Board games

[Earlier today I had the pleasure and privilege of addressing the Board of Trustees of the New England Conservatory jointly with my esteemed colleague Lorrie Heagy, who has featured very prominently in my videos posted below.  The following text is an excerpt  from my prepared comments to the Board. ]

I’m an orchestra person. I began my life in music at age six, studying piano… because my mother made me. When I was thirteen, I started playing orchestral horn, but I continued because I loved it. I never for a moment considered becoming a soloist – I loved everything about orchestra. I loved the music, of course, but also the camaraderie, the sense of being a part of something much greater than myself.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first brush with the tenets of El Sistema, long before the program was known, let alone celebrated. I’d experience the other broader outcomes and possibilities of el Sistema after I completed my undergraduate degree, when I was appointed Music Director of an orchestra in Calcutta – Calcutta being one of the few places on earth with a social context more complex, if not more desperate, than Venezuela. The new models of community engagement developed there had profound artistic, financial and yes, social consequences – all at the same time! This was ten years ago, and since then the ideals of el Sistema, as we now know them, have been the unifying thread in what has been a very eclectic, diverse career. In various lives I’ve been an international media/social entrepreneur, a senior administrator for a major orchestra,  a performing arts consultant, and I was and now am again an active orchestral conductor. All of these experiences have played a role – and continue to play a role, in bringing me here to NEC to be a part of this incredible movement. And with the experience and understanding I’ve gained, I can answer without hesitation why this initiative here at NEC is so important to the field. The Symphony world is not like music education. We don’t have competing ideas or alternative philosophies we can try. We have strikes, we have nasty public political disputes, and we have bankruptcies. Orchestras in North America desperately need to foster the artistic, financial and social results I witnessed in Calcutta. To say it’s the future of the industry might sound like a cliché, but it’s actually an understatement. El Sistema represents the only future the industry has right now, and if orchestras don’t lead the change, they’ll be left behind by it.

9 thoughts on “Board games

  1. Since 9/11 CA has had a notable number of Indian nationals migrating here to fill the void left by Bangledeshi Technologist. My Suzuki Violin studio now always has a few South Asian students. There parents all have musical backgrounds. Around the corner fromm my studio in the same building is the Indian Cultural Center which offers Indian Arts experience.
    More later….

  2. If I find myself faced with speaking to any boards, service organizations, nonprofits or chambers of commerce there is one point I would be sure to make with them.

    There is going to be very real competition in the world for those who possess technical skills. At every level will be the need for those who can pack those skills in one being with the frontal lobe activity for good judgement, ethical sensibility and empathy; A very renaissance notion of human capability. The problems that the future presents the world with demand this of the next generation.

    America is in direct rivalry with growing economies in the East who realize that the Arts generate that kind of ability. There is more than one reason that Freedman has come to the conclusion that the world is becoming flat. How else do you effectively manage to raise such a linguistically diverse population to compete on the world stage at an adaptive technological level.

    ‘Music is a highly complex technical skill made accessible to a child.’ I have no students who are intimidated by a computer. If a child can develop the skills to play something as complex as a Bach Concerto at a young age the doors of opportunity are wide opened to them. They have the capacity to succeed at anything that interests them.
    I have not met a parent who wants their child to become successful, who does not appreciate the significance of this fact when it is brought to their attention. The mothers of children from an at risk community are just as determined for their child to get face time with a music teacher as the child from an affluent background.

    Recently one of our local Youth Symphonies recognized their graduating seniors from the Orange County community. While a few of them where going off to some well know music schools it was not lost on me that the majority where headed toward prestigious universities who had large R & D programs in sciences and technology. Many of them will look for opportunities to continue expressing themselves musically. I hope those institutions will offer programs for gifted amateurs. I believe there is a day coming when even in the US, a globally competitive tech company which wants to attract talent to their corporation will need to have perks which include opportunities to participate in recreational music organizations.

    As educators we have to look at the varied needs of our students in the arts and think about how we can raise both gifted musicians and talented amateurs to create a community in which they can nourish one another and the societies which they will enrich in ways we can not imagine.

    It seems to me that I should seek out such amateur talent from the tech departments of our local Universities to mentor my urban students. They don’t need to perform concerts on their instruments. But they could lend their well trained ears a few hours a week, providing musical mentoring and encouragement, take them to a concert once in a while and just plain model their humanity.

  3. I had to return to this page to bring your thoughts back to something that is going to play on the relevance of any board that plans to support a music program that includes an urban population.
    How do you make sure all of the stake holders in your community play a role on your board that they find meaningful? How do you bring those of privilege and financial where-with-all to a place where they understand and appreciate what the recipients of their gifts are faced with in their stuggle to raise families?
    How will you bring them together to understand one another and get beyond their dramatic cultural divides? How are you going to manage those discoveries that they make about one another that will undoubtedly make them the most uncomfortable with the social realities in their community and the roles they play as participants in their local communities?
    I can not help but observe what it cost to participate in the TED conference and realize that there is a huge social economic gulf between those who are in position to fund a successful El Sistema program and the communities in which they can potentially have the most impact.
    How can a non-profit board move through this process in a way that leaves the dignity of the recipients intact? How can El Sistema leaders navigate the process of North American nonprofit board creation in such a way that changes business as usual?

  4. This is a quandary as old as the requirement for a board of directors for all 501 (c) 3s. Board development is a science unto itself, and financial imperatives often overrule demographic representation. See Arian’s book “Bach, Beethoven and Bureaucracy” for some of the early struggles the Philadelphia Orchestra had with this very issue.

    My sense is that the board has to be functional, not representational – individuals who are able to commit resources to the growth of the organization. Those resources can be and often are financial, but may also be knowledge-based, or human. That last category in particular could refer to the ability to connect to stakeholders or communities. But without that express understanding of function, there is representation for the sake of representation, and that ultimately breeds internal discontent, the sense of “poor cousins” at the table, reducing the effectiveness of the board as a whole.

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