Hot on the heels of developments in San Antonio the labor situation in Detroit seem to be building pressure…
On 8/22, The Detroit Free Press published an article by music writer Mark Stryker which outlines the crux of the issues in the ongoing negotiations. You can get yourself up to speed by going through that article and kudos to Stryker for using data freely available from the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) to help supply facts and figures for the article; it’s good to see reporters using that resource.
I don’t think things are ready to fly apart at the seams just yet, there is sincere potential mind you, but it isn’t desperate at this point. Nevertheless, one of my biggest concerns in this situation is if the discussion degrades into the “well, the players earn six figures, why should they bitch about any cuts at all.”
Case in point, Stryker’s article includes the following quote from Robert Allesee, a member of the Detroit Symphony board,
“If they’re making enough for the year, then anyone who quibbles about not getting paid for a vacation is crazy,”
The moment you begin walking down that path things get ugly. Who is to say what qualifies for “making enough?” Is a six figure salary good? Of course it is, but if all musicians need to do is “make enough” then why shouldn’t they accept an annual salary of $75,000, $50,000, or even $25,000 a year? Could those musicians find a way to survive on each of those salary levels? I bet they could but that isn’t the point.
Instead, it has much more to do with what I like to call “The Fragile Powerhouse” scenario. Creating a destination orchestra takes decades to accomplish and is ultimately the result of several board and administration regimes successfully building on one series of accomplishments after another. Conversely, it only takes a season or two to tear much of that progress down and more often that not, you don’t notice the cycle has even started until it is too late.
As such, destination level orchestras are not unlike a Faberge Egg: it takes an enormous amount of time and dedication to craft but only a few seconds to cause irreparable damage – the Fragile Powerhouse.