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Soundings: Towards a Better Future for Canada’s Orchestral Community

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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The Phase 1 Report of Orchestras Canada’s “Soundings” project summarizes qualitative interviews conducted mainly with musicians, staff, board members and Music or Artistic Directors from 11 orchestras regarding the state of and future prospects for Canada’s orchestras. The results of this interview process show that “there are fundamental issues that are common to many orchestras and which are contributing to the current challenges and volatility in the industry”. The report highlights four “inextricably linked” core issues: governance, artistic development, community relationships and capitalization.

Some issues of common concern include lack of knowledge about audiences, especially “whether to – and how to – reach out to diverse audiences” and how to “compete for audiences who are so visually oriented”. Other common issues include board recruitment, expectations and training as well as the role of musicians in governance. Similar to administrators in other areas of the cultural sector, orchestral managers feel overworked and unable to find the appropriate time for planning and board management. Although common issues are identified, the report stresses that many orchestras have different strengths and weaknesses. Some orchestras are in a traumatic situation, while others are achieving success and innovation. Some boards function well; others do not. It is clear from the report that Canadian orchestras are facing a range of difficult issues. No solutions are proposed, but much hope is placed in the second and subsequent phases of this project to address many of the issues raised.

Phase 2 of the “Soundings” process has already taken place, in the form of discussions at the June conference of Orchestras Canada. The Phase 2 summary document provides brief bulleted highlights of conference participants’ views and suggestions, including, for example, components of good governance, keys to success followed by several orchestras, as well as research, information and planning resources needed by orchestras across the country. The areas of core concern shifted somewhat between Phase 1 and Phase 2, with the conference summary document highlighting issues related to governance, leadership, human resources, connecting with community and money.

Of note: The Orchestras Canada website provides a link to a speech by John Hobday, Canada Council Director, that gives his perspective on some issues touched on in the Soundings report. Other resources available from Orchestras Canada’s recent conference include the notes from a speech by Jocelyn Harvey, coordinator of the Canadian Conference of the Art’s Creative Management in the Arts and Heritage initiative.

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