Conference 2017 Highlights

"Detroit Rising / Transformation in American Orchestras"

Orchestra administrators, musicians, trustees, and volunteers gathered in Detroit for the League's 72nd National Conference. Below are some of the highlights. Check back soon! When materials from Conference sessions are available, they will be posted on this page. (Materials are not available for all sessions.)

Scroll down to see the videos and presentations posted to date.

Check out our Conference Facebook photo album.

Find the Conference press announcement here.

Maestro Leonard Slatkin wishes the League a Happy 75th Anniversary during a special Conference performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra


Check out our 75th Anniversary Symphony Magazine online!

Quick Links

Opening Plenary

League Luncheon and Annual Meeting
Closing Luncheon 

Conference session videos:

Wednesday Elective Sessions, 8:45am-10:00am
Wednesday Elective Sessions, 11:00am-12:15pm
Thursday Elective Sessions, 8:45am-10:00am
Constituency Meetings
Volunteer Meetings

Opening Plenary  



The afternoon began with welcomes from Mark Davidoff, board chairman, Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Anne Parsons, president and CEO, Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Jesse Rosen, president and CEO, League of American Orchestras; and James G. Vella, president, Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services.

Esteemed musician Ann Hobson Pilot received the League of American Orchestras’ highest honor, the Gold Baton, and performed with an ensemble comprised of members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, The Gateways Music Festival, and The Sphinx Virtuosi.

A panel of civic, business, and cultural leaders then revealed the powerful interplay of their paths and how they’ve become change agents in building a new Detroit for all.


Matt Cullen, principal, Rock Ventures LLC, CEO, JACK Entertainment LLC
Hassan Jaber, executive director, Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS)
Mariam Noland, president, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
Shirley Stancato, president and CEO, New Detroit

Moderator: Mark Stryker, arts reporter and music critic, Detroit Free Press (1995-2016)

Made possible by the generous support of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and Julie F. Fisher and Peter D. Cummings

League Luncheon and Annual Meeting



This event celebrated the League's 75th anniversary and included remarks by League President and CEO Jesse Rosen, League Board Chair Patricia Richards, and Ann Meier Baker, Director of Music and Opera, NEA. Wayne Brown, president and CEO of Michigan Opera Theatre was the emcee.  

We recognized the five orchestra musicians receiving the Ford Musician Awards for Excellence in Community Service, and honored the careers of Heather Noonan, the League's Vice President for Advocacy, and  Chester Lane, former senior editor of Symphony magazine.

Following our Annual Meeting, during which we celebrated League Board Chair Patricia Richards' strong leadership and introduced our members to incoming Board Chair Douglas M. Hagerman, the event closed with a special showcase performance by The Annie Moses Band. 

The League Luncheon Showcase was sponsored by JRA Fine Arts.

The Ford Musician Awards for Excellence in Community Service are made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund.

Closing Plenary



Our Closing Plenary featured a panel discussion by national thought leaders on the role of arts and culture in these uncertain times. We focused on Pathways Forward, as America faces a dramatically new policy landscape that may pose serious threats to the arts and the values we associate with them. 

Speakers: Melanca Clark, president, the Hudson Webber Foundation; Maria Rosario Jackson, member, National Council on the Arts, senior advisor to the arts and culture program, the Kresge Foundation; Rip Rapson, president and CEO, the Kresge Foundation; Steven J. Tepper, dean, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University

Akustiks generously sponsored the Closing Plenary and Luncheon.

Detroit and its Orchestra / Navigating the Public Policy Environment



The inspirational story of Detroit and its orchestra, as well as advocacy strategies for orchestras navigating the current public policy environment, were woven into in a number of Conference sessions, including:

Diversity and Inclusion



The League is committed to advancing diversity, equality, and inclusion in the orchestral field, and has vowed to serve as a catalyst for change. Conference included a number of sessions around this mission:

Wednesday Elective Sessions, 8:45am - 10am

Bold and Informed: Researching Audiences on a Budget

We harvested the best low-cost ideas for researching target audiences from arts organizations around the country. We learned how audience research informed their bold ideas as part of the Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for the Arts initiatives. Orchestra audiences also attend opera, dance, theater, and museums, so we found out which proven methods they use in order to understand elusive Millennials, barriers for non-attendees, and what current audiences really think about the organization.

Speakers: Sara Billmann, director of marketing and communications, University Musical Society; Bob Harlow, Bob Harlow Research and Consulting, LLC

(New!) Download Bob Harlow's PowerPoint Presentation.

(New!) Download Sara Billmann's PowerPoint Presentation.

Made possible by the generous support of The Wallace Foundation.

Market Smarter: Insights and Strategy for Digital Marketing

How are orchestras and other arts organizations embracing digital in order to market their offerings? For five years, Capacity Interactive, a digital marketing firm for the cultural sector, has surveyed arts organizations to understand how they are using social media, video, analytics, mobile, digital advertising, email, and the web. The firm’s president presented findings from the most recent survey, explaining trends and highlighting opportunities. He also shared orchestra case studies to illustrate how digital marketing can help orchestras meet marketing goals.

Speakers: Erik Gensler, president, Capacity Interactive

(New!) Download PowerPoint Presentation.

EnCue, by Octava, generously sponsored Market Smarter: Insights and Strategy for Digital Marketing.

No Sound Barriers: Sphinx at 20

The goal of this session was to demystify the issues of inclusion in the orchestral field and illuminate ways in which we, as a community, can create lasting change. Afa Dworkin, president and artistic director of the Sphinx Organization, provided an overview of the organization’s work, tracing its triumphs, aspirations, and goals over the 20 years since its founding. Sphinx is national organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. Dworkin also discussed the pipeline approach to the issues of inclusion, highlighting the critical nature of partnerships with other organizations. The session relied heavily on the expertise and perspectives of the audience members as well a panel of Sphinx artists in exploring these questions: 1) “What is the largest obstacle to building inclusion?” 2) “What is a radical step that others can take (the field itself) in order to counter the obstacle?” and 3) “What radical step or steps will I take in order to change the status quo?”

Speakers: Afa Dworkin, president and artistic director, Sphinx Organization; Rainel Joubert, violinist, Sphinx Organization; Christine Lamprea, cellist, Sphinx Organization; Stephanie Matthews, violinist and director of artistic development, Sphinx Organization

Wednesday Elective Sessions, 11:00am - 12:15pm

Classical Musicians of African Descent: Perspectives, Aspirations, and Outlook

This session featured a performance by Ann Hobson Pilot, the trailblazing former principal harp of Boston Symphony Orchestra and recipient of the League’s 2017 Gold Baton Award, along with musicians from Gateways Music Festival, the 23-year-old organization that celebrates professional classical musicians of African descent at its annual six-day event each August in Rochester, New York. Many classical musicians of African descent have unique perspectives on their roles and the challenges and opportunities that orchestras face today. At this session, musicians discussed why they participate in Gateways each year, how support from Rochester’s African American community has enabled the Festival to grow and thrive, how playing in an ensemble of musicians of African descent differs from playing in other ensembles, and their hopes for the future. In the midst of the vibrant national conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion, this was an opportunity to both hear and hear from musicians whose lived experience puts them at the center of that conversation.

Program: Maurice Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro

Speakers: Judith Dines, Flute, Houston Symphony Orchestra, principal flute, Gateways Music Festival; Lee Koonce, president and artistic director, Gateways Music Festival; Alex Laing, principal clarinet, The Phoenix Symphony, principal clarinet, Gateways Music Festival; clarinet; Gateways Music Festival; Michael Morgan, music director and conductor, Oakland Symphony, artistic director, Gateways Music Festival; Ann Hobson Pilot, former principal harpist, Boston Symphony Orchestra; and Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin, Gateways Music Festival

Moderator: Jesse Rosen, president and CEO, League of American Orchestras

Made possible by generous grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Make the Case Now!

Convincingly making the case for your orchestra’s impact and forging strategic alliances are both crucial to advancing your orchestra’s mission. Developing the right relationships and clearly communicating your orchestra’s relevance to broader civic issues is essential, from launching community development initiatives to cultivating philanthropic support; from defending your tax-exempt status to championing public music education. Now more than ever, advocacy must become a priority.

Speakers: Gary Ginstling, president and CEO, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra; Patricia Richards, chair, board of directors, League of American Orchestras; and David Thompson, vice president of public policy, National Council of Nonprofits

Moderator: Heather Noonan, vice president, advocacy, League of American Orchestras

Made possible, in part, by a generous grant from the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation

Thursday Elective Sessions, 8:45am-11:00am

Activating and Nurturing Community Alliances

Orchestras are increasingly building and sustaining partnerships with other organizations. These efforts not only seek to expand and diversify audiences, but also to create meaningful ways in which artists can connect with their community. This session featured a number of roundtable discussions – led by musicians, composers, and administrators – on selecting, preparing, and maintaining community alliances.

View the Agenda for the Session

Discussion leaders to include teams from Music Alive residency partners, New Music USA, and recipients of the League’s 2017 Ford Musician Awards for Excellence in Community Service

Moderator: Marian Godfrey, cultural advisor, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and member, board of directors, League of American Orchestras

TRG Arts is generously sponsoring Activating and Nurturing Community Alliances.

This session is made possible by the generous donors to the Ford Musician Awards for Excellence in Community Service and the Music Alive programs, as well as support from the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation.

The Ford Musician Awards for Excellence in Community Service are made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund.

Music Alive is made possible through a lead grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional support from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, The Amphion Foundation, and The ASCAP Foundation Bart Howard Fund.

Cultural Equity

Working toward greater cultural equity in our organizations has become an imperative for the long-term viability of orchestras and the art form. What can orchestras do to keep up with this change of attitudes toward Euro-centric cultural institutions? The session explored demographic, philanthropic, and political trends in American society, and provided insight into how orchestras must and should navigate the currents.

Speakers: Liz S. Alsina, senior program officer, Individually Directed Program, Walton Family Foundation; Afa Dworkin, president and artistic director, Sphinx Organization; Alexander Laing, principal clarinet, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra; Sarah Johnson, director, Weill Music Institute, Carnegie Hall

Moderator: Eric Booth, president, Everyday Arts, Inc.

Made possible by generous grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Constituency Meetings (with post-Conference presentations)

Executive Directors, Groups 5-6

Materials: Playing Your Part: An Orchestra’s Guide to Public Policy AdvocacyLeague Public Value and Mapping ToolkitJoining Your State Nonprofit AssociationWho Has the Time Presentation, Electronic Media Strategy

Executive Directors Group 7-8

Materials: Playing Your Part: An Orchestra’s Guide to Public Policy AdvocacyLeague Public Value and Mapping ToolkitJoining Your State Nonprofit AssociationWho Has the Time Presentation

Executive Directors, Youth Orchestras 

Materials: Playing Your Part: An Orchestra’s Guide to Public Policy AdvocacyLeague Public Value and Mapping ToolkitJoining Your State Nonprofit AssociationWho Has the Time Presentation

Marketing, Groups 1-2

Materials: Building a Single Ticket Plan

Marketing, Groups 3-8

Materials: Building a Single Ticket Plan

Volunteer Meetings

Gold Book Awards

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Guild’s
Duplicate and Social Bridge Tournament

Friends of Symphony Orchestra Augusta’s
Silent Art Auction for Scholarship Fund

Women’s Symphony League of Austin’s
Red Haute Valentine Party and Children’s Style Show

Grand Rapids Symphony Friends’
Rumsey Street Bazaar

Huntsville Symphony Orchestra Guild’s
Arts and Academics Study Group

Kansas City Symphony League’s
Symphony Ball 2015: Rhapsody in Blue

Oklahoma City Orchestra League’s Music Competitions
– an Enduring Legacy

Utah Symphony Guild’s Music Outreach Program


Roundtable Award Handout

Amarillo Symphony Guild
Belles and Beaux Team App

Women’s Symphony League of Austin
Children’s Day Art Park

Women’s Committee of the Cleveland Orchestra
Cleveland Orchestra Music Study Groups

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Volunteer Council
Nutcracker Luncheon: Eat, Shop, Join

Houston Symphony League
Making Friendships for a Lifetime

Kansas City Symphony Alliance
47th Symphony Designers’ Showhouse

Kansas City Symphony Alliance
Rising Symphony Stars

Las Vegas Philharmonic Guild
Light Up the Night with Liberace

Women’s Association of Northwest Indiana Symphony Society
27th Annual Festival of Trees

Friends of Music Guild – Orchestra of Southern Utah
Community Recitals Benefit Musicians & Community

Conference materials are also on the Conference website, which lists all sessions:

Who attended Conference 2017? View a list of delegates by organization or last name.


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