Opus One: A Case Study of Innovative Organization in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra
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.
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—
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
including the concertmaster. Under Fleur’s oversight and with participation from musicians. In the fall of 2008.different way. who joined the MSO in 1998. all musicians except for the concertmaster are effectively laid off. Part of what we do has to be what we’ve always done. and at the very least it seemed certain that the next season. July.
Opus One was not the first innovation brought about by a new take on the larger environment. and August. a cut of almost three million dollars. Fleur discussed with the musicians the likelihood that whole weeks of the 4|Gilmore-Case Study
. a small group of musicians was integral to planning and product.
2. Real questions about the ability of the organization to survive at all had to be addressed. 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. the MSO’s endowment had lost over 50% of its worth. actual performances. as a short list of candidates formed. had begun. and possibly even musical personnel. The 2008-2009 season was the last for Music Director/conductor David Loebel. many file for unemployment during this period). salaries. The ramifications of such a loss startled the musicians. and informed them of another crisis. but there has to be a menu of other things that helps to create a new business model. In each of these cases. though staff continued to fill most traditional support roles. the initial stages of a conductor search. Ryan Fleur called together a few key musicians. Recent Shifts: The 2008-2009 Crisis
The MSO performs for thirty-nine weeks each year (in June. The product has to be different. which would see an actual hire for the position until the 2010-2011 season. would see a reduction in staff. 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.
and the end result of a difficult contract negotiation had resulted in a 5% pay cut for most musicians. there were glimmers of vitality in the organization. as he later said. board members. 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. The support staff was reduced from 18 to 12. 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. 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. a think tank including musicians. management and the musicians (along with union representation) agreed to a new type of contract. By the end of the season. possibly because the MSO was not the only major symphony undergoing a financial crisis in the wake of the economic downturn of recent months. Morale plummeted.” For core musicians this would mean sitting idle. Leading From Every Chair and the Soulsville Charter School affiliation showed real signs of success. while for per-service musicians it could mean a significant loss of income.season would remain empty. largely thanks to the investment of time and energy from musicians. “The reality is that sometimes it’s just cheaper not to play at all. there has been an active effort to change the mission—and the sense of mission—in the MSO. Mission and Revenue: A Changing Landscape for Symphonies
Ryan Fleur admits that during the time he has been in Memphis. Shortly after Fleur’s arrival in 2003. In light of these developments. and staff created a new mission statement. At the same time. at the heart
. several weeks of the next season remained unscheduled.
3. all of the musicians knew the financial situation.
They say it’s all about making great music. 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. acted as the MSO representative in ROPA.of which was the goal “to make meaningful experiences through music. Fleur describes the change in priorities for symphonies in this way:
Arts organizations tend to be inwardly focused. What is it that’s important to Memphis? The idea of patron engagement is to be externally focused. For Fleur. a little narcissistic. The pyramid bottoms out with those who might go to a classical concert once in a given year. people can go somewhere else. with all of its attendant programs. such a change mission is not just for show. or might once have attended a concert. across the country. the Regional Orchestra Players Association. it marks a strategic response to the changing landscape in which arts organizations operate. and its manifestation in Memphis is not an isolated transition. The redesign of the MSO. Well. if it’s all about great music. Gaylon Patterson.” 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.
Fleur describes the symphony-going audience as a pyramid. symphonies in particular and arts organizations in general are reacting in similar ways. and views the change as one rooted in commitment to the mission:
. for several years. So that we’re in the business of serving Memphis through making great music rather in the business of making great music. This is a fundamental change in how symphonies operate. the assistant principal second violinist of the MSO. is partly intended to bring in new constituents at every level of the pyramid simultaneously by broadening appeal and access. or who might consider the experience.
The institution would now have to 7|Gilmore-Case Study
. For Fleur. That’s ultimately what will create the business model. is our mission—that we’re trying to deploy our people in ways that create meaningful opportunities for both our artists and our audience. Instead of a flowchart and hierarchy. with music-making in the center (see appendix 1). is this new notion that what we’re trying to do. All of our measurement comes out of there. You can redefine it any way. and artistic engagement (musicians) lies at the heart of a successful reinvention of the MSO:
The model is people. What do we have at the symphony? 85% of our budget is people. and Opus One embodies it perfectly. Both she and Fleur attribute the roots of the project to reshuffling already going on within the organization.
It was against this backdrop of change in historical position. because pay scales are very low and people have to hold umpteen jobs just to make a living. where it’s very hard. even more so than in the major orchestras that are paying well. but the heart of it is this notion. the intersection of accountability (revenue). we’re not going to profit. and adaptation of vision that Gilmore proposed the Opus One project. that’s the artistic engagement circle. for the Symphony. you deliver the right service. so people who do this work are very committed to it—there’s no other reason to do it. You invest in the right people. patron engagement (audience appeal). It speaks to a level of dedication that by far outweighs what the compensation offers.
In concert with this change.The orchestras that are doing well are the ones that are trying not to be so traditional in their roles. product. that’s the patron engagement circle. That third circle is accountability. especially in the smaller orchestras. but both also recognize that this change went far beyond any current offering of the MSO. The level of commitment is hard to maintain. and that ultimately are tied to revenue sources. immediate solvency and viability. he now envisions overlapping spheres of responsibility. if you do that. that are truly relevant to the community. Fleur has attempted to reorganize the organizational structure of the symphony itself. but we’re going to have solvency. service.
new programming formats. staff. a difficult transition for an orchestra that had traditionally. the presentation of the Opus One concept brought to the forefront the tension and distrust that characterized an organization in a difficult financial position. She recalls:
. Making the Idea Reality: The Initial Challenge
Gilmore’s idea did not arise out of a vacuum. Paul Bert. and management on a level playing field. new.” The new model would place all musicians. based on national models. and while the MSO had been heading in that direction in some ways. with three key actors. each struggling to determine what to do with this idea. Bert had approached Gilmore earlier that year and issued a challenge to innovate.
In its initial stages. Fleur. as Fleur says. alternative venues.embrace the input and opinions of musicians. musician-led efforts at every level of concert preparation. but it still represented the most radical shift for the symphony to date. and there was no protocol for developing such an idea when it came from a musician rather than management. The concept of Opus One as Gilmore presented would mean:
unconducted rehearsals and performances. and a powerful board member. “treated musicians collectively somewhere on the spectrum between the servant who comes in the backdoor and the gifted child. embracing the concept fully represented a true leap of faith in what the organization could become. Gilmore. new marketing techniques to reach a younger audience.
The Creation of Opus One: A New Type of Program
Fleur recalls the tension of the early stages. within two weeks. When I told him about Opus One [several months later]. and the way that Paul deliberately tried to keep it as far from the staff as possible until it was an idea that shaped. not more of the same. on the other hand. with Susanna and Paul trying to feel out various people.” and what could anyone do? Whether it was right or wrong. “I’m willing to write this check. the idea was a good one. and convincing the Memphis audience. and some people kept probing with all of these ways this could fail.
Gilmore. and I’m waiting to be excited by something that’s happening in the symphony. In theory. she also saw the dangers of a board member micromanaging MSO efforts.” He was ready to get excited and back something new. like change of the whole nature of symphony orchestras to being musicianrun. but
Gilmore knew she had the support of Paul Bert. Wrapped up in each of these stages were daunting logistical and resource-based tasks of creating such an unprecedented concert experience. convincing the musicians. “You’re that kind of person.
By involving Bert. where I had to pitch this to the staff. She now faced three major hurdles: convincing the staff and management. presents her decision as strategic:
That first meeting happened relatively fast.It was in my subconscious that back in September when I had made this conductor site-visit to Washington with Paul. He was saying. it gave me ammunition to make the pieces fit together. 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. Gilmore set wheels into motion that wouldn’t now be stopped. almost clandestine. and finally Paul just said. but doesn’t dwell on it:
Initially there was a moment. Paul immediately saw potential—he saw potential that I didn’t even want to think about.
I think that’s part of why this succeeded.” and then maybe it was used again or maybe not. being told. in fact.were there. funding? The project soon proved to be far more complicated than Gilmore originally envisioned. 10 | G i l m o r e . It was exhausting. and do this document called a project model. figure out how to use Excel.
Armed with positive responses. During the final concert weekend. and I’m the musician that when they’re angry at the symphony they think I’m part of the organization. choosing which musicians would take part in marketing or second-half performances. 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. most importantly. 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. get information about what things cost. the one with all of the staff and some key board members. if you want to do this. you have to jump through my hoops. securing alcohol and security or. 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). because people look at me. I had to have a budget. I don’t know what the point of the project model was. for better or for worse. I don’t know. beginning with the pitch to staff and management.C a s e S t u d y
. It was something the administration wanted. 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. it wasn’t just another musician with a hair-brained idea. not the way I like to work. “Wow. but a musician who felt strongly enough about the idea to be really uncomfortable and try to learn these skills. venues in the city that could support such performances? How exactly did one go about running unconducted symphony rehearsals. which happens a lot. it showed up at that meeting and everyone went. creating the festive atmosphere she envisioned. But I was even getting good results from them. Prove to me that you can talk like I talk.
a musician-run. The MSO. In the process. Then. and to meet with Eric Booth. He said he was willing to write a check for ten thousand dollars.
In fact.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. Then.C a s e S t u d y
. the arts consultant who helped to develop Leading From Every Chair. Bert held back his offer throughout the meeting. risks. out of 11 | G i l m o r e . the staff was still somewhat suspicious though cautiously hopeful. a week or so later. the risks were very real. But what came out of that meeting were a couple of good things. the very nature of the project’s development was both a benefit and a challenge—most of the initial work was completed. risks. Within a month. instead of possible successes. he talked to a representative from the Mellon Foundation—the same organization that provided initial funding for Leading from Every Chair. Here. suddenly chiming in at the end of the meeting that he would offer the funds for the project. The next hurdle. Even with the promise of some financial investment. as one musician put it. unconducted group. at the same conference. he called Gilmore from Chicago and told her the prospects looked good. then. was to bring musicians on board. there was an atmosphere of cynicism.” and Fleur took the opportunity to pitch the new idea to the Mellon representative. was the “good child. 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. Fleur had secured a $40. because he used that money well. he discovered that few or no orchestras were trying anything this adventurous.Ryan wanted to talk about risks. Most importantly. and he spoke to others from around the country about Opus One. A little later. and the project stood a real chance of dying before it really got started. that she should “think big” about what she need to make a start. And that was the public moment where Paul backed me. Fleur attended attended the League of American Orchestras convention in Chicago. tension was still present.
“The whole idea is to neutralize the negative energy. but even so the surveys raised valuable questions and concerns that the staff and lead musicians could address. Fleur credits consultant Eric Booth with the idea to distribute a survey early on that asked musicians to comment on the project. That turned out to be very difficult because of the timing. and then we weren’t together for the summer and I was out of the country for all of August. but because it came from me. “because the value system we’ve built before has been this quality of passive-aggressiveness. Then we had to pick who was going to New York and start spreading information and make sure everybody knew what this was. here. I couldn’t tell everybody anything because nothing was official. I have to convince my colleagues I’m not making some sort of power grab. 12 | G i l m o r e . only one expressed mostly negative responses. it was just based on wanderings through the rehearsals and breaks. in that first week or so. the idea came from me and worked maybe in part because of that. though word had leaked out about the project.” In fact.necessity. We’re still fighting it. It’s a catch-22. 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. I just plopped people in based on who seemed enthusiastic so far. not a committee.” says Fleur. and so I then had to fight this perception that we had withheld information. It probably would have happened regardless because ideas come from a person. and thus without the knowledge of the larger body of musicians. at the tail end of one season and over the summer. contained four possible negative answers and only one positive answer. of the nineteen surveys returned. For a long time. 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. to try to disseminate the information. That certainly wasn’t a democratic process because I hadn’t been able to talk to the orchestra as a whole.C a s e S t u d y
. was that every item on the survey. which was largely constructed in multiple choice format. several decisions helped to secure the investment and interest of the musicians. allowing musicians to vent their frustrations and express concerns right from the start.
Nonetheless. The trick.
observe and discuss processes with the Orpheus ensemble. A full meeting of the symphony musicians and staff convened and the idea was officially presented to the full organization. preferring to create a more communal structure of responsibility. A musician-only blog was created to allow internal communication to flow more freely. and reflect on the survey data. more significant buy-in from musicians was imperative. Gilmore would be the bucket leader for development. for instance).
13 | G i l m o r e . 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). In late September. PR. including a possible non-binding code of conduct for rehearsals (unlike union regulations for rehearsal time.C a s e S t u d y
. It was during this trip that ownership truly began to emerge. By the time the ad hoc committee returned from New York. but other musicians stepped up to take control of six other areas: marketing. it was clear that Opus One would become a reality. Still. tickets and alcohol. many of them musicians who had been involved in other projects such as Leading From Every Chair. at least for one season. things moved swiftly. for instance. 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. 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. Without musician ownership. hospitality. production. The committee of musicians (not management) presented the ideas and findings from the trip. Upon the return of this group from New York. a committee of seven musicians travelled to New York City to meet with Booth. the other musicians even advised her not to take on an official role as supervisor of the project. and internal communications. but some coming from other constituencies (one musician.By this time. seven “bucket leaders” had been identified.
in that most of the donors are already MSO patrons and supporters:
There’s always been some concern on the funding front. this revenue may be misleading. it’s not really new dollars. there are three Opus One performances scheduled for the 2009-2010 season.
14 | G i l m o r e . At the end of the day. Leading From Every Chair. This brought the number of musicians working in a staff capacity to sixteen. which takes place in December. is a limited preview performance for patrons and other possible supporters—a dry run of sorts. the venue is a privately owned performance space called the Warehouse in downtown Memphis’s up and coming South Main arts district.000 has been raised for the season (the initial goal was $30. scheduled for March.
2. An itemized vote on the code of conduct showed that over 90% of musicians accepted every part of the proposal. The Way Forward: Opus One’s First Season and Organization
At the time of this writing. it’s shifting around dollars that were already being given. otherwise we’re spinning our wheels. The third and final concert will help round out the season in May.management and staff were not included.000). nine chose to work on Opus One (others chose no project. we have to make sure it’s generating new bodies and new dollars. In addition. two more important pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place.C a s e S t u d y
. with one donor promising to pay more if there is a shortfall at the end of the series. Approximately $25. 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. The second performance. The first. Nonetheless. or nearly half of the full-time core. In every single case where we’ ve gotten gifts. says Fleur. when core musicians officially opted in to capacity-building activities for the season. or the Soulsville Charter School as their focus). By October 14.
There may be a program where there’s not a single piece that I would choose to play. but it’s my responsibility to do my best. however. I think. she sees a small but entrenched pocket of resistance from musicians themselves. creative people. I’m going to do my job. The two most clearly identifiable of these are continued resistance and the changing scope of musicians’ responsibilities. agrees. There’s always going to be resisters. There’s a sense of loss from some people about not being able just to play. a twenty-four year veteran of the symphony. and also from people who resist their worldview of what a symphony is changing. 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. because you’re told everything about your job— follow orders—yet we as artists are trained to be original. There are other people who have been more tunnel-vision oriented.” For me personally.
Gaylon Patterson. It’s generational. In the midst of this early success.As development continues.
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. there’s something valuable in that. an organization challenge not faced by those in the private sector: MSO musicians. to have original ideas. The first of these worries Gilmore. but focuses on possible positive outcomes:
Some of us saw the change coming down the pike years ago. the hope is that new donors will appear. it has to do with lack of control very often. who say. somewhat. there are two sources of potential protest:
Resistance comes from people who resist the musicians leading this.C a s e S t u d y
. but even they will come around. here. though other stakeholders evaluate the significance of this resistance differently. There is also. because of union rules embodied in the master 15 | G i l m o r e . “That’s not what I signed up to do. According to Gilmore. deep concerns persist. Changing that to add more say in what we do and how we do it.
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. 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. really. For this reason.agreement between management and musicians.” as Fleur puts it. If the orchestra folds. are nearly impossible to dismiss from their posts after the first year (when they gain tenure).C a s e S t u d y
. I feel a lot of pressure from it. The level of responsibility compared to compensation is absurd. Not that I can or should do it on my own. and it helps the bottom line or the public image or it helps fulfill a need in the city. Gilmore and other musicians who support the change must answer to colleagues who do not. there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with that…it’s a gratifying thing to do. but if we all just say. to the new organizational model. 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. I’ll feel like it’s a personal failure to solve the problems that need solving. It’s hard not to resent that. and expects more voluntary turnover in the next several years as musicians adapt. whatever attitudes they hold. or fail to adapt. must in some ways be reflected in performances of the people who are in place at the right time. and that’s a lot of pressure. then we’re done. It’s an awful lot of responsibility. A second challenge for the organization is more deeply embedded and presents less clear possibilities for resolution. The positive side is that if I do something. Fleur points out that nearly one third of the MSO has turned over since his arrival. 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.
16 | G i l m o r e . in rehearsals. That’s the negative side. that’s somebody else’s problem. The pressure. Nonetheless. In the meantime. it’s an intangible. not only through meetings and correspondence but on the spot. Patterson feels the shift in expectation acutely:
It’s a double-edged sword.
And the one thing that has to work is it has to be musically fulfilling for the artists who are participating.C a s e S t u d y
. But the old model doesn’t exist. has found herself constantly balancing the demands on her time:
It’s hard for me. it means that they’ve learned something along the way about how to communicate. as concertmaster and initiator of the idea. the sound could be bad.
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. Fleur. That’s not good for art. for instance. Gilmore. I probably had three days where I didn’t practice other than MSO rehearsal because of constant meetings. it’s not good for me as an artist. and if it’s musically fulfilling for the artists who are participating.Similarly. there can be no chairs on stage.—all of those can fail. 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 . presents success initially in terms of artist ownership and fulfillment:
My take is the project itself can actually be a major failure. but if we’ve achieved the artistic and people feel good. I have to fight this feeling of guilt that I should be working on Opus One. This week.
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. it can be too hot. etc. doing development. nobody can show up. If it means that they’ve also learned something in trying to do all of the other stuff—the logistics. now. “Well. if there are ten fronts and it fails on nine of the ten fronts it can actually still be a major organizational success. whatever. not in a country where the arts aren’t subsidized. we have the ground then to say. when I start to practice.
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. and it’s not stuffy or highbrow. inspire musicians and management.
At heart. whatever that means to them.
Patterson. and people to realize that watching a performance up close is an exhilarating experience. create community in a way that symphonies have rarely seen
18 | G i l m o r e . that’s a plus…especially if it’s someone who shows up at Opus One. and as such imparts symbolic importance at several levels. create civic connections and purpose. There are big picture goals. Even if it’s a small audience. Opus One seeks to attract new audience members. that’s a measure of success. and that younger people feel it’s cool to go a concert and be seen there.
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. But I also want this to be something the musicians own. to me that building of self-esteem is worth anything. and. generate new revenue. I want this formula of mixing classical and nonclassical music to succeed in keeping classical alive. 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. If at any point someone in the last chair of the violins has a moment where they make a comment that is actually tried. the project is a focal point for the MSO in part because it hits on every need faced by the organization.to each and that’s the key. That’s been the obstacle. not just that holds us back but that holds every orchestra back. I have a lot of high aspirations in terms of rebranding the symphony in the city. on the other hand. but I want this to be something that keeps our souls alive. that we feel proud of. not least. that we feel we are playing better than ever and with a level of energy and interaction that has not been seen. If it’s an audience that we don’t normally see in the concert hall.C a s e S t u d y
instrument in hand. outstretched. excitement about the project continues to grow.
19 | G i l m o r e . 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. everything from the pieces on the program to “the napkin under your drink at the concert reception. And. Decisions are now being made by musicians about. he or she also relinquishes that responsibility. for musicians to listen to one another. with the word “LISTEN” written in block letters on his palm. but on the other hand. on a city street in downtown Memphis.before. 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. as each new member of the community claims a stake in putting the project together. On the one hand. and for the organization to listen to its environment. these discussions lie in the realm of work by committee. partly blurry. These complex and interdependent goals both energize those closest to the project and make their work more difficult. The message is not lost: Opus One represents a new way for the audience to listen. including Facebook and alternative city publications.” An early publicity photo for the project shows the same oboe player. The player and his instrument are partly visible. at this late date. while the focus of the shot is the musician’s hand. as an oboe player put it in a piece he wrote for MSO patrons. there are still deep discussions both online and in person among constituents about branding and marketing. for example.” word filters out through new avenues for the MSO. and orchestra members have begun to share their vision of what one member of the organization calls an “open-source symphony. there is little doubt that it has created a new organizational model and a new expectation of organizational function for the MSO.C a s e S t u d y
. Whether or not Opus One succeeds in quantifiable terms.
but that’s not how it works. artistically. indeed an artist. was the complexity of the symphony orchestra and. Perhaps more than any other organization. under the direction of a single conductor. Drucker (1988) argued. There is only the conductor CEO—and every one of the musicians plays directly to that person without an intermediary. solvency. necessarily. such as the tension between empowering others and retaining the power of command (Barach & Eckhart. however. Drucker famously included the symphony as a model organization for companies looking to restructure. producing sometimes numerous full programs each week. and collaboratively. symphonies embody paradoxes. after all.Part Two: An Analysis of Opus One
More than twenty years ago. and yet they achieve a remarkably efficient output for the number of people involved. Moreover.C a s e S t u d y
. and all communication is passed in extremely deferential terms through the conductor. he presented an oversimplification of the system. by neglecting that complexity. nor is. To some extent. 6)
In one sense. Yet in the symphony context such paradoxes run deeper than one might find elsewhere. (p. In the classic corporate model. In orchestral rehearsals. the high-grade level of individuals sometimes goes unfulfilled or is even diminished by the traditional process. 1996). is not the main goal of an orchestra. What Drucker missed. 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 each is a high-grade specialist. Peter F. musicians rarely interact. a symphony would have multiple vice-presidents and middle managers. however. week after week. Orchestral musicians such as those in the MSO are trained to think creatively. most have played in chamber ensembles and all have likely played in small groups without artistic oversight as part of their education. Drucker hit on a crucial concept: symphonies do not operate according to a corporate model.
21 | G i l m o r e . A number of writers have called for changes in this structure and for the inclusion of musicians in roles of governance. 1995. Many orchestras create great music and art despite these paradoxes. and are also highly trained musical practitioners. but rarely are musicians themselves involved in high-level decision-making or key issues of governance and strategy (Allmendinger. There are multiple leaders of such organizations. ensemble. 1996. 1991). In addition. symphony musicians are specialists on their own instruments. including boards. rats in a maze. musicians experience a total lack of control over their environment.. 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. but research has noted the deep dissatisfaction some musicians feel when they lack control over their work product and environment (Levine & Levine. or how the music goes. their role in governance is generally even more marginal. 20)
Moreover. 2003). musicians continue to function in the traditional roles of cogs in the overall performance machine. 2002). and technical performance often go unaddressed because to raise such issues would challenge the authority of the conductor.During rehearsals or concerts. however. et al. They are. They don’t even have the authority to leave the stage to attend to personal needs. when the music ends. By and large. at the whim of the god with the baton. in essence. Noteboom. They do not control when the music starts. Muringhan & Conlon. yet issues of pitch. moreso than any conductor can be. and artistic directors. administrative managers. if musicians have traditionally been uninvolved in performance decisions in symphonies.C a s e S t u d y
A growing body of research and opinion.
22 | G i l m o r e .Opus One: Organizational Reform and the MSO
In undertaking the Opus One project. 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. of increasing hostility and tension between musicians rather than decreasing them. On the one hand. autonomy of work. musicians do not take on positions or roles within the orchestra for simple reasons. the breakdown of the traditional paradoxes of orchestras and the accompanying re-layering of governance.
There are those who might see increased control by musicians as a drawback for the Memphis Symphony . Murnighan and Conlon (1991) discovered that string musicians tend to see their work as leading toward a “spiritual experience” (p. ultimately. and creative and practical control may well contribute to a new structure that sets the organization apart from others and. for instance. To begin with. or of distracting from the important job of choosing a new artistic director.C a s e S t u d y
. 166) and that for these musicians performance and rehearsal is aimed at inspiration and transcendence. the Memphis Symphony has tied itself to an organizational risk perhaps greater than even the series’ founding musicians realize. improves both its product and its bottom line. however. In a study of British string quartets. 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. On the other hand. who would believe that a symphony does not need content musicians but only musicians who do their jobs.
for instance.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. and wish to create their own learning environments (p. Moreover. musicians are. constant learners. 58). independence. Bova and Kroth (2001). in the Opus One model.C a s e S t u d y
. (pp. 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. despite the supposedly artistic and creative nature of their work. to maximize the potential of its employees. that many musicians in the MSO are of a new generation. one that expects a flatter model and more frequent communication. 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. in many ways. it extends that conduit to control over the work environment itself and not just the work product. particularly with the board and management. Opus One allows a conduit for expression and creativity that many MSO musicians. musicians as fully involved workers might allow the organization to reduce overhead costs. 136137)
The emphasis here on involvement in both success and failure is an important one for Opus One. The potential success for the organization is more than symbolic. as well. Musicians need to accept increased responsibility with authority and acquire a deeper sense of ownership. In this sense. rarely experience. and to produce more efficient. We all need to leave behind the traditional “we/they” adversarial relationship. note that younger workers such as those of generation X embrace change. It should be taken into account. or more appealing products. which rests so deeply on musicians’ leadership for achieving its goals.
23 | G i l m o r e . ever. more creative. While not every MSO series or production will likely be run. the project offers possible reforms to organizational structure that might conceivably stretch into many arenas. diversity.
At the same time.C a s e S t u d y
. Levine and Levine (1996) point to one danger that a chronic lack of control can exert on musicians: infantilization (p. A final potential success.000 of income for the MSO and has brought a number of new actors to the table. since the visibility of the program also increases the risks of the undertaking. Recently. however. such divisions extend to the music itself. Nonetheless. 22). for instance. The various constituents of the organization are reluctant to speculate about such ends. Opus One has already garnered well over $60. In a time of economic uncertainty for the organization. patrimonial system can resort to acting like children and creating a we/they dichotomy that deepens with every decision made by organizational leaders. and possibly the most important in terms of the sheer survival of the MSO organization. often in the form of passiveaggressive response through performance rather than any other means. 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. Musicians subjected to a constant.In addition to the possible benefits of increased control. there exists the intangible but crucial potential for increased morale and artistic fulfillment in both a specific and general sense among musicians. musicians who are given control and input may well accept even imperfect performances as valuable and fulfilling experiences. 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. Ultimately.
24 | G i l m o r e . is the very real potential for the project to benefit the symphony financially and in terms of community relationships and image. falling back frequently on discussion of artistic aims and achievement.
There is. at the time of this writing. Obviously. If the musicians disagree over the choice of a conductor (which. fail to mention civility as a factor. 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 . including Gilmore and Patterson. 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. is a leap for any orchestra. This musician involvement is in keeping with the spirit of Opus One. Levine and Levine (1996) note that most conductors already resent having control taken away from them after 150 minutes of rehearsal. a less obvious pitfall embedded in the introduction of Opus One during the year of a conductor search. and with it perhaps a level of control during all other rehearsals. or produce. the friction could be exacerbated. A music director voluntarily giving control of an entire series to musicians.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. four more than is called for by the master agreement and half of the total committee (several of these musician representatives. hostility. but it poses the potential hazard of deepening distrust and tension rather than increasing it. if that disagreement is in part tied to the conductor’s feelings about Opus One. are also heavily involved in Opus One). who discuss a number of “stressors” (p. the project is not without peril. As part of its move toward increasing inclusion of musicians. they do to some extent). Most notably. Levine and Levine (1996).C a s e S t u d y
. friction could increase. a conductor who does not appreciate relinquishing control or allowing increased input from musicians could enter the organization to encounter. 15) faced by orchestral musicians. however. Noteboom (2003) notes the importance of civility and trust in orchestral projects that require collaborative governance. the MSO has included six musicians on the search committee itself.
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. and natural musician turnover takes its course. and the danger of continuous conflict. prove impossible to avoid. have developed images of themselves as musician-leaders. Most telling. the danger of facile compromise. As Levine and Levine (1996) also note. that musicians could find themselves doing more work for few or unimportant results. the danger of avoiding conflict entirely. as a new music director enters the scene. If the performance was bad. among many others. in effect. Opus One threatens that normative structure. board members change. recognizes the deep distress conflict can bring to musical ensembles (Murnigan & Conlon. musicians have taken on roles that could allow for blame in all areas. but a more dysfunctional
26 | G i l m o r e . Among the nature of destructive conflict in such ensembles. worse than the problem. 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. blame the board” (p. If too little gift income was raised. 1991). If there was scandal. blame the musicians. A second jeopardy posed by Opus One is that the solution could be. and what is left is not the old model of the line worker. blame the staff. 23). which research often suggests contain generally happier and more content musicians than do orchestras. With a much larger number of musicians whose disagreements run to other areas of work such as the conductor search. In the MSO. In the traditional model of the symphony as Noteboom (2003) describes it. Finally. a study of string quartets. those authors cite examples in which musicians possess different perceptions about the nature of conflicts. those pitfalls are omnipresent and could. in fact. “Everyone had his or her place and was expected to stay in it. from performance to logistics to fund-raising. Moreover. take that image away.C a s e S t u d y
. even with reciprocal privileges” (p. Gilmore and Patterson. 34). that burnout and de-motivation could result.are conducted. “Adding one’s colleagues to the list of taskmasters may not seem very attractive to many musicians. there is a danger of the organization developing contradictory identities.
as one author describes it.
27 | G i l m o r e . not merely a luxury:
The crisis in the orchestra business is so significant that even the largest orchestras are no longer ignoring reality. 2000. If these actors cannot envision the same direction for the MSO within the next crucial months.
Change for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra fits this description. the very survival of orchestras depends on change. much deeper rifts than simple disagreements over rehearsal procedures could easily develop. p. In smaller communities. 285). and a few musicians. here. executive director. One might expand Glynn’s statement to include board members.model of a worker who wants and is used to control and isn’t offered it. though those are certainly byproducts of the series. Opus One represents not only a restructuring of the MSO for the sake of morale or greater inclusion. Significant and exciting things are happening on the stage. staff.
Glaze and Wolf (2000) suggest that the need to reshape organizations is. orchestra’s identities are “composed of contradictory elements because they contain actors (artisans and administrators) who come from different professions. and in the leadership structures of many orchestras. but the key relationship is likely to be that between conductor.C a s e S t u d y
. for the world of orchestras. in the community. as a result. patrons. Gilmore’s first forays into the “corporate” world of symphony management are revealing. but a piece of an ongoing effort to salvage an institution that has been dangerously close to ceasing to exist in recent years. since. and grant organizations. different groups of actors cherish and promote different aspects of the group’s identity” (Glynn.
Will Opus One succeed? It seems likely at the time of this writing. Musicians exist in a high-stress. particularly internally. and with 28 | G i l m o r e . Not all actors adjust to organizational restructuring at the same rate—patience is needed as information is disseminated and musicians. which in turn requires deep discussion of identity and mission at multiple levels.
Organizational reform involves a constant process of working in small groups and then letting go of control. 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.
The new model of symphony success. 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. and the public come to terms with what that information means.
The organizational landscape of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra is undoubtedly changing. What is certain. particularly when there is a compelling organizational need for them to do so. communication is a key factor in success. board members.
Success is measured differently by different actors in the organization. and multiple actors and outcomes must be anticipated. especially for mid-level and smaller symphonies. will require new models of community partnership and engagement. however. Structuring new organizational models and new partnerships involves planned communication. The heart of any reform effort must be a shared sense of identity and mission. staff. again. 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. Musicians understand and personalize aspects of organizational crisis and structure far beyond the scope of their immediate and traditional roles. but some generally agreed-upon measures should be included in the process.C a s e S t u d y
As the MSO builds an active citizenry of musician-leaders.
29 | G i l m o r e . it is recreating the image of the traditional symphony orchestra in a new mold.that change there will arise both costs and benefits that are currently unforeseen.C a s e S t u d y
194-219. D. J. R. from http://www3. from http://www. J. J. Harmony. Administrative Science Quarterly. Retrieved December 3..soi. Thousand Oaks.giarts. T. The coming of the new organization. 15. 57-65.org/library_additional/library_additional_show.
30 | G i l m o r e . (1996). F. K. Life and work in symphony orchestras. 36.. Harvard Business Review. Barach. (2008). 11(3). & Levine. Workplace learning and generation X. Journal of Workplace Learning. 285-298. V. A. Hackman.pdf Drucker. M. E. R. J. Dempster. 2009. The dynamics of intense work groups: a study of British string quartets. National Endowment for the Arts. Murnighan. (2001). 17(1). & Conlon.. from http://www.. M. January).Works Cited
Allmendinger. Organization Science. The wolf report and Baumol’s curse: the economic health of American symphony orchestras in the 1990s and beyond. (1991). D. J. & Wolf. 2. In Leading Organizations: Perspectives for a New Era. Levine. (1996).. (1988. 80. P. Who's afraid of symphony orchestras? Grantmakers in the Arts. N.. (2002). (1998). Bova. 2009.unicatt. D. E. B. & Kroth. A. 13 (2).org/harmony/archive/15/Wolf_Report_Dempster. Harmony. & Lehman. 14-25. CA: Sage Publications.C a s e S t u d y
. 1-3. 2009. (2000). Retrieved December 3.htm?doc_id=402910 Glynn. E. Musical Quarterly. 1-23. When cymbals become symbols: conflict over organizational identity within a symphony orchestra. Why they're not smiling: stress and discontent in the orchestra workplace.it/unicattolica/ Formazione_Permanente/IREF/DSCO/Corso2_16_03_05. S. The paradoxes of leadership. 165-185. Arts Participation 2008: Highlights from a National Survey. & Eckhart.. Retrieved December 3.pdf Glaze. (2000).
From challenge to success: what must change? Harmony. 16.soi.C a s e S t u d y
. Retrieved December 3.pdf
31 | G i l m o r e . G. 2009.Washington. (2003). Harmony. DC.pdf Toeplitz. Noteboom. 2946. from http://www. J. (2003). 2009. 16.org/harmony/archive/16/ Challenge_Success_Toeplitz. L. Retrieved December 3.org/harmony/archive/16/ Good_Gov_Noteboom. from http://www. 133138.soi. Good governance for challenging times: the spco experience.
C a s e S t u d y
.Appendix One: Organizational Model of the MSO
32 | G i l m o r e .