labor issues the orchestra world

in solidarity with fort worth and pittsburgh

Our shirts say: "Supporting the Arts means Supporting the Artists".
Our shirts say: “Supporting the Arts means Supporting the Artists”.

Orchestras cannot continue to embrace regressive tactics when it comes to making their business models work. Musicians cannot be outsourced to foreign call centers. We can’t (or shouldn’t) be replaced with robots or machines.

Our training doesn’t get cheaper, nor do our instruments, rents, and housing costs. But managements across the country seem to think that our salaries can shrink, or fail to keep pace with inflation, or be frozen, and it will make no difference to those of us performing in front of the public every week.

Finding new way to make the symphony orchestra an indispensable part of the the modern urban landscape is the way to bring orchestras forward. Fort Worth and Pittsburgh deserve orchestras that are paid commensurate to their skill level, and must be made aware of what having an orchestra of their caliber in their city means for their community.

Managers and conductors see constant increases in their pay “because that is what the market will bear”. Musicians seem to have no such market forces working on their behalf. That is why it is so important for we unionized musicians of the American Federation of Musicians to stick together.

Together, we can make a difference.


labor issues the orchestra world

Forth Worth Symphony musicians give strike authorization



Is this the next big labor dispute after Minnesota and Hartford? It certainly is shaping up to be. The rhetoric from the orchestra’s management definitely seems to be from the same play book as those other orchestras. A strike authorization vote doesn’t necessarily mean a strike is unavoidable, but it does allow the players’ representatives to call a strike at any time. Let’s hope that this action on the part of the musicians will help the discussion to move along in a more positive direction – but somehow, I don’t think that will be the case.

Star-Telegram article

labor issues

you have no idea

I remember (back in the days when I could afford cable tv that had more than just the local channels) watching an MTV show about the ‘real’ lives of celebrities. The tagline was “you think you know how my life is? you have no idea”. That clearly applies to musicians of all types, but especially those of us who make our living in symphony orchestras.

I stay up for hours after concerts, thinking about what went well, and what did not. I try to make a mental practice map for the next day in order to reinforce things that went pretty well, and to correct those things that did not.

I get up early before morning rehearsals to take a look at passages that are exceptionally difficult. I  live in an apartment, and so must often use a heavy practice mute in order to get work done that would otherwise bother my neighbors.

During heavy weeks of rehearsal, I often spend a good amount of time going back to basics, working on etudes and scales to ensure that the ensemble work does not adversely affect my intonation and tone production, which can often happen when one is unable to hear one’s own sound clearly in the orchestra.

After rehearsals, I go home and spend time looking over places that need more work, often re-fingering difficult passages that were in a different tempo than was anticipating. Bowings often get changed at the initial rehearsals, and need further practicing to get them thoroughly in hand for the next rehearsal.

On concert days, when there is particularly exposed or difficult writing for the violas, I will literally wake up worrying about these passages, and think about them incessantly all day. I try to “visualize” aurally the way it will feel to successfully negotiate the passages, and how they fit into the complete orchestral texture. These are the passages that you will see me working on on stage right up until the moment the concert begins.

I worry constantly about the financial footing of my orchestra.

I worry constantly about where I will next cut my expenditures, and what I can do to earn more money. I ponder going back on the audition circuit – something that I am loath to do, but may consider doing depending upon how my orchestra decides to handle its financial obligations over the next season or so. Believe me, hitting the audition circuit at the age of 44 is no picnic.

And that’s just the beginning. We don’t simply play 20 hours a week for our ‘big’ paychecks. We work pretty much non-stop, for all of our waking hours. We care deeply about what we do. We love what we do. We’ve trained our entire lives to get where we are right now – not the highest paid orchestra in the country, not a Grammy-winning ensemble, but an orchestra that can hold its head up high and play like our lives depend upon it (and they most certainly do). I defy anyone to say we have easy, cushy jobs.

So I stand in proud solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony.