The Pursuit of World-Class Management Skills

When I started working full-time in Orchestra Operations at the Pittsburgh Symphony, I was an oboist fresh out of music school whom had worked a few basic office jobs.  I dreamed about being an orchestral oboist for much of my life, so it was thrilling to be part of a living, breathing orchestra.  My new office was at the concert hall where the orchestra performed and I was surrounded by music: Mahler, Debussy, Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms.  It seemed I had found the next best career option for a young musician.  

The pace of a concert season is quick and ambitious: new programs every week rehearsed in one, two or three days.  As Operations Coordinator, I learned how to identify production needs of each program, discuss solutions with staff or musicians and communicate confirmed details to the stage crew.  It had been a long time since I started learning something new but weekly repetition of the concert production process helped me to improve quickly. A year’s worth of weekly concerts gave me confidence in day to day work and I was promoted to Operations Manager.  

After the promotion, it wasn’t long before I began struggling with the nuances of being a manager: communication was expected to be accurate and appropriate, solutions to problems were to be anticipated well in advance, creativity was necessary in making on the spot decisions.  I said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person in the wrong way.  I held the line in situations that needed flexibility and did not deal with new conflicts effortlessly.  Failure is humbling, especially in an environment that demands world-class excellence.  I wanted to quit but instead decided to combat the overwhelming stress with a few simple rules: don’t make the same mistake twice, ask lots of questions and listen to the answers.  

Month by month, I started to build a broader knowledge base and was thankful for the grace I was given by my colleagues.  I started to envision a new and ambitious goal: to become a world-class manager, inspired by the world-class musicians around me.  The standard that musicians hold for themselves is very high.  Their job requires them each to perform at the highest level every day.  Perfection in artistry is accomplished over decades of commitment and maintained through rigorous practice. I was decades behind them in expertise but I became devoted to an accelerated and meaningful training in Orchestra Operations.

I am proud to say I have progressed in many ways as a manager and leader over the last several years through my pursuit of excellence.  There are days where the road to my goal seems longer than before, but those few simple rules keep me teachable and devoted.  If you are a well accomplished musician considering a position in orchestra management, remember to approach the new skills required to be an effective manager with the same commitment and inspiration you do with your musical studies.  Orchestras need managers that are excellent leaders pursuing perfection in the artistry of management.  I can assure you the rewards of working for an orchestra are many and supporting music making is honorable.  Together we can ensure the music making continues for generations to come.