The founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was also responsible for the establishment of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a novel idea in 1885 when it happened. Civic leader Henry Lee Higginson knew that the audience for classical symphony music was limited, so he envisioned a way to expand the orchestra’s reach through offering “light” classics and popular music in the off-season. But his real motivation was to extend the work of the musicians to be year-round, possibly attracting higher caliber performers who welcomed the full-time employment.

In addition to his innovative approach to talent management, Higginson also understood the importance of the environment in which music was played. He oversaw the design of Symphony Hall so that during the Symphony season, the theatre is fitted with straight back chairs in traditional aisles. A specially-crafted elevator is hidden within the floor so that when Pops season begins, the Symphony chairs are stored away underneath and the hall is transformed with cabaret tables and loose chairs around them, allowing for an informal ambiance akin to the lighter music.

Instead of making the Pops Orchestra a lesser version of the Symphony, Higginson had the foresight and vision to create it as an entirely new experience. From the repertoire, to the attire, to the appearance of the hall and other venues where they play, the Pops has achieved acclaim in its own right and doesn’t live in the shadow of the classical orchestra.

Think of whether there are lessons you can adapt to your organization from the symbiotic relationship between the Symphony and the Pops. Can you partner with an entity to design a space to meet both of your needs rather than building or renting two? Is there a way to increase your talent pool by sharing roles for part-time positions so that they become full-time contributors? Have you thought about the look and feel of space that you use for your programs and whether it is aligned with the content and outcomes you desire?

The Pops Orchestra may not have experienced its wild popularity if it was only seasonal and had to adapt itself to the formality of an unmodified Symphony Hall. Don’t force your music to be muffled because of the limitations you create yourself.

 

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