Challenges and Solutions for Community Orchestras

Each orchestral organization has its particular culture that shapes the thinking and decision making of the parties that do the actual work of the organization. The challenges listed below are perhaps the most universal ones that arise from the basic structures of not-for-profit charities working in a resource limited context.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

In well-managed professional orchestras that employ conservatory trained instrumentalists and seasoned, full-time orchestra staff, there are objective performance measures in place that ensure a high quality product, excellent hiring practices, and efficient business operations. Mediocre performance is not tolerated and processes for improving performance are often in use.

“People of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.” – Wikipedia on the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Smaller orchestras with fewer resources and volunteer management and performers often suffer the Dunning-Kruger Effect among the artists, staff and board. Because of the blindspot caused by the people’s inability to notice their own incompetence, mission critical mistakes are made repeatedly, incompetent players and conductors are not removed from the ensemble, and board members make strategically bad decisions that effect the future of the organization – e.g. hiring a conductor based on their ability to ingratiate themselves with members of the board of directors.


The solution to this problem of illusory superiority and the missteps that follow is to work with the orchestra, staff and board to establish a mutually agreed upon set of specific, objective performance standards for each business function and section of the orchestra. All players are auditioned using the same objective standard, adjudicated by a committee of people from their instrumental discipline (woodwind, brass, percussion, strings) with oversight from the Music Director, and then recommended for admission or not, the MD having the final say. The same process applies for performance management with the staff and volunteers with the Executive Director having the final say.

When an applicant fails to meet the minimally acceptable standards, they are asked to improve and come back again next year. For incumbents, if enough complaints about their playing or behavior come to the attention of the MD, or the MD assesses that they are not meeting the minimally acceptable standard, they are asked to re-audition. If they fail to meet the agreed upon objective standard, they are given a short period to improve and then re-auditioned. If they then fail to meet the standard, they leave with respect and thanks for their service. This has worked successfully in groups where the shared purpose is to produce the best music and business results possible. It does not work in groups that have conflicting values and purposes for participating in the orchestra.

Misalignment of Purpose, Values, and Structures

Artists, staff, and board members of professional orchestras that operate at the pinnacle of the performing arts business have a very clear shared purpose and shared values – to make and share high art with excellence, integrity, beauty, and sustainability. Their processes and business structures, as well as their compensation, benefits, and governance are all designed to fulfill that purpose and express those values. In high functioning groups, this alignment of purpose produces social harmony internally and an esprit de corps that pulls for excellence. The Berlin Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony are good examples.

Members of community orchestras that have volunteer management and volunteer performers often have internally conflicting purposes which cause misalignment of action and intent resulting in poor results and social dysfunction. The typical misalignment is between three distinct groups that have three different purposes and value systems – club members, artists, and prestige hunters. There may be other types, but these three will be sufficient to make the point.

Club members participate in the orchestra simply to have a place to play music and to belong. They have no urgent interest in the quality of the artistic output or the effect it has on the audience or the health of the organization. Mediocrity is OK with them. Their primary purpose is to connect with like-minded friends and the context for that is playing in the orchestra or volunteering – similar to playing on a softball team or joining a church. They value belonging, being liked and liking others, the political intrigues inherent in club life, and doing their hobby.

The artist group are primarily interested in making the music as good as it can be. They think it’s fun to strive and exceed their normal level of performance. Mediocrity is a real problem for them. Their purpose is to continually improve and to share authentic beauty with the audience and their peers. They value integrity, being prepared, excellence, and hard work. They desire the approbation of their artistic peers and care little for what the lay audience or critics think of them or their performance.

Prestige hunters participate with the orchestra because of the social advantage this gives them with the people whose admiration they desire. Their purpose is to be perceived by others (and themselves) as extraordinary, successful, cultured, intellectual, and accomplished. Their association with the orchestra is evidence that they are those things. They value social status, acknowledgment of philanthropy, and the admiration of others in their social set. Unlike club people, it’s not about belonging to a group. It’s about being special and influential.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the three purposes and value systems above. People have the right to be who they are and value what they value. That said, one can see that an organization that includes people from all three camps is going to have a difficult time, because people are trying to get different results. This is especially true if the people are concealing their real purpose in participating. Everyone will be dissatisfied and frustrated.


The solution is to facilitate an honest discussion with the whole community wherein people can find into which camp they fall. I have facilitated this conversation in the foundational meetings of the American Philharmonic. The result was an inspiring charter that captured the mission, purpose, and core values by which we all agreed to run the orchestra. If it is clear to everyone what the group is for, people can consciously choose to join or not based on what they truly care about. The point is to become consciously aware of what this group’s purpose is. The result is transformational for existing groups that have been dysfunctional.

Once the truth has been told and people have chosen to be there for the same shared purpose, the challenge is to manage the group with integrity. This means, for example, that you wouldn’t hire an artist conductor to lead an ensemble of club people, even though many in the club might kid themselves that working with a master artist is what they want. It would be a disaster because everyone would be unhappy. The truth is that club people aren’t there to be coached into high performance. That can be uncomfortable and scary. To have a workable situation, you would wisely hire a conductor who is aligned with the purpose and values of club people so that everyone can get what they need.

That said, it’s possible to design an organization that could include all three groups, but not in the same function. For instance, you could have prestige hunters in the fund raising function touting the extraordinary excellence of those driven artists in the orchestra, and supporting the friendly community outreach and hospitality functions staffed by club people.

It’s like the wonderful old joke about European cultures: “Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and it is all organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are English, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and it is all organized by the Italians.”

As orchestra leaders, we need to get the right people on the right jobs to have everyone get what they need and want and for the organization to thrive.

Dwindling Audience and Programming By Committee

Volunteer orchestras often assign programming to a committee. The feeling is that everyone in the orchestra is a “professional” who knows the repertoire and should have some say in what gets played. This is a great example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. Because people don’t know enough to know that they don’t know enough about the repertoire, composition, dramatic narrative, orchestration, production logistics, and finance, they believe that a group of well intentioned folks can design strategically successful products that will increase donations and build market share.

The result of committee programming is usually a pastiche knit together around some extra-musical theme. The effect on the audience is variable depending on how lucky the committee was this set. This approach is fine for club orchestras because it’s all about having fun, not building audience or raising the bar. That said, if the orchestra finds itself performing for mostly its friends and family, and its funds dwindling, it’s likely time to acknowledge that product is the most important factor in growing audience and revenue.

In fact, programming concerts is an extremely complex, multi-variate problem that in the professional world is the full time job of the artistic planning department in major orchestras. It takes a comprehensive knowledge of thousands of works from all periods and genres added to a composer’s sensibilities, and a conductor’s wisdom about the technical and musical limitations of the ensemble, rehearsal time, budget, and audience sophistication, to make programs that will grow the orchestra players, the audience, and support the staff.


Hire an experienced music director that has a deep knowledge of the repertoire and is operating in service of the whole organization rather than their own self-serving interest. Empower that person to program the season and then measure the result. If at the end of the season the audience hasn’t grown and the orchestra hasn’t improved, give him or her one more year. If at the end of that time, no significant positive change has occurred, fire them and find someone who can get the music director’s job done. This will be far better for the health and happiness of the group than playing the programming committee’s favorite tunes.

Too Few Doing Too Much For Too Little

In smaller orchestras with volunteer management, a few dedicated people often do most of the substantive work that support the experience of all the others in the organization. Frequently, people attempt to do work for which they are not fully qualified so the results are often less than satisfactory. This applies equally on the musical side and the business side of the organization. For example, having a volunteer hobbyist build and maintain your website is a good idea until you realize that the way it looks and functions is not producing the results your business needs to grow to the next level. Having people do work for which they are not suited is a recipe for frustration, failure, and burnout. And yet, this is the way it must be until the organization grows to have the resources needed to engage people of professional qualification at all levels and functions of the company. It’s a classic Catch 22 situation.


Orchestras of any size and level of excellence have three constituencies: the performing artists that sound the music, the staff that enables the music making to happen, and the community that enjoys the work product and provides financial support for the activity. Like a three legged stool, each of these groups are equally important to the stability and success of the whole and must perform well for the organization to thrive.

Each group must have its needs met and receive more tangible and intangible value for its contributions to the organization than it contributes for the whole system to remain stable. The job of leadership is to create a shared purpose between them which all can work to fulfill.

In the American Philharmonic, from the beginning, we created a context wherein everyone owned the success of the whole. It was openly acknowledged that the organization was about the community in which it existed, not about supporting an elite group of artists. There was no “us and them” except for that created by the biases of a few habitually unhappy people. It was all us. This idea was reinforced by all concerts having free admission and all revenue coming from donations made at the concerts with some occasional philanthropy. It was run like a community church.

“We pay it forward here. The audience that came before you paid for this concert. If you want the next one to happen, donate $20 as you leave this evening.”

Everyone was very clear that the community owned the group, not the board of directors or the musicians. The people on stage were in service to the audience and that contribution was supported by their reciprocal contribution of funds.

Said simply, the solution to insufficient resources and burnout is to make requests of the community to participate because they are in fact part of the organization. It’s theirs to lose. Ask them to join the board, volunteer their professional services, give money, make food for the community reception after each concert, and so on. This strategy resulted in an over $100,000 per year budget and typical audience sizes of 700 to 800 people per night, ten shows per year run by the largest volunteer organization in Sonoma County, California supporting an all volunteer orchestra of 75 playing the great repertoire at a credibly high level of excellence.

Be Successful

Once your organization has reached the size and revenue necessary to pay professionals to manage it, hire the right people, pay them well so they stay, and get out of their way. Keep involving the community in mission critical roles so that they know that this is their orchestra. Produce vividly beautiful programs and infuse every function of the organization with the meaning that comes from fulfilling an inspiring shared purpose. Then burnout and disfunction will recede into the past, and what remains will be good, hard work that is satisfying and spiritually nourishing for everyone involved.


Outdoor Orchestra Concerts – A New Approach to a Generally Bad Idea

At least once per year, many of us who play in orchestras must undergo the time honored summer ordeal called the Great American Outdoor Pops Concert. You know the gig. It’s the one where you and your instrument are exposed to the elements – direct sunlight, extremes in humidity and heat or cold (or in California both simultaneously!) and varying amounts of wind which at times threatens to blow over the music stands! Usually the experience is accompanied by traffic, airplanes and other noises, a complete absence of acoustical reverb and resonance, and a stage setup designed to make it impossible to hear anyone else on stage except yourself, the four people that surround you and the ever-present brass. Some venues provide a tent enclosure or sunshade and on-stage monitors to ameliorate the discomfort. But even under the best conditions, it can be a difficult, scary and uncomfortable way to make music.

If you’re seated in the audience, all the musical sound is coming directly from in front of you. There are no reflections coming from the sides and from above, as there would be in a well-designed concert hall because there are no walls or ceiling to reflect against. There is no reverberation to smooth over the rough edges and artfully blend the tones of the individual instruments. These are not great psycho-acoustic conditions for immersing yourself in the oceanic sound of a symphonic orchestra.

It gets worse. Because there are no supporting reflections to listen to, the direct sound of the orchestra diminishes exponentially as you move from the front to the back of the venue. A strong fortein Row A becomes a barely audible pianoin Row DD. To compound the problem, the level of random noise occurring around you, called the ambient noise floor, is very high compared to the softest sounds the orchestra can make. In an outdoor venue, the ambient noise floor may be so loud that even the whole orchestra playing mezzo-forteis just barely detectable over the noise at an average listening position. So what is there to do? Amplify, my friend, amplify!

That word sends waves of disgust through many classically trained musicians. The thought of sending the pure unadulterated tone of your very expensivewonder from Cremona through a cold, heartless contraption that only yesterday blasted out the latest hip-hop, boy band, rock-a-billy, accordion music from the hearts of space is enough to have many of us pack up and go home. And with good reason. Most of the amplified concerts we have participated in or have heard probably sounded canned, loud and irritating. They were likely produced by audio technicians who had no idea what an orchestra should sound like and didn’t have the technical background to implement a system that could create a realistic symphonic sound. This is no fault of theirs. There’s been little call for those skills until recently.

The exacting requirements posed by orchestral sound reinforcement have never been so in demand as they are today, and the demand is ever increasing. Broadway pit orchestras, opera, ballet, and other small orchestras playing large orchestra repertoire all have insufficient numbers of strings to balance the winds, brass, electronics and percussion. How do you make a good tutti sound with too few strings? Playing louder isn’t the answer. This makes for a skinny, strident, insensitive string sound that undermines any but the most broad expressive gestures. The answer: again, amplify – but using a method that preserves and enhances the subtlety and beauty of the natural sound of the orchestra.

To create a new paradigm for reinforcement systems that would allow for a realistic orchestral sound, we must look at what makes an orchestra sound like an orchestra. If you consider the physical reality of an orchestra, you could view it as a constellation of sound sources, separated in space, left to right and front to back, and spread out over a large angle from the left to the right of a listener seated out in the audience. Each instrument is perceived by the listener at a different distance and angular position. If there are few reflections in the environment, like our example of an outdoor concert, the listener would be able to resolve the location of each player with good accuracy, unless they were very far away, decreasing the angle from left to right. The oceanic sound of an orchestra is created by 50 to 100 independent sound sources combining together at the listener’s ears. This amazing complexity can be “sorted out” by a trained listener’s brain, as in listening to one person speaking at a party with many other people talking simultaneously. For the less trained brain, the sounds tend to blend but are almost at the level of individual cognition. The effect is choral, alive and very dynamic – uniquely orchestral.

In a normal sound reinforcement system, dozens of inputs are separately controlled by a mixing engineer and then combined into one or two main channels that are amplified and distributed to the audience through stacks of high power loudspeakers. This is great for solo instruments or voice, but gets increasingly more and more “canned” sounding as the subtlety and complexity of the signal goes up. Said another way, if you’ve got many sound sources, cramming them into one or two speakers isn’t going to work. It collapses the richly complex sound field of the orchestra into one or two sources.

There’s another reason why this sort of arrangement doesn’t sound real. The obviously audible difference between a great violin and a mediocre violin is often measured in smaller than 1 dB differences between the partials of their tones. Most really excellent high-powered systems are nowhere near accurate enough in phase and frequency to reproduce even one violin without altering the tone. Their inaccuracies act as tonal filters that color everything with the same tonal cast. Now imagine a whole orchestra being passed through that identical tonal filter. Each individual voice will be colored the same way. Flutes will tend to sound like clarinets that will tend to sound like horns. Violas will sound like cellos (Saints preserve us!) The timbral complexity of the orchestra will tend to be collapsed towards one monotonous color. Is it any wonder that the music sounds canned?

A final reason that normal sound systems can’t work well with orchestras is that they are designed, implemented and mixed by people who don’t know what orchestras sound like. Anyone who has conducted or produced an outdoor concert with hired guns from the live sound trade will have horror stories to tell. Suffice it to say that the subtleties of balance between instruments and sections should be executed by the people who do it best – the musicians themselves.

So, how do we implement a sound reinforcement system for an outdoor orchestra concert that satisfies the requirements outlined above? Like this…

  1. Use at least 50 separate loudspeakers and amplification channels, one channel for each instrument or two, spread out across the stage on overhead trusses to maximize spatial complexity. Each speaker/amplifier channel must
    1. cover the audience,
    2. be powerful enough to reproduce the dynamic range of one or two instruments at the back row of the audience,
    3. have the bandwidth and accuracy to accurately reproduce the range and timbre of the instrument. This is not hard to do given that you are reproducing only one instrument, not dozens.
  2. Use very low coloration omnidirectional microphones mounted on or close to each instrument and a high definition audio signal path.
    1. No mixing allowed. The signals go direct to their individual amplifier and speaker.
    2. For instruments like horn, tuba and timpani that require reflecting off acoustical surfaces to sound well, provide baffles and reflectors and mike the reflected waves.
  3. Provide acoustical ambience for the players and audience.
    1. Surround the stage with reflective surfaces, especially putting a lid over the ensemble. Outdoors, half the sound power of the orchestra reflects off the floor. (2 pi steradians) Providing a reflective roof over the orchestra will enable them to hear themselves and direct 3 dB more sound energy towards the audience.
    2. Surround the audience, above and on all sides, with an array of small monitors that reproduce the output of psycho-acoustically correct reverb generators. Generated reverberation!
      1. This type of system is in use in many concert halls around the country to enhance existing architectural acoustics.

Experimental systems like the one described above are in development. Using current digital technologies, it is now possible to play Mahler symphonies beautifully and powerfully with 50 players, quadrupling the number of string voices onstage. It is now also possible to hear the richness, beauty and magic of an orchestral performance outside in the open air. As we have in the past, music and musicians will co-opt the technologies of the day to enhance and expand the power and beauty of the orchestra. If we are courageous enough to imagine it, it can become so.

It is possible that outdoor concerts in the summer months could be beautiful and musically satisfying. Are you ready?


The Big Insight

We musical artists can make the beauty of music come alive for everyone who participates with us.  The labor we perform can give access to the most transcendent aspects of human nature. This purpose would seem to be a worthy, high value calling – providing food for the heart, mind, and soul. Why then is it so hard to be a professional musician in the United States in the 21stcentury?

Consider that we in the performing arts world live inside a pervasive worldview that shapes what is possible for us to think, to do, and to become. Like water is to a fish, or air is to a bird, we are embedded in a “way it is” that is transparent to us but shapes everything about how we run our orchestras and our lives. To fulfill the mission of art in our lives and the lives of those we serve, we need to become conscious of the invisible lines of force that shape our perceptions, beliefs, and choices. Being aware of the unseen framework will enable us to choose a different and more effective one. Consider the following notion.

Our orchestras and the way we operate them come from the European aristocratic model of society. In that model, the aristocracy controls the land, the resources, and the capital. The authority of the aristocracy proceeds directly from God, and through them down into the hierarchy of society. Wishing to have the benefits of art in their life, they grant resources to a chosen few managers who then hire workers to produce the art product, in the case of orchestras, musical compositions and performances. These performances are given at court for an exclusive group including the aristocrat, his or her friends and family, and others deemed “in favor at court.” Here is an illustration of that aristocratic orchestra business model.

The implications of this way of working together are far reaching. In an aristocracy, power flows from above to below. Gaining access to power (resources and opportunities) is a function of your relationship to those in power. If you are “in favor at court” those in power will give you what you need. If you fall out of favor, your resources and opportunities disappear. The criteria for being in favor are completely arbitrary and are based on the whims and fancies of the aristocrat in question. Those who are particularly talented at manipulating the aristocracy, remain in favor even if the actual value they provide is objectively small or nil. A certain Machiavellian talent is necessary to succeed in this system, requiring skill at pretense, diplomacy, posturing, and the willingness to compromise one’s own integrity to gain access to power. To thrive in this system, one must know one’s place and not upset the hierarchy or challenge the status quo.

This is the way of the world in many places and has been since agriculture was invented. It requires for its continuance that a few people control what many others need. It is founded on the fear of authority and driven by the need for survival. The people who thrive in this system are not the same kind of people whose purpose it is to make beauty, truth, and goodness available to others through producing art in service to humankind. This paradigm is the root source of the almost universal discontent among performing artists and the staff that support them.

Thankfully, there has been a global shift of consciousness in the last two decades that is making a new worldview available to us. With the rise of democracy in the 18th century, the Western cultures began a slow transformation away from the traditional aristocratic framework. Through the 1990’s in the U.S., our concert music institutions all still operated inside the old model. Now, in the 21st century, with the blending of world cultures, when digital music distribution and desktop music production technology have democratized the creation and dissemination of music, the aristocracy of money and influence that ruled orchestras, schools of music, and the recording business has lost its last competitive advantage. The existing system is slowly breaking down. The exclusive access that the musical and social aristocracy had is disappearing or all but gone.

The Renaissance 2.0 Model

For several years now, the League of American Orchestras has convened numerous conferences with the purpose of inventing a way forward for American orchestras. Everyone is clear that the way we’ve been doing things is no longer working. What is not clear is what to do next.

Here is a proposal that has been tried and perfected over 13 years in Sonoma County, California with the community formerly known as the American Philharmonic – Sonoma County. It works.

In every orchestra, there are three constituencies;

  1. The Artists that make the music,
  2. The Volunteers and Staff that enable the music making, and
  3. The Community of music lovers that share the experience and from which comes the resources and capital to fund the organization.

Each of these constituencies participates with the orchestra for its own reasons. Each group has different but complementary values and cares that must be served for them to continue to participate. All three constituencies must consistently receive tangible, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social value from their interactions with the organization for it to be self-sustaining and healthy. Like a three legged stool, one constituency is not more important than the others. All are required for the whole to function. To get the value wanted, each group must enable the success and partnership of the other groups.

This interdependent new model is an ecology of shared value rather than a hierarchical value chain driven from the top. It more accurately reflects the current state of our democratized and interconnected world where people have many more choices, opportunities, and freedoms than in our cultural past. It requires mutual respect and shared purpose to work.

In the new framework, the purpose of an orchestra organization is to make the beauty of music and the goodness of community alive and available for everyone who wants to participate. The job of the leaders of the three constituencies is to create the conditions that enable each of the three groups to get what they came for. The leadership can do this by fostering mutual respect and mature partnership between the constituencies, and by creating an inspiring vision and shared purpose for the organization. Without real vision, integrity, leadership skill, and sincere commitment to interdependent partnership, the tripartite system will fail. Self-serving narcissists cannot thrive in the new environment. Leaders authentically in service to the community are required for the new model to work.

For every person in the orchestra community to experience ownership and responsibility for the whole and their own experience of value in participating, a democratically balanced system of governance must be implemented. This is necessary because any concentration of power and control with one group will destabilize the whole and make the organization vulnerable to an individual “star” taking over the agenda.

A detailed orchestral business model utilizing this Big Insight has been developed by the author and has been tested in part with American Philharmonic – Sonoma County. A complete implementation of the model will be used in American Philharmonic’s new project – The Bay Area Young Professionals’ Orchestra. BAYPO will be launched in 2019 pending completion of seed funding.

The Big Three

All of us, who have spent a significant amount of life energy serving Beauty through the art of music, share a profound desire to commune with something timeless and transcendental that can be experienced when we make great music together or work in service to that end. We are the most joyful and fulfilled when we can share that experience with others. This article is about that.

The Big Three

It has been said that the Eternal speaks to humankind on three channels – Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. In other words, how human beings gain access to that which is timeless, sacred, and transcendent is through experiencing the Big Three. So that we have a shared meaning for these words, consider the following:

Goodness is the quality of being in service to the growth, well-being, and harmony of life.

Truth is the quality of being in accord with factual reality.

Beauty is the quality of being that allows for an arresting, timeless experience of delight, wonder, and awe.

We are in the presence of Goodness when we are in community. People helping each other to thrive, sharing in time of need, expressing love and care for each other, making a positive difference for others, are all examples of the quality of Goodness being physically manifest. Being present to Goodness in others and ourselves connects us to the best in our natures.

Some of us have our radios tuned to the Truth channel. Inquiring into how the world works in reality independent of our ideologies, prejudices, and illusions is the domain of science and spiritual practice. The closer we come to integrating our perceptions, intentions, thoughts, feelings, speech and actions with the actual world, the more present we are to the awe inspiring mystery and perfection of Reality, and the more effective we become at manifesting our intentions.

Some of us are servants of Beauty. Beauty’s vassals, at some time in our early life, had the experience of having the constant noise in our minds arrested by something in the world that was profoundly beautiful. In that moment our whole self was rapt in a timeless experience of delight, wonder, and awe which changed us forever.

As an example, I remember the first time that I heard a Mahler symphony. I was 15. The La Jolla Symphony under Thomas Nee played Mahler’s First Symphony “Titan.” I was so deeply impacted by the experience that I had to be helped out of the concert hall. Truly, in those moments, I was present to something far beyond the mundane world. All lovers of art have had these experiences repeatedly. It’s why we keep coming back. It’s why we work so hard. We know that it is possible to experience some aspect of the Eternal in the present and we are willing to give much of ourselves to be in that presence.

How Artists Come to Be

Some lovers of Beauty have made the decision to become artists. An artist is a person whose job it is to live at high altitude in the space of Truth and Beauty and, like Prometheus, bring heavenly fire down to earth to share with humankind. How a person becomes an artist is very simple. One day, while creating something beautiful or powerfully truthful, we notice that someone else was profoundly moved, touched and inspired by the creation and we have the experience of sharing what is most important to us. In that moment we know ourselves as a channel for the spiritual manifesting in the physical and choose that as our purpose in life.

In my case it happened while singing the Bach Magnificat at a church performance when I was 18. It was the final rehearsal and the conductor was working on the sonority of the “Mah…” that the chorus and orchestra sound at the very beginning of the piece. The church was empty when he was describing the effect he wanted. As he was finishing his directions, a young woman walked in from the street and casually sauntered down the aisle toward the ensemble. The conductor raised his arms and gave the downbeat for that first “Mah…” The chorus and orchestra entered precisely together in one glorious sonority. At that moment, I had the amazing experience of my voice being the sound of the whole ensemble – a total loss of ego boundaries. On hearing this one extraordinary sound, the young woman burst into tears of surprised delight, her face expressing the most ecstatic expression I had ever seen. She was immersed in a timeless experience of delight, wonder and awe. Seeing her moved that way by the sound we made was very moving to me. That our ensemble could do that for someone was the very best thing I could imagine doing. I’ve never forgotten that moment. I chose then to be a person who does that for others. I became an artist.

For those of us who make art with and through others in orchestras and choruses, our work is not about achieving personal fame and the adulation of the audience. We leave those values to the entertainers of the world. What large ensemble musicians want at the most basic level is to do excellent work that meets or exceeds our own artistic standards, to be compensated fairly for the value we provide, and to enjoy the acclaim and respect of our peers. But what we are really working towards and hoping for at all times is to enter that ecstatic state of delight, wonder and awe and to share that with others who love Beauty as much as we do. Finding that we have succeeded is the most satisfying part of our work.

Our Unique Offer

You can say that art is the conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, words, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of Beauty. The purpose of art is to give access to that which transcends time, reveals eternal truths about Reality, and produces an experience of delight, wonder, and awe. Said differently, in my view, the purpose of art is to enlighten humankind. The job of an artist is to create the aesthetic entities that produce that result in others in service to that mission.

In contrast, entertainment according to the lexicographical experts at is “Something that amuses, pleases, or diverts, especially a performance or show.” If you dig into that definition a little, you’ll find that the source of the word “amusement” is the Latin ad– + muser, meaning to stare stupidly. The word “please” has its roots in the Latin placere, to reconcile, to content, or to satisfy. And “divert” comes from the Latin divertere or diversum, to go different ways, to turn aside. So one could say that the purpose of entertainment might be to turn the listeners’ attention from boredom to something pleasing, leaving them stupefied and content!

Now, this is not to say that there is anything wrong with entertainment. In my view, a performing artist has to be at leastentertaining or the purpose of art will never be fulfilled. If you can’t keep your audience vitally engaged, there is no hope of creating the possibility for Beauty to appear. Entertainment is the entry level in the game of performing art. There will be more on this topic later in the section on the role of the Music Director.

The problems for orchestras come when the performers and the organization lose sight of the unique value that only arts organizations can provide – providing access to the transcendent experience of Beauty. In our current culture, entertainment is available at all times and in all places. People carry around their entertainment systems in their pockets and purses. Every manner of sport, film, reality show, music, and video game is available at all times to fill the attention of the consumer. The producers of these entertainment products spend millions on promoting their wares. They are selling into an already saturated market. People do not need more entertainment. In my view, for an orchestra to try to compete in the entertainment business is suicidal in today’s market place.

In the life of the soul, the mind, and the heart of Americans, what is sorely missing for many is a tangible experience of excellence, grace, harmony, intelligence, possibility, creativity, authenticity, integrity, truth, and a way to contribute those things to others. People, especially young people, need to experience their own innocence and wonder. What is missing is an experience of the Eternal through the Big Three channels of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. I say that art and what art provides are missing for most people in our country. Orchestras are superbly qualified to provide what’s missing. Orchestra communities are the perfect structures in which to experience those benefits. This is our unique offer that differentiates us from all others in the marketplace. We can make the beauty of music and the goodness of community alive and real for everyone who participates with us.

Coming Up

The next posting will talk about the stark difference between who we are and what we offer the world, and the culture and business of art music that surrounds us. A model will be proposed that enables understanding of why the current culture exists and how we might change it to support our natural pull to serve The Big Three. Until then, be well.