FORT RIPLEY -- The Heartland Symphony Orchestra's board of directors is taking emergency steps to head off an organizational "mini-crisis," prompted by a mass exodus of players and others connected to the community group.
In recent weeks the board has created a special "personnel interaction committee" to mend fences with Heartland's existing players and launch a recruitment campaign for new players.
The latest casualty is concertmaster Marion Judish, who resigned her position earlier this month, citing a heavy work and performance schedule as a St. Cloud State University professor and concert violinist.
"We have a mini-crisis with the loss of players," Michelle Sakry-Winkelman said at the board's monthly meeting Monday at a Fort Ripley restaurant.
A Heartland vice president, Sakry-Winkelman mapped out the committee's strategy for about a dozen board members, who greeted the committee's approach with unanimous acclaim.
The committee members -- six from the board and five from the orchestra -- have been surveying past and present players in the interest of "meeting their needs and concerns," Sakry-Winkelman said.
"We want to create and maintain a satisfying and meaningful experience for HSO players," she said.
Speaking as committee chair, Sakry-Winkelman said the group will develop new job descriptions for paid staff, including the conductor and concertmaster, encourage additional sectional training and promote social and professional opportunities for players.
"Forming the committee to work with the players is an excellent idea," said Sandy Johnson, executive director of the Great River Arts Association, which contracts with the orchestra to provide business services.
"There is no loss of ideas for making it (the orchestra) better and it needs to be done sooner, rather than later," Johnson said. "We will be surveying for problems and solutions ... and I have faith that we will have a full orchestra in time for the fall season."
Johnson told the board that orchestra membership had declined to 28 by the end of last season, down from a high of 60 earlier in the year.
In other action, the Heartland executive committee recently fired the orchestra's manager, Tom Kotvel, who said in a recent interview that his notice arrived at a time when he was preparing to resign on his own.
"They need someone who can put in more time," he said.
Conductor Richard Haglund, hired in a disputed decision a year ago, has been offered a new contract for the 2000-2001 season, but had not signed and returned it as of Monday night, Johnson said.
Johnson, involved with Heartland for several years, told the board she has resigned from GRAA, effective sometime in June, although she plans to stay on to assist in the hiring and training of her successor during the weeks ahead.
To stave off the blow of her departure, however, the Heartland board approved a short-term, $5,000 consulting contract with Johnson, an acknowledged expert in nonprofit organization management and fund-raising.
In return for her fee and expenses, Johnson, Little Falls, will work closely with the personnel interaction committee to recruit and retain a concertmaster and other players.
She also will fill in for the departing Kotvel until a replacement can be found.
In other business, the board elected new officers for the year. They are Paulette Buck, president; Brian Crowder, vice president; Echo Kowalzek, secretary; and Irene Dengel, treasurer.
Six sitting board members were re-elected for three-year terms and two new members were elected to the board, also for three-year terms.
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