Summer 2014

League of American Orchestras - Education

August 20, 2014

This edition of the Update Newsletter brings you reflections and recaps on League Conference 2014 EDCE sessions (click here for the complete constituency agenda with descriptions). Writers in this issue are:

The League Conference: aka Orchestra Olympics
by Kelly Dylla, Vice President of Education and Community Engagement
Seattle Symphony

So… what is it really like to host the League of American Orchestra’s Annual Conference?  Here are some answers from Seattle Symphony staff:

“It felt like a baby Olympics: you’re doing something that other cities have already done, and you want it to be unique and memorable.  Also, helping to plan the sessions was really enlightening, as we were able to grapple with the topics and issues that are important to the industry as a whole.” – Kristen NyQuist, Primary League Conference Liaison, Executive Assistant and Board Relations Manager

“I especially enjoyed welcoming people to Soundbridge, our learning center at Benaroya Hall.  It was fun to watch seasoned arts administrators giggle as they tried the trombone and clarinet.” – Thomasina Schmitt, Community Partnerships Manager

“The League conference was an incredible culmination of energy that had been building over the entire season. The conference seminars created a reason for the EDCE Community to work together remotely to collaboratively design a presentation, which then made meeting in person with new and old colleagues a much richer experience.” – Laura Reynolds, Family Programs Manager

In short, hosting the League’s national conference was truly a memorable experience that continues to enrich our work here at the Seattle Symphony.  Thank you to everyone who attended, and to those who missed this year, see you in Cleveland!

Pictured above: EDCE folks trying out instruments at Soundbridge; Visiting Pike Place market between sessions

Learning to Think 360
by Danielle Rossbach, Community Engagement Manager
The Florida Orchestra

As a new community engagement and education manager, I found the League Conference to be especially valuable. Throughout constituency meetings, conference sessions, and conversations with others, the idea of a broader, 360-degree approach to community engagement, education, and even music in general, challenged my somewhat narrow vision of our orchestra’s role in society. In Wednesday’s EDCE meeting, “The Changing Role of Education and Community Engagement,” Aimee Halbruner, Mark Kent and Doug Borwick discussed community engagement as a mutually beneficial relationship -- something that’s done with rather than for the community. This necessitates a thorough assessment and true understanding of the community’s needs, which are enhanced by a personal, non-musical investment in the community. My eyes were opened, thanks to Sarah Johnson in our EDCE half-day meeting on Tuesday, to the importance of meaningful inquiry and assessing impact not just on participants, but also the staff, artists, facilities, and systems involved in our programs.

I was inspired throughout the conference to think about things like empowering the whole musician (in “A New Generation of Musicians”) as well as engaging people through an arc of experiences across their lifetimes, rather than specific events. An orchestra is not just about its musicians being excerpt machines or kids hearing a short instrument demonstration or youth concert. While these are both valuable, neither fully unlocks the amazing potential of music to transform lives.

We have the distinct responsibility and privilege of serving our communities in a long-term mission – one that begins with a comprehensive view of both our musicians and the people we serve. I am grateful to have learned this at the League Conference and through subsequent explorations of all the resources the League has to offer.

Not the 'Same Old, Same Old'
by Leni Boorstin, Director of Community and Government Affairs
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Participating in the Education & Community Engagement Committee meetings at this year’s League Conference was a breath of fresh air. It is always, always wonderful to see friends and colleagues. But what a pleasant surprise this year to experience how far we’ve come as a cohort and as a field. I first came to meetings more than a quarter century ago. This year, I heard far fewer discouraged expressions of education and community engagement as the step-child of an orchestra’s mission, activity and attention. No more sessions on the frustrations of working with artistic or marketing or other senior staff. By position, title and action, progress could be noted about the recognition of the key role education and community engagement plays within most all orchestras in service to their communities. Sure, there is concern about finances and funding, but the tone was different. With ‘growing up’ comes more visibility, responsibility and accountability. Are we measuring impact? And, are we effectively part of our orchestra’s storytelling? As for the conference itself: the creative ways that we held our meetings was so much more….engaging. Panels of experts? Sure. But we all worked assiduously to avoid ‘show and tell’ when it made sense, and instead, structured our time together to tease out issues and constructive responses to them. Paper was up at the front for notes, and yes, there were some power point-type presentations, but much time focused on our talking to one another at tables, and offering our collective best thinking as part of reporting out. Our sessions and conversations felt as though they were integral to the healthy forward movement of our field. Hats off to us!

Digging Into Assessment and Evaluation
by Jon Weber, Director of Learning Programs for the Negaunee Music Institute
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Perhaps surprising to some, I have grown to enjoy rigorous program evaluation and consider it essential to stewarding our orchestras' educational and community assets – not to mention our precious time and human resources. I was pleased to be a part of a presentation on June 5 with Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf and Alan Brown, Principals from WolfBrown, which focused on the development and implementation of inquiry based program assessments to understand the successes and opportunities to strengthen the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Family Matinee concerts serving children ages 5–11. The research at the CSO's Negaunee Music Institute includes analysis of patrons’ cycle of engagement with the concert programs (before, during, after); artistic, social, and emotional impacts of the concert based on Alan Brown’s Intrinsic Impact research; and the development of loyalty across different series. The specific tools, data, and findings may be interesting to many EDCE staff members and I would encourage everyone to review the session’s PowerPoint. A brief description of the process is below. 

Form questions. The CSO’s team articulated several questions to guide their investigation, including:

  • What draws patrons to these concerts?
  • How, when, and where do families engage with the concerts?
  • What are the most impactful elements of the concerts?
  • What leads to long-term engagement?

Collect data: The CSO and WolfBrown used several methods to build a multi-dimensional understanding of the program, including focus groups which informed the development of a survey (electronic and hard copy) and analysis of patrons’ ticket purchasing data to investigate long-term loyalty.

Analyze results: Sometakeaways were immediately clear; others required assistance interrogating the data to identify. WolfBrown provided excellent support and resources—in particular the Intrinsic Impact dashboard—but the CSO’s staff have also developed significant skill throughout the experience.

Implement changes: CSO staff are acting promptly to implement changes and plan additional research for the 2014/15 season. We hope to transfer the tools and process to other CSO programs. The extent to which this will impact artistic planning, selection of repertoire and guest artists for the Family Matinee concerts will become clearer over time, but this is absolutely on the table. Finally, the CSO team is already in a much stronger position to make informed decisions about program changes and engage in rich conversations with internal and external constituents about the program’s unique value.

A collaborative process: This process, from beginning to end, has involved a cross-organizational team with diverse perspectives and skill sets. In particular, the CSO has energized marketing colleagues as critical friends.

I encourage others to consider how this process can offer insight into your own programs.  A commitment of time and energy is essential, but there are significant implications for program and staff growth based on a deep understanding of audience needs and impact. For more information, please feel free to contact me by email!

What Happens After Family Concerts End
by Dennie Palmer Wolf, Principal

In June, at the League conference in Seattle, there was a palpable feel of orchestras listening — to their audiences, and to their not-yet audiences spread throughout their communities. To walk through the halls to hear Claire Chase or Alan Brown, or just to eavesdrop in the coffee line was to be aware of a sea change in orchestra thinking — a growing curiosity about the way music works beyond the concert hall. I was in sessions about music and health care, re-thinking family concerts, sustaining the work with El Sistemà orchestras. But a colleague, Jon Weber, of the Chicago Symphony, who has been thinking about the life-long pathways for audiences, pointed out a surprising gap:  the empty space between the end of youth concerts and the start of adult engagement, education, and concert going. He made me think about this scenario: Imagine a young girl who has grown up going to hear an orchestra, with her family or through school, and who is becoming a person who loves listening to live music. Imagine she doesn’t play an instrument, or not seriously. Suddenly around age 12 her trips to the performance hall end. There are no concerts designed to pique her interest, teach her how to listen, introduce her to contemporary classical music, or let her continue to enjoy music with the father or grandmother who took her to the hall on Saturdays from the time she was five. 

I have been thinking about Jon’s observation since June. Early adolescence is the moment when young people decide how to spend their own free time and where they will invest their attention. It is a time when they re-work relations to parents and grandparents, uncles, and family friends, deciding which family values will be a part of who they are. These are the years when they grow up to be adults, parents, teachers, or voters who make a place for music in their lives and communities or not. So what better moment to make live classical music a part of what they enjoy? Why not think about hosting and presenting events that make this possible?

Imagine a next conference with an entire session on ways to engage 12 to 21 year-olds!

hank you, Polly!
by Jamie Allen, Director of Education
Dallas Symphony Orchestra

When I first started working as the Education Director for the Dallas Symphony, I was new to orchestra administration.  My background had largely been in the artistic and academic realms, so there was a learning curve my first few years.  But I will never forget a phone call I received within my first week on the job that helped me feel both excited about and ready for the challenges ahead.  It was from Polly Kahn, vice president for Learning and Leadership Development for the League.  I admit, I was a little intimidated by the title, but she quickly made me feel at ease, and warmly welcomed me into the fold.  She also mentioned that I would soon come to find that my colleagues around the country were some of the most caring, creative, and intelligent people I would ever meet, a prophecy that indeed proved to be true.

As time passed, and my involvement with the League increased, I came to realize that Polly was more than just a nice person in an office in New York. As I grew to know both her and my colleagues in the field better, I discovered that she had planted an important seed in that field. A seed that is nowbearing tremendous fruit. With her background at Lincoln Center, the 92nd Street Y, and the New York Philharmonic, she knew firsthand the importance of building an orchestra’s level of value and engagement in its community, and she knew how to do it. From her position at the League, she took that knowledge and lovingly passed it on; encouraging, mentoring, and nurturing wherever she could. She also developed data, incentives, and resources for all of us to do the same.

At the conference in Seattle, Polly officially stepped down from her role at the League, moving on to the next chapter of her life. In honor of this moment of transition, a number of us Education & Community Engagement folk enjoyed a celebratory dinner with her. As I looked around the table at that dinner, I was moved by the sheer amount of motivation, resourcefulness and innovation I saw. And it’s no exaggeration, whether we know it or not, to say that we all find ourselves at the vanguard of our field, doing the important work we do, largely due to the groundwork Polly has laid and the support she has given. Over the years, she opened so many doors and shed light on so many areas of opportunity for our field that the field is forever transformed.

I, for one, am incredibly grateful for the transformation, and look forward to the future. So wherever you are, I hope you’ll join me in a resounding “Thank You, Polly!"

Conference Materials

Please visit the League's Conference 2014 webpage to find links to videos, session highlights, and selected resources. If you have questions or suggestions for next year's EDCE Conference sessions, or would like to learn more about the constituency, feel welcome to reach out to any of your colleagues on the Leadership Committee or contact your constituent liaisons.

Hope to see you next year!

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