Orchestras tell their story: Why are we relevant for our community?

The Orchestra Story Bank is a resource created by North American orchestras and the League to show the many ways in which orchestras serve communities, providing the first-hand perspective of musicians, families, and care-takers.


Through the power of music, collaboration, and collective action, orchestras serve the public in many ways. Just as the needs of one community differ greatly from those of another, each orchestra develops programs, partnerships, and performances that provide unique value to their community.

Take a look at the examples on the Story Bank and start telling your own orchestras’ stories. There are dozens!

Outstanding Season brochure from Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra!

If there were a prize for innovation of season brochures, you would have to award it the Bavarian Radio Orchestra in Munich!

Season brochure BR SO 2014/15

Season brochure BR SO 2014/15

Each orchestra will wonder why it has not come even earlier at it: The BRbrochure is therefore outside inconspicuously, but has it all. Once in hand, one does not put it away again. At 130 pages, the reader learns not only the program of the next season, but among other things, which physical stress conductors and musicians are exposed in a concert, what alternative career the musicians might have chosen, from which cities, countries and continents they come, when they chose their present instrument, etc.

All this is presented in impressive infographics, where one delves enjoyable. More impressive the inner workings of an orchestra have not been explained yet. A graph is worth a thousand words.


Download the brochure here!

Worldwide unique: The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra

There are many classic music festival around the globe. And there are many festival orchestras perfoming worldwide. But there is only one Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. And this one is unique: Since its first appearance in 1876 the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra is recruited out of a selection of superb orchestra musicians from Germany, other international well known orchestras and a couple of music conservatoire professors. Orchestra directors are (s)elected musicians themselves, for everey section: strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion. They decide whom to invite for the next season. This is a matter of a continuing high standing quality and an outstanding audience experience.

Bayreuth Festspielhaus

. Bayreuth Festspielhaus

Some 200 musicians started rehearsing  in the Bayreuth Festival premises in late June. The know “their” Wagner scores for years and sometimes by heart. They love to perform this music in the very special, stair like (and from the auditorium side invisible) orchestra pit. This pit construction is a guarantee for an unique acoustics. The musicans are soundkeepers of a German Wagner sound, especially when Christian Thielemann is conducting. This is a part of German orchestra tradition and an unique orchestra sound. Traditionally, on July 25 the first night of the festival will be open for a prominent audience which will walk on the red carpet in front of the “Festspielhaus”. And listen to an unique orchestra.

First love – Key moments through music

The notion of ‘key moments’ is a psychological concept describing life-changing experiences. It’s interesting to explore how this concept can shed light on musicians’ career choice, but also how it can be applied in therapeutic contexts, e.g. through the conscious reflection on both positive and negative ‘key moments’.

Talking about early experiences and psychological ‘fit’ one can highlight the importance of key moments as a mental resource for musicians. Positive recall can be used to overcome professional problems such as stage fright. Accounts of professional musicians show that key moments can be quite varied: some remember a specific instant of experiencing a particular instrument, for others it was a social encounter with a teacher; for some, their key moment happened early on, others came to music rather late, and not in all cases were key moments necessarily pleasant (though positive feelings clearly prevail).

There may be diverse psychological aspects of living by and for music. Emotional structures will be reflected, for good or bad, in the way a musician plays an instrument or gains access to a particular piece. At the same time, it is this emotional investment that often outweighs feelings of alienation common to many other occupations. Yet musicians also recount a different sort of key moment, of the small or everyday variety. Rather than life-changing, these moments are experienced as life-affirming and contributing to a sense of sustainable well-being: small moments of a passage well played or intense collaboration with a colleague while rehearsing a new piece.

Where does it come from, the ‘fit’ between musician and instrument? In highly musical families, the encounter is often taken for granted, personal decision and parental influence tending to blur. Two other moments that are often life-changing are either the encounter with a teacher or the experience of the musical collective – be this a youth orchestra or a visit to a concert.

The more key moments orchestras can offer esp. to young audiences, the better.

Done with learning? No opportunities for further training in orchestras?

The idea of learning a life long is common in many professions, yet curiously absent from the job experience of most orchestra musicians. It is in fact something of a taboo topic, seen to indicate professional deficits rather than potential for improvement or a preventive (medical) measure. Only a handful of music academies have even begun to address the issue. Musicians themselves give a whole range of responses on the subject: some have already had very positive experiences, others would reject institutionalised further training, pointing out that participation in chamber orchestras often is an effective substitute. The central question seems to be on of communication: how to criticise perceived shortcomings of colleagues’ performances in a constructive manner?

Musicians want to learn more - not only for outreach and education work

Positive feedback comes from some orchestras, after special workshops with specialists for baroque music or for respiration and brass instruments: not only do musicians find their technical abilities improved, the workshop also has a beneficial effect on group dynamics and communication. Trainers point out that playing techniques are acquired during the body’s prime years, yet these techniques may no longer be adequate later on as physical capacities decline with age. It is here that further training can make a significant difference to improve play and prevent occupational illnesses. Further training also offers some benefits from a management perspective: as a preventive medical measure it is usually cheaper than remedial action or losses due to sick leave; but, seen as an indication of goodwill, it can also improve mutual trust between management and musicians. Even so, opportunities for further training remain limited at the moment. Most institutions that offer further training do not focus on artistic development, but on subjects such as outreach work or communication.

An exception in Germany is the Baden-Württembergische Ensemble Akademie Freiburg (BWAEF), offering master classes in early and new music, instrumental training, technique and music theory.

Conclusion: Orchestra musicians need more opportunities for additional and specialist training on the job to keep up and improve their artistic excellence for a long life in the profession. Orchestra management should discuss this issue in the orchestra in an active role.