Summer 2013 (Special Post-Conference Edition)


League of American Orchestras - Education

July 1, 2013

This edition of the Update Newsletter brings you reflections and recaps on League Conference 2013 EDCE sessions (click here for the complete constituency agenda with descriptions). Writers in this issue are:

Mark Kent, Vice President, Education and Community Engagement
Altanta Symphony Orchestra

On Monday, the St. Louis Symphony External Affairs team (under the leadership of Adam Crane) presented on the recent evolution of their department. The current structure was implemented within the past two years and strategically melds the Communications Department, the Education Department, the Community Partnerships Program, and the Youth Orchestra program into one department they’ve labeled “External Affairs.” This new structure capitalizes on the strengths of all of the areas, leveraging them for maximum community impact and visibility, and it has resulted in strong clarification in department mission and effectiveness.

The new External Affairs department seeks out active community partners who can deliver an engaged audience to the experiences they offer. The partnerships they pursue are strong on reciprocity and the staff team also looks for clear mission impact in the relationships they build. The tremendous buy-in from much of the orchestra was very impressive, and it can be attributed to a strong model for managing partnerships and effectively developing community-focused experiences that also enrich the lives of the musicians themselves. The team facilitated a lively conversation, including a number of St. Louis Symphony musicians who sat at each table and provided their insight. The presentation, combined with conversation starters throughout, was an engaging start to the conference.

Steve Wenig, Director of Community Partnerships
Houston Symphony

On Tuesday, Anne Cushing-Reid (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra), Sarah Burman (South Dakota Symphony Orchestra) and Marc Thayer (American Voices) led a presentation on their experiences with cross cultural engagement. Anne spoke about the CSO's program, Classical Roots which started with engagement in one African American church in 2000 and evolved to an annual performance in their hall for the last 3 years that involves singers from 30 churches. Sarah spoke about the Lakota Music Project, a collaboration between the SDSO and the Lakota community originating in 2005. Both projects were a response to racial tensions in the community and involved collaborative performances with their respective orchestras and musicians from the community. Marc Thayer spoke about his work in cultural diplomacy, not only abroad but also within the Bosnian community in St. Louis. Takeaways from all three speakers included:

  • Know your community and get to know them as people
  • Any engagement project needs to be relevant and should address a gap or need
  • Engagement is not just a one-time event or concert but about an ongoing process
  • Find the "mover and shaker" within the community who can give you some "street cred"
  • Be patient, this takes time

Oh, and apparently it's always helpful and a good way to grease the skids by feeding people when meeting groups from the community.

Aimee Halbruner, Director of Education and Community Engagement
Richmond Symphony

In the session "Exploring Cross-Cultural Engagement," presenters Sarah Burman, Anne Cushing-Reid, and Marc Thayer gave us a glimpse into three model community engagement initiatives. They shared “lessons learned,” many of which can be applied to any number of community engagement programs:

  • Make sure everyone is involved in the program (staff, board, musicians, and volunteers). This isn’t just for education and community engagement staff!
  • Be patient – it takes time to build trust.
  • Remember that it’s a partnership  allow the other participant group(s) to articulate needs and help develop the program.
  • It is important to identify one person to champion the project. This person should be known to the target community, but the ideal candidate might not be the first-glance, obvious choice.
  • Start small and build for sustainability.
  • Don’t start from scratch unless you have to – consider working with programs/organizations in place already.
  • Remember the food! Community meals, receptions, lunch meetings, post-event receptions are more important that you may realize.
  • Get the development department involved from the beginning so that they can learn how to ask, and what to ask for, for each specific project.

Anne Cushing-Reid, Senior Director, Community Engagement & Learning
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Garry Golden’s session on Tapping Our Inner Futurist offered an interesting paradigm for the work we do and a potential framework for examining programs and programming. He offered a “Foresight 101” using S.T.E.E.P. Categories (Social, Technology, Environment, Economy and Politics) to look at three mechanisms of change: Trends or Plausible Futures (Forecasts); Events or Possible Futures (Scenarios); and Choices or Preferred Futures (Visions).

We discussed a number of concepts around Orchestras and Lifelong Learning and the ideas of skill-share (bringing together instructors and learners earning “badges”) and formative vs. summative assessment. Other concepts in the arena of Orchestras and Local Indicators included Open Data and Civicware as a means to (re)engage local community members. By this point, I realized there are a number technological tools and resources that I am woefully unfamiliar with!

The second part of the session, led by Ted Wiprud, was devoted to small group discussions around:

  • Programs: Irrelevant OR Central
  • Arts Learning: Utopia OR Dystopia
  • Robots OR Notbots
  • Arts Deserts OR Dashboards

Our final discussion - and one that flowed throughout the Conference - was “vision in six words.” In the context of community engagement for our orchestra, my six words are: All are welcome and genuinely valued!

My big take-away: We must make strategic predictions based on national data trends and our own observations of our orchestras, our educational institutions and our communities. In the end, with all the data in place, it continues to be personal connections that matter.

Jennifer Barnett, Director of Education & Community Partnerships
Knoxville Symphony Orchestra

Wednesday’s session followed the main theme of 2013 Conference: Imagining 2023. Education & Community Engagement constituents were led by Garry Golden in a discussion of what our programs might look like in 10 years. Futurists examine trends, events and choices to help us see the plausible future and the possible future and in every Education & Community leader’s dream world the preferred future. The group examined the food trend with emphasis emerging on local food sources. Will emphasis on local arts groups follow? In small groups we pursued specific topics, with my group focusing on whether EDCE programs are central to our mission or irrelevant. We determined that programs must have a personal connection with those served and to focus on programs unique to the symphony. An interesting take-away from the group that discussed Arts Education Utopia vs. Dystopia was an amazing idea that in an Arts Utopia, Spotify would suggest classical repertoire to listeners based on the popular genres that they choose – plausible future? Our suggested follow-up activity was to describe our vision for the future of education and community engagement in six words (or less). What will be the future of your orchestra’s education and community engagement programs?

Building on Wednesday’s imagining of the future, Thursday’s discussion centered around the immediate future with a focus on Common Core. At the beginning of the session one feeling of the group was that of: “something new to learn,” and “this educational trend will last three years and then will shift again,” so… “Should my orchestra buy-in to this trend or continue with the programming that we have in place?” After excellent examples from Terry Wolkowicz at the New Bedford Symphony and Ben Cadwallader at the L.A. Phil the group determined that common core fits with programs that are already in existence, but that we must work to change our vocabulary to be able to communicate with stakeholders (teachers, principals, school administrators, funders, etc.). If you are looking for some fabulous Young People’s Concert ideas, check out the New Bedford Symphony’s concert on Symmetry allowing students to join the “Symmetry Detection Agency” as they find examples of symmetry in their own lives in art, geography and nature. The concert will feature video interviews with student “agents in the field” as they look for this symmetry; very creative adaptation of concepts in Monsters Inc. We discussed a goal of common core as the transfer of skills, how this could be measured and whether this transference of skills is a goal of our programs. During in-depth examination of Young People’s Concerts the group determined that the experience of the concert fits with common core as music can be considered a textual source. Orchestras can also look for interactive ways for students to demonstrate understanding within the context of a concert.

Kelly Dylla
, Vice President of Education and Community Engagement
Seattle Symphony

Who gets to teach? Garry Golden, professional futurist, asked this and other provocative questions in a session with the EDCE cohort to explore symphonic education in 2013. Golden shared a broad spectrum of the many ways people create their own learning pathways, and challenged us to think about how we might adapt to individuals’ preferences in learning experiences. Adaptive learning trends include: 

  • Real-time modifications for individual learning through software-guided instruction (gaming)
  • MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses)
  • Community or celebrity instructors
  • API and the continuity of arts experience

The “era of the learner” as opposed to the “era of institution-led learning,” is about intrinsic motivation, which is usually a key driver for true learning and individual growth. This trend of individual pathways to learning is in perfect alignment with best practices in arts education. Arts educators know that arts experiences designed to provoke individual insight naturally encourage intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, arts learning that is adaptive to the individual learner and focused on creative exploration develops skills far-beyond a music skill set, including the ability to develop multiple solutions to a problem, empathy, as well as communication and collaborative skills – skills essential for the twenty-first century workforce.

Perhaps the most provocative idea of the session was that everyone has the right to teach. From YouTube to Skillshare and late-night jam sessions, amateurs can share their knowledge, to the great benefit of an individual picking up a violin or guitar for the first time. This approach has been proven in models such as El Sistema, where community-led learning and mentorship can be as powerful as studying with a master-teacher. In Golden’s world view, everyone is invited to the learning party – it doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you show up. Stay tuned for more on this topic in Seattle at the 2014 League Conference – going beyond education to more broadly explore how orchestras as a whole can address the “era of the learner.”

Amanda Wuerstlin, Director of Education and Community Engagement
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra

This was my third orchestra conference experience and also the most valuable of the ones I have attended. I attribute this mainly to the Constituency sessions where we were really able to talk to our colleagues to share our ideas and challenges with each other. I truly enjoyed my final session on Thursday  Health and Wellness Programs and I plan to bring their ideas to the LPO. The presenters all stayed on the topic at hand and were able to hone in on the key components of the project, where I felt other presenters strayed in their excitement to share their programs because we are all so passionate about what we do. :) It was also great to chat with Pam Blaine from Pacific Symphony and Aimee Halbruner from Richmond Symphony as we're trying to do a community Side-by-Side next year. Mark Kent from ASO and Ben Cadwallader from LA Phil were also helpful in ideas for the high school audience. The connections at the Constituency meetings will help me throughout next season. Thanks for all that you do!

Conference Materials
Please visit the
League's Conference 2013 webpage to find links to presentations, including those from EDCE constituency sessions, plus speaker bios and video of keynotes and selected Toolbox and Perspective sessions.

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