Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Family Music

Backstage Pass: Orchestra Manager

Why does an orchestra need a manager?


Published: 26 Jan 2024

Time taken : ~10mins

Why does an orchestra need a manager and what exactly does he or she do? Read on to find out, and then take our quiz!  

Have you ever watched an orchestra performance in the Esplanade Concert Hall? Isn’t it amazing how so many musicians can come together and create such beautiful music? As an audience member, what we see on stage is just the result of weeks of hard work. There is in fact a lot of work that needs to be done before the performance even happens and there are many important people behind the scenes who help to do so. One of them is the Orchestra Manager! 

Singapore Symphony Orchestra at <em>Illuminations</em> (2022), a performance commissioned as part of <em>In New Light</em> to commemorate Esplanade’s 20th anniversary. Photo credit: Ken Cheong

This is Charis! She is an Orchestra Manager with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO).

Living the double life

Orchestra managers like Charis typically have two types of work days—office days and operational days. Orchestra managers are responsible for many of the administrative work that needs to be done leading up to the show. Did you know that the instruments musicians use require insurance in case they break? Who helps to book flights and accommodation for international guests? Well, an orchestra manager does all this and more! They even help to roster musicians and coordinate auditions when needed!   

Find out what a day in the life of an orchestra manager looks like with Charis as she prepares for a show. 

Backstage is where the action is

On operational days, otherwise known as concert days, orchestra managers are busy running around backstage to make sure that everything is going smoothly. Some tasks that an orchestra manager is responsible for include making sure the roster is up to date and that all musicians have arrived. They prepare refreshments for the pantry table and ensure that the musicians are comfortable and well taken care of.  

Let’s take a look at what a day in the life of an orchestra manager is on a concert day!  

The magical box

During shows, orchestra managers take care of the musicians and ensure that they have all that they need for the concert. With symphony orchestras having up to a hundred musicians or more, you can just imagine the many ways that things could go wrong! As such, orchestra managers need to be prepared for any emergencies such as musicians falling ill, losing their bow ties or in some cases, forgetting their tailcoats!  

Here's where an orchestra manager’s case comes in. Much like Doraemon’s magical bag, an orchestra manager’s case holds all the items that an orchestra manager might need. Find out what are some of the items that can be found in the case.  

Wrapping up the day

The job of an orchestra manager does not end when the concert ends. After the concert has finished, an orchestra manager helps to do a final sweep of all the dressing rooms backstage to make sure that musicians have not left behind any belongings and that everything is packed and ready to be brought back to their headquarters.

Take a look at what goes down behind the scenes after a concert! 

While the job of an orchestra manager is certainly not easy, it is no doubt an important role and definitely an exciting one with lots of friendships and memories to be made. As Charis puts it, 

I really appreciate the camaraderie that we have built here working together week after week. We work hard and play hard and that's a plus for me. 

Charis answers some questions and tells us more about her job as an orchestra manager

Q: How long have you been an orchestra manager?  

Charis: I’ve been an orchestra manager with Singapore Symphony Orchestra since 2022.  


Q: How many orchestra managers are there in SSO?   

Charis: We have a team of three orchestra managers in SSO. The team includes me and Kelvin, and we are led by Jit Min. We typically divide the workload among ourselves with a lot of the larger planning happening on Jit Min’s end, whereas Kelvin and I are responsible more for programme administration and working on the ground with the musicians.  


Q: Why did you want to become an orchestra manager?  

Charis: I’ve always been interested in music and I was kind of burning out in my previous job so I wanted a change of scenery.  


Q: What kind of skills do orchestra managers need to have?  

Charis: You need to have people skills because you’re largely working with a big group of people. You need to know how to look after them and you also need to know how to communicate with them. And also empathy, so you can understand their concerns and respond in an appropriate manner. You also need good organisational skills because there’s a lot of information that comes to you every time, especially when we are planning for multiple events at the same time.  


Q: What training did you have to go through before you can become an orchestra manager?   

Charis: There isn’t necessarily a training programme for orchestra managers, but it helps to have a basic understanding of music. Most orchestra managers are usually music students who come into management. I was a secondary school teacher prior to this, but I did have experience in being part of a student orchestra executive committee.  


Q: What are some challenges you’ve faced while on the job?   

Charis: Mediation can be quite challenging. Where people are concerned, you have to be mindful of their concerns and emotions— their state of mind for the day. So, to the best of our abilities, we try to make sure everyone is taken care of and that there is a positive work environment.   


Q: What advice do you have for someone who is keen to be an orchestra manager?   

Charis: Get to know more about the symphony orchestra (e.g. the instruments that make up the symphony orchestra and how they’re arranged on stage) and the genre of western symphonic music (i.e. familiarise yourself with as much western symphonic music as you can). Everything that we do is to ensure that the orchestra is able to put on a good performance so knowing what a good performance looks and sounds like, as well as what needs to happen to ensure a successful performance, will be extremely helpful. If you can, volunteer with student or amateur orchestras to gain some experience. 

Take the quiz!