Orchestral music has been an essential part of our cultural heritage for centuries. However, behind the scenes, the successful production of a symphony orchestra requires a talented orchestra manager who can juggle many complex tasks. In this look at orchestral management, we will explore the various roles and responsibilities of an orchestra manager and the skills required to excel in this critical position in arts management.
We will also delve into the challenges that orchestra managers face and how they overcome them to ensure that the orchestra performs at its best. Whether you’re considering arts administration as a potential career path or simply interested in the workings of an orchestra, this guide will provide a comprehensive overview of the role of orchestral managers.
From 2006 to 2014 the League of American Orchestras reported that 11% of expenses were dedicated to orchestra administrators’ pay and benefits, a significant portion of the budget! Even in the most turbulent times though, Orchestral management is integral to the operations of the orchestra. But what does an orchestra manager do?
What does an Orchestra Manager do?
Orchestra managers (OMs), Operations Managers, or Personnel Managers are responsible for overseeing the operations of an orchestra, ensuring that all aspects of the organisation run smoothly. This job can include tasks such as coordinating rehearsals and performances, managing budgets, and other duties as they arise. They provide an extremely valuable service to the orchestra.
The coordination of the rehearsals and performances can involve scheduling rehearsals, securing venues for performances, and managing logistics such as instrument transportation and set-up alongside production teams.
Specific roles within orchestra management, such as the Youth Orchestra Manager, Orchestra Personnel Coordinator, and Operations & Personnel Manager for Orchestral Studies, may focus on specific areas of responsibility within an organisation. Regardless of the specific role, however, the orchestra operations still plays a vital role in ensuring the success of an orchestra.
Other close roles
At times, the orchestra manager will have an assistant personnel manager but they also work closely with the conductor and other musical staff to ensure that the symphony orchestras is performing at its best.
They will work with the Community Outreach and Education roles to ensure musicians are available as part of their individual schedule, to assist with outreach work.
They may even help teams like marketing to get content from concerts or handoff the season plans for campaigns at launch time.
The position requires excellent organisational, management and communication skills, as well as the ability to multitask, handle high-pressure situations and have a breadth of people skills.
It is a complex job that has specialized management needs and not everyone can do it. Typically these types of specialized management roles see higher turnover than other organisations in the nonprofit world.
Orchestral finances and the Orchestra Manager
Another important aspect of the orchestra manager’s job is managing budgets. This can include creating and managing budgets for individual performances, as well as managing the impact personnel choices on the budget. The manager may also work with the orchestra’s Artistic Director to put together season budgets for approval by the board of directors.
An Operations Manager must balance the selection of casual musicians across experience, ability to play auxiliary instruments, and skills which all have a financial impact.
Scheduling rehearsals and performances is a complex process that involves coordinating the schedules of many people, including the conductor, musicians, solo guest artists and guest groups. Orchestra managers must work closely with the conductor to ensure that the rehearsals and performances are scheduled in a way that meets the needs of everyone involved. They must also work with the musicians, union and players committees to ensure that they have enough time to prepare for the performances and that the requirements are in line with specific employment conditions that have been negotiated.
To manage the scheduling of rehearsals and performances, orchestra managers must be proficient in the use of scheduling software and be able to apply intelligent thinking. They must be able to create and maintain schedules that are easy to read and understand, be able to communicate the schedules effectively to everyone involved and in some cases manage the fair utilisation of players through call counts.
One of the biggest challenges that orchestra managers face when managing the scheduling of rehearsals and performances is the need to balance the needs of the musicians with the needs of the other arts organisation. Most orchestras have employment rules about when call times and arrangements can be changed, and how much notice must be given. Orchestra managers must work closely with the musicians to manage their leave requirements and the impact they will have on the roster.
In addition to managing the scheduling of rehearsals and performances, orchestra managers must also manage the personnel issues that arise in a professional orchestra. This includes recruiting new musicians through auditions, managing contracts and negotiations alongside HR, and handling grievances and disputes. Orchestra managers must be skilled in conflict resolution and must be able to work effectively with a wide range of personalities.
Recruiting new musicians is a particularly important task for orchestra managers. They must also be able to manage the audition process, negotiate contracts and onboard new musicians alongside HR.
How Symphona helps orchestra management
Symphona is designed to make orchestral management quicker, to give orchestral management more time to focus on things that software can’t do like building relationships. For musicians, Symphona provides a single portal to view the information you want, simply.
Communicating with tenured musicians
From speeding up communication by giving musicians personalised schedules based on how they have been rostered, to acting as a single point of truth when the plan is changing; Symphona saves masses of time.
Saving time with casuals
Symphona allows personnel managers to roster on casuals and automatically send a project offer to gauge their availability and willingness to work with the orchestra. Musicians can respond in app, saving management the hassle of utilising multiple contact points just to have to move onto the next candidate.
Delegation of responsibility
The role of orchestra management is a big one, and there are times where tasks could be completed by other staff that aren’t due to the complexity of administering the result. This is particularly relevant in the rostering of artistically aligned casuals. Often, Principal musicians have a voice when it comes to casual selection and in Symphona, they can be given authority to put a first round of casual selections into the roster saving the back and forth to select candidates to approach.
The role of an orchestra manager is integral to the success of an orchestra. Orchestra managers, operations managers or personnel managers have a wide range of responsibilities, including coordinating rehearsals and performances, managing budgets, personnel management, recruitment of new musicians, and more.
They work closely with the conductor, musical staff, and community outreach and education teams to ensure that the orchestra is performing at its best. The position requires excellent organisational, management and communication skills, as well as the ability to multitask, handle high-pressure situations and have a breadth of people skills.
One of the biggest challenges that orchestra managers face when managing the scheduling of rehearsals and performances is the need to balance the needs of the musicians with the needs of the organisation.
Software solutions such as Symphona can make orchestral management quicker and give orchestral management more time to focus on building relationships, instead of spending time on administration.
Despite the high level of responsibility, the orchestra manager’s job is a fulfilling one, providing an essential service to the orchestra and contributing to the preservation of our cultural heritage.