Silence in the halls

A third symphony joined the ranks of the silenced- Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike this weekend. And, as always, both sides are telling wildly different tales- management's statement says they are going to give modest (as in $20 per musician per year) increase to salary while having musicians pay more on their health insurance (and other benefits). But the story seemed off, with an incredibly high average salary shown ($173, 000? really?) and an absurdly low amount paid for health coverage in general (5% cited, with an increase to 12%). They also berate the orchestra for wanting to many days off.

Chicago Symphony Musicians on the other hand are saying something quite different. How about not including the principle players, concertmaster, and musical director in your average salary. Those 12 people can really push it up, especially considering, say, the concertmaster can make upwards of 5x what a section player makes. Check out this out from '08/'09 filings. That does kinda skew things a bit. And don't even ask about musical directors...OY!

For those not in the know, the other two orchestras with empty halls are Indianapolis and Atlanta. Minnesota Orchestra is also in talks right now that are heading in the direction of Indianapolis and Atlanta.

In Indianapolis and Atlanta we are seeing pretty draconian methods- sharp cuts to pay meant to take hold immediately, sudden increases in cost of benefits, slashing the season, and cutting musicians. Indianapolis is even negotiating WITHOUT A CEO! Yep, still doing the CEO search after the abrupt departure in February. They waited till around July to do the search. Even more than that, I wonder what a major business professional might say about what's happening in Indy? Oh wait, one did give an opinion.

Here's a  FAQ about the Atlanta situation. but it doesn't seem to tell the whole tale, which comes in bits and pieces. The HuffPost did a little bit of almost reporting on this one.

So, what's this all mean? Three orchestras out, maybe one (or two with St. Paul also looking bad?)

I remember writing about the Detroit strike ever so long ago, looking at "what are we worth?" Honestly, i look at what orchestra musicians make, and i'm still astounded. Yes, i know how much work they've put in, how hard the auditions are, how much instruments cost, etc. Just because i chose not to do the circuit and am now a composer instead of a trombonist doesn't mean I didn't learn the lessons- the stress injuries (my right wrist is pretty much ruined from poor piano technique for too many years), the instrument costs (trombones are cheap. I could only spend $5K on a new setup plus regular cleaning/maintenance costs at around $200 a pop every few months. love how cheap my instrument is compared to, oh, i dunno, one of theses! woo, there goes $1.7 million!), and everything else that comes with the gig.

BUT, this isn't about that. It's really not. Think of it this way- what would happen if your boss stepped up to you and say "starting tomorrow, i'm cutting your pay by 33%. We've got to cut overhead, and this is how it's going to be."

Would you be able to pay the rent this month? feed your kids? fix your car?

The answer is probably not. What if he told you "Over the next 2 years, to save money, i'm going to have to cut salaries by 33%. But i'm gonna do it 2% a month till it hits 33%. Then, after a year, if the money is coming in, I'll start bumping it back up 2% at a time."

That'd still suck balls, but if it was a job you loved in a place that was in dire straights, you'd be willing to make it work. And with the gradual shift, you could plan, make allowances, etc.

33% pay cut is still insane. Seriously, 33%? I think about losing 33% of my meager living (around $19K) and i freak out. Could i live on around $13K? Maybe, but i'm used to being poor as shit.

And the bigger problem is negotiating in good faith. It seems like a lot of these situations arose not because of the musicians. Are the musicians performing badly? Are they not bring in tickets (in Chicago they had ticket sales increases!)?

Really, this letter says it all. The musicians are the players, and if you want to cut paying the players...You get the Kansas City Royals vs. the New York Yankees. Who's gonna win?

And do we want symphonies full of AAA squads?

And, after all that, ya know what's even sadder to me? When I walked into a class at a major conservatory, there were people who didn't even know this was happening...That is even sadder than all these negotiations and shows one of the biggest failings of musicians- sitting in a bubble, thinking nothing can affect them.

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