Marin Alsop is one of the few women to break the glass ceiling as a music conductor. After a period of controversy, she was chosen to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and she silenced her critics with a show of leadership, feminine style. (“She Shattered a Classic Glass Ceiling,” by Tamara Jones, More, Oct. 2013, pgs.120-25, 158)
Alsop already had the job when she learned the musicians were balking because they hadn’t been consulted, a stipulation required by their contract. So, rather than ignore their complaint, she brought them together, told them she’d refuse the appointment if, after their meeting, they continued to have reservations. Next, she laid out her vision for the future. When she’d finished, the head of the players committee stood up and told her, “You have 110% of our support.” (Ibid pg. 125)
Since that acceptance in 2005, the orchestra, whose audience had been in the doldrums and whose finances were on thin ice, saw their fortunes soar. Their audience grew. They were in the black and they have cut several musical albums.
The key to Alsop’s success was her sensitivity not only to the musicians but also to her community. Noting the number of poor, she created programs to draw them in. For the young, she created OrchKid. When they heard about it, parents approved whole heartedly. Not only does OrchKind provide students with instruments to learn, but it also gives them a hot meal and a safe haven off the streets. Altruism has its benefits. Alsop knows that by luring her charges from Beyoncé to Beethoven, she is building a future audience.
Nor are the parents of those youngsters neglected. They can attend the Boston Symphony Academy. At the Academy, those parents sit with the orchestra during rehearsals, eat lunch with the musicians and attend master classes given by the players. They may even perform with the symphony at a special concert. Programs like these cost money, but so far Alsop has convinced decision-makers it’s dollars well spent. (Ibid 158)
Success hasn’t come easy or without emotional and financial cost for this conductor. But to Alsop’s credit, she’s resisted the notion that she must wage war to win. Instead, she’s chosen the path of persistence. Speaking at a creative leadership forum with students at George Washington University, she advised them that the key to success was to “Pound and pound and pound at the front door, and while no one’s looking, just walk around the side and climb in the window. That’s sort of what I did.” (Ibid 124)
(Marin Alsop courtesy of womenandhollywood.com)