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.

Small Budget Orchestra Day: National Conference 2019

We’re delighted to announce that, as part of our National Conference in Ottawa this June, we will be running a full-day small-budget orchestra session on Thursday, June 13th.

Date & Time: Thursday, June 13, 9am-5:30
Location: Canada’s National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON
Cost: $100 + HST

Registration is now closed as we are at capacity

Program

9am-10am: Coffee, check-in

10am-12pm: Peer group meeting with invited guests. Topics on the agenda include:

  1. Perspectives on accessing funding for smaller budget orchestras: What makes a funding request successful? How do we find likely prospects?
  2. Doing great work on a shoestring: Identifying, attracting and retaining great board members and volunteers
  3. Building and maintaining a strong community orchestra: How do we attract skilled volunteer musicians, and keep them happy? What role does programming play? How do we balance “curb appeal” for the audience with the interests of the players? What role do we want and need our music director to play? How do we find the right music director?
  4. Growing audiences: How can we broaden, deepen, diversify our audiences? What’s working? What role does programming play?

12pm-1pm: Group lunch

1pm-2pm: Peer group meeting continues

2pm-4pm: Choice of conference breakout sessions, focusing on ways that orchestras can engage with increasingly diverse populations, however they define diversity in their communities. Choose one of four options:

  1. The Creative Case for Social Inclusion: what orchestras are doing to engage more community members
  2. Orchestral training and career paths: short term “hacks” and long-term changes to diversify orchestras
  3. Fundraising (panel discussion)
  4. Resilience and Business models, a workshop with Patrick Towell of Golant Media Ventures, co-author of What is Resilience Anyway?

4pm-4:30pm: Coffee break with other conference delegates

4:30pm-5:30pm: Panel presentation: arts data you can use! Canada Council’s recent research on orchestras, on the demographics of institutions funded through the Engage and Sustain, and on intrinsic arts impact.

5:30pm: Full day program is done. Those wanting to continue the experience can participate in the following evening activities at their own expense. Please register here your interest here, by June 1st.

  1. Indigenous Walking Tour of Parliament Hill (cost is $15-20 per person depending on the size of the group)
  2. OrKidstra’s season closing concert (tickets are free but will need to be booked in advance)
  3. Prix fixe dinner at Le Café ($50 plus tax, tip, and any beverages)

Full Conference

Should any smaller budget groups wish to join us for the full three-day conference, you’d be more than welcome. Information on this can be found in the National Conference area of our website.

Three reasons to be at the National Conference

Registration is now open for Orchestras Canada’s National Conference! This year, we’ve introduced new price points to ensure that the conference is as accessible as we can make it – and we’re beyond excited about the program, too! Take advantage of the early-bird discount by registering before the April 26th deadline.

1. Connect with learnings from innovative and engaging speakers

We’re thrilled to welcome speakers who are leading change in the arts industry. Among others, we’re delighted to introduce:

  • Nina Simon, will explore the risks and rewards of engaging more closely with our communities, and will arm you with the tools to talk to your board and colleagues about opportunities for community involvement that will strengthen the impact of your organization.
  • Donna Walker-Kuhne will share best practices and success metrics for community engagement programs and will present strategies on ways to expand and diversify your audience.
  • As part of our pre-conference digital workshop on June 11th, Fiona Morris and John White from The Space will look at how to integrate your strategic and business plans with your digital strategy.
  • Dylan Robinson will help us better understand and respectfully navigate issues of cultural appropriation through a workshop and panel discussion.

2. Become part of the conversation on designing the 21st-century orchestra

Attend expert-led, peer-driven breakout sessions that connect you to vital conversations about how orchestras are adapting for the 21st century. With sessions running simultaneously on subjects such as governance, marketing, fundraising, community engagement, and orchestral training systems, these conversations will challenge us to consider the transformations we can make in our own organizations.

3. Meet your peers from orchestras large and small across the country

Whether over a cup of coffee before starting the day, during structured peer group meetings, or at a social event, the National Conference is an important reminder that you’re not alone. The conference includes dedicated time with peers who do similar work to you, to discuss the most pressing issues you face, and to brainstorm solutions.

National Conference: Designing the 21st Century Orchestra


Designing the 21st Century Orchestra: Embedding Canadian Orchestras in Canadian Communities

We are excited to announce the theme and two of the keynote speakers for our 2019 National Conference, happening in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre, from June 12th – 14th. Information for Designing the 21st Century Orchestra is now live on our website. You can register, benefit from discounted hotel and travel rates, and apply for bursaries (for member organizations with annual revenues under $2 Million, or larger organizations looking to send additional staff; applications due on February 28th). To whet your appetite, here’s a quick introduction to two of our keynote speakers:

Nina SimonNina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and founder of the OF/BY/FOR ALL movement. Nina will give both a keynote talk and a workshop, focusing on the risks and rewards of engaging our communities more closely with our institutions, and introducing OF/BY/FOR ALL, a new “global movement and a set of tools to help your organization become of, by, and for your community.” In her workshop, she’ll help you explore the communities you currently serve and those you wish to involve, and offer take-home tools you can use to talk with your board and colleagues about new opportunities for community involvement that can strengthen your organization’s impact.

Donna Walker-KuhneDonna Walker-Kuhne, Senior Advisor, Community Engagement at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and founder of Walker International Communications Group. Donna will share best practices in the field of community engagement, discuss success metrics for community engagement programs, and give guidance on advancing in diversity, equity and inclusion work. She will also present tangible strategies on ways to build and expand multicultural audiences for the arts, and will look at national trends on engaging diverse communities, the impact of immigration, and the impact of press, publicity and advertising.