Case-Based Teaching in Musical Arts Administration

By Harish Nayak 

This blog is sponsored by NAfME Corporate member Eastman School of Music.

Whether it be deemed music business, entrepreneurship, or leadership, arts administration educators have developed curriculum to match the changing professional needs of the musicians we train. As educators we are uniquely positioned to prepare our students for the administrative challenges they will face as artists committed to their passion.

The discipline of Music Leadership seeks to impart an understanding of the speed and breadth of change in today’s nontraditional musical arts organizations and evolving traditional organizations. With few pathways to gain executive skills necessary to guide today’s musical organization models, like contemporary chamber music ensembles, multimedia arts organizations, cross-cultural-focused organizations, and artist-led collectives, an effective Music Leadership curriculum is centered upon learning from the doers.

In modeling the skills required to “do” musical arts administration, we might look at the main functions that scaffold successful organizations such as marketing, finance, accounting, operations, and even technology. However, there is another, more experiential lens by which one can learn common organizational challenges and synthesize knowledge across disciplines to establish favorable outcomes. This lens is informed by situations, challenges, and choices faced outside the classroom.

woman at desk with laptop and headphones

Photo: Hiraman/E+ Collection via Getty Images

In Eastman’s own Master of Arts in Music Leadership, we have sought to recognize and represent new organizational modes and behaviors in the quickly evolving marketplace of the musical arts. Our approach has been one of encouraging leadership, musical creativity, and scholarship to develop together, allowing graduates to serve in traditional and non-traditional musical arts organizations.

A cornerstone of this degree has been to infuse as much experience-based and experiential learning as possible. Many shorter turnaround master’s degrees incorporate a capstone or internship component to facilitate students bridging this classroom-to-practice gap. And yet, this bridging can be further enhanced by curating the experiences of a cadre of organizations and examining them in the classroom to develop insights that are time-sensitive, situation specific, and actionable; in a phrase, case-based instruction.

Once an approach for representing the rarest of situations or phenomena, case-based teaching has evolved into the go-to method for describing problems from a real-world context that have too much complexity or unique circumstance to abstract or portray any other way. Today’s nontraditional mission-driven musical arts organizations, certainly the ones forging the most unique and inspiring paths, are closer in configuration to business startups. Unlike business startups, musical arts organizations can remain in a more agile, less resourced state for much longer, often years longer than many of the most ambitious general business entrepreneurs. These are the organizations that push boundaries of not just creativity, but advance new operating models and reporting structures.

Case studies have been used extensively in management science and business administration curriculum for decades, but always through a lens of a profit-motive and from the perspective of very large, visible companies with substantial resources, infrastructure, and responsibilities. Until recently, case studies written at business schools have rarely veered off from a profit-driven lens. This singular, reductive focus limits the scope of questions that are asked in understanding an organizational situation like the merging of a symphony with a community music school.

music artists in studio

Photo: Tashi Delek/E+ Collection via Getty Images

So, what should case studies for musical arts administration focus upon? Why is this a nontrivial question? While arts administration as a discipline can be broken down into subject areas and topics closely associated with/resembling skillsets, it is the synthesis and interweaving of these topics and skillsets that are required for the real situations faced by those in a leadership role of musical arts organizations. The cross-section of common challenges and situations to be reviewed and tackled can fall under an established but growing taxonomy of organizational situations or cases.

To reflect the most recurring set of themes for these challenges and situations, cases focused on nonprofit musical arts organizations should include:

  • Mission and Opportunity
    • Maintaining the original plan or compromising those guiding principles in favor of an opportunity that promises growth or greater capability and resources
  • Negotiation
    • Handling contract disputes, reviewing and revising partnerships, or partnering with artist management
  • Programming & Market Expansion
    • Scaling a musical arts organization is no different from scaling any other enterprise, where one size does not fit all
  • Capital: Funding & Foundations
    • Having the financial resources is always followed by the question of where to put it to best use
  • Legal, Licensing, Agreements
    • Copyright, labor agreements, and contracts that establish the dynamics of between musicians, composers, managers, administrators, and even government
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    • Engaging with additional audiences on issues of social justice, expressing cultural humility, and sustaining minority representation in the field
  • Orchestra Management
    • Interweaving broader civic and economic concerns with questions about internal finance, labor issues, and long-term strategic planning
  • Organization & Personnel Structure
    • Balancing governance and involvement from various sectors of society, pioneering musician-led governance, succession planning, and expanding a board of directors
  • Marketing & Audience
    • Identifying innovative approaches to audience development and expansion, analyzing audience survey data, evaluating a marketing plan for a festival or concert presenter

We have found that organizations will face questions and choices that fall under more than one of these categories, and it becomes apparent that successfully analyzing one case would require mastery of a cross-section of skillsets associated with arts administration curriculum. The drive to facilitate this mastery is what positioned Eastman to begin publishing the Eastman Case Studies several years ago. 

Using case studies in teaching has become an ideal way of communicating detailed and dense interrelations in dynamic musical arts organizations. Increasingly so, in a multitude of disciplines, the interest in narrowing the classroom-to-practice gap has raised the profile of case-based teaching. Case studies have been viewed as successful means of translating research knowledge and foundational disciplines such as marketing, finance, accounting, operations, or strategic management. Hence, while isolating learning competencies serves as one popular method of describing mastery in the field, musical arts administration cases can be a more refined cross-sectional set of situations that assess competency through a lens of the practitioner.

For more information about the Eastman Case Studies, contact Harish Nayak.

For more information about Eastman’s Master of Arts in Music Leadership, contact Rachel Roberts.

About the author:

Harish NayakHarish Nayak, Ed.D is the project manager for the Institute for Music Leadership at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. At the Institute for Music Leadership, Harish manages technology & engagement in all projects, including Eastman’s Online Master of Arts in Music Leadership and The Eastman Case Studies. Dr. Nayak has been awarded grants in applying technology to improve educational experiences at the collegiate and K–12 level, including a collaboration with Eastman’s Community Music School to launch an online AP Music Theory course in Fall 2020. He received his Ed.D from University of Rochester and his MBA from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

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April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

January 30, 2024


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