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Sophia Millman '16
Sophia Millman '16

Millman ’16 Examines the Future of Symphony Orchestra

By Isaac Handley-Miner '14  |  Contact Holly Foster 315-859-4068
Posted July 17, 2014
Tags Emerson Grant Student Research Students

In 2011, during its 50th season, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra (SSO) declared bankruptcy. The SSO’s dissolution upset many members of the Central New York community, especially the musicians and patrons who for the last half-century had treasured the SSO’s talent and presence. Unfortunately, the SSO’s collapse is representative of a national decline in live orchestral performance.  

However, in the months following the SSO’s bankruptcy, many former SSO musicians banded together to form Symphoria, a self-governing symphony orchestra. Members of Symphoria cooperatively operate and hold financial stake in the orchestra. This summer, Sophia Millman ’16 is examining this pioneering model of orchestral governance with Associate Professor of Music Heather Buchman in their Emerson project titled, “If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On: Is There a Future for Live Orchestral Performance?”

According to Millman, only a few symphonies nationwide have implemented this cooperative model, so it is not well tested. Millman hopes to analyze how Symphoria functions, giving special attention to the managerial components of the operation: “I’m examining the new ways in which Symphoria’s musicians are involved in the day-to-day management of the symphony, collaboratively directing its operations and making joint financial and artistic decisions. I am particularly interested to learn how the musicians’ stake in the organization as equal ‘shareholders’ changes their relationship to the orchestra, which traditionally was structured along strict hierarchical lines,” she explained. This analysis will hopefully show whether this model is sustainable and could offer a suitable alternative to bankruptcy for other struggling symphonies.

Millman also hopes to explore Symphoria’s role as a cultural institution, furthering musical traditions in the surrounding community and educating students at local schools and colleges: “I am interviewing musicians in Symphoria and the symphony’s audience members in order to understand the role it plays in its local community, as well as our campus community at Hamilton. Drawing upon my interviews, and my own personal experiences performing in and attending symphony concerts, I plan to create a journalistic portrait of Symphoria.”

Millman, an English major, hopes to begin a career in journalism after graduating from Hamilton. This project has given her experience in a journalistic context as she has had to learn how to conduct and document personal interviews with the goal of eventually producing a piece of writing about Symphoria.

But besides her interest in journalism, Millman appears drawn to this project by her own love for musical performance. A violist herself, Millman has performed in orchestral groups for the last 10 years. Through her tenure with the Hamilton College Orchestra she has met many members of Symphoria, who helped inspire this project. As she noted, “There is a vast literature devoted to famous classical soloists, but there is a decided gap when it comes to literary profiles of ‘rank-and-file’ orchestral performers—the largely unsung heroes and heroines without whom symphonic music would be impossible.” Millman hopes these ‘unsung heroes and heroines’ will continue performing, the feasibility of which may very well hinge on the new organizational model practiced by Symphoria.

Sophia Millman ’16 is a graduate of Kingston High School (N.Y.)


Sophia--I hope you manage to fit in some discussion of the 58% or so of GDP we spend on the War Department, in comparison w/ the "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"--one of which surely is organized music. You might also look at the history of Saunders Hall (now called) and the Saunders' family "music room," where family, friends and guests (including alum B. F. Skinner (piano) were frequent guests/performers.) American Friends Service Committee keeps tabs on "defense expenditures"--op cit. Bill Wilt, '63

(oh, and let me please into the marriage of a single medium admit [the] impediment of audio and video--both as to interviews and to prior performances, perhaps. (I can't yet see how you might integrate the new Hamilton UAV into this project, but a divine afflatus may yet waft my way.) Another thought: make sure there's a Wikipedia entry. I wonder if Britain has local "orchestral farm teams" they way they do for theater, or any other country, for that matter. Woody Allen jam sessions? Howabout "virtual orchestras"? I'm thinking of the collaborative work of folk singers Gordon Bok, Ed Trickett and Annie Mayo Muir, who would record their individual track, send the tape (now an .AIFF email attachment maybe?) to the second member of the trio, who would add their track, and thence to the third member, to wrap up the package into a "performance" (or record--now CD--cut). I'm trying that approach with a Garage Band "one-man orchestera"--Korg "slab," oboe, horn, 5-string banjo, classical guitar, 12-string guitar, "silent" violin. This is a long-term project for an I-hope-not-too-short-timer septuagenarian. bw 63

Seems to me over the years, btw, that the most successful computer programmers I worked with had a heavy involvement with music. Something about that "math 'n' music" stuff, or Gödel, Escher, 'n' Bach-ness?