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Behind the Music: Orchestra Members Intern at Arts Organizations


William & Mary Symphony Orchestra in PerformanceSure, they can play in an orchestra, but do they know what it takes to run an orchestra? Last summer, four members of the William & Mary Symphony Orchestra (WMSO) ventured behind the music making as interns of performing arts organizations.

The musicians and their respective positions were:  Cayla Neidlinger ’10 (cello), artistic administration & company management intern at the Castleton Festival, Va.; Evan Barrow ’12 (piano and percussion), education intern with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra; Matthew Reese ’13 (cello), development intern with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore; and Lauren Hill ’12 (bassoon), general administrative intern with the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras (AYPO). 

Neidlinger’s responsibilities at the Castleton Festival, which is directed by Lorin Maazel, former music director of the New York Philharmonic, and provides operatic and orchestral training for conservatory graduates, ranged from creating welcome packets for musicians and program inserts for performances to providing customer service at the box office and making travel and accommodation arrangements for guest artists and welcoming them upon arrival.

As the education intern for the Virginia Symphony, Barrow created lists of contact information for private schools and home school groups in the Hampton Roads area and assisted in brainstorming for pre-concert events at their children’s concert series.  He also proofread written materials aimed at school children, since the education coordinator wanted to make sure a "younger pair of eyes" considered the tone age-appropriate. Perhaps the most unusual task assigned to him, however, was composing the background for a rap that taught children how to behave during an orchestral concert. 

“I certainly didn't expect to do that, so it was lucky that I've got the beginnings of a composer's background,” Barrow said.

Reese worked at the Strathmore Hall in Maryland under the Baltimore Symphony’s donor relations manager, as well as the their community liaison for the Washington, D.C. area.  His responsibilities fluctuated along with the symphony’s activities. During the week, he would help research and contact potential as well as current donors, while on concert nights, he would work in Strathmore’s donor lounge, where his main duty was to make guests feel welcome by chatting with them about the music, the concert hall, and their experience there.  As the summer progressed, his responsibilities increased to a point where he was filling in for his boss as the point man for the final donor event of the season, which was a Tchaikovsky concert and meet-and-greet with the young soloists.

Hill interned with AYPO, a youth orchestra organization in Northern Virginia that serves over 400 students. Her duties included assisting with the audition process, marketing, and organizing finances for the executive director, plus quite a bit of writing and some graphic design, mostly for the brochures and concert programs of their upcoming season.

The motivation to work in arts administration arose for each intern in different ways.  Hill had been contemplating a career in the music business for quite some time, and worked at a small restaurant and music venue in Vienna, Va, last winter. Exploring the non-profit sector seemed like the natural next step in the process, especially an organization that she knew well.

“I played in AYPO in high school, so I jumped at the opportunity to participate in their internship program,” she said.

Reese’s motivation was simply to be more involved in the arts, and especially in the Washington area.

“I’ve always been intrigued by production, and what goes on behind the scenes in a major institution like [the Baltimore Symphony], and it’s remarkable how large of an administrative support system an orchestra needs,” said Reese. “I felt an understanding of the business behind it was equally important as the music on stage.”

Barrow became interested in the administrative side of the arts after realizing that he did not want to make a career out of performing but wanted to stay involved in the field.  In his VSO internship, he sought to combine his two vocational interests.

“Being a Music/Business double major, I figured this was a good place to start,” Barrow said. 

Neidlinger, who graduated from William & Mary in December of 2009, is now enrolled in a masters program for arts management at George Mason University.  Her interest in the field was ignited when her cello teacher at William & Mary, Neal Cary, told her about one of his former students who went into arts administration.

“I explored it and found that it matched my goal - to work in the music field and with musicians, but to be on the administrative side doing the organization and planning,” she said.

All agree that being orchestral musicians themselves was absolutely critical to their success on the job.  Hill credits her excelling to her knowledge of orchestral music.

“Even the smallest tasks had something to do with music,” she said. “At one point I completed an inventory of the entire music library, and simply knowing the orchestral score order helped the job move along more smoothly.”

Neidlinger also said her background in music helped especially while working the phone line at the box office where patrons often asked artistic questions about performances. She also found herself more empathetic to the orchestra musicians at the Castleton Festival, whom she sometimes felt received less recognition than the opera singers.

Reese found his love for music to be a critical force in relating to donors, administrators and musicians.

“Most donors attend concerts because they genuinely enjoy the music, and because they played or sang once themselves,” Reese said. “People are excited to talk about what they’re listening to, especially with students our age.”

Barrow was pleasantly surprised at how much his experience with WMSO helped the education coordinator and him communicate on the same page, “right from day one.” He is now convinced that the all-student board of the WMSO, of which he is currently a member, is effective because it consists of orchestra members who are intimately familiar with the inner workings of the ensemble and know what the other members need.

Of course, surprises did not end here—no business is exactly what you thought it was before you jumped into it.

Hill cites the sheer amount of work required to support a non-profit organization.

“When there are only four people working in an office, there is an immense amount of work per person,” Hill said. “I was essentially an employee myself, with independent and important tasks to complete. There are always grants to write, donors to thank, information to file, parents with questions to answer. [The] audition season was just as stressful for our office as it was for our students!”

Neidlinger noticed that interpersonal relationships played a major role in an arts organization. A good number of the artists had returned from the previous summer; many of the donors were also housing volunteers; and the two permanent administrative staff members personally knew all of the donors.  Most of all, the festival shared a unified emotional pulse, one that was quite sensitive.

“I was surprised how the attitude of the artistic director [was] reflected in the organization as a whole, from musicians [to] the administration,” she said.  “When he was happy, everyone else was happy.  When he was not pleased, neither was anyone else.”

Reese also found the administration team supporting a major symphony orchestra to be surprisingly intimate. Even the highest-level administrators could be at times found performing hands-on tasks, and the network of major donors was quite small.

“[Even] though the BSO’s donor base continues to grow, the symphony, and every other art institution in Baltimore, garners most of its support from the same handful of wealthy patrons.”

The interns all admit to having better appreciation for the sheer amount of work that goes into an arts organization.

“I certainly have a better knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in an orchestra, which heightens my respect for all the staff members involved,” said Hill.

Reese, while unsure whether he will pursue the artistic or the administrative side of music, feels “much more eager to be involved myself as a marketing or publicity tool, knowing now how indispensable that is.”

Summer internships are a great way to try out potential career paths, and it was no different for these four. The summer at Castleton confirmed Neidlinger’s desire to seek permanent employment in either the artistic administration or operation department of a professional orchestra, while Hill, empowered by her experiences at AYPO, is now looking into the non-profit sector of the music business, in addition to commercial.

“Because of the [small] size of the office, I was given an independence to work freely and how I chose,” said Hill. “Not only was I able to input my own creative ideas in the workplace, I was also embraced as a full-time employee whose ideas and work really mattered. At the end of the summer, I felt as though I had truly made an impact on the organization in a positive way.”

Reese, while still considering a career in performance and specifically in conducting, now knows that understanding the economics of an institution is essential in a conductor. He has found a new role model in Marin Alsop, whom he credits to having successfully merged art and business in her role as the music director of the BSO.

Barrow plans to apply for more orchestral internships next summer, this time on a national level.

“It might be a long shot, but it's better than not taking the shot at all,” he said.

Who says the arts are in trouble? With these four bright stars, the future looks promising.