The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra goes Digital

Daniel Raiskin and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

Orchestras are always looking for ways to broaden their audience and engage more deeply with them. Many orchestras cite an aging audience and the move away from specialized music education in schools as reasons for a slow but steady decline in audience sizes. In recent years, however, there has also been a trend for orchestras to want to make up for this gap in specialized music education and to appeal to a younger new audience, while fostering a deeper engagement with their current patrons.  This is done in a variety of ways from pre-concert talks to ‘Symphony 101’ type guides. In the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s case? They went digital.

To elaborate, the WSO is making use of a companion app called EnCue at three of their concerts this year, with the intention of integrating this app into more concerts in coming seasons. EnCue is a free-to-download app that sends users live, real-time program notes, images and stories during the performance. The EnCue website lists the app at $350 USD per concert, with potential discounts for multiple concerts. The WSO launched the app at their October 18th (B)eyond Classics series concert, for the performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Though app-users weren’t separated from the rest of the audience, the screen is dark lit and the hall lights are brought up to avoid disturbing other patrons. This is the first example of something like this being done in Canada, though several orchestras in Europe and the United States have integrated similar technology into their concert programs. Advertising for the concert mentioned EnCue as a point of interest for prospective patrons.

RBC Resident Conductor Naomi Woo during the concert. Photo: Ruth Bonneville, Winnipeg Free Press

For Jean-François Phaneuf, VP Artistic Operations at the WSO, the benefits of the app are twofold. “We’re excited about using this app to appeal to new audiences and increase the level of engagement with current and prospective patrons. We saw some audience members who were deeply moved by the experience. You get to read about Rachmaninov’s thoughts when writing his work and Music Director Daniel Raiskin’s personal connection to a special passage while hearing it all unfold on stage in front of you.” Over the course of two months, Jean-François Phaneuf, James Manishen, Artistic Associate and RBC Assistant Conductor Naomi Woo worked hard to prepare the necessary materials. They tested their content among musically-educated and non-musically-educated WSO staff, and found that short slides (5 seconds to read) and images helped to keep people listening actively. The learning curve for programming the app was steep, but with satisfying results; basic concepts were explained for those unfamiliar to orchestral music, and more complex ‘tidbits’ of information were provided for experts. During the concert, Naomi Woo was backstage with the score, synchronizing the slides with the music for the approximately 200 patrons that downloaded the app. The response from app users was generally positive. By and large, patrons were excited to try something new. Some concertgoers expressed resistance to changes to the concert experience they know and love, but many felt a greater understanding of, and deeper connection with the music through the new information they were given.

There is no intention from the WSO to use EnCue at all of their concerts. It is planned only three times this season for one piece per program. WSO audiences will next see EnCue at the closing concert of the New Music Festival in January, for Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony and during Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6 in March. There are plans to integrate EnCue into the second half of every concert for their (B)eyond Classics concert series in 2020-21. With a tech help desk in the lobby at the October 18th concert, most technical challenges were avoided. More studious patrons also requested receiving the slides in advance to ‘study up’ for the concert. Both the WSO and Orchestras Canada are excited about the opportunities presented by giving a wider audience more ways to open the door and access orchestral music in a way that enhances what is presented on stage.

Learn more about the question of digital technology in the orchestral industry by reading our interview with The Space’s Fiona Morris on building a digital organization.

Music As Community Medicine at the Windsor Symphony Orchestra

Musicians from the Windsor Symphony Orchestra visited community and health venues between October 1st and 10th as part of their Music for Health outreach program. Last year this program included 21 performances to more than 1200 seniors in and around Windsor.

The Music for Health program is an important part of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra’s commitment to the Windsor-Essex community.  This year’s edition included visits to Hospice Windsor, the Windsor Public Library, Downtown Mission, and senior’s retirement and care centres across Windsor-Essex, delivering beautiful music to those who would otherwise be unable to attend a mainstage performance.

The program is based upon the growing body of evidence that shows the positive impact music has on mental, emotional, and even physical health.  Developed by two WSO musicians who have worked very closely with local music therapists in hospital settings, this program features performances by WSO string quartets and quintets at rest homes, retirement homes and social service agencies across Essex County. Clients are encouraged to participate in the performances using small hand percussion (provided by the WSO), selecting works that the ensemble will perform, as well as sharing memories and recollections evoked by the performance. Learn more on the Windsor Symphony Orchestra’s website.

Youth Month and the 80th edition of the OSM Competition

Youth Month

Since its beginnings, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal has kept education at the centre of its mission, and has continued to develop new initiatives for engaging young people in classical music. One can think back to the Youth Concerts that were started in 1935 by Wilfrid Pelletier, or to more recent examples such as La Musique aux enfants and the Children’s’ Ball, a gala event that supports educational activities at the OSM and keeps these activities accessible for all.

Continuing the momentum from these initiatives, in November 2019 the OSM will be running a Youth Month dedicated to the many programs offered by the OSM to young musicians, schools and families. The public will be able to discover rising classical music stars during a series of recitals, or to attend the first concert in the Children’s Corner concert series, conducted by the OSM’s new assistant conductor Thomas Le Duc-Moreau. School-aged children will be able to make the most of new freely available educational resources, including (for the first time) the publication of a video of a youth concert filmed at professional standard. Learn more here.

The OSM Competition

Since 1940 the OSM has presented the OSM Competition, Canada’s most prestigious performance competition for young musicians, offering prizes worth more than $100,000 in value to its winners, as well as significant visibility on the international stage. The OSM invites the public to discover 17 violinists and cellists aged between 15 and 25 during the semi-finals and final rounds, which will take place from November 27th to 30th in Montreal. All competition events are webcast to allow for nationwide coverage of the competition. The OSM presents a rich and varied program to competitors and public alike; concerts with previous competition winners, training activities with industry experts, and musical activities at the Maison Symphonique and throughout the city are all part of the competition’s busy schedule. Competitors will benefit from an international jury consisting of, among others, the OSM’s musical director Kent Nagano, and the director of the BBC Proms in London, David Pickard.

Competition winners receive enormous support from the OSM. In addition to cash prizes and scholarships, many have developed a special relationship with the orchestra; the OSM has offered many competition winners the opportunity to perform as soloists, recitalists or chamber musicians with OSM musicians. Kent Nagano also conducts an orchestra of past competition winners during the summer Classical Spree festival. In addition, the OSM fosters partnerships between competition winners and its own artistic partners and international guest artists: an important step for early-career artists.

The orchestra is very proud of the OSM Competition due to the number of ways in which it has enriched the Canadian music scene. Among the winners, many have excelled on the Canadian and international stage, including James Ehnes (violin), Angela Hewitt (piano), Louis Lortie (piano), Karina Gauvin (soprano), Jan Lisiecki (piano), Jonathan Crow (concertmaster, Toronto Symphony), Andrew Wan (OSM Concertmaster), and more recently Timothy Chooi, Blake Pouliot, Carter Johnson and Kerson Leong.

Federal Election Polling Trends

Note: The following analysis is based on data from as of October 15, 2019.

In Ontario

  • Both the Conservatives and the Liberals could either lose or gain significant ground in Ontario. So many races are too close to call that the outcome in Ontario could help either party to form the next government. The Liberals held 76 seats in Ontario when the writ was dropped and are projected to win between 32 and 92 seats. The Conservatives held 33 seats in Ontario and are projected to win between 20 and 73 seats. Conservatives have been trending up in Ontario over the past week.
  • The Liberals are projected to lose up to 5 seats in OC member ridings: Kitchener-South-Hespeler, Peterborough-Kawartha, Richmond Hill, Oakville-North-Burlington, St Catharines.
  • At the onset of the election, we had identified 6 ridings to watch for OC members in Ontario: Kitchener-South-Hespeler (Toss up Liberal/Conservative – possible Liberal loss), Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound (Conservative hold), Hamilton-Centre (NDP hold ), Barrie-Springwater-Oro Medonte (Conservative hold), Richmond Hill (Toss up Liberal/Conservative – possible Liberal loss), Oakville-North-Burlington (Toss up Liberal/Conservative – possible Liberal loss).
  • Since the televised debates, NDP fortunes have been on the upswing in various regions throughout the country, including Ontario, where the party has now pulled into several tight races with Liberal incumbents.

In Québec

  • The NDP’s fortunes have improved somewhat since the televised debates, but the party still stands to lose significant ground in Québec. At the time the writ dropped, the NDP held 14 seats in Québec. As of now, they project to win 2 to 5 seats.
  • The NDP are projected to lose up to 5 seats in OC member ridings: Laurier-Sainte Marie, Hochelaga, Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouatta-Les Basques, Trois rivières, Sherbrooke.
  • The Liberals could lose the most ground in Québec. At the time the writ was dropped, the Liberals held 40 seats in Québec. As of now, they project to win 18 to 44 seats.
  • In several ridings where OC members are based, the races between Liberals and the Bloc Québécois are too close to call.
  • The Bloc Québécois stands to be the biggest winner. At the time the writ was dropped, the Bloc held 10 seats. As of now, they project to win between 21 and 47 seats. The number of projected wins for the Bloc has nearly doubled since the televised debates.
  • At the onset of the election, we had identified 7 ridings to watch for OC members in Québec: Laurier-Sainte Marie (Toss up Liberal/Bloc – NDP loss), Hochelaga (Leaning Bloc – NDP loss), Outremont (Liberal Hold), Ville Marie-Sud Ouest-Île des soeurs (Liberal Hold), Longueil-Charles Lemoyne (Toss up Liberal/Bloc – possible Liberal loss), Québec (Toss up Liberal/Bloc – possible Liberal loss), Chicoutimi-Le Fjord (Toss up Bloc/Conservative – possible Conservative loss).

Updates on Instruments with Endangered Species Material

Following three years of consensus-building among music stakeholders, governmental authorities, and conservation experts, policy requests put forward by a consortium of partners in the international music community (led by the League of American Orchestras, and heartily endorsed by Orchestras Canada, among many others) gained approval on August 28 at the gathering of 183 parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) in Geneva.

Actions were approved that will improve the mobility of performing artists, and redirect enforcement resources to support conservation, and facilitate international cultural activity.

For orchestras and individual musicians seeking to buy and sell instruments across borders, or to travel internationally for performances, CITES sets some limitations and requires permits for instruments containing material from species under protected status, such as rosewood, lizards, sea turtles, and elephants. At CoP18, treaty negotiators considered new rules related to items containing rosewood, cedrela, and mammoth ivory, and improvements to the Musical Instrument Certificate in use by touring orchestras.

Delegates from the U.S., Canada, the European Union, the CITES Secretariat, World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund International all spoke in support of policy changes that will advance both conservation needs and cultural activity. The following improvements were adopted:

Rosewood: A proposal was adopted to allow all commercial and non-commercial movement of finished musical instruments, parts, and accessories that contain rosewood (the dalbergia genus) to be exempt from CITES permit requirements, aside from Brazilian rosewood (dalbergia nigra), which has been under tighter restrictions since 1992, and will remain subject to permit requirements. The exemption will be in effect starting in late November 2019, 90 days after adoption.

This represents a significant relief for musicians that buy and sell instruments containing rosewood internationally. This also adds certainty for musicians and orchestras traveling with instruments that contain rosewood. These instruments will be fully exempt from permit requirements.

In the course of discussions among a variety of stakeholders, a consensus emerged confirming that conservation goals are not furthered by requiring finished musical instruments, parts, and accessories to repeatedly undergo permit processes. However, the rosewood material used in making musical instruments will remain subject to permit requirements; this conservation effort was supported by musical instrument stakeholders.

Cedrela: A proposal related to newly listing Cedrela (a tree species used in making some classical guitars), was amended to exclude finished musical instruments containing the wood from new CITES permit requirements. The exemption will be in effect starting in late August 2020, 12 months after adoption.

Mammoth: A proposal to include the woolly mammoth as a species subject to CITES controls was rejected. Many Parties stated that mammoth ivory can be differentiated from elephant ivory in trade. Mammoth ivory has been used in small quantities to replace elephant ivory in musical instruments for several decades. CITES parties agreed to consider studying how the trade in mammoth ivory impacts elephant conservation.

Musical Instrument Certificate: A decision was approved to initiate a CITES effort to streamline and simplify permit requirements for “the international movement of CITES specimens where the trade will have a negligible impact on the conservation of the species concerned,” including the non-commercial cross-border movement of musical instruments. The CITES Musical Instrument Certificate is used by musicians performing internationally with older instruments that contain protected species material that require CITES permits, such as elephant ivory tips on bows, tortoiseshell embellishments, and lizard skin bow grips. Currently, substantial resources must be invested by both musicians and enforcement authorities to enable musicians to perform internationally with their instruments. Next steps in response to calls to ease the permit burden will take place in CITES meetings beginning in 2020. Resolutions were also approved to harmonize the codes used on the Musical Instrument Certificate and clarify the requirements for determining that items qualify for CITES permits.

The international musical community has a lasting commitment to the goals of CITES, and will remain at the table to help form policies that support the sustainability of endangered species. Detailed information on changes to the current rules for traveling with musical instruments containing endangered species material is available on the League of American Orchestras website.

In Geneva and over the course of the three-year negotiations, orchestras and other stakeholders have been ably represented by Heather Noonan, Vice President for Advocacy at the League of American Orchestras. We are grateful to Heather, the League, and the many international partners that collaborated to advance these policy requests, including:

American Federation of Musicians, Argentinian Association of Musical Instruments Manufacturers, Association of British Orchestras, Australian Music Association, Brazilian Music Industry Association (ANAFIMA), The National Association of German Musical Instruments Manufacturers, C.F. Martin & Co., Confederation of European Music Industries (CAFIM), Dismamusica, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, ForestBased Solutions, LLC, French Musical Instrument Organization (CSFI), International Alliance of Instrument and Bow Makers for Endangered Species, International Association of Violin and Bow Makers (EILA), International Federation of Musicians (FIM), International Wood Products Association, Japan Musical Instruments Association, Madinter, Music Industries Association, National Association of Music Merchants, Orchestras Canada, Paul Reed Smith, PEARLE*, The Recording Academy, The SOMM – Society of Music Merchants e. V., and Taylor Guitars.

Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance: 2020 Pre-Budget Consultation

OC Logo

The entire submission is available here.

Orchestras Canada/Orchestres Canada Recommendations:
  1. Ensure that charities and not-for-profits have the same access to federal programs supporting research and fact-based carbon reduction education and projects as their SME  and MUSH sector counterparts.
  2. Ensure that the five-year $180 million investment for the Canada Council for the Arts announced in Budget 2016 is completed in Budget 2020-21.
  3. Enhance the budget of the Endowment Incentives component of the Canada Cultural Investment Fund by $6.5 million annually, to help arts and culture organizations raise private sector contributions and develop stable, long-term revenues through the growth of endowment funds.
  4. Increase funding and support for internships and on-the-job training for arts managers by $500,000 annually to ensure succession planning and diversification of the sector.

On behalf of our 125 member orchestras from across Canada, the audiences they engage, and the diverse communities they serve, Orchestras Canada/Orchestres Canada (OC) is pleased to participate in the Standing Committee on Finance’s pre-budget consultations.

At OC, we believe that orchestras are strong contributors to quality of life in Canadian towns and cities, valued participants in community commemorations, capable partners in community cultural and educational development, and proud standard-bearers for Canadian achievement, locally, nationally and internationally.

Canadian orchestras are not-for-profit organizations and registered charities. According to data collected by Orchestras Canada, Canadian orchestras performed 3718 performances for 2.894 million Canadians in 2017-18. That same season, our members generated revenue from box office and other earned sources (an average of 36.2% of revenues); donations, sponsorship, and special events (38.8%), and from grants and contributions from various levels of government (25%). Over 70% of a typical orchestra’s budget is spent on people. Orchestras manage their resources prudently, but – without adequate capitalization – they can be profoundly affected by prevailing economic conditions.

Orchestras contribute significantly to the vitality, cohesion and competitiveness of Canadian communities; the ability of Canadian communities and businesses to attract and retain talent; creating and maintaining good jobs and contributing to the quality of lives of Canadians. These are key attributes that help make Canada such a desirable country in which to live and do business. Export of Canadian orchestras’ work – through international touring and digital dissemination of recordings and live streaming – projects a modern image of Canada, highlights the talent of artists from across the country, supports innovative approaches and leverages the creativity of technological progress and contributes to Canada’s cultural diplomacy.

Accordingly, while we see government investment in orchestras as important, we are equally interested in policies that favour attractive, sustainable, participatory communities, and the growth and sustainability of the charitable sector. The four measures that we propose this year will be good for orchestras; and they’ll contribute to the cultural and economic fabric of our communities, too.

Recommendation #1: Collective responses to the climate emergency

This year, the Committee is specifically seeking recommendations pertaining to the climate emergency and the transition to a low carbon economy. OC and our members know that climate change is a profound threat to our economy, our communities and our future, and we are pleased to address this topic in our brief.

Canadian orchestras are increasingly engaged in carbon reduction efforts through:

  • Stewardship (operation or tenancy) of performing, rehearsal and office space, often in re-purposed or heritage buildings;
  • Operating practices that prioritize energy-use and waste reduction, and strategic use of digital materials in place of paper;
  • Encouragement to audience members to consider transportation alternatives;
  • Careful planning of tours, to minimize carbon footprint;
  • Artistic programming that helps to draw public attention to environmental issues.  (The Earth Day Network has compiled a list of orchestral works inspired by environmental issues, including Canadian composer Vincent Ho’s Arctic Symphony, composed for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra)

As important as these measures are, they reflect hyper-local and isolated responses to a global concern. For Canadian orchestras to fully engage in this work – with other performing arts partners in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors – they require access to the same policy frameworks, research, knowledge-sharing, and supports as their counterparts in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) and Municipalities, Universities, School Boards and Hospitals (MUSH) sectors. Environmental sustainability and the transition to a low carbon economy must be a movement and not simply an action: and it starts with research and education, and culminates in collective and informed action.

Orchestras Canada looks for inspiration to the UK, where bespoke research on the carbon footprint of the performing arts sector has shed light on the greenhouse gas emissions associated with music venues, touring, and audience travel, among other contributors. This solid base of facts has empowered funders, member-driven organizations and orchestras to take meaningful, collective steps toward a lasting change. The UK orchestral sector has developed a Green Charter; arts organizations have identified and measured their main environmental impacts (energy, water, waste, travel); the sector has started to create a demand for goods with strong environmental credentials and commit to sustainable procurement; touring groups have included a “green rider” in performance contracts, made marked efforts to “travel green” (including using public transportation where possible, including on tour), and have worked in collaboration with their venues and with public transit agencies to make it easier for audience members to travel to concerts by transit, bicycle, or electric car.

Canadian orchestras are keen to play our part, and we will work in collaboration with peer organizations in the live music industry to share best practices and, where relevant, engage in dialogue with the Government of Canada. Our efforts will be immeasurably aided if charities and not-for-profits have the same access to federal programs supporting research and fact-based carbon reduction education and projects as their SME and MUSH-sector counterparts.

Recommendation #2: Support for the arts through the Canada Council for the Arts

In Budget 2016, the Government of Canada made a five-year commitment to doubling funding for the arts through the Canada Council for the Arts, taking the Council’s annual parliamentary appropriation from $181 million in 2015-16 to $361 million by 2020-21. We thank the Government of Canada for this investment, and we encourage the Government of Canada to honour this commitment in full, and include the final installment of $35 million in Budget 2020-21.

Canada Council funding made up just 5.9% of total orchestras’ revenues in 2017-18, a proportion that had been declining over the previous five years. With the new infusion of Canada Council funds, we see that this trend is starting to shift. Increased core funding from the Council will permit better planning, more efficient use of resources, and greater resiliency. This, in turn, will enable greater reach, stronger investment in human potential and robust responses to the diverse and changing nature of Canadian communities. Artists and arts organizations in communities across the country have only just started to benefit from this enhanced investment, and they are using it to create new work, new markets, and new prosperity.

Recommendation #3: Increased investment in matching funding for endowments

As the next step in recent updates to the guidelines for the Endowment Incentives Component of the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Canada Cultural Investment Fund, we encourage the Government of Canada to increase the budget of the Component by an additional $6.5 million per year.

Orchestras continue to seek ways to stabilize and diversify their revenues, and endowment funds (funds contributed for long-term impact, invested in perpetuity, and producing an annual payout to support a charity’s mission) are an increasingly important tool for them. OC began collecting information on endowed funds held by or managed on behalf of by Canadian orchestras in 2005-06; since then, orchestras’ endowment holdings have grown from just over $74 million to almost $260 million. The annual payout from these funds is in the order of $12.3 million, almost as much as the total contribution of the Canada Council to Canadian orchestras. The proceeds of endowment funds are critical to securing orchestras’ artistic and community programs.

Since 2001, the Department of Canadian Heritage has supported the growth of arts endowments through a component of the Canada Cultural Investment Fund. Arts organizations can apply annually to get gifts to endowments matched by up to 100% through the Endowment Incentives program, and many orchestras both large and small have taken part. The program has been extremely successful: applications to the program are growing in number, and in recent years it is increasingly limited in the match it can offer. An additional $6.5 million annual investment in the Endowment Incentives program would address the growth in demand on the program. These enhancements would also enable arts organizations of all sizes to continue to build endowment funds by encouraging donors to think long-term.

This is an investment in the future: smart tax policy and progressive program design can provide incentives for increased giving by Canadians, and Canadian orchestras are highly motivated to pursue private sector giving. As stated earlier, in 2017-18, a remarkable 38.8% of Canadian orchestras’ revenue came from charitable, corporate, and special event fundraising. According to a recent analysis by the Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian orchestras saw a 34.4% growth in private sector giving between 2010-11 and 2016-17. If this recommendation is implemented, arts and culture organizations of all sizes will grow their endowment funds, thereby diversifying revenue streams. The result? Arts organizations that are even more artistically vibrant, responsive to community concerns, and adaptable in a transitioning economy, too.

Recommendation #4: Increased investment in internships and youth training

Our sector is continually called upon to anticipate changes in our communities, and develop strategies to adapt our current business models. We know that investing in workforce training and opportunities for emerging management, administrative, and artistic talent is critical to the continued viability of orchestras. Yet continuing financial pressures have resulted in a restructuring of the administrative workforce at Canadian orchestras: a recent Canada Council study of 47 of Canada’s largest orchestras reveals that there’s been an 11.4% decline in the number of full-time, full-year positions at Canadian orchestras between 2010-11 and 2016-17, while seasonal and short-term contract positions have gone from 29% to 50% of the workforce during the same time period. These changes reflect orchestras’ keen interest in making their operations ever more efficient; however, they may – quite inadvertently – close off necessary opportunities for meaningful, reciprocal inter-generational knowledge transfer and thoughtful succession planning.

Canadian orchestras continue to highlight the critical importance of a well-trained, up-to-date and diverse workforce. Working for a Canadian arts organization is often seen as a labour of love, not necessarily a viable career. This, despite the overall cultural sector contribution of $53.1 billion to our country’s GDP. This is particularly the case for young Canadians, seeking to start their career in the current precarious job market. At present, there are few ways to gain a foothold in the cultural sector. In recent years, the Young Canada Works/ Cultural Human Resources Council funding program has had a budget of $226,000 to partially support only 20 paid placements in arts administration per year. Given the urgent need for succession planning, mentorship and knowledge transfer, we need to do better.

Accordingly, we urge the Government of Canada to expand the Young Canada Works program in the area of arts and cultural administration. By increasing the investment in this program by $500,000 per year (from its current base of $226,000), young and emerging arts and cultural workers will gain valuable experience with arts organizations and the organizations themselves can skill up.


Orchestras Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Finance for the opportunity to contribute to the 2020 pre-budget consultations. We would be pleased to discuss our recommendations with you further.

On Open Youth Orchestras and Inclusive Music-Making

Photo, Ian RitchieA letter from Ian Ritchie, guest speaker at OC’s 2019 National Conference to the OC Membership on the Re-sounding the Orchestra report:

Having first participated in conferences organised by your ACO predecessors back in the early 1990s, when I chaired the Association of British Orchestras and ran the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, I was delighted to be invited again to take part in your recent deliberations in Ottawa. In acknowledging not only those heady days of innovation and change in the orchestral landscapes of our respective countries but also these present times of strategic ingenuity and creative effort so evidently at work in many Canadian orchestras, it may seem rather presumptuous of me to offer any suggestions to add to your already well-considered responses to the recent Re-sounding the Orchestra report. But I shall take that risk!

Re-soundingI should like to advocate the possibility of developing socially-inclusive, community-based ‘open’ youth ‘orchestras’, in partnership with established professional orchestras throughout Canada, as a strategic and practical response to the report’s understandably challenging and uncompromising demands, drawing on the Setúbal Youth Ensemble model which I have developed over the past five years through my Music Festival in Portugal. In brief, through an open auditioning process which makes no assumptions of any Eurocentric orchestral structure, the resulting Ensemble has recruited and maintained roughly a quarter of its membership from the aural tradition, reflecting the local population of immigrants from former African and South American colonies of Portugal, another quarter comprising young people with various disabilities and special needs, and approximately half coming via the mainstream of music education – all chosen for their talent. With the instrumentation dependent on the selected young musicians rather than the other way about, there is no standard repertory and therefore all the Ensemble’s music has be specially composed or arranged: this has given unique creative opportunities to a new generation of composers, embracing unusual instrumental combinations (including the use of accessible technology, where appropriate) and inventing special notations to enable the participation of those unable to read the conventional musical language. This Ensemble is Setúbal’s official ‘youth orchestra’.

I believe that it will be important for orchestras to protect the continuation of a positive and manageable evolution rather than to stir up a sudden and potentially damaging revolution, in responding resonantly to the Re-sounding report. The Setúbal model can support this approach, inviting decisive action and encouraging any necessary ‘revolution’ to be driven by the new and emerging generations of collaborative musicians. Such ensembles – which will be young, innovative, adaptable, inclusive and diverse musical communities – are much more likely than established and understandably less flexible adult orchestras to persuade conservatoires and universities to listen and respond to demands for fundamental transformations in their educational and training pathways. These pathways are currently too narrow and poorly signposted for musicians from non-Eurocentric and Indigenous backgrounds to make useful progress; and they are completely blocked for most people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties and other special needs.

To summarise, the adoption of the Setúbal Youth Ensemble model, locally adjusted for each distinct ensemble and community, will not impose standard western classical hierarchies and practices of leadership, instrumentation, repertoire, notation and rehearsal procedures but shall admit various musical genres (reflecting the group’s varied membership), new works, arrangements, improvisation, mutual creativity and adjustable time-frames into the process. Such an approach is not necessarily expensive; it is accessible for young musicians of all backgrounds and can help to address the reported concerns of those seeking equity, especially amongst the Indigenous population; it gives composers and other creative artists a broader palette of opportunities to collaborate; it can advance music as an art-form in itself and more widely on a number of fronts, including its proven but untapped potential in human development, health and well-being. That would be a resounding success!

Ian Ritchie (London, England – July 2019)

Guest Blog: Music for All Abilities in Canada’s Capital

Child trying out a flute at a Music Circle event In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in recognition of the need for access to the arts and music for the special needs community. Music is part of the human experience and all people have a right to be a part of that. Yet, traditional concert events have barriers that are difficult to overcome: bright lights, loud sounds, high cost, and the expectation of proper concert etiquette and behaviour can make attending orchestral concerts impossible for many with special needs. Arts education opportunities that are truly accessible are also few and far between. Physical accessibility is only part of the equation; true accessibility involves removing all barriers, which requires creative thinking on the part of arts organizations.

Child with earmuffs trying a horn at a Music Circle eventThe benefits of taking part in accessible music making and concerts goes beyond just the music (which is a great incentive in itself!). Participating in an accessible adapted music program can facilitate social skill development through encouraging turn taking and engaging with peers. The sensory stimulation provided by making and listening to music in a controlled environment can aid with self-regulation and promote well-being. For parents of children with special needs, the opportunity to engage with the arts in a way that is comfortable for their child is priceless.

The National Arts Centre in Ottawa has taken up this cause with dedication to creating a welcoming and adapted environment for the special needs community. Since 2012, the NAC has offered their groundbreaking Music Circle program. This hybrid music education and concert experience is designed to meet the needs of special needs patrons. Small groups participate in a series of hands-on workshops featuring an instrumental family (brass, woodwinds, strings or percussion), followed by a sensory-friendly concert featuring those same instruments. The environment is comfortable, with various seating options, space to move, and a quiet area for breaks as needed. The workshop material is developed to meet the needs of each participant and allow them to interact with the instruments and each other in a way that is comfortable and meaningful for them. The concert is carefully planned to prevent sensory overstimulation. For many, participation in this program has also served as a bridge to attending regular orchestral concerts, and the NAC has facilitated this by offering sensory-friendly pre-concert activities at family concerts. Through the Music Circle program, hundreds of patrons of all ages with special needs have come to learn about the orchestra and have attended concerts designed to meet their needs. As a result, a love of music has been sparked in many, and they feel welcomed and comfortable at the National Arts Centre.

Thank you to Erin Parkes from the Lotus Centre for Special Music Education for writing this guest blog. Erin will be at our national conference talking about orchestras and social inclusion with other experts in the field including Ian Ritchie (Setúbal Music Festival), Faith Scholfield (Windsor Symphony Orchestra), and Elizabeth Simpson (NAC Orchestra).

From Development to Engagement

Donna Walker-KuhneAs part of OC’s National Conference, in Ottawa this June 11-14, we will be welcoming Donna Walker-Kuhne as one of our keynote speakers. Donna is currently Senior Advisor of Community Engagement at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre (NJPAC). Started four years ago by Donna, the NJPAC community engagement department is small (with a staff of three), but is seeing some stunning results. With over 200 events, and some 30,000 people through their doors each year, the NJPAC is actively working to bring the arts to a more diverse audience, and engaging them in many different ways.

Successfully engaging community

Early in their community engagement work, Donna and her department decided to more extensively activate the advisory council of community members already in place at NJPAC to help guide their work. “We have an amazing advisory council that creates events that they find are of interest to their community, that introduce the arts, engage people in the arts, and educate people about the arts,” she says. The joint work of the community engagement department and the advisory council has changed the way that the NJPAC operates. “It’s had significant impact, not just in the audiences, but also in the opportunities we can present to our corporate funders. Because we are able to give them a footprint in the community, they are allocating additional dollars, and in certain instances exclusively funding our department.”

Measuring success

It can be challenging to measure the impact of this work on communities. Donna spoke about measuring success at NJPAC through the actions of their partner community organizations and associations. “Buying a ticket is not one of our measurements. We are not a sales entity,” she says. Rather, they look at how deeply they are engaging with the organizations they serve, on something of a ‘ladder of engagement’ that shows different kinds of interactions with NJPAC events:

  1. Attending free events
  2. Promoting NJPAC events (taking fliers, sending e-blasts, helping NJPAC reach people that they might not otherwise be able to)
  3. Bringing groups to events
  4. Volunteering at events

Once organizations are doing three of these four things, they are described as engaged partners, and tracking these is a key measure of success. NJPAC currently has 122 engaged partners.

Audience Development and Community Engagement

Photo of NJPAC with a packed crowd outsideHow has this work changed over time? “It’s an evolution. I’ve been involved in this work since 1982,” Donna says. “At that time we didn’t have any terminology for the lack of diversity in audiences, but there was a conversation.” It took a while for organizations to move on what they heard. In the 1990s, people started using the term audience development, and some foundations started putting funds towards this. Over time, audience development became to be seen as a term more concerned with sales, i.e. developing an audience to purchase tickets. The term community engagement represented the next step. “First we have to cultivate the community to be interested in what we’re doing,” Donna says.

While the terminology has changed, the desire to become more deeply engaged with our communities is still strongly felt in orchestras and arts organizations. However, building this work into long-term plans is challenging. We need to allocate time and money from within our organization to make it happen. “It has to be a priority,” Donna says. “It has to be something that the board and senior leadership have embraced.” It’s important to have ways to measure success, and to be cultivating connections that last longer than one particular project or staff member. It’s not easy work, but it opens up our orchestras to all kinds of interesting, rewarding and long-lasting relationships with our communities.

At our National Conference, Donna will be giving a keynote address and leading a workshop that will explore best practices in the field of community engagement, present success metrics for these programs, and look at how to build and expand multicultural arts audiences. Visit the Conference area of our website for more information.

Building a Digital Organization

The word Digital invokes a wide spectrum of reactions from arts administrators, from screams of delight to… just screams. Whether capital ‘D’ digital is something that is embedded into your organization’s DNA, or just something that you think the staff millennial does, orchestras are engaging with their audiences on digital platforms in ways that are new, exciting, and scary. In preparation for our National Conference, taking place this June, we sat down (digitally, naturally) with Fiona Morris of The Space to discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of  embracing digital technologies in the arts.

Fiona is the Chief Executive and Creative Director with The Space, a UK-based commissioning and development organization that works with artists to create new projects in the arts, and supports other arts organizations in their digital strategy work through mentoring, training and consultancy. Along with her colleague John White, Fiona will be running a pre-conference workshop on building a sound digital strategy.

So why Digital and why right now?

Photo: People discussing around laptopsAlthough conversations about integrating digital technologies into our arts organizations are nothing new, the way we speak about it needs to change. “The term Digital is one of those zeitgeist-y terms,” Fiona says. “It’s a disastrous term that makes people feel inadequate. It’s okay not to know what that word means, because it doesn’t really mean anything.” We tend to use the term as a catch-all for being active online, but don’t always know what this looks like. Orchestras want to be digitally active, but it’s not as simple as just livestreaming everything we do. We need to strategically choose what we present online in order to get the most impact from our limited time and money.

Digital isn’t something that we need to ‘do more of’. Fiona explains this term as “a way of connecting and communicating with audiences that is utterly revolutionary.” The increasing number of digital tools available to arts organizations and their audiences is game-changing, and means that our audiences can be thousands of miles away, or as close as our front door; an exciting and unsettling combination of the hyper-local and the global.

Opportunities and Challenges

As we know here at Orchestras Canada, arts organizations have concerns about how to properly start using digital technologies with limited time and money to put into them (check out the results from this survey we ran last fall on digital strategy at our member orchestras).

This is a great time for cultural organizations. We can engage with our audience in ways we never have before. “For cultural and creative organizations, the opportunity to talk to audiences in detail, and get immediate feedback from them is extraordinary,” Fiona says. Interestingly, it’s a relationship where the audience has all the power. Our audiences consume an overwhelming amount of digital content every day, and they increasingly have the power to decide what they consume and what they ignore. We need to do be purposeful in why we’re asking our audience to engage with us digitally.

Often arts organizations turn to digital platforms (where they have little familiarity) to try and attract younger audiences (with whom they have little experience in communicating). Fiona encourages us to do one or the other of these things well first, before venturing into doubly unfamiliar territory. We need to be very clear and consistent in what our message is to our digital audience, who they are, and why they want to hear it.

Approaching and Integrating Digital

We asked Fiona for some examples of traits that show up in organizations that have successfully transformed their digital work. She mentioned that these organizations all have clarity in their messaging, and gave a series of questions that digitally literate organizations have strong answers to including:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Where is the audience?
  • What conversations are they having?
  • Why should they come to us? (i.e. What makes our orchestra’s podcast/livestream any different than anyone else’s?)

Fiona also emphasizes that a digital strategy needs to have roots in every aspect of your organization. “Most arts organizations are very siloed; the Marketing people don’t talk to the Creative people, who don’t talk to the Fundraising people. Digital means that everything is integrated and everything is moving towards one goal.”

Fiona and John from The Space will be leading a pre-conference workshop on how to integrate your strategic and business plans with a digital strategy. Visit the Conference area of our website for more information.