Another “Driving For Dollars” Fatality

Not even a month following the tragedy in Oregon where two members of the Eugene Symphony were killed when their car was hit by a drunk driver, another musician dies in an automobile accident while traveling home from a performance…


Phanos.jpgTheophanis “Phanos” Dymiotis, a violinist in the Delaware Symphony Orchestra was killed while returning to his home in Lutherville, Maryland following a performance in Wilmington, DE with the DSO.

According to the 03/12/07 edition of the Baltimore Sun, “Police said the driver of a northbound car crossed the center line in attempting to pass a tractor-trailer and that the resulting collision killed Mr. Dymiotis and the two occupants of the other car.”

Although this could simply be terrible timing these two fatal accidents may indicate a disturbing trend in the world of low to mid-budget size orchestras. It is worth pointing out that in both cases, Oregon and Maryland, the musicians died while traveling more than 70 miles one way to earn money as an orchestra musician.

Most musicians in this business refer to such jobs as “Driving for Dollars” or performing in “Freeway Philharmonics”, nevertheless, it look as if the quantity of musicians and the distance they are willing to travel for these organizations is on the rise.

I am unaware of any official study which follows the average distance as well as the accidents/fatalities for orchestra musicians, regardless, perhaps it is time to begin tracking these statistics. Perhaps it is also time to begin considering whether or not the personal safety for musicians who are required to travel long distances in order to cobble together a living wage is something ensembles need to acknowledge.

For example, other industries pay employees hazard pay for their willingness to work in dangerous environments. Others offer employees accidental death or injury policies in addition to their pay.

Consequently, do orchestra managements and boards need to concern themselves with these two incidents or are these tragedies not their professional concern? Should orchestras report how many musicians, if any, have died in automobile accidents related to work required travel in job advertisements? Should they begin providing the same sort of incentives to their employees along the lines of what is mentioned above?

Coincidentally, Nathan Kahn, Symphonic Services Division Negotiator with the American Federation of Musicians, recently did a video interview with Greg Sandow at Polyphonic.org to talk about the wide variety of roles and services which he performs for orchestras. One of the video interview segments focuses directly with “Driving for Dollars” ensembles and you can find out more about issues which concern musicians in those ensembles in the other video interview segments.

What do you think, is this just an unfortunate coincidence, is it something the business is going to have to address, or is it something else entirely?

UPDATE: The 03/14/2007 edition of the Cecil Whig reports “Police cited alcohol on [the driver of the other car] as a factor in the crash. In addition, the Camry was reported “not returned” in an unauthorized use of a motor vehicle case investigated by Elkton police on March 7.”

Postscript: McDaniel college, where Phanos Dymiotis served as an adjunct lecturer in Music posted a press release about Phanos’ passing which provides some additional insight into who Phanos was as a musician and colleague.

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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20 thoughts on “Another “Driving For Dollars” Fatality

  1. It’s fairly common for people in the Washington, D.C. area to travel over 70 miles for their commutes. Not just musicians. I don’t see how having to travel long distances to make money makes musicians special.

    It’s tragic that these folks died.

  2. There’s another factor that’s missing from the discussion here about the orchestra musicians having to drive these long commutes after work. Except for Sunday afternoon concerts, these musicians have to drive home late at night. Even though there might be fewer drivers statistically, the fact that people are more likely to be tired in the late evening hours increases the risk. Most people with “regular” working hours do their commutes home during the daylight. (The morning commute might be the reverse of the evening risk, of course.)

    Agreed with Lindemann that it’s so awful that these musicians died, through no fault of their own, but through the inattention of the other drivers.

  3. It’s absurd to even suggest that this tragedy, and the one involving Eugene Symphony musicians, may be “a disturbing trend among low budget orchestras.” Lindeman is right. I was a free-lance musician for many years in the New York metropolitan area.

  4. Having been one that has traveled between Delaware, Harrisburg, PA, Hagerstown MD, Richmond, VA, and many Mid Atlantic Ropa orchestras, I do understand the relevance that Xylo guy and Lindeman seem to miss. Of course, if one lives in NY they would have better transportation options and wouldn’t comprehend that these orchestras don’t always give hotels, or day time rehearsals. Many, many times I have traveled late at night for a hundred miles or more after a rehearsal or concert. The night time travels are different than day: you have sleepy drivers, drunks, and your general idiot that is driving fast because there is little traffic.

    Orchestras such as these I have mentioned hold very competitive auditions, and players do travel great lengths to work for them. It was never my dream (and probably not many others) to grow up and be in the Harrisburg or Delaware symphonies. I didn’t spend several years at conservatory and thousands of dollars on my instrument to have my career goal be a per service gig orchestra member. But you have to do these jobs in order to win the bigger ones. Not everyone is fortunate enough to live in a NY and make enough gigging, or land a big job immediately. These little orchestras are the starting places for so many. I always thought of the late night trek home as a test to see how badly I wanted to be a musician. Thankfully, I survived my treks and thankfully I finally got a bigger job in a bigger town.

  5. I have to disagree with Xyloguy, I don’t think suggesting the notion that it is worthwhile to begin tracking this issue and building statistics is absurd in the least. I don’t disagree that it is always an individual’s choice to put themselves into any work environment, however, why would it be absurd to provide reliable statistics which musicians can use to help make an informed decision. Furthermore, why would it is absurd for an employer to demonstrate concern for employees and find methods to protect and/or compensate them if they have to operate in an environment that is proven to be less safe than the average occupation? The timing of these two accidents may be nothing more than coincidence or it may be just the events needed to recognize a previously unknown element of undesirable risk. Either way, why would ignorance be a reasonable option over awareness?

  6. I free-lanced with every kind of orchestra and every size, playing every kind of music: symphony, musical theatre, church jobs, club dates, jazz, etc. I didn’t have a “big job.” Yes, there are more transportation options in NY City but this discussion, started by Drew, was about musicians driving their own cars. I don’t believe Drew was talking about using the bus or subway which are the “options.” (You might have guessed from my screen name that I’m a percussionist/drummer which kind of makes it hard to take the subway to work.)

    Drew, your concern for the victims of these tragedies is admirable and I never said or implied that an employer should not care about his/her employees. What is absurd is that you made a conclusion first. The cause of the two crashes was the OTHER (non-musician) driver. People in many different professions work all hours of the night – for example many major law firms and publishers employ proofreaders who start work at midnight. Should they get hazard pay? How about call center phone operators? Maybe waitresses who work in all-night diners?

  7. These are terrible, terrible tragedies.

    That’s our starting point, and the one on which we all agree. I have had many anxious moments waiting for my spouse (a travelling musician) to return from concerts and rehearsals.

    I think all the previous comments have made good points. We all choose our professions, and we also choose how far we are willing to travel to engage in them. I live 15 miles from my workplace, when I could live a block away. It’s my choice, and I recognize that I’m in greater danger of dying in a traffic accident as a result of that choice.

    Ultimately, these situations reflect the unfortunate low value that our society places on the performing arts. The world would be a better place if every medium-sized city could support a full time orchestra and pay a living wage, with benefits, rendering these commuting situations rare. But that’s not reality. As long as there is a shortage of job opportunities for musicians, relative to the number of musicians looking for work, these situations will continue.

    As far as the “hazard pay” or accidental death insurance options Drew mentioned in his initial post: Drew is clearly an advocate and supporter of the collective bargaining process. I think that if a given orchestra’s musicians decides these are things it wants to put on the table, they can do that, just as in many cases they have done with mileage payments, per diem, and so forth. Ultimately it all costs money, and if orchestra musicians indicate this is a priority, it will likely get done.

    Looking at Drew’s 2nd post, I agree that it would be beneficial to compile statistics – I’m sure many orchestra boards would find them to be a real eye-opener. I’m not sure, though, that you can simply call the commuting situation a hazardous “environment” or workplace in the same way that you can look at a concert hall or rehearsal space. There are many factors in commuting that are outside the control of management – the condition someone keeps their car in, for instance, how fast they drive, and so forth. Plus there is that element of personal choice, such as applies to any commuter in any profession.

    Overall, it demonstrates a side of the profession that is not pretty and deserves greater exposure. The more awareness, the better.

  8. Xylo guy, you just don’t get it. Obviously there are many night jobs out there. But the point of this particular blog is intended for musicians. Bringing sad situations to light here helps all of us focus on how musicians can better live, managers can better manage, and boards can better oversee. Had this not been mentioned, maybe there might not be that thought in the back of someone’s mind as they leave rehearsal at 10 pm, or the concert at 10:30, tired already. Hopefully bringing this to the eyes and minds of all involved in the ORCHESTRA business will save a life, or two. Also, I am ABSOLUTELY interested in learning more about whether all the driving I do is putting me at a higher risk than I might want to accept – regardless if it is someone else’s fault or not.

  9. Xyloguy: I’m still not entirely certain how you inferred that there was any conclusion offered. In the article I mentioned the timing of the accidents may indicate a disturbing trend in the world of low to mid-budget size orchestras.

    Conversely, the timing made me think there is a need to begin compiling statistics. If that comes about and there are some surprising findings, then how should orchestras begin to approach the situation.

    Paul: I found it particularly interesting that you mentioned that musicians tend to use the collective bargaining process to introduce issues they find important. I wouldn’t disagree with that in the least; however, it is difficult to notice that this process lies at the heart of many problematic management/labor issues.

    More often than not, I hear board members lamenting about how all musicians do is complain and make demands. Nevertheless, I don’t think it is mere coincidence that in most orchestras I’m aware of that have very low grievance rates and a healthy management/labor relationship, you can always find one or more managers in key positions who go out of their way to make sure that the players are provided for to the best of their ability so they aren’t put in a position to always have to ask for everything.

    I’m certainly not advocating that managers are responsible for diving every whim or desire a player may possibly develop, but I think a healthy attitude is one where both sides do what they can to be aware of each other’s needs before situations become confrontational. However, let me say that I certainly don’t think you’re advocating that they should be confrontational, but that particular point made me think about that issue in detail.

  10. I agree with much of what Paul Helfrich said. Mileage payments and per diems will not bring these musicians back to life.

    Paul wrote: “I’m not sure, though, that you can simply call the commuting situation a hazardous “environment” or workplace in the same way that you can look at a concert hall or rehearsal space. There are many factors in commuting that are outside the control of management – the condition someone keeps their car in, for instance, how fast they drive, and so forth. Plus there is that element of personal choice, such as applies to any commuter in any profession.”

    Yes, that was my point. Maybe I did a bad job of saying it. Paul did a much better job than me!

    Jen: That’s why I also brought up other (non-music)professions.

  11. I think the notion of individual choice is right on the mark. Along those lines, I think providing as much reliable information as possible for individuals to make the choices they feel comfortable with (whether it be through individual choice or collective action) is the way to go.

  12. I only briefly knew Phanos, but will miss his smile and the joy he brought to the job. This is an awful time for our orchestra, everyone is saddened beyond belief. There is a lot of individual blame…like maybe if we played the last piece faster, or maybe if I talked to him before he left. Maybe he’d still be here. But to all of us with the broken hearts, we will play on in memory of Phanos and hope that history will not repeat anymore with the tragic events that happened to both Eugene Symphony and Delaware Symphony.

  13. It was 50 years ago, September 1st, 1957, that Dennis Brain died when his car crashed into a tree. He was returning from a performance of the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony under Ormandy at the Edinburgh Festival, and had a recording session of Strauss’ Capriccio the next morning in London.

  14. Drew, Last Sunday my wife and I drove from Miami – where we live – to Boca Raton, FL, for dinner with friends. We took I 95 North, and, on a weekend mid-afternoon, what should have taken one hour took two going, over two coming back after 11 PM, as they were doing work on I95. Going through this made me think of how often former members of the now-defunct Florida Philharmonic had to do put up with this to make a living, so that their orchestra – a tri-county one – came to be nicknamed “The I95 Symphony Orchestra.” Yet travel they did and continue to do now as the finest of our players gig all over South Florida to eke out a living. The old Philharmonic Board, like most arts boards in this area, was completely clueless and looked out neither for the institution they allowed to die nor for the artists who served it so long and so well, including its Music Director. Sadly, the Eugene and Delaware tragedies could occur again. The same goes for free-lance actors and other professional theatre artists in South Florida who must be willing to travel hundreds of miles each week to make Equity minimum in most, if not all, of our regional theatres.

  15. While I’m not going to go to my grave about it, I don’t think driving home at 10:30 pm constitutes “hazardous duty.” But let’s also remember that musicians are not the only ones dealing with late hours. Ushers, custodial and security personnel, administrative staff, and stagehands also deal with this issue.

  16. Forgot one point I wanted to make: I think the group that MOST needs to know the statistics, as part of their education about the profession they’re about to choose, is music students.

    Drew had said “Should orchestras report how many musicians, if any, have died in automobile accidents related to work required travel in job advertisements?” I think that was probably one of those thinking-out-loud kind of things – it would be a bit macabre to include that in an employment ad. But aspiring musicians SHOULD know those kind of things about the industry, as a whole. They need to know what they’re getting into.

    I think Blair Tindall’s book should be required reading in every conservatory (not the only relevant text, but it could be one of them) and folks need to know some of the less pleasant realities of the music trade, including the whole “driving for dollars” phenomenon.

    I’m not suggesting it should be like “Scared Straight” where oboists suddenly decide to become CPAs, but it is the very nature of music schools that they are constantly training people for jobs that don’t really exist, at least not in quantity. Anyone who’s ever done an audition for a regional orchestra where there are dozens and dozens of people vying for one flute or oboe or trombone chair knows what I’m talking about. Drew is absolutely correct in calling attention to the situation. Whether there’s any “solution” or not could be debated forever, but it’s something of which we should all be aware.

    My orchestra includes many musicians who must travel 5-6 hours to play with us. Of course, that means we do our rehearsals in a concentrated number of days, and we provide hotel accommodations for the out-of-town players. But we have some players in the immediate area who do make those late-night trips of an hour or so after rehearsals, and there’s no doubt it’s worrisome. One group that often is making these “driving for dollars” runs is substitute musicians. And that brings up another thing I’ve been thinking about: how would you provide accidental death insurance to a substitute, who might have never played with your orchestra before? It could be done for regular members, but what about subs and extras? Maybe this is something the AFM could provide, to all its members? That would cover the free-lance market better than anything one particular orchestra might do. As an employer, I would certainly be open to and urge my board to consider matching employee contributions through payroll deduction toward basic life insurance for every musician.

  17. While I don’t believe that these sad events demonstrate a new trend, the fact of the matter is that most of the freelance orchestral musicians drive many more miles than your average ‘civilian.’ Yearly mileage figures of 25,000-40,000 miles a year aren’t uncommon. Here in Cleveland, people perform with orchestras in Youngstown (75 miles away), Erie, PA (110 miles) Wheeling and Charleston, WV (140 & 170 miles) etc. I’ve done the drive to Ft. Wayne and back in one day (215 miles each way). When it’s figured that the average person drives around 12,000 miles a year, we’re talking about double the exposure on the road. Mix in driving back long distances at 11pm after a taxing rehearsal having being up since 7am with a lake effect snow region and bad things can happen. Are musicians ‘special?’ No, but it is different than coming home at 5pm.

    I see these recruiting signs on the back of semi-trailers that read “make 45 cents a mile with…” Sometimes, it seems like a good raise.

    Carl Topilow has a mantra that he recites at the first orchestra meeting at CIM for all the students who are starting to play with these various groups… “Arrive alive.” It is quite possibly the most practical and concise advice offered in a conservatory today.

  18. These small regional orchestras cast a wide net for players but rarely provide options such as hotel accomodations. With these recent events, perhaps orchestra boards might begin to raise money in order to offer some options to players who travel 70+ miles to a gig. There really is no answer but there are also no options. If you want to make a living as a freelancer, you have no choice but to take the risk.

    Stephanie: Although the ushers and security guards also drive home from the concert, I doubt that they have travelled from another town to perform their task – not unlike the audiences.
    As musicians, we are the imported product.

    Perhaps it’s time to work closer to home. Like food, we should only be served within a certain radius of where we are planted.
    Another unrealistic, but personal choice.

    What a tragedy to have lost Phanos. My heart still stops everytime I realize again that it has really happened.

  19. Drew good morning. This comment is one I posted on my own website.

    I can’t get the subject off my mind as I think about so many friends in the performing arts who would think nothing of driving one hour or more one way (make that two hours round trip or more) five or six times a week during the rehearsal period, as many during the run of a show, to work at their chosen profession.

    While some people may cynically object with the observation that many folks, other than performers, also drive long distances to work, I maintain that the average actor or musician consumes a higher level of adrenalin during a rehearsal or performance than, for example, the average office worker. Simply put, an actor or musician is damned tired after work, be it a show, a concert, or a rehearsal.

    Compound that with another fact of life: your average musician or actor plays, rehearses, and performs in the evening, often at the end of a long day of teaching or working in a “regular” job. He or she then goes to a theatre or concert venue to make art happen with his fiddle, his horn, or his body and soul. And, to get to that privileged moment, that artist will have spent many, many years and dollars preparing for it.

    I call that hazardous work.

  20. It’s heartwrenching to consider the should’ves and could’ves in the case of Phanos’ death. Surely now all the trekking musicians will be even more diligent about looking out for one another. It makes me greatly appreciate those times when my friends have called to check on a tired musician making the late night drive. This and carpooling help a lot. But, unfortunately for Phanos and his loved ones and friends, this may not have made a difference.

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