ECSO chooses Caleb Bailey as new executive director
The Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra has a new executive director: Caleb Bailey, who has been the orchestra manager of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra in Lincoln, Nebraska, since 2010.
He will replace Isabelle Singer, who has headed up the organization for 31 years. She is retiring in June.
ECSO Board President Ana Schneider said, “We were obviously looking for someone who could continue Isabelle’s legacy. We were looking for a level of experience, enthusiasm but, truly, someone that would come here and would embrace the area.”
He is, she said, very talented and well-spoken.
Bailey, 29, and a native of Nebraska, said that while some people look to big orchestras to be leaders, “I think small orchestras have this great opportunity to make a big splash in a small community, and you can make a huge difference to a lot of people.”
He visited southeastern Connecticut for ECSO interviews earlier this year and said he was struck by “how friendly everyone was and how deeply they all cared for their symphony.”
He met with Tom Castle, the board member who served as the search committee chair, and, through him, met everyone from musicians to donors to patrons to office staff members.
“These are all people who clearly cared so much about the symphony and its direction and who also just revered Isabelle Singer as their leader,” Bailey said. “It just seems like there’s such a great organizational culture there, one of respect and one that honors tradition but also values moving forward. That’s exactly what aligns with my core values.”
Bailey is also looking forward to working with ECSO Music Director Toshi Shimada, whom he sees as “forward-thinking and adventurous and knowledgeable and personable.”
A search committee of seven people from the ECSO board and orchestra, along with Polly Kahn of PK Orchestra Solutions of New York City, conducted a national search of industry professionals. Three finalists were selected from about 30 people and brought to New London for interviews.
Bailey will start with the ECSO on July 1.
As for what the executive director’s job has entailed, Schneider said, “Isabelle wears many hats. She is the face of the symphony. She negotiates all of the contracts. She does everything. ... She does everything from hand-holding to union negotiations to bringing in the Steinways to working with Toshi and coordinating the music.”
In his post at the Lincoln orchestra, Bailey has been the operations manager, the personnel manager, and the music librarian. Beyond that, he said, he expanded his job to do other things that he’s interested in — marketing initiatives, working on fundraising, exploring how to best engage constituents.
In addition to his work in Lincoln, Bailey is one of seven enrollees in the League of American Orchestras’ Emerging Leaders Program designed to identify, develop and support the next generation of orchestra leaders. Through that program, he has met with people from top nonprofits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The group met, too, with multiple vice-presidents of the NFL. Bailey said the NFL actually has similar issues to orchestras, in terms of encouraging people to leave all the entertainment options they can access from their home and go out instead to a live event.
“I don’t have a lot of opportunities in that (Lincoln) role to formally step out and do what we call cloud-level thinking, but through the fellowship program I’m in, I’ve done that with my peers that are across the nation and with some of the consultants that we work with,” he said.
On a personal level, Bailey has had a lifelong passion for music. At age 13, he taught himself to play the guitar.
“I literally just started meandering around the fretboard, not knowing what to do at all. ... I think I had one chord book and one scale book, and I just went from there,” he said.
He started writing and recording his own music, and he still plays live in Lincoln. He said, “I do ambient guitar stuff for yoga classes and then I also can play your standard coffee shop gigs.”
Bailey played trombone in his high-school orchestra and he loved music as an art form, but he didn’t want to major in music in college because he “didn’t want to take the magic away.”
Looking at his own assets and skills, he realized that being a communications major might be a good fit. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in that from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010. Also of note: During college, Bailey took a music-appreciation class from the principal violist from the Lincoln orchestra.
“Through that, I became intensely inspired about classical music,” he said.
After graduation, he expected he’d end up in academia but took a year off and, during that time, saw a job opening for the box-office manager at the Lincoln symphony.
“It just all clicked. It’s one of those totally serendipitous moments where everything aligns. You can see this is where you’re meant to be,” he said.
He continued developing within the confines of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra before he was hired by ECSO.
Bailey is excited about experiencing life on the East Coast (he describes himself as an outdoors person who likes to hike, run and bike). At the same time, though, he has really enjoyed working at the Lincoln symphony and has only praise for executive director Barbara Zach.
“I wouldn’t leave for just anything, that’s for sure,” he said. “This is a very special opportunity.”
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