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

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.

A Statement on Racial Inequity from Orchestras Canada

While Orchestras Canada serves a national network of Canadian orchestras, our office is on the treaty and traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg. We offer gratitude to the First Peoples for their care for, and teachings about, our earth and our relations. We will honour those teachings.

We are grieved by the anti-Black racist events in recent weeks.

We acknowledge that our society is built on, yet critically weakened by, systemic racism.

Orchestras Canada is committed to a more just society for all.

We are committed to sustained and effective action, manifested through our internal practices and our service to orchestras and the music that is shared.

With much to learn, we approach this important work with humility and transparency, guided by colleagues with lived experience. Their guidance is truly a generous gift.

We call on Canadian orchestras to recruit Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Colour in decision-making roles, as board members, lead volunteers, arts workers, and arts leaders.

We call on Canadian orchestras to welcome Black artists, Indigenous artists, and artists of colour to their stages, as conductors, performers, soloists, composers, mentors, and creators.

Until Canadian orchestras are fully welcoming and accessible, Orchestras Canada will encourage orchestras to adopt external strategies and internal practices that will foster an inclusive network of diverse leaders, artists, arts workers, volunteers, and audiences.

At our national conference in 2016, members asked OC to take the lead on commissioning and curating resources to inform Canadian orchestras’ work in inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. Since then, this work has been a focus for us, and has informed our research, knowledge-sharing, and convening practices, along with our nominating and recruitment efforts. The following is a short list of the resources that we’ve developed; more can be found here.

OC Resources

Other resources that we have found helpful

Briefing to the Standing Committee on Finance

May 8th, 2020

Orchestras Canada/Orchestres Canada (OC) is the national association for Canadian orchestras, representing over 130 groups from coast to coast, ranging from volunteer-driven community ensembles to youth and training orchestras to nationally and internationally-renowned groups. Our mandate includes advocacy, convening, research and knowledge-sharing, and we work in close collaboration with the Canadian Arts Coalition, Canada’s Performing Arts Alliance, and Imagine Canada.

We are pleased to share orchestras’ perspectives on the Government of Canada’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and hope they are helpful in the Committee’s work.


Canadian orchestras are not-for-profit organizations and registered charities. In 2018-19, according to OC’s comparative data from 71 of our largest member orchestras, orchestras derived 35.8% of their revenues from ticket sales and sold services, and 40.2% from individuals, corporations, foundations, and special fundraising events. Government support (from all three orders of government) made up the difference. Our members reported revenues of almost $218 million and connected with 2.8 million Canadians.

Canadian orchestras are structured in different ways, depending on mission, mandate, and community context. They range from volunteer groups with a paid music director and a hands-on board of directors to fully-professional ensembles with collective bargaining agreements with tenured musicians, a professional staff, and a high-powered governance board – and all points in between. Depending on the size of the orchestra, anywhere from one to well over 200 people are paid to do work directly for and with the orchestra each season, and they are all vulnerable to changes in their orchestra’s financial health. Orchestras also tend to plan and market their concerts 18-24 months in advance.

With public gatherings effectively banned in mid-March, our orchestras moved to cancel already-scheduled (and in some cases, sold-out) concerts; as the pandemic has continued, orchestras (which typically perform a September-June season, with some groups also programming in the summer months) have cancelled both spring and summer programs. Refunds or credits for ticket purchases have been processed; and many loyal patrons have converted the value of their tickets to charitable donations. We are tracking the impact of the pandemic on contributed income, and will have more to report as orchestras complete their fiscal years.

Still, we emphasize that some 76% of orchestras’ revenues are vulnerable at this time, their potential loss is highly destabilizing, and – as Canadian Heritage minister Steven Guilbeault said to Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce last week, “« Il est difficile de voir un retour à la normale avant le début de l’année prochaine, et c’est peut-être ça aussi, un scénario optimiste ». Indeed, every published provincial guidelines place concerts and other large public events in the final stages of their proposed reopening plans.

Orchestras are now looking at alternate scenarios for fall 2020 and beyond, including the cancellation or postponement of concerts, the implementation of physical distancing measures for artists, audience members, and venue workers, and re-programming already-planned concerts to feature smaller ensembles, physically-distanced audiences, and different venues. The logistical, financial and legal challenges that these scenarios imply are daunting: the increased costs of implementing recommended health and safety measures combined with significantly reduced ticket revenues are simply incompatible. At the same time, we emphasize that orchestras will not put the health of audiences, artists or workers at risk.

Observations on Supports from the Government of Canada

First of all, orchestras are profoundly grateful for the speed at which the Government of Canada has moved to implement economic supports across the broader economy: speed that has been matched with a high level of responsiveness to emerging needs and issues. The pace at which such programs as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the Canada Emergency Bank Account have been successfully introduced and adapted to meet diverse needs across the economy has been nothing short of remarkable. We also note the Canada Council for the Arts’ decision to expedite the release of 35% of core grants to organizations payable in the 2020-21 fiscal year; while this will not have an impact on year-end results, it will assist some 37 Canadian orchestras to manage cash flow at a tremendously challenging time. Thank you.

Secondly, we eagerly await details on the $500 million investment in arts, culture and sports, first announced by Prime Minister Trudeau on April 17. We hope that some portion of it can be directed to meet needs not yet addressed in the cross-economy measures already in effect.

Specific gaps during the emergency relief period include the following:

  • The CEWS only applies to employees, and not to long-time independent contractors. This leaves a number of orchestras in a difficult situation: they are continuing to compensate their contracted musicians (whom they treat as independent contractors) to create and work from home, but are not yet eligible for any form of subsidy to assist with this cost. This could be addressed by expanding the program to incorporate more classes of workers.
  • We also note that CEWS is due to end June 6: well before orchestras are likely to see any stability in their earned or contributed revenues, since many may still be closed until early 2021 or later.
  • The CEBA is available only to groups with payroll between $20,000 and $1.5 million per year. Larger groups, with greater cash flow assistance needs, are ineligible for consideration for interest-free loans by BDC and EDC because they are organized as registered charities. This could be addressed by expanding the CEBA to cover more employers, or potentially removing the exclusion of organizations that further a charitable purpose under the Canada Small Business Financing Act, to enable banks to assist larger organizations in our sector and to provide additional support for mid-sized orchestras who need more than the $40,000 that CEBA offers.
  • Smaller arts organizations and grassroots community groups have, to some extent, fallen between the cracks of the targeted government assistance to date, yet play a key role in their communities and are profoundly affected by the crisis. We join with Imagine Canada in the call for a non-profit and charitable sector stabilization fund to help them continue to function through this time.
  • Many cultural and community-based organizations own and manage their own buildings, edifices that need to be heated, lit, secured, and maintained even when closed and not generating revenue. They are under unique pressure at this time. Again, we are pleased to support Imagine Canada’s call for a sector stabilization program that would help address the needs of valued community-based groups that own and manage community infrastructure.
  • We’d also emphasize the desirability of providing broad-based incentives for charitable giving and business sponsorship at this time. We support a temporary increase in non-refundable tax credits for charitable giving, believing that this will be the most helpful to the greatest number of groups, and would be relatively easy to administer.

At another point in the Standing Committee’s process, we would be pleased to share perspectives on the re-building, re-imagining and re-launching phases ahead. Although the timeline for lifting restrictions is currently and inevitably far from certain, it is likely that the live performing arts will be at the far end of that process. Identifying and addressing the interim needs for support for our sector will be fundamental to achieving a robust and comprehensive return to core activities.

In both good and challenging times, our member orchestras serve and connect with audiences in every Canadian province. The Government of Canada has been an important partner in this work over many years, and we look forward to continued work together. Thank you for your consideration.

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

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: Playing it Forward

Meeting with young people and making music ever more accessible are priorities for the Orchestre Métropolitain. Each year, the OM sparks wonder in more than 11,000 young people across Montreal through an educational program with two initiatives: The OM at School and Playing it Forward.

The OM at School provides an opportunity for meaningful encounters between students and musicians, in the form of workshops held in schools, and by welcoming school groups to rehearsals and concerts. Last December, the art works of some 15 kindergarten students at École Notre-Dame-des-Neiges embellished the foyer of the Maison symphonique. The students, who attended the dress rehearsal, were able to see their works on display, and to present one as a gift to conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In preparation for the outing, the students had learned about Schumann’s Piano Concerto, one of the works on the program, and were paid a visit by the OM’s artistic partner, conductor Nicolas Ellis, who answered their questions.

Playing it Forward aims to provide a forum for young musicians and to support their development through mentoring, master classes and other activities. The OM Preludesmusical performances given by young and talented musicians as a prologue to OM concerts, is an example. The young performers then attend the concert free of charge and a few have the privilege of presenting flowers on stage to the conductors and soloists we welcome. Another Playing It Forward project is the creation of the OMNI competition. Devoted to young musicians between 7 and 17, the competition gives entrants the chance to display their talent in a relaxed setting that encourages connections between young people who share the same passion, and discussion with professional musicians. These initiatives are inspiring, not only for the young people involved but also for the OM musicians, who find them a source of great pride.

Thank you to Laura Eaton at the Orchestre Métropolitain for guest blogging for us.

Comparative Report 2017-18

Thanks to our master statistician, C. Stephen Smith, and the efforts of orchestra people coast to coast, Orchestras Canada has just published the 2017-18 Comparative Report. Each year, Steve collects financial information and audience numbers from member orchestras and produces a detailed Comparative Report, which is then shared with participating orchestras.

Summary information by region and by budget is available in the Resources section of our website.

Compared to the previous year, 2017-18 fiscal results demonstrated an overall strengthening of orchestras, with a 7.5% increase in revenues, and the overall ‘national debt’ of orchestras dropping to under $2 Million, the lowest since this report started in the 2004-05 season. Orchestras have also been more efficient with an overall 4.5% decrease in the amount spent by orchestras per audience member reached.