the orchestra world

day 109


It’s been 109 days since my last day on the job (actually working) as a member of the Oregon Symphony. Our season officially ended on June 13. I’ve had a couple of concerts as a member of 45th Parallel Universe‘s Pyxis Quartet via their remarkable live collaboration platform (thanks, Danny!), but that’s been about it. A colleague of mine called our situation an ‘unplanned sabbatical’. Unplanned is right.

I’ve written a half dozen posts in the intervening time, but have deleted the drafts the next day. Nothing felt good. Nothing felt right.

Mostly, I’ve been trying to get my instrument out at least once a day, and do some warm ups and a scale or an etude. Sometimes actual music gets played. Sometimes not.

It’s an unprecedented time for many occupations in the US. But in my middle-class, blue collar neighborhood, things seem to be pretty much as usual. I see my neighbors going to work each morning, while I sit around trying to figure out what I’m going to do with myself.

I and my colleagues feel pretty much invisible to society – even more so than usual. Some countries are announcing that they are slashing funding to arts education in their national curricula. Not exactly inspiring hope for the future.

My union brothers and sisters around the country are anticipating a round of contract re-openings in these tough times for US orchestras. One orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony, decided that cutting off their employees’ health insurance was the right course of action in the midst of a pandemic. What were they thinking? Well, they’re in the midst of renegotiating a new CBA. Surprise, surprise. And don’t get me started about the Nashville Symphony. My initial reaction was profound disbelief. But I wasn’t in the room where it happened. There is a lot that I don’t know about the situation, and there may be plans to simply overhaul the entire ‘season’ rather than try to carry through preexisting plans. We’ll see.

Uncertainty is the greatest enemy to hope (and fiscal planning). When I think about how much I’m worrying about the future, I try to put myself in the shoes of those people who are trying to chart the course of my orchestra into the future – effectively without any sort of official guidance, and precious little (or nonexistent) funding. My heart goes out to the many people who have been working tirelessly these past three months who have just been furloughed until the next season starts (don’t ask).

I also know that our board of directors has been working overtime to try to fill the gap in earned income as well. Their responsibility is to the current and future financial health of the orchestra, and it’s a heavy burden when times are tough. I’m confident that they will make things happen in the sometimes mysterious ways that boards do their thing. High level contacts with government officials, financial institutions, and philanthropic foundations may help us get through the next few months and enable us to spring into action when the coast is clear.

Flowers in our garden.

As for me, I’m trying to keep busy and keep my thinking to the short term. It’s a luxury, but it is what will keep me sane, along with limiting my intake of the 24 hour news cycle. I’m doing work in our garden, riding my bike (without crashing, thank you very much), and spending lots of quality time with my wife and our two cats. So I’m making the best of a tough situation, and am grateful that, for now, my savings and thriftiness will enable us to get through this period without undue financial hardship. I hope that all of you are staying well and safe – and WEAR A MASK IN PUBLIC!

By Charles Noble

I'm the Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.

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