How an Organization’s Behavior Affects Student, Staff, and Community Interpretation

An Educational Response to the New York Philharmonic

By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl and Richard Roberts

“I have always thought the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.”John Locke

On April 12, 2024, an article in the New York Magazine about a hidden sexual-assault scandal at the New York Philharmonic flooded my social media feed. The article was written by Sammy Sussman, a freelance investigative reporter who also reported on sexual-misconduct allegations against members of the Juilliard School’s composition faculty that led to policy and personnel changes at the school. Katherine Needleman, principal oboist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who consistently sheds light on topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the music sphere, posted Sussman’s article on her social media platform the day it was published. Four days later, as of April 16, 2024, Needleman’s post, accompanied by Sussman’s article, was shared almost 3,000 times.

When I read the full article, I was shocked. I was sick to my stomach. I was sad about my profession. I was scared for women and girls. I was angry. Without hesitation, I began thinking of my daughter, my female students, and my female colleagues. I thought of other conversations and decisions I knew of that placed women in lesser roles than men—or in no roles at all.

I sent the article to Dr. Richard Roberts as I was curious about his perspective on the contents of the article. In response, Rich sent a message to me stating, “I am appalled and disgusted by this. And to see the preponderance of evidence that, apparently, was just ignored or swept aside is the really unbelievable part.” Rich went on to talk about the effects of this scandal on our students, women, and the arts in general.

Rich and I are colleagues and friends who frequently discuss topics on music, art, and education. While we taught in the classroom full-time and now in our roles outside of the full-time learning space, we strive to ensure students, colleagues, and leadership are treated fairly, have impartial opportunities, and consider situations from various angles. Rich was also a reader for my doctoral thesis titled, “The Student Voice: Perception of Students’ Representation of Themselves in the Secondary Band Curriculum.” My research included how students feel, interpret, and learn. While reading Sussman’s investigative article, I wondered how students would feel, how they would interpret the contents, and what they would learn from the story shared. One of the final sentences of my doctoral work reads, “Educators must demonstrate for students a model for global citizenship beyond simply musicianship.” These words continue to echo in my mind after reading Sussman’s article.

desk globe on table

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Together, Rich and I decided we needed to share this investigative article and its horrific story as a guide for our profession to do better—much better for our students, staff, and community to establish a need for humanity, instead of simply highlighting talent. Here are our thoughts:

The Influence of a Decision

According to the article, two male musicians of the New York Philharmonic were fired for sexual misconduct in September 2018 after rape allegations occurred on July 24, 2010, with a female member of the orchestra. However, just two short years later in April 2020, the male members were reinstated to their positions within the orchestra while the victimized female musician and another female musician who had supported her had both previously been denied tenure.

When the public, and specifically the music education world, recently learned of this story, there was an uproar. Readers were outraged. Social media comments included, “Not only does this need to be addressed within groups of musicians and by them but the general public should be much more aware as well.” And, “I never imagined [the field of music] was so horribly sexist and abusive.” As of April 16, 2024, the two male musicians are no longer rehearsing or performing with the New York Philharmonic again. No other information has since been reported.

A quick browse of the website for the New York Philharmonic demonstrates a care and concern for education with resources available and opportunities for participation in school, family, and community programs. Through the link titled “Celebrating Music Education,” the page’s title reads, “Building Tomorrow’s Legacy Today.” Yet when the actions taken by the New York Philharmonic demonstrate a clear disregard for women, one might think how this message of legacy building can be interpreted.

Questions for Reflection

What legacy is being built in the New York Philharmonic, in our arts organizations, and in our profession and society? From an educational perspective, how are we supposed to encourage all people who are marginalized, and particularly girls and young women, to pursue a career in the arts if we can’t promise that they will be accepted or promoted as colleagues, valued as important contributors, and kept safe in the workplace? When we see abuse like this at the highest levels of entertainment, government, religion, politics, and in all levels of education that goes unchecked for long periods of time and, in some cases, unpunished, how do we respond? Do we realize the impact that our inattention or inaction have not only on the current generation, but also on the next generation of potential participants?

Our children, our students—our future—are watching, listening, and learning from our behaviors. We must be mindful of what behavioral examples we are setting for our students, staff, and community. American composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, reminds us in his profound lyrics from “Into the Woods,” about the significance of our behaviors:

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see.
And learn.

Children may not obey
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.

Careful before you say,
“Listen to me.”
Children will listen.

Can we continue to support those institutions that seemingly do not share the same values as we do, with respect to modeling behavior, upholding individual rights, and ensuring communal safety? How do we guarantee that women will experience their importance as valued members of organizations? What can we do to assure that these institutions, that carry so much of the meaning of our society through the impact of this great art, also remain relevant and important to each individual, and particularly those who are working within them or hope to work with them in the future—such as our students?

high school students outside school building

Photo: Carlos Barquero / Moment Collection via Getty Images

In March 2022, the article “A Question for Reflection: Do Students and Staff See a Representation of Women in Music?” was shared by the National Association for Music Education. Now, we might need to reflect on the expanded question, “How do students, staff, and the community experience a representation of women in music?”

Ensuring Global Citizenship

Dr. Trevor K. Marcho believes that music educators must serve as leaders for social change. Arts leaders, educators, and musicians must be cognizant of their impact on students’ musical and nonmusical lives. Also, they must be aware of their capacity for leadership in the arts and culture beyond their classroom and performance hall to the community. In his doctoral dissertation titled, “Socially Responsible Music Repertoire: Composer Gender Diversity in Instrumental Ensembles,” Marcho states: “Music directors, including those who teach and conduct public school ensembles, are in the privileged position to become leaders in the development of conversations regarding social issues with their students, their school community, and the audiences reached by their ensembles. Furthermore, they can become the agents of change towards a more inclusive curriculum through their individual and collective actions.” This philosophy needs to extend beyond student institutions to other arts organizations such as symphony orchestras and similar types of ensembles.

Humanity needs to upstage musicianship—or any talent or skill. Our children, our colleagues, and our community are not just listening to the music; they are watching the actions and decisions of adults, and potentially their heroes and the organizations they admire and to which may aspire. They are experiencing the inequity, and learning how to advance in their careers, collaborate with their colleagues, and make decisions that impact everyone—through the treatment, threat, or torment that they observe or endure. We must ensure that what they hear, see, or experience is appropriate, legal, and kind in each moment and not just years later when an article is written and profusely shared—sparking attention, opinions, and reactions.

Making Key Changes to the Arts Profession

Key changes must be made. Leaders in the classroom and other educationally based organizations often have the resources of time spent together in professional development, proximity to each other outside of the scheduled class time, and broadly shared values of respect for each other and their charges to discuss, make decisions, and influence change. However, members of arts organizations such as symphony orchestras face challenges because almost all of their time together is spent working solely on the outcome. There is little time together focusing on other human relations issues pertinent to the group or for making key changes to benefit its members. Indeed, after most rehearsals, many of the musicians involved go their separate ways. How, then, can we improve working conditions and ensure a safe and nurturing environment for everyone? We can do so by ensuring humanity, allowing opportunities for opinions to be shared, and promising that every voice will count.

Ensure Humanity

Although our primary focus as artists, performers, and teachers is often that of the outcome, it is imperative that we never lose sight of the fact that our students, our colleagues, and our audience must be treated with respect. There is so much more to the production of performance arts than just the mere application of the skills that we have learned and refined; additionally, the fact that our art and craft are so integrally intertwined with the old apprentice model in itself means that there must be a trust between the teacher and the student and between colleagues. And, since our arts organizations are made up of people from such a wide range of diverse genders, ethnicities, geographic areas, and beliefs, it is particularly important to ensure that a wide range of personal levels of understanding within individuals can coexist with common ideals.

Freedom to Express Approval and Disapproval

Arts organizations should have a common language that each member, and every subsequent member who becomes a part of that ensemble, supports, understands, and uses when working within every aspect of that organization from the highest levels through directors, teachers, students, office staff, and ushers or other office personnel. It should incorporate values of respect, fairness, and equality, and each member of the ensemble should be able to articulate those ideals in relation to the goals of the organization. This common language will become the shared foundation in which all who have this widely ranging individual understanding believe. The onboarding of new members of the ensemble with this common language at its core then makes a strong statement for what everyone who is already a member upholds.

This incorporation may be as simple as a mission statement that outlines these ideas of mutual respect that each person commits to with their signature, or a more complex system of concept-sharing and understanding through human relations sessions chaired by tenured members of the organization. Whatever the medium, the message should be the same, such as:

  • We are all working together to create the best possible product for our audience.
  • We have asked you to be a part of us, and we are glad that you are here.
  • We respect your skills and artistic input, and we think that you should feel safe.
  • These are essential things that we all believe.

The members should be permitted to express approval or disapproval of the vision, language, and decisions made at any time, without fear of retaliation.

yellow card that reads You Matter

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Every Voice Counts

When a common language is a part of the organizational system, then all members of that organization know that they are valued for the job that they are doing. It is not related to their gender, race, or the part of the country (or a foreign country) from which they came, or the schools that they attended. They should also know that every other member of the ensemble is aware of the same set of values under which all are working. This then gives each member the ability to recognize issues when they encounter behaviors that support the organization as well as those that do not. The shared language allows all to celebrate successes equally, as well as makes it possible for those who are uncomfortable with a situation within the ensemble to be able to respond to anyone else in the organization for help and expect to get it.

It is imperative that organizations of every type continue the course of making key changes so that all of their employees, audiences, and the next generation of participants understand what they are working toward, both with respect to the artform as well as the inner workings of the ensemble and humanity at large. When all members of the ensemble create and maintain this shared vision of the outcome and the fair treatment of all of its members, then we will once again be able to look (and listen!) with pride to these pillars of musical society that have given us so much. Until then, an organization’s behavior will continue to affect student, staff, and community interpretation—and the response may not be the legacy we want in education.

Top photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash.

About the authors:

Lori Schwartz Reichl Portrait

Photo: Richard Twigg Photography

NAfME member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is the visionary thought leader of Making Key Changes. Her career began in music education where she learned the importance of a key change—a shift in the tonal center of a piece of music, often used to inject energy or produce significance. She eventually realized the necessity and impact of making key changes in all areas of her life.

Since transitioning out of one classroom as a public school educator, Dr. Reichl has uniquely created a global classroom for her work. She guides organizations, teams, and individuals to create and maintain a shared vision by making key changes in their communities, companies, classrooms, and careers to unlock their greatest potential in collaboration with those they love, serve, and lead.

Learn more MakingKeyChanges.com. Subscribe to Dr. Reichl’s Making Key Changes newsletter. Listen to her weekly podcast.

headshot of Richard Roberts wearing a tuxedoAs a Maryland music educator, Dr. Richard Roberts has worked at all levels in instrumental programs in both Harford and Howard counties. In addition to teaching full-time as elementary and secondary band directors, he was one of the co-conductors of both the Howard County Middle School Honors and Gifted and Talented bands. Dr. Roberts joined the music faculty at the Catholic University of America as Director of the Wind Ensemble and Supervisor of Instrumental Music Education until his retirement in 2020.

Dr. Roberts received his DMA from the University of Maryland, College Park in horn performance and was an active freelance performer in the Baltimore/Washington area for decades. He has performed locally with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Opera, numerous international recording artists, and remained a tenured member of the Washington Ballet Orchestra for twenty years until his retirement this past year.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

May 9, 2024

Category

  • Careers
  • Ensembles
  • Gender
  • Representation

Copyright

May 9, 2024. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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