Why you shouldn't talk about an industry you know nothing about

**update one, on why orchestras aren't supposed to "make money"

**update two, contract ratified, final remarks

This in response to one of the most idiotic rants against the striking San Francisco Orchestra musicians I've ever seen. 

Anthony Alfidi, a "founding genius" of Alfidi Capital lays into the striking musicians pretty hard. First off, who is this guy? Well, turns out he went to Notre Dame and University of San Francisco, with degrees in Human Resources (wtf kind of degree is that anyway? Hey, let me teach you how to fire someone!), and an MBA in Finance (my mom has one of those. Great degrees that you pay a bunch of money for and mean nothing). He started Alfidi Capital because he was stuck in "dead end jobs" with other marketing firms. He's been investing since college, and has made money, so listen to this guys advice.

Now, I don't usually use this tone in a blog. I'm not usually this derisive, especially about things I have limited experience in. I say limited because, unlike Alfidi, I HAVE worked in similar circumstances, know a thing or two about human resources and management. unlike Alfidi, i worked in small mom-and-pop start-ups. While doing so, I took the time to listen, pay attention, and ask questions about the business side. Plus, I read a book or two about starting businesses, so I know everything there is to know. AND, back in HS, we played the stock market and I came out way ahead by investing heavily in Krispy Kreme, assuming Americans like to be fat.

Oops, slipped into the tone again. Alright, enough of that. Unlike Alfidi, while I can be just as dismissive of everything he does, I'd rather look at facts, and compare them to different sides of the argument. So, let's start off from the top of his little ignorant blog post.

"I was under the impression that every true artist in the world aspired to play at Carnegie Hall."

Well, sir, you're wrong. And, if you run through the list of people who play for the SFO, I bet they've all already played there, if for no other reason than, if memory serves, they played Carnegie Hall's 1998 opening gala. So, um, yeah, they've been there.

And won an Emmy, 4 Grammys for Best Classical Album, 3 Grammys for best choral performance, 4 Grammys for best orchestral performance, and one for Best Rock Instrumental Performance (The Call of Ktulu in 2001 with Metallica). So, yeah, this isn't their main aspiration.

Mr. Alfidi also seems to assume that venue is a big deal. Sorry sir, it only matters a little bit for younger musicians. Building the resume kinda thing...kinda like you had to work for this "other firms" before you could launch your own. Carnegie is a stepping stone, not an end point.

"...these union thugs in tuxedos are unsatisfied with a base salary of $141,700. That is far above the San Francisco median household income of $72,947."

Hey, you're right! go statistics proving whatever we want! let's do some other comparisons, with numbers.

The median expected salary for a typical CEO in US is $727,044. The median for a CEO in San Fran is $871,864. Wow, they make far less than a CEO. Now, let's compare it to something a bit more fitting. Oh, and the SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY CEO MAKES $495,000! But that's not to blame, he's entitled to it, because you understand what his job is.

A major symphony musician has gone through years of training, not some HS student, or maybe 10 years of lessons. The majority of these musicians hold doctorates (hey, they're more educated than you Mr. Alfidi, but then, so am I). They play for what is probably the second or third best orchestra in the world. Let's say, this is like a Financial Associate. Here's a description of their job. It's a pretty meat and potato kind of job in the Financial industry--pretty much a giant catch all. You sell, advise, and plan financial services, from stocks to insurance. So, basically, what you do Mr. Alfidi.

So, how much would a TOP TIER financial associate make in San Francisco? We're talking someone with 20+ years in the game, is a manager, and is training the next generation. According to salary.com, $142,810.

Oh, i get it now. Mr. Alfidi is jealous! He's jealous because he's still somewhat young, is working in a startup, and is probably making in the lower percentile of this job. OR because he is making around the median, and he can't believe someone in a non-financial industry job could possibly make this much. Hmmm...

So, a top tier musician is getting paid slightly less than a top tier ASSOCIATE in the financial industry in San Francisco. Hm...statistics, funny thing, isn't it.

"Making over $85K per year to do something a talented high school musician can do for free is pretty generous."

Really, a talented HS musician? Alright, let's do some comparisons. NOTE: THESE ARE NOT MEANT TO MAKE THE HS STUDENTS FEEL BAD! You're in HS, keep practicing, and you'll be there!

Here's a video of San Francisco Symphony playing the BBC PROMS, MAHLER SYMPHONY 7!

Alright, there's a few things there to think about. 1) BBC PROMS > Carnegie Hall. 2) HOLY SHIT THAT WAS AWESOME!

Now, here's Idyillwild Arts Academy playing Mahler Symphony 2. Sorry, couldn't find a symphony 7 video. Because, it's a bit of a challenge.

BEFORE POSTING, CONGRATS TO IDYILLWILD ARTS ACADEMY! This is a beautiful recording and you all should be proud! And if you keep working, you'll have a shot at the SF Orchestra. Really, I am impressed for your level. MR. ALFIDI, here's an incredibly talented group of HS students.

Again, congrats to Idyillwild Arts Academy. This is a very good, moving performance of a difficult piece! Keep at it and you'll be able to go pro!

Sorry Mr. Alfidi, you're about as far off as possible. If this amazing group of HS students, a private school, cream of the crop type group, can't handle SFO, then you've lost this one.

"If the symphony needs a scab played for the triangle or tambourine to help break the strike, then I volunteer to perform for free. I've had no music education, but those instruments don't look difficult"

Yep, they're cake. Here's a video of Pedro Estevan playing tambourine. Go ahead, tell me you can do this.

Because, if you can handle that simple little thing, then I'll even PAY you to do my next premiere.

"I'm willing to solo O Mio Babbino Caro on a kazoo if Renee Fleming can't elbow her way through the union's picket line."

First off, there is no way in hell Renee Fleming would elbow her way through a picket line. Unlike your incredibly selfish and self-centered profession that revolves entirely around money (shit, the rhetoric went south again...), musicians are collaborators. We work together. On everything. When a musician gets screwed, we band together because we know if one of us gets screwed, it won't be long before all of us get screwed. and never, ever, compare yourself to this, even in jest:

If your kazoo playing can come close to this, I'll write you a concerto.

"Musicians who fancy themselves irreplaceable remind me of the federal air traffic controllers who were justifiably fired in 1981 when they arrogantly broke federal law."

Wow, what a horrible comparison. That's like comparing Mr. Alfidi's blog post to Mein Kompf--both are written documents full of vitriol, political ideas, and skewed perspectives. But that's not much to go off of.

13,000 air traffic controllers went on strike. When they did, all planes in the US were grounded. 2,000 went back to work, and other replacements, mainly military personnel and other people willing to learn the job took over.

You're comparing 13,000 people to around 150. You're comparing a public industry vs. a private not-for-profit. You're comparing a job that risks the lives of thousands to those that provide a service. No, this comparison is completely invalid. Maybe Mr. Alfidi should go back to school and take a logic course...Oops, the derision has come back. There's little comparison beyond "they're on strike and you don't like it."

"Performing classical works in one of the greatest cities in the world is an honor and a privilege that countless musicians dream of having. The spoiled union brats on strike for exorbitant pay no longer deserve such an honor. Their selfish action denies music to fans and brings shame to The City."

First off, I didn't know San Fran was called "The City." That's a pretty haughty claim right there.

Second, honor and privilege doesn't pay the bills. It doesn't put food on the table. This is one of the biggest problems in music today. And I don't just mean classical music.

This idea of "exposure." that it's a "big deal and you should be thankful." Mr. Alfidi thinks that, at best, music professionals should be interns.

Because we do what we love for the sake of doing what we love.

Because it's an "entertainment industry"

Because it doesn't make tons of money, as a corporation.

Oh, Mr. Alfidi, just because you hate your job and secretly wish you had become a pianist like Joseph Alfidi doesn't mean you can bring out your vitriol. Just because you don't understand what it means to be a musician, doesn't mean you can tell us what our profession requires. You don't see me screaming that YOU'RE making too much, that the financial industry is one of the main sources of ruin in America, that investors such as yourself Mr. Alfidi were the reason for the economic downturn, not the millions of hard-working Americans, just doing their jobs. That, somehow, you have "power" because you can trade shares of a company you know nothing about beyond their profit possibilities.

Let's be honest, a high schooler with decent math skills, the ability to read graphs, and make guesses based upon the numbers they see could do your job. Anyone that feels like learning a little math and sitting down could do your job. Do you know how many musicians I went to school with that couldn't get a symphony job decided to go into the financial world? Do you know how many are making as much or more than you? Because, guess what, they dealt in far more math every day.

So, yeah, I'm a bit irritated, because this is an example of someone that has absolutely no idea what he is talking about talking down to other people, demanding their jobs because he just doesn't get it. Well, guess what, any joe schmo can do that. I just did it to you. Does it mean that my claims are correct?

Are my statistics any better than Mr. Alfidi's?

Are my insults more stinging?

Did i not link wikipedia enough?

In other words, Mr. Alfidi, only one thing was really shown here: How to put together an argument. And here are my closing remarks:

Orchestra musicians are top tier professionals in their area. I have previously said in posts that, yes, sometimes we as musicians are over-paid. That sometimes, we have to share in the sacrifice to make sure music happens. But what's been happening in America isn't a shared sacrifice. Here's a break-down of what happened in Indy. There were no cuts to administrative positions, nor CEO pay. In Atlanta, there were 16% cuts for musicians, the CEO took a 6% cut, and no word on other administrative positions. How is this a fair share?

Was this the right to for San Fran to strike? Are their demands fair? Unlike Mr. Alfidi, I'm not going to weigh in exactly. I haven't read the arguments. I was on top of it in Indy, Atlanta, and Minnesota. But, I haven't been on top of this one. But, I can assume, that whatever is happening, it's not fair. We're looking at time when orchestras are having to transform. But what they're doing isn't selfish, it isn't dishonourable. No, they're fighting because they have to fight. They're fighting because there have already been too many loses. As it is, music is becoming a commodity people want for free. There are musicians in KC playing all night gigs for under $100, when they bring in a crowds of people paying a cover and buying tons of drinks. There are audio engineers offering their home studios for $15/hour. Musicians are pricing themselves into obscurity.

Musicians are people, real people, who have worked their whole lives to become top professionals. And they are top professionals Mr. Alfidi. If they were in the same industry as you, they'd be your boss 1000 times over. I've been at this for 22 years of my life, and I still can't hold a candle to some of these musicians. And I don't expect to get paid $146,000. I expect to make a living wage based upon what I do. But with 22 years of experience, I bet I've got you beat. And I'm a small business owner, an entrepreneur, and an innovator, not so much unlike yourself.

So, before you attack a group of musicians for wanting more than the "median" income, maybe you should realize, these aren't "average" works. They're the best of the best fighting for their place in this world, a place that is slowly shrinking because CEOs demand more money, and that "median" income can't buy a ticket anymore. And they're people, who've given more of their lives to their profession than  you have even known what your profession was. They're people, Mr. Alfidi. Your blog posts rail against CEOs getting paid bonuses on failing companies, espouse a love for small businesses, and yet you're staunchly anti-union. You rally often for people, but against the structure that protects them.

Before your next post, why not read up on the symphony structure? why not come up with meaningful comparisons. Mr. Alfidi's blog isn't all full of vitriol. He wants innovation, wants to move forward...But this post was as far off as you can get, by someone as far outside the industry as possible. And, maybe, make a meaningful addition to the dialogue.

**update one, on why orchestras aren't supposed to "make money"

**update two, contract ratified, final remarks


Anonymous said...

Great response! Alfidi's an idiot

Anonymous said...

well,as a professional symphony musician in NY,I would be itching to get this idiot onstage with a triangle.
and let the fun begin...I am confident that the orchestra could make him wish he had never been born.
and,I'm so annoyed,that I say he would deserve it!

Anonymous said...

Bravo for writing a natural and intelligent and informed and SANE blog. Yes you argued but you made the point that all artists want to make.

Alfidi - I'm sorry, man. You're just not that bright, and it sounds like your life sucks ass... :o( And never mind the triangle, which you can't play, sorry - you ARE a scab (your words), and we are flicking you to the ground.

Anonymous said...

Your response is great.

I am a former student of the Idyllwild Arts program and I must say these high school students are some of the best in the country. Many will go on to Major in music, and take lessons from the members of the San Francisco Symphony (I did).

A few are the next members of the San Francisco Symphony, the New York Phil, and many other amazing major orchestras both in the United States and the World. My room mate from Idyllwild Arts has even subbed with the San Francisco Symphony, so you did a great job finding a great example of great high school musicianship.

I am sorry that people like Alfidi will never understand the amount of work a music student really puts into their art. We practice many hours in high school, college, and may even have multiple degrees from college.

Personally I will be leaving my current college with two more music degrees. I already have a Bachelor of Music and will be adding a Master of Music in Performance and another Master of Music in Chamber Music Performance. Currently my plan is to keep studying and improving my skills and get yet another Master of Music in Performance. We put in this time so that we can move an audience to greater emotions. I hope more people see your view rather than Mr. Alfidi.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this thoughtful response to a thoughtless and ignorant posting.

El Johno said...

Thank you everyone for your enormous support! We're really showing the solidarity of our community. This blog may have been against one foolish man, but these are all complaints I've heard over and over again from what I can only assume is a popular archetype now in the business world.

It's time we all stand up and stop letting these people who care nothing about music, people, or the real end product rule comment on and, in many cases, run our industry.

Jane Shelly said...

Thank you so much for this incredibly cogent rebuttal to an incredibly stupid assertion! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, to the point. I love your videos of the two orchestras. But let's face it, Mr. Alfidi will probably not be able to tell the difference.

Martin said...

Refreshing to see this position presented so well. And I might add, that one point that the anti-union crowd always seem to overlook is the the critical role well-paid workers fill in the economy. Arguments like Alfidi's seem to always be born from ignorance and resentment. Ignorance of just how much work it is to be a professional musician (as you clearly illustrate), and ignorance of the fact that well-paid union workers have the extra money available to invest in the market and keep fools like him EMPLOYED. And the resentment... well, that's a little more than obvious with people like him.

It's sad to see fundamental ignorance of the functions of capitalism and our mixed economy coming from so many who are supposedly experts in it. With such bad ideas being so pervasive, is it any surprise that our system fails time and again?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Anthony Aflidi is as upset about the salaries paid to members of the San Francisco Giants baseball team as he is about the San Francisco Symphony musicians' salaries. The minimum salary (which was paid to five of their players last season) was $480,000. One of the players is a reserve first baseman who played in only 48 of the 162 games and was able to get on base only 21% of the time. Another was a pitcher who had the atrocious earned run average of 5.84. According to Aflidi, shouldn't these players work for much less, because they have the opportunity to play their game in such heralded ballparks as Wrigley Field? (By the way, all athletes playing in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League are unionized.)

I would wager that the best-paid players in the San Francisco Symphony don't make as much money as the worst players on the San Francisco Giants do, and that the Symphony's players are far more proficient at their craft than are the Giants players. Imagine what an orchestra would sound like if the worst player only played the correct notes 21% of the time.

Stefan said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous, 3:05pm: A very good comparison. However, as far as proficiency goes, one should note that musicians don't usually deal with other players trying to prevent them from playing correct notes. . .

Anonymous said...

Worth noting that most professional symphony musicians do not hold doctorates. This level of education, as far as musicians go, holds far more value in educational circles than it does in performance, where hires are usually based solely on auditions. In many cases, performers avoid pursuing doctoral studies, since the requirements would interfere with the amount of practise time required to be successful as a performer. You may want to remove this line from your (otherwise spot-on) post, as I suspect it's not true in this case.

El Johno said...

Anonymous, 4:08pm: It's true, many amazing musicians do not hold doctorates. Maybe I'll change it up...

But there are also Performance Certifications, Artist Certificates, etc that are more or less the equivalent of a performance doctorate. Write few papers, take fewer classes, perform more.

And, as time goes on, more and more performers are getting masters, doctorates, and advanced certificates. What we all need is time, more time to work on our craft, to improve. It's a hard thing to do while working 40-60 hours a week at a different job. I've done that twice, and my musical output, during both those times in my life, was zero.

So, it may be untrue now with the older generation of performers, I can see this changing in not so long of a time.

And, WOW, thanks for the responses everyone! This is great to see this sort of dialog being generated!

Martin: It's true. many "business people" view humans as mere assets, removing the idea of people. They focus on corporate profit and less on national and international profit. The best way to bolster any economy is to have a well-paid and strong working class.

Anonymous said...

It's about time someone who actually has a clue what they're talking about weighed in on the situation. Thank you!

Leslie said...

I say put Alfidi on the audition circuit. Let him pay for transportation, food, and lodging to apply for the positions available. Every symphony should accept his resume, since he's obviously qualifed. When he lands his amazing gig with high pay and benefits, he can report back to his adoring audience. Luckily for him, the interwebs are still free and he can post as much BS as he chooses. If he fails on the audition circuit, he can always become an air traffic controller. Failing that, a news analyst on FOX.

Robert Hubbard said...


Robert Hubbard said...


CS said...

This is great. Your second paragraph is killer. The whole thing is killer. I kind of wish I had written it myself.

SO GLAD that you addressed the ridiculous "math," AKA random string of irrelevant numbers that Alfidi pulled from somewhere. That really bothered me the most, I think: that someone who works in the financial industry didn't have the faintest clue about performing-arts economics, how a NPO is run, how musician salaries are determined, etc. Here is a man who could have spent 4 seconds doing research in order to prevent nonsense from spewing out all over the internet, and chose not to.

Thanks for not only making some excellent points, but also for helping to raise the level of discourse in discussing these kinds of delicate and divisive issues.

Robert Levine said...

I love how he called SFS a great orchestra and then said talented high schoolers could do the same for free. Something of a contradiction.

BTW, it is generally referred to as "The City" by those who live in NoCal.

Robert Levine said...

I love how he called SFS a great orchestra and then said talented high schoolers could do the same for free. Something of a contradiction.

BTW, it is generally referred to as "The City" by those who live in NoCal.

El Johno said...

Interesting, I've known several people from that area, and my uncle lived there for many years, and I've never heard San Fran referred to as The City. Good to know.

The tone Alfidi used the phrase made it much worse than any standard usage. It was definitely a "let's look down on all the poor people." That was undoubtedly coloured by just how arrogant his post was. easy to assume he was using it as a way to put himself, and by extension all those people in San Fran he obviously represents (ha!) above everyone else.

Alicia Morgan said...

the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra FAQ points out, the best comparison of a similar level of expertise, natural (prodigy level) talent, unpaid hard work and financial investment is an Olympic athlete. Sure, Tony - feel free to compare yourself to that. Do a couple of laps in the pool and I'm sure you could be Michael Phelps' teammate. After all, swimming is just flopping your arms around in water. Hell, even newborn babies can learn to swim, and they swim - for free! No one pays them. So what's the big deal?

I'm just a regular working musician, and we are expected to be grateful to even be allowed to give away the fruits of a lifetime of work in some shoddy club. It's gone beyond playing for $50 a gig to playing for a percentage of the door or bar IF we provide the clientele. I began my working career in 1976 - close to 40 years ago - and am now asked to work for less than I made back then.

But the gall of this cretin with the unmitigated hubris to call himself a 'music lover' is beyond the pale. He is unworthy to lick the saliva out of a French horn player's spit valve, much less be allowed to touch a triangle. Don't even think of touching that triangle unless you have studied for at least 15 years (both individual lessons with a master, and been admitted to - and graduated from - a prestigious music school or conservatory) and have a mastery of every percussion instrument in the section - including vibraphone, marimba, tympani and snare drum.

Then let's talk turkey, asshole.

In the meantime, keep the hell away from any concert hall, throw away all of your CDs, and turn off the radio. You are not a music lover if you are a musician-hater. You do not deserve the fruits of our labor.

pdxbassoon said...

If only the the world could ignore narcissistic idiots like Alfidi, there would be no need to "dignify" his obnoxious posting with a well-reasoned response like this.

Since Alfidi mentioned the triangle and the tambourine, why not create a petition and dare him to prepare for a professional orchestra percussion audition, play all the excerpts, and post it to YouTube?

54onthego said...

This is a really long and way too well-thought-out response to a guy who clearly didn't know what he was talking about. I mean, a third grader could write something about as cogent as his post. I'm not sure that it was worth this somewhat hysterical reply, which is about 6 times longer. Do you think anybody was listening to him or taking him seriously? I don't even think he was really taking himself seriously. Also, FYI, if a bunch of apoplectic musicians hadn't posted his piece to a million facebook pages, nobody, I mean nobody, ever would have read it.

Robyn said...

I'm a musician who grew up in the greater Bay Area and I have a great love for the SF Symphony and MTT. I consider the SFS to be one of the finest orchestras in the world (but, truthfully, my bias and love for them would put them at the very top of the heap, with every other orchestra trailing behind them in the far distance).

That said, I think they should fire every striking player and invite them to a blind re-audition (and even receive the same pay as before should they make it back in). Having personally played side-by-side with some of the members of the Symphony, I can confidently say that not every player in the group is worthy of the position they hold (although the majority are outstanding). Many of the players secured their place before the orchestra was anything special (pre-MTT), and if they had to audition for the group today, they would be outplayed by freshman at Juilliard. I'm sad to see some of these same lesser musicians in media photos at the picket line. Frankly, they should feel lucky they have a job at all and with an orchestra as fine as the San Francisco Symphony no less, because they honestly wouldn't win a full-time orchestra gig now with the skills they possess. Thirty years ago, their skills were good enough to land the job, but times have changed. I'm not saying they're not able to play the symphonic literature required of them (they very much are), but stacked against all the musicians of the world capable of playing the literature required (which is far below most professional musicians' skill set), they wouldn't win the audition. And again, only some of the players are lesser.

I think the orchestra's quality would take a dip initially by weeding out the lesser players (because the uniformity of the strings, a trademark of this remarkable group, takes time to develop), but when they made it back on top, they'd be even better than before.

El Johno said...


your comments confuse me, mainly because they seem to contradict themselves.

"Many belonged before the SFO was anything special (Pre-MTT):

I'm going to have to disagree heavily here. the SFO has had amazing talent at it's head for many years, and garnered many international awards. Can you really say the orchestra led by Pierre Monteaux, Seiji Ozawa (who got their big recording contract with Deustche Grammophone), and even Blomstedt, with whom they won their first Grammy, were bad orchestras? No, MTT is great, and the orchestra has gained even more international fame, but it hasn't been a second tier orchestra...possibly ever.

"I'm not saying they're not able to play the symphonic literature required of them (they very much are), but stacked against all the musicians of the world capable of playing the literature required (which is far below most professional musicians' skill set), they wouldn't win the audition"

Wow...this is a scary sentiment. Really think about it for a second. What you're saying is no musician deserves job security.

Take it in context: Are you the very best at your instrument? I'm not. So, do I deserve to play with a group, even if I win the audition? Maybe some of my trombone buddies didn't make it to the audition. Maybe I just had a great day. Should I have to re-audition every year? and what would happen to the group if that were the case?

Then you talk about playing as a group, the uniform sound, and how great theirs is...and how it would suffer for a while if players were replaced. If we took this attitude, of switching out players, who, by your own words, CAN PLAY THE REP, with other possibly more technically proficient players every few years, what would happen to those orchestras?

I can tell you: They'll sound like incredibly talented college orchestras. Ok, I love me some Julliard Orchestra, I love me some Peabody Conservatory, SF Conservatory, and so on and so forth. But every time I listen, there are things I hear: Not quite 100% together articulations, players sticking out (nothing is weirder than actually hearing a violin stick out...you don't think it's possible, till it happens), minutiae, infinitesimal minutiae...that makes all the difference in the world and separates a technically proficient freshman at Julliard from a 30 year orchestral vet.

And think about your life now, as a gigging musician. You come in, win an audition- every year you re-audition. One year, you miss a note in an excerpt, and POOF, fired. You worked your whole life, spent a couple years in an orchestra, only to miss a single note at the worst possible time. You've performed fantastically till that moment, no one has complained. In fact, your section thinks you're great and really know how to blend. But, poof, gone. No job security.

Or, worse, you don't even re-audition. Let's go back to Toscanini days: "I don't like how you're playing that line. you're fired." No, these members won their auditions, and they earned their spots. Until they really prove incapable of filling the spot, they deserve it.

And auditions do not go to just the most technically proficient players. There is a wide range of factors going into becoming an orchestral musician: Can they play all the styles, does their sound match our orchestra, what's their ensemble sound vs. solo sound, and on and on. As a composer,I no longer think about orchestral auditions, so I don't keep tally of the list like I did in undergrad. Orchestras pride themselves on that homogenous sound, the community they create.

And community is a huge part of what makes an orchestra amazing. Altering that community continuously makes creating music difficult.

Robyn said...

As a string player myself, and as a person who has been a connoisseur of the SFS pre and post MTT, and as a person who has once in my life had the opportunity to play under MTT, I can personally, with bias, vouch for the difference MTT has made in the uniformity of the strings of his orchestra. What he has done is jaw-dropping, quite literally, and unparalleled in the orchestra world. I give credit to the musicians as well. They are FINE players. It's my opinion that MTT and the SFS have shifted the paradigm on what can be expected of a string section. We're obviously entitled to our differing opinions, though, and I freely admit that this is my personally opinion.

I'm not advocating for yearly re-auditions (and I'm pretty sure I didn't even imply that). I see this strike as an opportune moment to cleanse the orchestra of some lesser players (who are apparently dissatisfied anyway). And just because these lesser players can play the rep doesn't mean they should be in the orchestra after they've bailed on their employer, their conductor, and their audience. For Pete's sake, I can, and do, play the rep, but I would be undeserving of a position in that orchestra. There are SO many musicians who are as good and better who would be grateful to play with the SFS for 1/3 of that salary. It seems now is a good chance to give them the opportunity, since the current members are unwilling.

My husband and I were planning a trip to San Francisco in June to hear the Rite and Gil Shaham, even though we don't live close (we don't even live in California, or any state near California). That's not going to happen now, unfortunately. It makes me sad.

El Johno said...

Robyn, this is still incredibly dangerous territory that I can never condone. I never said that pre-MTT were better, but you made those orchestras sound like second tier endeavors. MTT has done amazing things, but listening to those old recordings, the orchestra still sounds amazing.

But really look at your argument: "These people aren't happy" Why aren't they happy? Have you read their complaints? I have and they are legitimate.

"...who'd play for 1/3 the pay..." YOU'RE PLAYING INTO ALFIDI'S HANDS! Oh, the prestige, that's all that matters! But what happens when you take that contract for 1/3 the pay...

Everyone suddenly gets 1/3 the pay. And, all of a sudden, slowly but surely, you're down to minimum wage. Think I'm kidding? Look at what's happened in Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Detroit. Wait till the next go round and see what happens. I'm guessing, especially someplace like Indy, the musicians will meet their goals, the administration will meet their fundraising, and the next contract comes up and the higher ups will ask for even more of the wages of the musicians.

"this is an opportune time to cleanse the orchestra..." You know who else had that mentality? Louisville Orchestra administration. The Louisville Orchestra admin put out an open call for auditions for ALL positions. Guess how many people showed up? Practically none. Why?

Because those musicians knew that once this happens, IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN! think outside the moment. This would set horrid precedence. Oh, you're not happy? Well, we'll just fire you and hold an open audition. Oh, you're sitting last chair? Well, you're prolly not really good enough for the orchestra, we can find a replacement.

El Johno said...

I'll leave with 2 stories. First, is about my trombone teacher. He's an amazing player, a principle with a major symphony. When he talks about it, he often defers saying "Well, I was hired before they were a major symphony." And he's one of the best trombonists around. To this day, I get irritated at him about that comment. Just because you're from the "dinosaur" age, doesn't mean you don't belong. If they've adapted to the style, and they're fulfilling their jobs, do not fire them. If they really aren't pulling their weight, well...I have a feeling MTT would let them know.

The second is with my now local symphony, the Kansas City Symphony. There is a violinist who is advanced in age, sits toward the last few stands in the violins. First time I saw this violinist, I snickered. How could this person, whose prolly been there since the days of it being a regional orchestra, handle this reading session of brand new orchestral works? I watched this violinist play- the bow was a bit off, their wasn't a whole lot of vibrato happening...And this person was more in the music than any other musician. Many looked indifferent, couldn't care, but this violinist was actively talking about the part, pointing things, circling, engaged during all the moments.

There's far more to an orchestral musician than pure technique. If this is how you judge them, than you're really really missing the bigger picture. Really think far outside this moment, look at the large ramifications, and don't let personal bias get in the way.

Every day I sit here thinking about those biases. They eat me up sometimes. "Why did this composer, who can barely notate his/her music win an award, when I work my ass off? How did this person get a tech position when they can barely troubleshoot signal flow?" And, you know what, it's probably for things that I can't see in my little moment The older I get (and I'm still quite young) the more I see that life outside this moment, outside this situation, is where reality really begins. It's where one orchestra sets a precedence and then four more get their pays cut by at least 25%. It's when one person cross a picket line, and the entire orchestra is fire, not just the "lesser players." No, it's the big picture that becomes incredibly important at these moments.

Robyn said...

John, I'm not advocating that we should fire old people because they're old. In fact the "lesser musicians" I am familiar with in the SFS are not elderly. They're just not that good. My own cello teacher (a 1950's Juilliard and Eastman graduate) is in his eighties now and just last year soloed with an orchestra playing the Dvorak. No small feat. I respect the crap out of this man. I have nothing against aging musicians. I have a thing against lesser musicians who should only feel LUCKY to be in the best orchestra, but end up complaining.

For the record, I don't agree with the SFS musician's complaints. I don't think they're legitimate.

El Johno said...


you again miss the point. It wasn't that she was elderly, it's the she was definitely nowhere near the most proficient member in the orchestra. be it age, be it any other reason, doesn't matter. But i saw someone fully invested in the music, regardless of technical facility, fully committed to creating the music in the tight-knit community. By your ideas, this person should be let go. I can never agree with that, as a musician or a teacher.

And you should really read through everything. the SFO is at an all-time high. they're not hurting for money, unlike many of the orchestras that went on strike. If you're against workers getting an equal share of profits, then we are at a complete impasse as far as ideologies.

If the SFO was in dire financial straits, it'd be different. Instead, they're spending like crazy in lots of ways, but denying the standard "cost of living" increase. They're raking in cash, but denying musicians a raise, while giving raises elsewhere and spending huge sums of money on projects.

If you're against that, then there will be no persuading you about any of the issues. I am staunchly pro-labor, and it's obvious that you are not. We'll just have to accept that we may never agree on this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

So many non-musicians fail to see the thousands of gifted but unsuccessful contenders behind each high-profile success. So here's the financial equivalent:

Picture 1,000 aspiring mutual fund managers, all with a shiny new MBA in finance (and an equally shiny new suit). This year, 500 of them will beat the market (and keep their jobs). Of those winners, 250 will beat the market again in the following year. The year after it's 125, followed by 62 in the next (I rounded down--finance is harsh!). Then it's 31 in the next, 15 after that (still harsh), and so on down to 1. So in roughly a decade, you get a single market-beating hot shot with the Midas touch, pulling in 6 figures even though his success is statistically identical to pure dumb luck. And now that he's got a reputation, if he has a bad year it's the market's fault and not his.

What of the losers? The ones in the early stages at least got paid reasonably well, and since the mutual fund company knows they're not total weirdos, they've got first dibs on other positions within the company, say in mutual fund account, or (AHEM) human resources. With some simple practical math skills, a track record of corporate employment, and a network of other business professionals, I'm sure they'll earn a comfortable living.

Contrast this to the aspiring musician, who has a rare and noticeable skill before college, earns much less during the career build-up between college and the sexy symphony job, and has a less lucrative alternative once he/she gets tired of piling up air miles while working the merciless audition circuit.

Markets are fast and efficient (in a certain sense), but they are also arbitrary. You'd think a finance professional would realize this instead of whining about it.

Anonymous said...

i'd like to add to the discussion about older colleagues: as an american playing in a german orchestra in the 70s and 80s, i was exposed to a. the sublime (Tosca, La Boheme, le Sacre, Mahler 4, etc.); and b. the less sublime: (The Bartered Bride, the Merry Widow, die Fledermaus, etc.). It was, of course, easy to "get pumped" for Othello or Rosenkavalier, but the operettas and musicals were more challenging to my enthusiasm. I remember only now, hearing many of my 50-to-65 year-old colleagues woodshedding the parts of these "lesser" works, sometimes even on the days they weren't on the program, and then "laying it down" admirably when the time came. A new sense of admiration and humility has dawned on me as I remember these "Old-timers", churning it out, night after night. They were and are the real pros, and shouldn't be lightly discarded by some young studs who haven't really paid their dues. This is not specifically a response to Mr. Alfidi, whose ignorance of the subject merits no response, but more specifically to those responders who call into question the justification for retaining older, apparently incompetent players (shame on all of you!!)
Stephen Pugh

El Johno said...

I couldn't agree more Stephen. I was one of those little snits once, thinking "I'm as good or better than these players. they're just cashing a check and going home." But the more I worked with them, the more I realized what amazing people and musicians they all were.

Slowly but surely, I've been growing up. The event I listed was three years ago. At 25, I was still a bit of a snot nosed kid, but even in three short years, I've had my appreciation grow a great deal

Anonymous said...

Well, Alfidi posted this blog to the wretched facebook page, so that shows that he LOVES all this attention. It's ridiculous and sick, but it's clearly an ego boost for him. I know from experience that if you just ignore these kinds of people, it gets them worked up even more (it's fun to watch him foam at the mouth) and eventually tuck his tail between his legs... NO one should give any creedence to Alfidi, the blogger...

Anonymous said...

By the way, Alfidi does NOT HAVE an investment "firm"... Google the address of the place, it's all over the web. It's his crappy apartment! He blogs financial advice and gets paid by the advertising it gives him. That's IT! He calls himself a CEO, but where are his board of directors? He has no employees, because what blogger (besides Perez Hilton) hires employees? When introduced around town, he does indeed call himself a blogger.

El Johno said...

Ya know what's funny/sad?

I don't blog for a living. I'm musician, an educator, a trombonist, an audio engineer, and occasionally, a conductor. This blog has never garnered more than 200 views in a month, mostly from friends, maybe from a random passer-by.

I probably could have made money on this. BUT, just like with orchestras, that's not really the point. I'm not here to make money. This is a thing I do, on the side, when I have a spare moment and something to talk about (even as poorly as I stated this argument. Note to self: editing is a wonderful thing. Do it more). So, Alfidi makes money by hits on his blog from advertisers.

I could have done the same thing, I guess. Instead, all of you get an ad-free environment to voice your opinions!

And so many opinions have been voiced, all over the webs! It's awesome to see so many people talking about this problem! Even if it's to say that my response was sophomoric (can't disagree really, though I think some missed the irony of my tone), it's still great to see so much discussion. That's what really needs to happen.

Anonymous said...

Yes!! He makes money by every click on his page! Everyone should STOP clicking on his page, sending his blogpost out to others, getting his name out there. He loves stirring up controversy because it actually makes him money! The more people who blog/talk about him, the happier he is...

Anonymous said...

An excellent response to an idiotic rant. One thing, though; San Francisco is commonly referred to as The City by its residents and others in the Bay Area.

Anonymous said...

Anthony Alfidi is nothing but a worthless piece of garbage that spends his days in front of a computer writing hate mail and tearing artists, entrepreneurs, gays, minorities and frankly anyone with a job apart. This is how he makes his money folks. HE'S A BLOGGER WHO STIRS UP TROUBLE TO GET HIS FACE PLASTERED ON THE INTERNET. I actually had a friend who dated this guy for about 1 second. A real creeper who has a dark side obviously why he is still single. He is extremely racist and anti gay and spends his personal time raging against gays in the army. So sad these type of racist bottom feeders can find a following online.

Anonymous said...

FYI Anthony j. Alfidi is a quack. He currently holds no professional licenses of any sort. Not as an Investment Adviser, broker, nothing. He did hold a license for brief second but has not had one in many years even though he considers himself Investors should consult with a properly licensed and registered investment professional before making any investment decision, not listening to a dimwit like Anthony Alfidi.