The captain always goes down with the ship right?

I was relieved to hear the recent news that the San Antonio Symphony is going to get back to the business of making music. When reading about the news in the San Antonio Express I noticed that the players would not be paid for the entire 2003-2004 season and receive no benefits. Their new salary will be reduced about 30%, from $33,150 down to $23,400 annually, with decreased benefits. Then I started thinking. I know that Mr. Brosvik (the San Antonio Symphony Executive Director), the symphony board, and a limited number of staff were putting together a financial plan to present to the bankruptcy court and a new contract for the players. Essentially, they have been working to salvage the organization. What I was curious about were the conditions under which they were working.

I contacted the San Antonio Symphony office and had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Brosvik. I learned a few additional details about their situation for the 03-04 season. According to Mr. Brosvik:

  • The music director has not been paid during the 03-04 season
  • More than half of the staff was laid off
  • The musician’s salaries have not been paid during the 03-04 season
  • The musician’s had their health insurance paid for the month of September, 2003
  • The musician’s will have had their instrument insurance paid in full for the 03-04 season

Now, here’s where I start to have a little trouble with how things are being run. According to Mr. Brosvik:

  • There are five full time staff members, including Mr. Brosvik, working in finance, office management, and marketing.
  • Mr. Brosvik’s salary and benefits have been, and will continue to be paid in full for the remainder of the 03-04 season, in addition to the remaining five office staff
  • There is no planned reduction in the Executive Director’s salary or benefits for the 04-05 season

I believe that moral integrity among orchestra management should not be something to aspire toward, it should be expected. A lack of corporate ethics in this country seems to be reaching epidemic levels (or, it seems, we’re just becoming aware of them). I feel that the San Antonio situation seems to be giving this appearance credit. How could the individual who led the organization into bankruptcy continue to draw a full salary and benefits while the players were going on unemployment? Why didn’t the board insist that Mr. Brosvik take a reduction in salary at least equal to the 30% they proposed to the players for the 04-05 season? Isn’t the Captain supposed to go down with the ship.

I also contacted Ron Noble, a musician in the San Antonio Symphony and AFM Local 23 President, to get his response about the situation. He said that the players were all very demoralized due to loosing an entire season’s salary and benefits while the Executive Director kept his entire salary and benefits (which is more than four times the base musician salary). Furthermore, Ron was disappointed that there was no plan for Mr. Brosvik to take a reduction in salary or benefits for the planned 04-05 season.

Let’s compare the San Antonio situation to another orchestra that recently experienced financial difficulties. According to the embattled Louisville Orchestra Chief Operating Officer, Michael Beattie, when their management proposed a pay cut to the players last spring, they proposed similar percentage pay cuts among players and staff, and larger percentage pay cuts among the conductors and Executive Director. And according to Tim Zavidil, Louisville Orchestra player’s spokesman, it would have seriously wounded player morale if only the players were asked to take a reduction in salary. (Tim went on to remind me that the players emphatically believe that there should not have been any pay reductions, rather an influx of new income to sustain what was already in place. But that issue is best served in future blogs.) Ideally, an orchestra should never be forced into such desperate measures, but doesn’t this at least seem like a better example of corporate ethics?

I would love to hear from readers about all of this, especially those in the San Antonio area. Let me know what you think.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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