A Pandemic Snapshot of Orchestras

Visual for the SurveyTo mark one year since the pandemic halted the operations of orchestras and arts organizations across Canada, we are diving into some new data about the situation of orchestras. The National Arts and Culture Impact Survey, which was spearheaded by Orchestras Canada and the findings of which were published earlier this year, received responses from 728 organizations, including 73 orchestras. Comparing orchestras with arts organizations overall helps shed light on some key trends that can help orchestras orient themselves for the gradual relaunch ahead. 

1- Orchestras feel left behind by government supports

Overall, orchestras felt less positive about many of the government supports than arts organizations as a whole. 57% of orchestras said they were not eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), compared to 45% of all arts organizations. Overall, orchestras were less likely to give a positive rating to most government support programs:

2- Orchestras are leading the work-from-home trend

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of orchestra workers have been working from home during the pandemic. Even after an eventual relaunch, 50% of the orchestral workforce is expected to continue working from home. This proportion doubles pre-pandemic levels (26%) and is higher than arts organizations as a whole (42%).

3-Orchestras are feeling positive about digital

Orchestras tended to have more positive experiences with digital programming than arts organizations as a whole, with 49% saying digital programming exceeded their expectations versus 35% of organizations as a whole. Interestingly, orchestras are more likely to agree that they have the interest, capacity, knowledge, equipment and technology, and internet speed to go digital than arts organizations as a whole.

4-Nearly one in three orchestras is at risk, others are in a holding pattern

31% of orchestras were either closed or still assessing their ability to stay open. In general, orchestras feel further away from recovery than other organizations. Orchestras were significantly more likely to select “the focus on post-pandemic activities/recovery/assistance” as a barrier to receiving funding (10% of orchestras vs. 2% of organizations as a whole). Paradoxically, orchestras are more likely to feel optimistic about their ability to recover from the pandemic (74%) than arts organizations as a whole (67%).

5- Huge career losses for individuals

Since the pandemic, 83% of artists and arts workers in the orchestral sector have lost at least some work, with 13% no longer working in the sector at all. On average, respondents have been working in the arts for 23 years. At least 71% of individuals reported a lower expected income than what they were originally projecting. The proportion of individuals who estimate an income of under $20,000 (35%) tripled compared to pre-COVID (13%). 

In addition, individuals project more non-arts income in the mix, with just 68% of these artists and arts workers’ income coming from the arts today vs 80% pre-COVID. About one-third of individuals said it would be unlikely they would be working in the arts and culture in three months’ time (February 2021).

6-Increased stress and anxiety

About four times as many individuals report very high or high levels of stress and anxiety today as compared to before COVID-19. Even more telling is that no respondents reported very high levels pre-COVID-19, compared to 33% today. Women are more likely than men to report high levels of stress and anxiety today than pre-COVID, while the difference pre-COVID was minimal.

7- Orchestras Canada members more connected

Organizations affiliated with Orchestras Canada (60%) tend to be more likely than all participating arts organizations (48%) to stay informed by way of national peer meetings. In addition, about two-thirds (64%) of respondents affiliated with Orchestras Canada report feeling informed about sector and government updates, which is higher than 49% reported by all participating individuals. Yay OC community!

Source: National Arts and Culture Impact Survey, January 2021

Yannick Nézet-Séguin wins Orchestras Canada’s 2020 Betty Webster Award

Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the winner of the Orchestras Canada BettyWebster Award for 2020.

Maestro Nézet-Séguin was nominated by the Orchestre Métropolitain. While the award is traditionally presented in person, this year required rethinking the tradition, and the award announcement was made through this video, which celebrates Yannick’s involvement and music making with several Canadian orchestras from coast-to-coast.

The Betty Webster Award is presented each year to an individual or organization that has made a sustained and significant contribution over a number of years to the Canadian orchestral community, with an emphasis on leadership, education and volunteerism. It was established in 2002 to honour Orchestras Canada’s founding Executive Director. Past winners include distinguished musicians, volunteers, educators, ensembles, and arts managers: a tribute to Mrs. Webster’s inclusive vision for Canadian orchestras.

Maestro Nézet-Séguin is an internationally renowned, proudly Canadian, proudly Québécois conductor.  In September 2018, he became the third Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2012 and Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain since 2000, he is also Honorary Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (after serving as Music Director, 2008 to 2018), and Honorary Member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.  In September 2019, he signed a life-time contract with the Orchestre Métropolitain.  A Deutsche Grammophon artist, Maestro Nézet-Séguin has a significant and diverse discography.

In response to receiving the award, Yannick Nézet-Séguin said: “Dear musicians across Canada, I am deeply honoured to receive the Betty Webster Award from Orchestras Canada. The Canadian orchestral scene abounds in talent and, while we are going through a rough patch these days, I am one of those who remain hopeful and believe we must stand together in the coming months. To the entire musical world, to musicians across the country, bravo and thank you for your many initiatives. It warms my heart to receive this honour.”

The award includes a plaque and a donation to an orchestra of the winner’s choosing. M. Nézet-Séguin has asked that this year’s donation be directed to the Orchestre symphonique de l’École Joseph-François Perrault.

The national jury was chaired by OC board member and Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Director of Artistic Operations, Jennifer MacDonald, and included last year’s laureate, Claire Guimond (flutist and founder/long-time artistic director of Arion Orchestre Baroque, Montreal QC); Chris Lee (tuba, National Arts Centre Orchestra); Eric Mathis (Director of Artistic Administration and trombonist, Symphony Nova Scotia, Halifax NS); Leanne Miners (arts manager, North Bay ON); and Jeffrey Ryan (composer, Vancouver BC).

Speaking about the Award, jury chair Jennifer MacDonald noted, “our jury was, as always, inspired by the nominations: people and groups whose contributions are felt regionally, nationally and internationally. It was a genuine privilege to be reminded of the many ways that Canadians are making an impact on the orchestral world.  Ultimately, though, one particular nomination rose to the top, and we are honoured to name Yannick Nézet-Séguin as this year’s winner. He is a remarkable musician, visionary and humanitarian, and he continues to promote Canadian music and musicians on the world stage.”


What have Canadian Orchestras been up to this Fall?

The fall usually marks the beginning of the season in the world of performing arts, orchestras included. As we approach the end of the 9th month of the pandemic, most Canadian orchestras have pivoted into some form of online offering by now, powered by their courage, resilience, and deep longing to connecting with their beloved audiences.  


The Show Must Go On!

For the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, it is clear that “The show must go on”. In fact, this was the opening statement to their new season announcement, which will feature 5 virtual concerts to take place from October through April 2021. In addition to up-close coverage of the musical performances, the ‘NBYO LIVE’ concerts will go behind-the-scenes for interviews and will offer a real-time Q&A session with the audience. “Music has the power to uplift. It’s something that is very important during these challenging times, so we are excited to, once again, bring live orchestral music to the community,” says Ken McLeod, CEO of the NBYO. 


Quebec Orchestras Went Fully Digital

In Montreal, QC which has been a red zone for nearly two months now, the OSM (Orchestre symphonique de Montréal) went fully digital with their “The OSM like you’ve never seen it before” series of 6 concerts, which opened with a special Halloween performance for the whole family that was offered free of charge. The series will run through January. Also in Montreal, I Musici Chamber Orchestra announced a fully virtual season of 6 concerts, which will bring local talent to the forefront, and feature varied works from Baroque Masterpieces to 21st century works. The season will run through April.  

In Trois-Rivières in Quebec, the OSTR (Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières) started the fall season with performances in a reduced capacity venue as they were still in the orange zone. With the recent passage of the city to the red zone, the orchestra quickly adapted and announced a virtual concert that is available on demand to their audiences.  


An Inspiring Initiative in Ottawa

The Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy spent their fall working to build a national coalition of professional and youth orchestras to create a series of virtual workshops and masterclasses available to youth orchestra students across Canada, under the banner of the Canadian National Masterclass Series. 14 workshops and masterclasses are set to take place between November 23 and January 30, free to OYOA students and to partner youth orchestras, led by some of Canada’s top orchestral musicians. The first workshop is an intro to reed-making with Gabriel Azzie, Principal Bassoon for Symphony Nova Scotia. 


Recordings and On-Demand Videos in MB and BC

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra took advantage of the fact that limited gatherings were permitted in the province (up until November 20, when MB entered the red zone), and offered hybrid programming in which 30-40 audience members were permitted. “We got good audio and video recordings [of our fall performances] and will be releasing these online.”, said Vicki Young, the Managing Director of the MCO. “We are researching options for holding a virtual fundraising dinner. We have continued to update and improve our MCO at Home online digital content hub and are creating new content and examining the idea of offering podcasts.”.  

On the other side of the country, the Victoria Symphony in British Columbia decided to publish a pre-recorded concert every 2 weeks for the remainder of their traditional season. “The orchestra is socially distanced for these performances and we’ve been able to showcase various sections of our orchestra – strings, brass – as well as smaller ensembles.”, said Jill Smith, Director of Marketing at VS.  


Connecting In-Person when Possible

In some parts of the country, in-person concerts are still possible with reduced venue capacity. The Fredericton Symphony Orchestra in New Brunswick still hope to host their annual Christmas concert in person. Fredericton is a yellow zone at the moment, which means that indoor events with up to 50 people are still possible.  

If there is anything we learned from the pandemic, it is that Canadian orchestras are resilient, and will continue to be creative and serve their mandate of making the world a more beautiful place by connecting people together and sharing music, no matter what.  

Are Canadians ready to return to the arts?

On Tuesday, Sept 22, Chief Data Scientist and Founder of Nanos Research, Nik Nanos shared findings of the latest Arts Response Tracking Survey (ARTS), a partnership between Business / Arts, the National Arts Centre and Nanos Research, which polled over 1,000 Canadians to gauge their attitudes on returning to and supporting the arts across Canada. The fieldwork for this study was completed on July 30th, 2020 and targeted Canadian arts-goers. 

These latest findings offer terrific insight for arts organizations, in particular, fundraisers to help inform programming and fundraising models.

ARTS focused on three axes: 

1- Timing of Return, which tracked the impact of the pandemic and when arts-goers plan to return.

2- Conditions for Return, which tracked what precaution Canadian arts-goers would like to see in place prior to returning to arts and cultural events

3- Donations, which captured reported donation activity for 2019, 2020 and projected to 2021 to understand the likely immediate impact of the pandemic and to plan for 2021. 

Key findings:


• Timing of return: 

For indoor cultural activities, 23% of Canadian arts-goers would go back immediately, while 38% said they’d wait 6 months on average before going back. 1 in 3 still unsure about going back.

As for outdoor cultural activities, 37% said they’d go back immediately, 30% would wait 5 months on average, and 1 in 3 are still unsure about going back. 

Museums and galleries are the venues which Canadian arts-goers are not certain about the most, with a whopping 43% who said they’re unsure about when they’d go back. 


• Conditions for Return:

Culture-goers increasingly say that masks are a precaution that would make them feel comfortable to attend in-person. This suggests an alignment with public health recommendations. 

For indoor performances, 40% of indoor culture-goers (compared to 27% in May) who plan to attend immediately after reopening want masks. 

As for those who plan to wait 1 to 5 months before returning to attending performances, 43% expressed that they want masks (compared to 29% in May). 

The numbers are very similar for Outdoor performances: the consensus is that people would feel much safer if precautions included masks. 


• Donations:

In 2019, 43% of culture-goers donated to arts/cultural organizations an average of $158. In 2020, it is anticipated that the numbers will go down: 39% of culture-goers except to donate an average of $126 , which is a drop of 20% compared to 2019. 

On the bright side, 2021 seems to be promising: 42% intend to donate an average of $222, which is a 40% increase compared to the current year. 

Nik Nanos highlighted the fact that arts organizations will be hit hard this year. However, depending on the economical environment, there will likely be a rebound in donations in 2021. 

It is worth noting that the 35-54 age segment plan to donate less in 2021. This, however, will be compensated by a growth in donation amounts by the 55 plus cohort: their generosity is expected to continue into 2021. 


There was a discussion after the presentation by five panelists:

1-  Wesley J. Colford from Highlanders Theatre shared an inspiring success story; This relatively young theatre company, based in Sydney, Nova Scotia, was expecting to go bankrupt by August 2020 due to the pandemic. Instead of giving up, they started a program called “Radical Access”, where they pivoted from selling tickets to a crowdsourcing model by requesting monthly donations. The model has been a great success and they are already at 98% of their funding goal.

2- Irfan Rawji from Glenbow Museum in Calgary discussed finances, and what the Canadian government could do to help arts organizations. He highlighted the example of a UK government program that covers 50% of restaurant-goers’ bills on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In essence, the government is allowing the public to pick which restaurants will survive. 

3- Monica Esteves, ED of Canadian Stage in Toronto, said that they surveyed their audiences in June, and learned that their audiences were concerned about the company and its survival. At the same time, audiences were not willing to make long term commitments. In response, Canadian Stage is programming and selling their activities in three month “mini-seasons” and will continue to do so for the next 12 months at least. The board of directors reviews progress and approves plans in three month increments, enabling rapid organizational response to emerging situations.   

4- Claire Sakaki, ED of Bard on the Beach (Vancouver), spoke about their 31 year old Festival, which typically presents 300 performances in an iconic Vancouver location in the summer months. Ticket sales and donations make up the largest proportion of their $9 million annual revenues. Transcending physical location, they quickly re-branded to “Bard Beyond the Beach” with a temporary logo, and started “Bard in your Heart”, a brand for donors. At the same time, they re-imagined all of their activities on virtual platforms, ranging from (performances – you didn’t say?) through backstage tours and an annual dinner.

5- Jayne Watson, CEO of the National Arts Centre Foundation, talked about the NAC’s efforts to keep donors connected and happy at a time of great uncertainty.  She noted the strong connection between appealing projects and donor generosity, highlighting such initiatives as the NAC funding 12 theatre companies to deliver socially distanced performances, and the continued success of the Canada Performs series of free, live-streamed performances. She also noted their pivot from their traditional fall gala to an emphasis on individual donations, including a donation matching program. 

Slides from the meeting 

Video of the meeting


Helpful Resources to Learn About Racial Inequity in the Arts and Non-Profit Sector

In late May, the deaths of George Floyd in the United States and Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Canada, each at the hands of the police, provoked an international movement condemning anti-Black racism and police brutality. In the months since, Canadian police have also killed Chantel Moore, Rodney Levi, and Ejaz Choudry, reinforcing the calls for action to address police violence against BIPOC communities in Canada.

There is now a greater sense of urgency in this country in the fight against systemic racism. These issues extend beyond just law enforcement; white supremacy and systemic inequities are prevalent in all industries, including the arts and orchestras. Many people have taken to writing about the arts and non-profit sectors to explain these inequities and provide insights to what long-term change could look like.

Reading list compiled by Nina Jeftic, Equity Coordinator, Orchestras Canada (summer 2020)

We Must Breathe – Why it is important to talk about race and racism in the context of classical music by Lukas Krohn-Grimberghe (WQXR), June 2020

In the article “We Must Breathe – Why it is important to talk about race and racism in the context of classical music”, Lukas Krohn-Grimberghe dives into why classical music, an art form often considered to be universal and meant for everyone, benefits from white privilege and is inaccessible to many. While classical music remains overwhelmingly white, Krohn-Grimberghe highlights why conversations about race in the context of classical music are relevant to the ongoing conversations of systemic racism within society.

Time to finally deal with racism and discrimination in Canadian charities, Shanaaz Gokool (Toronto Star), July 2020

Shanaaz Gokool delves into the world of Canadian charities and not-for profits to discuss the discrepancies that occur between their public mandates and private behaviours. Gokool notes that the pandemic continuously shines a bright light on systemic inequities that appear within these organizations, and calls for the sector to act and make changes that will create long lasting change and put an end to these inequities. She discusses major areas that all not-for profit organizations can improve on, from redefining roles within the organization to implementing new management requirements.

Give Us Permanence—Ending Anti-Black Racism in Canada’s Art Institutions, Syrus Marcus Ware, June 2020

In “Give Us Permanence—Ending Anti-Black Racism in Canada’s Art Institutions”, Syrus Marcus Ware writes about Canadian art institutions needing to go beyond their Black Lives Matter statements and acknowledge the inherent racism and white supremacy that has and continues to exist within them. He discusses the important work of Black artists and curators and presents ways to achieve long lasting structural changes within arts organizations, considering both a shift in power dynamics as well as the works showcased.

A Crisis of Whiteness in Canadian Art Museums, Sean O’Neill, June 2020

In his article, Sean O’Neill surveys the boards and senior executive teams of the four largest public art museums in Canada, finding that they are overwhelmingly white. While most of these organizations make efforts to diversify their exhibition programming, O’Neill calls this “outward -facing progress”, as artists and curators are not in charge of making decisions that are be instrumental to seeing systemic change within arts institutions. His article explains why this overwhelmingly white leadership needs to change in order for public art museums to effectively hold themselves accountable and serve their communities.

An Open Letter to Arts Organizations Rampant with White Supremacy, Nana Chinara, May 2020

“An Open Letter to Arts Organizations Rampant with White Supremacy” is a personal account of Black queer femme artist Nana Chinara, who details her recent experiences working in the arts. Chinara discusses an ongoing grant process in which she was mistreated and the lack of accountability from her employers, even after challenging them to take responsibility. Her article highlights that these mistreatments were all choices made by her employers and discusses the numerous ways in which white supremacy affects Black artists in the industry. She provides several suggestions to organizations to uproot the white supremacy ingrained in them.

A Collective Awokening in the Performing Arts, Michael Zarathus-Cook, June 2020

Michael Zarathus-Cook writes about the performing arts world and explains that the idea of diversity alone does not create a safe space for BIPOC artists, the industry needs to begin to foster a culture of inclusivity. He discusses the need for inclusivity in every aspect of the organization in order to create these spaces, not just in works programmed and performers featured, and that inclusivity extends beyond race. Hosted by Against the Grain Theatre, Zarathus-Cook led two panels as a follow-up to his article featuring BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and disabled artists where they discuss the need for equity in the performing arts and what changes can be implemented.

A Collective Awokening in the Performing Arts Panel part 1

A Collective Awokening in the Performing Arts Panel part 2

8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits, Helen Kim Ho, September 2017

In efforts to diversify or be more inclusive, many organizations may try to recruit or highlight their BIPOC staff/work, which often leads to them being tokenized. In her article, Helen Kim Ho discusses why these organizations, who are dedicated to the common good, so frequently have adverse outcomes to their diversity and inclusion initiatives. She reviews 8 ways that people of colour are tokenized within non-profit groups and why each of these is harmful to those individuals affected.

Open Letter to Directors, Executive Directors, and CEOs of Canadian Charities and Non-Profits, Senator Ratna Omidvar, June 2020

In this open letter, Senator Ratna Omidvar reveals that a majority of non-profits in Canada do not collect data on the diversity of their employees and leaders. Collecting this information annually would be a way to hold these organizations accountable as well as see if and how progress is being made. Senator Omidvar claims that when it comes to diversity, “the sector’s spirit is willing, but it’s flesh is weak”, and calls for the non-profit sector to be leaders in the battle against racism through this crisis

Nonprofits and Foundations Are Unintentionally Promoting Racism: Here’s How to Stop, Michele Norris and Sean Gibbons, February 2019

Michele Norris and Sean Gibbons confront the issues of racism in non-profits head on and discuss how these issues are intertwined with the environment we live in (while their focus is on America, these claims ring true in Canada as well). They write about the influence of the sector and why they cause unintended harm. The article goes through an example of this and discusses the steps taken to reduce it. Norris and Gibbons call for honest introspection within the non-profit world as part of the necessary practices that need to be built to combat racism.

Dear White Orchestras, Alexander Laing (Arts Journal), January 2017

When discussing the lack of Black and Brown people orchestras, Alexander Laing claims that the majority of discussions center around a universalist ethic, where it’s assumed that orchestral music is a universal artform. In his articles, he challenges readers and those part of the classical music/orchestral world to move towards a particularist ethic when discussing issues of race, a definition he borrows from author Jennifer Harvey which “recognizes that there is no one shared standard against we might measure or interpret our experiences of race, nor one to which we may all be held similarly accountable.”

Notes on Racism, and White Supremacy In Classical Music, Brandon Keith Brown, May 2020

Conductor Brandon Keith Brown comments on how racism and white supremacy have personally impacted him and his career in “Notes on Racism, and White Supremacy in Classical Music”. He calls for white people to start doing anti-racist work within themselves. Brown believes that classical music belongs to everyone, and states that a “visceral commitment to include Black artists, audience, artist managers and administrators in their business plan” will be essential to the long-term survival of any orchestra.

Can the arts world fight systemic racism in a real way instead of resorting to tokenism?, Zainub Verjee, June 2020

Zainub Verjee provides an overview of the Canadian arts world, citing several examples from across the country of various artistic responses to social movements. She points out that these struggles are “wiped out of the public memory”, and that the motivations behind diversity are business related. Verjee questions whether the current climate will be enough to begin a commitment to fighting systemic racism on an ongoing basis, or if this crisis will join the others as tokenistic responses.

I’m tired., Andrew Adridge, July 2020

Andrew Adridge, a Toronto-based Guyanese-Canadian baritone writes a vulnerable work sharing his perspective as a Black performer in the classical music industry. He asks members of this community to start to speak out and advocate for Black and Indigenous people. While Canada has a multicultural population, Adridge notes that nothing else has been done by us as a country to prove we are a multicultural country.

REMOTE | Andrew Adridge ‘The Way The Industry Is Currently Structured, I Have No Business Hoping To Be In It’, Michael Zatharus-Cook, June 2020

Michael Zarathus-Cook sits down with baritone Andrew Adridge to discuss the current #BlackLivesMatter movement and changes that need to happen in the performing arts community. Adridge states that the lack on accountability being taken in Canada leads to what he calls “Performance Representation”. He envisions “Authentic Representation”, where “an underrepresented person can actualize a path to belonging”. Adridge explains that the classical music industry plays a role in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which is a problem beyond just law enforcement.

Art is integral to Black Lives Matter: a conversation with Dr. Kristin Moriah, Nathan Gallagher, June 2020

Nathan Gallagher speaks with English professor Dr. Kristin Moriah to discuss the role of art as a catalyst for social change. Focusing on Black Lives Matter- Toronto, Moriah notes that several of their founding members are arts practitioners and that one of their first actions to attract attention was a piece of performance art- when they temporarily stopped Justin Trudeau’s float at the Toronto Pride Parade. She comments that art and literature provide a different element of understanding to people, and that engaging with Black art can help deepen the insights of those who don’t comprehend the Black experience.

Why we need Black and Indigenous leadership at Canada’s top museums now more than ever, Syrus Marcus Ware and Sean O’Neill, June 2020

Syrus Marcus Ware and Sean O’Neill call for urgent change within management in arts organizations. After the recent #BlackOutTuesday campaign, several people have spoken out about the racism they experienced at these organizations. Both Ware and O’Neill advocate for structural change within these organizations to begin to combat the racism imbedded within them. Ware notes that it is only in the moments of unrest that museums choose to engage with Black artists, and thinks that including Black and Indigenous voices in management as well as regularly programmed artists will increase the excellency of the work featured.

Harnessing Creativity During a Pandemic. Pandemic Diaries #2

Over the summer we’ll be visiting various members of the Canadian orchestral community – organizations and individuals who contribute to a thriving arts scene in Canada. If you want to write for us about your experience as an artist or arts administrator during the pandemic, get in touch with Katherine Carleton at katherine@oc.ca.

A Report on the 2020 Virtual Musician Summit

Guest blog by Bradley Powell

This past May 29th and May 30th, I attended the first-ever Virtual Musician Summit (VMS). Organized by emerging musician-entrepreneurs Noniko Hsu, Melissa Mashner, and John Hong, the VMS was an entirely online, pre-recorded conference. Thirteen 1-hour-long sessions covered topics such as audience building, productivity, public-speaking, developing online courses to generate passive income, video-creation formulas, and résumé-building, to help participants during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

As our orchestras navigate current public health regulations and plan for the future, many of us are being called to find new ways to deliver and monetize our creative content. The VMS and many other educational resources are being offered to help us adapt, which presents a new problem: how to spend one’s time wisely by sifting through the plethora of pertinent offerings. The good news is that I watched all THIRTEEN HOURS of the VMS for you, on behalf of the Orchestras Canada team. Below are tips from the six presenters whose expertise is most aligned to fill knowledge gaps in our community.

Gabe Bautista | May 29, Session 1

Former Classical Pianist and Composer

Current B2B Marketing

Tips for understanding marketing as a musician

  • Understand and always remember that today there are a tiny fraction of people spending money on [recorded music]… even though music consumption is as frequent as ever.
  • Disney as a company forecasts losing money on Disney+ until 2023; what counts is the personal relationship they are building with their clients. They have to do this in order to enter the competition with their streaming rivals. Breaking into this market is not easy, and you have to have the cash flow to sustain a reasonable amount of initial damage.
  • Know that you’re in competition with the greatest musicians in the world. They’re also stuck at home. The difference is that they have thousands of followers and you may not. If you can position yourself, you can find a corner of the world that is unique to you and apply Pareto’s Principle.
  • You’re also going to be in competition with everyone who’s dead!
  • Even the Taylor Swifts of the world don’t make the majority of their money from the masses; Again, remember Pareto’s Principle
  • The most important people to you are those you support you 100%. If you can have 1000 true diehard fans, you can make a living. It’s not about the million 10% fans.
  • You’ve gotta do whatever you need to do NOW because the new normal is what we’re experiencing. Returns to pre-pandemic venues are far off; even after a vaccine it still won’t be immediate because implementation will take time.
  • Sunk cost fallacy: the more costs we’ve invested, the less we want to give up our paths. We need to accept that some of our assumptions are wrong. We need to embrace change.
  • If you’re a creative, then BE CREATIVE. Some people just show up (to an orchestra rehearsal for example) and do as they’re told. Our industry is creative – go out and create!
  • Read [Bautista’s] book “Most Businesses Fail Within The First Five Minutes. It just takes them 3-5 years to realize”
  • Everyone wants to be unique, but no one wants to be different. We don’t wanna cause any trouble. For you to stand out… you have to stand out!
  • Remember the rule of “and”: every time you say, “I do this And this And this,” that doesn’t multiply your talents, it divides them. Be careful about taking on too much. Limit how you describe your offerings to your public so your value proposition is clear.

Marley Jaxx | May 29, Session 2

CEO of Video Marketing Agency Jaxx Productions

Has worked alongside Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, and Randi Zuckerberg

Tips for how to market your online content

  • Form [what Jaxx calls] a True Fan base. People become “overnight successes” because of, in part, the community that they build around them. This often means that true fans have been recruiting other fans and the exponential increase in following happens at a tipping point. Getting to that tipping point requires fans that will support you, no matter what.
  • You don’t have to spend a lot of money to start learning; Jaxx started through YouTube, where she watched free videos and learned skills until she was ready to invest in courses that cost money.
  • You have to start to be able to find your voice. Don’t put up arbitrary obstacles for yourself like “I just need to be bigger; I just need to be a bit better.” before starting. Don’t worry if there are others putting up very similar content. Your start in video posting is as much for you to find your voice online as it is for developing a following. And your unique voice is really what will resonate with people watching your videos. We like to follow people who are relatable.
  • You have to make a conscious decision to be vulnerable as you begin to post videos for the first time.
  • The market will tell you what people need. Don’t assume you know what people need or don’t need. Test your content, and then go in the direction that your audience is asking for.

Ken Kubota | May 29, Session 4

Cellist, founder of viral Instagram and YouTube success JHMJams

Recognized in Glamour, The Strad and much more

Tips for ‘going viral’ with online music performances

  • Kubota has not missed a weekly deadline for this project ever; that means 4 years of meeting personal deadlines for the project. Consistency is king!
    • Started his project as part of an Intro to Technology course at Juilliard while he was in graduate school.
    • Announced to the world he’d post every Tuesday and Friday and creatively works to meet that; He began posting short cover-performances of songs every week.
  • Find a void missing in your own life; Kubota was losing sight of why he was a cellist in school, and the downward spiral of his mental health during classical music education motivated him to find a new path.
  • Make sure the fuel you’re using to drive your musicianship is sustainable. A lot of what Kubota was doing early in his training was driven by fear.
  • Four Step Process to Cultivate Motivation for Consistency by Finding What You Really Want and Are Intrinsically Motivated By:
    • Cue: What reminds you that your goal exists?
    • Craving: What makes a project attractive to you?
    • Response: What are you going to do to make this “easy” for you?
    • Reward: What will make this satisfying for you when you put in this work?
  • Eliminate as many obstacles to your consistency as you can
  • Suggested Reading
  • Patreon is a very effective and personal platform for creators (better than YouTube); avoid begging for money and instead provide a worthwhile value proposition.
  • Understand the concept of compound interest [as applied to marketing] and how it can propel the growth of your following.

John Hong | May 30, Session 2

Performing Arts Copywriter, Former National Sawdust PR Manager

Clients include nonprofit CEOs to US orchestra

Executive Directors to GRAMMY® winners

Tips for eye-catching text

  • What does writing good copy mean?! If you can communicate authentically you’re much more likely to convince someone to support you than if you try to sell in the showmanship style.
  • For Hong, a job in door-to-door sales (alarm systems) led to PR for National Sawdust (all learning on his feet). He had to convince people he was trustworthy enough to let him into their homes… to talk about alarms. Succinct, trustworthy communication style is key!
  • Diversify your income, even if it’s business as usual in your sector. As an example, only 10% of noted performance psychologist Noe Kageyama’s income comes from his Juilliard faculty position; most of it comes from his website.
  • Good copywriting can actually convince audiences to come to concerts. It’s important.

Jacques Hopkins | May 30, Session 3

Founder of 7-figure online empire PianoIn21Days

From an engineer to a proven piano pedagogy course builder

Tips for building passive income from online music courses

  • Youtube is a search engine! Remember that. Consistent quality will pay off in the end. People will be able to access older content as you gain a following, and that can become a great source of passive income.
  • Running an online business involves knowledge of complex tech. Partner with someone if that side doesn’t come naturally to you.

Jade Simmons | May 30, Session 7

Concert Pianist, Motivational Speaker, Entrepreneur

Former Miss America Runner-up, “A magnetic personality worth seeing” — The Washington Post

The most compelling speaker at the VMS was Jade Simmons. Her entire message centres on the fact that classical music can be invigorated simply by each one of us making space for more creativity and individuality. In a ‘creative’ field which has told us to blend in, to compare ourselves to others, and to be the fastest and loudest so we can win a stable income, we have lost touch with our desire and ability to tell our unique stories. We have the potential to gain momentum if we focus on moving others. Communication with our audiences will compel larger, more diverse groups to support our story-telling.

I encourage you to watch her 2015 TedTalk. Watch all 18 minutes. It’s worth it. You can learn more about Simmons here.

According to its website, the VMS is “A two-day event where proven musician-entrepreneurs unveil step-by-step techniques to get an edge in marketing concerts, building your own social media content, building online streams of income that you can rely on during troubled economic times, and much, much more.” In attending this summit organized by and for a young, diverse group of musician-entrepreneurs, I believe that the orchestra community has a lot to learn, but that there’s a ton of untapped potential within our sector that we can access to adapt and thrive during a time of crisis.  *

* “Let’s get this bread”, as used by The Youth, means ‘let’s get to work and make that money, honey.’ I’m trying to blend in with Gen Z. The children are our future.

The Spanish Flu and Covid-19: Pandemic Diaries #1

Research by Dave Hedlund
Edited by OC Staff

Over the summer we’ll be visiting various members of the Canadian orchestral community – organizations and individuals who contribute to a thriving arts scene in Canada. If you want to write for us about your experience as an artist or arts administrator during the pandemic, get in touch with Katherine Carleton at katherine@oc.ca.

Regina Morning Leader, November 22, 1918

While we are certainly living in unusual and challenging times, Covid-19 isn’t the first global pandemic that has struck our communities and shaken the arts industry. The Canadian orchestral landscape was much younger when the Spanish Flu of 1918 hit the country, just months after the end of World War I. Much like what we’re seeing right now, many industries, including the arts, were forced to close their doors to stop the spread of the virus.

With a founding date of 1908, the Regina Symphony Orchestra is one of a small handful of Canadian orchestras to have seen both the Spanish Flu and Covid-19. We were delighted to learn that the RSO’s historian Dave Hedlund has delved into their archives and the RSO is having a book written on the history of the RSO, including a chapter on the busy time period that saw World War I and the Spanish Flu. We’re grateful that Dave was willing to let us publish an overview of the RSO’s return to activity after the Spanish Flu, just over 100 years ago.

By the time the Great War officially ended in November 1918, 1200 Regina servicemen had died in the fighting. As the war was coming to a close and troops were returning to Canada, an influenza epidemic broke out across the country. In response, by October 1918, Regina stores, schools, theatres and churches were closed. Public meetings were prohibited. About 2000 of Regina’s 30,000 people were infected, according to reports in late October. By late November 2018, over 250 people in Regina had died from influenza.

Frank Laubach

An item in the Leader on Jan. 7, 1919, reported that the orchestral society was resuming rehearsals. The society “has made an occasional appearance in public.,” the paper reported, but “it has been somewhat difficult to keep the society up to desired strength during the years of war, but some additional members are now in sight and Mr. Laubach anticipates a good winter’s work.”Despite the devastation, though, by December of that year, the RSO’s founding conductor, Frank Laubach, still believed that the city needed music more than ever. Maestro Laubach promoted an opera half week for January. And the resumption of Regina Orchestral Society rehearsals was also announced.

Over the flu’s two-year reign of terror, some 50,000 Canadians succumbed, most of them young adults, compounding the effects of the war, in which some 60,000 Canadians died, mostly young men. The orchestral society, described by the Leader as “the oldest musical institution in the city,” presented a full season in 1919-20, starting on September 16th, 1919 with a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

And the band played on.

Learn more about the Regina Symphony Orchestra on their website or in this wonderful feature the CBC ran last year on the RSO’s 110th anniversary.

Orchestras Canada’s COVID-19 Response and Services

A letter from our Executive Director, Katherine Carleton

Dear members,

In the last four weeks a wave of cancellations has spread across the country in the wake of lockdown measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. Every one of our approximately 130 member orchestras has been affected.

It has been nothing short of inspirational to see the adaptability of Canadian orchestras who are now creating more online content than ever. Orchestras Canada has also increased our level of online activity to support our members going through these unprecedented challenges. We know that orchestras are stronger together than they are alone, and we have been expanding and adapting our four mission pillars to help orchestras respond to the current crisis.


Over the last month OC has convened online meetings with a number of stakeholder groups to exchange information, ideas and to design collective responses to the current shutdown. We have held meetings with orchestra CEOs, youth orchestra leaders, personnel managers, and with groups of marketing and education staff. We’re making plans to continue and expand these meetings. Let us know what you need.


Our advocacy committee has been hard at work assessing the best way to approach federal government decision-makers and make them aware of orchestras’ needs. We’ve written a letter to several government ministers, and are encouraging our members to share the letter with their local MPs. For obvious reasons, we’ve focused on emergency short term measures. We’ll continue this, even as we consult with you to develop re-launch and resilience strategies for Canadian orchestras.


We are issuing frequent updates to our members with news that directly affects the arts sector, as well as resources and tools to equip you to respond to the current situation. We’re also happy to share your initiatives and triumphs. You can read these updates on our COVID-19 page, or by signing up to our email list.


So far we have run two surveys that have measured the immediate impact of the COVID-19 shutdowns on our members, and have reported back with some initial insights from our statistician, Steve Smith. This data collection is an ongoing process: while we’re aware that you’re being approached we’ll be collecting and analyzing further data.

I encourage you to take a look at what we’ve been up to, and encourage you to get in touch with us to share resources, brainstorm ideas, or just to check in. Take care,

Katherine Carleton C.M.
Executive Director
Orchestras Canada/Orchestres Canada

Trust, Transparency and Truth

Marion Newman

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report and its calls to action destabilized many common assumptions about relationships between Indigenous and settler communities in Canada. In response to the report, many orchestras and other cultural institutions began to examine how we engage with our communities, and to rethink the ways in which we collaborate and partner with Indigenous nations, Indigenous people and Indigenous organizations.

Following the creation of an Indigenous Advisory Council at the Regina Symphony Orchestra in 2017, a lot of work has been done to grow this relationship. We spoke with the RSO’s music director, Gordon Gerrard, and mezzo-soprano and Indigenous Advisory Council member, Marion Newman, to learn more about this initiative.

How it started
Gordon Gerrard

The establishment of the Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) at the RSO started with the appointment of a new board member, Audra Young, a member of the Cowessess First Nation. Its formalization came as a result of the consultation required for a substantial outreach project with Buffy Sainte-Marie, and one of the first projects that followed was the newly created Forward Currents Festival. Initially the IAC was made up of 12 members who met monthly, principally to advise the newly arrived Music Director, Gordon Gerrard and then-Executive Director Tanya Derksen on elements of Indigenous programming in the orchestras season. “There’s no rulebook for this kind of thing,” Gordon says, “but we wanted to make sure that this was a lasting beneficial relationship to both parties, rather than a one-off exchange.”

Through a desire to allow the time needed for these conversations, the IAC now meets less frequently, but advises on many more aspects of the RSO’s activities. Everything is interconnected. Other orchestras are following this model; the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, for example, has established its own Indigenous Council.

Risks and True Consultation

While there was some nervousness about the path on which the orchestra and the IAC were embarking, there was an understanding in the importance and openness of this work. Mezzo-soprano and IAC member Marion Newman cites an established relationship and trust with Gordon as a primary reason for her willingness to join. “We get asked to consult on projects all the time,” Marion said. “It’s less often that the organization actually listens. Because I already trusted Gordon, I knew the orchestra would actually listen to what we had to say. “

Both Marion and Gordon agreed that this is long, sustained and slow work. It required a transparency from the orchestra, sharing things that they weren’t used to sharing with outside groups. “We’re still in the truth part of Truth & Reconciliation,” Marion says. This is uncomfortable, but necessary work to do if true consultation and partnership is the genuine goal. Ultimately this has been a positive experience for the RSO, and advice from the IAC now affects every aspect of their work, such as land acknowledgments, clarifying what true consultation is and guiding all of its stakeholders in developing their own ways to engage in this work.

The Forward Currents Festival

The first project the IAC consulted on was the newly created Forward Currents Festival. “Each year the festival focuses on an issue that is socially relevant to our community here in Regina”, says Gordon. The first edition in 2018 focused on Truth and Reconciliation, and the 2019 edition focused on mental health awareness.

“It’s a very direct way to connect with people who believe that the orchestra isn’t for them,” says Gordon. By taking the orchestra outside of the traditional concert hall, the festival reached a whole new audience who may never have considered attending a traditional orchestral concert. Marion recalls being greatly touched at the first edition of the festival. “It was incredible to see Indigenous people in the audience being moved by the orchestra collaboratively telling their stories, and for these same people to see non-Indigenous audience members moved by Indigenous stories.”

Next Steps

The IAC is now starting to look forward to future seasons in terms of what is programmed and how partnerships are approached. They are also looking into how this work can have a lasting impact on the RSO. Cultural competency training is key, and they hope to soon establish a set path whereby new musicians, staff and board members at the orchestra will receive appropriate training to equip them to work in respectful collaboration with the IAC and other outside communities the RSO may partner with.

This is difficult work and it takes time. Strong individual relationships, trust and transparency need to be at its heart.

Ontario Arts Council and COVID-19

The Ontario Arts Council has changed some of its grant program deadlines for this spring, and you can click through to details from this page. The OAC also has useful and regularly-updated COVID-19 FAQs on its website, here.

Minister’s Town Hall Meeting

This morning, March 26, Lisa Macleod (Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries) held a telephone town hall meeting with over 1250 stakeholders from across Ontario.  Referencing both the province’s identification of essential services (on Monday evening) and the Economic Statement (issued on Wednesday), Minister Macleod outlined a number of measures that the Government of Ontario is taking to assist with relief and recovery of the sectors associated with the Ministry, as follows:

  • The commitment to keep money flowing quickly through existing Operational Service Agencies such as the Ontario Arts Council, Celebrate Ontario, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund. The Minister did not reference any increases to funding: OC has asked the Ontario Arts Council for more information as it becomes available.
  • The impending launch of a new Ontario Live online portal, where musicians, artists, libraries, museums and others can share their work with Ontarians. This is a partnership between the government and an array of artists, arts organizations, and such industry titans as Universal Music and Shopify.
  • The re-tooling of the Ontario Music Fund to get funding into the hands of emerging artists quickly.
  • Additional funding allocated to Tourism Development programs, which will be expanded to include Tourism Relief initiatives.
  • Additional funding allocated to Destination Ontario to help rebuild tourism, once recovery commences.
  • Permission granted to restaurants and bars to sell and deliver unopened packages of liquor in their stock.
  • Funding for Ontario hotels to serve as overflow space for health care workers, those in quarantine, and people in need of shelter (whether because they are not securely housed, or other reasons).
  • The extension of film and television tax credit to ensure that freelance workers in the industry have access to income during a period of time when production has ceased.
  • The commitment to work with provincial sport organizations and athletes to ensure that athlete development efforts are not damaged by the cancellation of major amateur sports events in the province and around the world.
  • The commitment to support existing Operational Enterprise Agencies (including the Royal Ontario Museum, Science North, etcetera) through the recovery period.