Lessons of Leadership

Volume 112, No. 3March, 2012

Orchestra committee leaders reflect on what it takes to get the job done

What does it take to be a good leader? Those of us who have served in leadership positions know how much of a balancing act it can be. Not only do we have a mission that we’re trying to accomplish, but we’re also trying to respect the needs of many different voices. It takes nerves of steel and often it means that you have to remain calm, put your ego on hold and develop a thick skin. To celebrate Women’s History Month, Local 802 asked a variety of women leaders who serve on orchestra committees for their views on what it takes to get the job done. Below are the responses of those who got back to us by the time Allegro went to press; our apologies to those who responded too late to make this article. If you have any feedback, please e-mail us at

Allegro editor Mikael Elsila and concert rep Karen Fisher contributed to this article.

What does it mean to be a leader?

I don’t view my role as chair of the New York City Ballet Orchestra Committee as being about leadership. I see my role there as more of a “go-between.” It’s about listening to the membership and relaying the information to management. In fact, I try to remove myself from issues and arguments that arise as much as possible.

When I go to management, I take the consensus gained either by discussion among the committee members or by meetings with the orchestra. That is what I present to management. In discussions with the membership, I will state my opinion, but I do not bring that opinion to management unless it has been seconded and approved by the orchestra or the committee.

The committee’s role, as defined by our CBA and our bylaws, is one of policing our contract. So when I have dealings with management, I am armed by two things: our contract and the membership’s collective voice.

As I have grown into the job of committee chair, both sides understand that I adhere to these two things, always. It allows both sides to drop their concerns as to my motivations, such as fears that I might be pushing my own agenda on one side, fears that I might be inflaming passions on the other. It also allows both sides to trust that I am truly representing the concerns of my orchestra.

Perhaps what I am talking about here really can be called leadership, but then I’d have to say the key to that leadership is listening to your constituency.

– Sara Cutler
The writer is principal harpist and chair of the New York City Ballet orchestra committee.

The most important thing I’ve learned about leadership since serving on my orchestra committee is to listen carefully. My best advice about how to be a successful leader is to respect the opinions of others, and to be inclusive during the decision-making process.

– Daryl Goldberg
The writer is a cellist, chair of the New York Pops orchestra committee and a member of the Westfield Symphony orchestra committee.

For me, as a leader or follower, the most important quality is integrity. People must know that you are serving their interests, not your own pursuit of fame, or power, or special favors. When you are on a committee, you must wear a different hat from the one you usually wear.

The next most important thing is the ability to be flexible. Leadership is not about imposing your will on others. You have to be a good listener and a good mediator in order to resolve issues or solve problems through consensus. You must make people feel comfortable expressing their views and you must respect their opinions, even if you disagree.

For someone starting out, I would say observe or – better yet – work with a leader you admire, and learn from her or him. And understand that as a leader and as a person, you are always evolving, taking things you learn and incorporating them into your life. A leader must never be rigid, stuck in a viewpoint, and unwilling to change and grow. This includes learning from those who are not leaders.

And finally, when it is working well, this kind of leadership and teamwork is so rewarding; personally for helping you grow, and professionally for the results you achieve.

– Olivia Koppell
The writer is a violist and co-chair of the American Ballet Theatre orchestra committee.

It’s important to listen to many different points of view. People come with a variety of perspectives, and as an orchestra committee member, your job is to harmonize the interests of as many different constituencies as possible. It’s important to treat all points of view with respect. As a woman, I’m fully aware that our points of view have historically often been marginalized, and I’m determined not to allow that experience to be repeated.

Taking initiative and seeking out responsibility are the hallmarks of leadership. A good place to start is to seek out projects that others have overlooked, or found too delicate to tackle, no matter how small.

The same qualities that make a successful musician can apply to committee leadership: a sound knowledge of the basics, a willingness to cooperate and imaginative flair for problem solving.

– Katherine Fong
The writer is a violinist and secretary of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra committee.