instance. the breakdown of the traditional paradoxes of orchestras and the accompanying re-layering of governance. Murnighan and Conlon (1991) discovered that string musicians tend to see their work as leading toward a “spiritual experience” (p. however. improves both its product and its bottom line. of increasing hostility and tension between musicians rather than decreasing them. To begin with. the Memphis Symphony has tied itself to an organizational risk perhaps greater than even the series’ founding musicians realize. A growing body of research and opinion. and creative and practical control may well contribute to a new structure that sets the organization apart from others and.Opus One: Organizational Reform and the MSO In undertaking the Opus One project. who would believe that a symphony does not need content musicians but only musicians who do their jobs. 166) and that for these musicians performance and rehearsal is aimed at inspiration and transcendence.C a s e S t u d y . musicians do not take on positions or roles within the orchestra for simple reasons. 22 | G i l m o r e . Potential Successes There are those who might see increased control by musicians as a drawback for the Memphis Symphony . speaks to the contrary. Levine and Levine (1996) similarly identify the stressor on orchestral musicians of striving for a perfect ideal that can never be achieved. such restructuring in a time of flux (even though such restructuring could perhaps only happen in a time of flux) carries with it some dangers: of financial failure. autonomy of work. On the one hand. On the other hand. or of distracting from the important job of choosing a new artistic director.

They need to join the other constituencies in understanding that everyone has a stake in the final results—artistically and economically—whether those results are positive or negative. and to produce more efficient. which rests so deeply on musicians’ leadership for achieving its goals. We all need to leave behind the traditional “we/they” adversarial relationship. musicians are. 58). Musicians need to accept increased responsibility with authority and acquire a deeper sense of ownership. independence. it extends that conduit to control over the work environment itself and not just the work product. (pp. It should be taken into account. 23 | G i l m o r e . In this sense. in many ways. Opus One allows a conduit for expression and creativity that many MSO musicians. that many musicians in the MSO are of a new generation. musicians as fully involved workers might allow the organization to reduce overhead costs. diversity. The potential success for the organization is more than symbolic.C a s e S t u d y . While not every MSO series or production will likely be run. note that younger workers such as those of generation X embrace change. Bova and Kroth (2001). the project offers possible reforms to organizational structure that might conceivably stretch into many arenas. despite the supposedly artistic and creative nature of their work. in the Opus One model.It requires little imagination to conceive of the notion that such creatively-oriented individuals would seek control over their own artistic and practical work environment. for instance. more creative. constant learners. Moreover. 136137) The emphasis here on involvement in both success and failure is an important one for Opus One. ever. particularly with the board and management. rarely experience. to maximize the potential of its employees. or more appealing products. as well. Toeplitz (2003 ) recognizes the crucial nature of such involvement: A particularly important part of becoming a collaborative orchestra organization involves the musicians seeing themselves as partners. and wish to create their own learning environments (p. one that expects a flatter model and more frequent communication.

Nonetheless. however.C a s e S t u d y . In a time of economic uncertainty for the organization. Recently. there exists the intangible but crucial potential for increased morale and artistic fulfillment in both a specific and general sense among musicians. 22). and possibly the most important in terms of the sheer survival of the MSO organization. At the same time. for instance. since the visibility of the program also increases the risks of the undertaking. Opus One has already garnered well over $60. a host committee of fifty couples—none of whom are current patrons of the organization—was formed to help raise awareness about the project throughout the city. A final potential success. Levine and Levine (1996) point to one danger that a chronic lack of control can exert on musicians: infantilization (p. 24 | G i l m o r e . musicians who are given control and input may well accept even imperfect performances as valuable and fulfilling experiences. falling back frequently on discussion of artistic aims and achievement. is the very real potential for the project to benefit the symphony financially and in terms of community relationships and image. Musicians subjected to a constant.In addition to the possible benefits of increased control. patrimonial system can resort to acting like children and creating a we/they dichotomy that deepens with every decision made by organizational leaders. such divisions extend to the music itself. The various constituents of the organization are reluctant to speculate about such ends. often in the form of passiveaggressive response through performance rather than any other means.000 of income for the MSO and has brought a number of new actors to the table. Ultimately. Opus One has not only sustained itself so far but shows definite signs of broadening the appeal and audience of the organization—all the more reason for the MSO to ensure its success.

or produce. is a leap for any orchestra. A music director voluntarily giving control of an entire series to musicians. Levine and Levine (1996) note that most conductors already resent having control taken away from them after 150 minutes of rehearsal. the MSO has included six musicians on the search committee itself. who discuss a number of “stressors” (p. they do to some extent). four more than is called for by the master agreement and half of the total committee (several of these musician representatives. hostility. the project is not without peril. As part of its move toward increasing inclusion of musicians. but those authors do discuss the normative myth of the conductor as a divinely mandated leader and of the deferential manner in which rehearsals 25 | G i l m o r e .C a s e S t u d y . are also heavily involved in Opus One). at the time of this writing. but it poses the potential hazard of deepening distrust and tension rather than increasing it. Most notably. and with it perhaps a level of control during all other rehearsals. one of the very aspects of the organization that makes Opus One a possibility—its current position between artistic directors—could later prove a deep source of conflict and tension. a less obvious pitfall embedded in the introduction of Opus One during the year of a conductor search. There is. the friction could be exacerbated.Potential Failures Despite multiple avenues through which a project such as Opus One might increase participation and value to the community and bottom line for the Memphis Symphony. 15) faced by orchestral musicians. If the musicians disagree over the choice of a conductor (which. if that disagreement is in part tied to the conductor’s feelings about Opus One. Noteboom (2003) notes the importance of civility and trust in orchestral projects that require collaborative governance. Levine and Levine (1996). friction could increase. Obviously. This musician involvement is in keeping with the spirit of Opus One. a conductor who does not appreciate relinquishing control or allowing increased input from musicians could enter the organization to encounter. however. fail to mention civility as a factor. including Gilmore and Patterson.

“Everyone had his or her place and was expected to stay in it. blame the board” (p. Moreover. As Levine and Levine (1996) also note. the musicians have committed themselves to a heavy load of work in addition to the full slate of performance and rehearsal demanded of orchestral players. A second jeopardy posed by Opus One is that the solution could be. “Adding one’s colleagues to the list of taskmasters may not seem very attractive to many musicians. Among the nature of destructive conflict in such ensembles. worse than the problem. In the MSO.are conducted. 34). If there was scandal. blame the musicians. even with reciprocal privileges” (p. from performance to logistics to fund-raising. in fact. but a more dysfunctional 26 | G i l m o r e . a study of string quartets. have developed images of themselves as musician-leaders. which research often suggests contain generally happier and more content musicians than do orchestras. the danger of facile compromise. 23). among many others. blame the staff. there is a danger of the organization developing contradictory identities. those authors cite examples in which musicians possess different perceptions about the nature of conflicts. Gilmore and Patterson. prove impossible to avoid. in effect. musicians have taken on roles that could allow for blame in all areas. that burnout and de-motivation could result. recognizes the deep distress conflict can bring to musical ensembles (Murnigan & Conlon. and the danger of continuous conflict. that musicians could find themselves doing more work for few or unimportant results. Most telling. 1991). and what is left is not the old model of the line worker. board members change. the danger of avoiding conflict entirely.C a s e S t u d y . In the traditional model of the symphony as Noteboom (2003) describes it. If too little gift income was raised. take that image away. as a new music director enters the scene. Opus One threatens that normative structure. those pitfalls are omnipresent and could. The energy and vibrancy that many musicians bring to the project at present could detract from motivation to the same extent if finances or emotions turn sour. Finally. With a much larger number of musicians whose disagreements run to other areas of work such as the conductor search. If the performance was bad. and natural musician turnover takes its course.

Opus One represents not only a restructuring of the MSO for the sake of morale or greater inclusion. as a result. for the world of orchestras. much deeper rifts than simple disagreements over rehearsal procedures could easily develop. but a piece of an ongoing effort to salvage an institution that has been dangerously close to ceasing to exist in recent years. Significant and exciting things are happening on the stage. in the community. patrons. 2000. One might expand Glynn’s statement to include board members. and in the leadership structures of many orchestras. and a few musicians. and grant organizations. orchestra’s identities are “composed of contradictory elements because they contain actors (artisans and administrators) who come from different professions. different groups of actors cherish and promote different aspects of the group’s identity” (Glynn. here. If these actors cannot envision the same direction for the MSO within the next crucial months. as one author describes it. Conclusion Glaze and Wolf (2000) suggest that the need to reshape organizations is. Change for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra fits this description. executive director. staff.C a s e S t u d y . the very survival of orchestras depends on change. but the key relationship is likely to be that between conductor. In smaller communities. not merely a luxury: The crisis in the orchestra business is so significant that even the largest orchestras are no longer ignoring reality. since. 285). though those are certainly byproducts of the series. Gilmore’s first forays into the “corporate” world of symphony management are revealing. 27 | G i l m o r e .model of a worker who wants and is used to control and isn’t offered it. p.

particularly internally. and the public come to terms with what that information means. but some generally agreed-upon measures should be included in the process. again. however. staff. is that Opus One has resulted already in a number of lessons for orchestras and similar organizations looking to create new frameworks and programs that ensure productivity for a new climate.   The new model of symphony success. particularly when there is a compelling organizational need for them to do so. The heart of any reform effort must be a shared sense of identity and mission. What is certain.  Success is measured differently by different actors in the organization. and multiple actors and outcomes must be anticipated. Not all actors adjust to organizational restructuring at the same rate—patience is needed as information is disseminated and musicians. and with 28 | G i l m o r e .Will Opus One succeed? It seems likely at the time of this writing. Musicians understand and personalize aspects of organizational crisis and structure far beyond the scope of their immediate and traditional roles.C a s e S t u d y . Musicians exist in a high-stress. paradoxical environment that will not be entirely alleviated by any reform and therefore tension will naturally accompany any new programs or series—here. Reforms to organizations do not occur in isolation—they are linked to all other aspects of the organization. will require new models of community partnership and engagement. Structuring new organizational models and new partnerships involves planned communication. communication is a key factor in success.      Organizational reform involves a constant process of working in small groups and then letting go of control. The organizational landscape of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra is undoubtedly changing. especially for mid-level and smaller symphonies. board members. Among these lessons come the determinations that:   Symphonies contain an enormous reservoir of untapped potential in its musicians and the creative alliances that can be formed between musicians and other constituents. which in turn requires deep discussion of identity and mission at multiple levels.

however. it is recreating the image of the traditional symphony orchestra in a new mold.C a s e S t u d y . 29 | G i l m o r e . As the MSO builds an active citizenry of musician-leaders.that change there will arise both costs and benefits that are currently unforeseen.

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C a s e S t u d y .Appendix One: Organizational Model of the MSO 32 | G i l m o r e .