Joe Horowitz: Orchestra Musicians “should no longer expect to work full time”

WDET News broadcast a segment by Noah Ovshinsky on 11/29/2010 that examines the work rule and job description issues related to the ongoing Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) labor dispute. Clearly, this is one of the more contentious issues and in the course of examining the topic, Ovishnsky includes what might be considered inflammatory commentary from author Joe Horowitz…

For years now, Horowitz has maintained that, by and large, orchestras perform too many concerts and he states that as a reason for the DSO’s problems to Ovishnsky. Moreover, Horowitz reportedly said that being an orchestra musician should no longer be a full time vocation.

Horowitz says concert over-kill is one of the reasons why many orchestras are struggling financially.  He says musicians should think of themselves as more of an educational resource than solely as concert performers. Moreover he says…players should no longer expect to work full time.

The broadcast segment includes a direct quote from Horowitz justifying that position with what might be best characterized as hasty generalization.

“I write books. I’m on my ninth book…I don’t expect to support myself and my family through that one activity. I have to do other things because in deciding to be a writer I chose a field that’s not like a being a doctor…it’s not as lucrative. It has other rewards…and musicians all made that choice and they refuse to live with it.”

What is perhaps one of the more disturbing elements of the DSO labor dispute is how some voices are using this specific and unique case as the basis for trumpeting sweeping universal changes across the entire field. For example, Horowitz uses the DSO dispute as a platform for talking about orchestra musician employment status at large; how that helps or relates to the DSO situation (or the field as a whole) is unknown.

The problem with discussing the DSO job description and related service conversion elements in a thoughtful and constructive fashion is a complete lack of information. Simply put, we have no idea about how the DSO administration and board define these elements nor do we know what the imposed contract language dictates. I’ve submitted formal requests to Elizabeth Twork, DSO Director of Public Relations, asking for a copy of the contract that was imposed several weeks ago in order to replace speculation with fact but that request was denied. According to Twork, “We have not shared [the contract] with anyone outside the DSO because of our desire to refrain from negotiating in press.”

So until that policy changes, speculating on details or making sweeping categorical statements is at best, ill conceived and at worst, irresponsible. A much better alternative is to identify a specific component within the service conversion/job description discussion and focus on those details.

In the meantime, WDET News has a transcript of the segment available at their website and you can listen to the segment below.

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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33 thoughts on “Joe Horowitz: Orchestra Musicians “should no longer expect to work full time”

  1. It’s mid-afternoon and I can’t believe no responses to this “stirrin’ the puddin'” piece. So let me begin with an observation in response..

    Undergraduate tuition, room (double occupancy) and board, plus fees at the New England Conservatory (my alma mater) this year rings in at more than $47,000 dollars annually.

    Multiply by 4 and this represents a significant investment.

    Who would make such an investment hoping for only a part-time job?

  2. Hi Drew

    I share with you below my email yesterday to Noah Ovshinsky, regarding his representation of my comments in his radio piece (as cited by you).

    I never said that musicians should “not expect to work full-time.” However, I do believe that in the future, more than in the recent past, their full-time employment will need to include something beyond rehearsing and performing concerts for a single orchestra of which they are members.

    Also, I stressed to Noah Ovshinsky that I claimed absolutely no knowledge of the DSO situation, and was only reflecting on the symphonic community at large. I asked him to indicate as much in his piece.

    I would be grateful if you clarified this for your readers.

    Thks
    Joe Horowitz

    Noah:
    What I said is that musicians cannot any longer assume that orchestras owe
    them a “living wage” — i.e., a full-time salary, such that they don’t have to
    supplement their orchestral jobs with other work (typically, also in music).
    This was commonplace before those Ford Foundation grants in the sixties. In
    most orchestras, musicians needed “second jobs” because their orchestral
    employment wasn’t full-time.

    I certainly did not say that musicians should “not expect to work full-time.”
    They should expect to work full-time, but their orchestral jobs will not be
    their only jobs. (This is already happening.)

  3. I have to agree fundamentally with Joe on two aspects.

    1) The orchestra market is flooded. But not by too many concerts, but by too many orchestra groups. I don’t know about Detroit, so I’ll stick to something I do know. In the DFW area there are at least 7 symphonic groups. Dallas and Fort Worth are the two biggest. It is a competition. Not to bash on the patrons, but the percentage of patrons that listen to music at the level of the actual musicians is small. So if you have an average patron who “likes” music and has the option of Dallas or a smaller community group, what do you think he will choose? I hope Dallas, but too many times they will settle for the community group. Why? Because he lives in that community and doesn’t have to deal with coming into town and all the expense that comes with it. The tickets are cheaper (if not free sometimes). And because he can’t totally tell the difference he is artistically and culturally satisfied.

    So, I don’t think it’s too many concerts its too much competition.

    Drew, you talk about expanding the market. I think its time that the larger city group think about merging (or if this were the mafia, take the turf back).

    2) I still believe that organizations need to figure out how to fully employee their musicians that result in full time employment and if that means having to do other things than playing concerts – so be it. We should be concerned about supplying the best quality and quantity of work for the best musicians; not trying to employee the most musicians that comes at the expense of the others.

    What do think it is better?

    A part time group of 60 or a full time group of 40.

  4. Just to clarify – I’m not trying to say Dallas is better than Fort Worth. I’m trying to compare professional and community.

  5. I played in a regional orchestra for more than a decade. My wife and I supplemented our meager salaries with teaching and gigs. The orchestra sounded good, sometimes very good, but not at the level of a major orchestra. Expectations have to be lowered due to the fact that everyone must work other jobs, and therefore, cannot devote their lives to one job.

    What the salary of a major orchestra provides is the opportunity to create a culture of attainment. This is your job, not one of a succession of gigs, and your livelihood depends on making music happen with this team.

    Should major orchestra salaries decline to the point Mr. Horowitz suggests, expect quality to decline. That would be a shame.

  6. I actually wrote about the abundance of orchestras in a single metropolitan area back in 2004. In that instance, I focused on the Washington D.C. area (Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and McLean) but in general; yes, it is possible to have too many groups too much of the same thing.

    At the same time, I don’t think an example like the Dallas Symphony and Ft. Worth Symphony rise to the level of oversupply. If you take a look at the 2004 article, you’ll see a number of differences between those ensembles and the ones I used for the oversupply example.

    I also think there’s room for groups that carve very specific niche’s. For example, here in Chicago the Sinfonietta is an ensemble with a mission that focuses on “inclusiveness and innovation in classical music through the presentation of the highest quality orchestral concerts and related programs.” They play pretty much the same thing as other orchestras but they serve a very distinct purpose.

    Elgin is far enough outside the city to draw a different audience than the CSO. As such, it does a good job at fulfilling the role of a regional orchestra serving a satellite metropolitan area.

    Beyond that, the discussion comes back to growing the market.

    As for mergers, I don’t think much of them. They shouldn’t be entirely discounted but in general they are a dangerous idea.

  7. Don’t get me wrong I think DSO and FWSO are both viable orchestras. Its the surrounding suburban groups that I think take away from them.

    And I agree that niche groups like period or chamber groups don’t do as much harm. However I think orchestra groups should try and find the talent in their ranks to produce that type of product as added variety that draws in more people.

  8. Speaking as someone who went through the high-priced music school/conservatory system for performance, the vast majority of students in the position to make this decision are among other things influenced by two factors that make the concerns you expressed less of a problem:

    1. Loans – make the expense/investment less immediate and far less palpable in the moment.

    2. So many are coming from situations where their talents shine brighter than peers at home, and while they can express a token understanding of the idea that “very few make it into a full-time orchestra,” are set up to feel they stand a good chance to be one of those people.

    At the same time, institutions attempting to draw applicants at worst tend to play on those hopes and dreams. Even for institutions that want to paint a realistic picture, sending a message of “it’s really hard, and most of you won’t make it, even if you attend here” is probably not the best way to encourage interest among prospective students.

    In terms of being an “investment” this avenue has never been a low-risk venture… I would imagine as long as there is any number of full-time orchestras out there, this situation would continue. You’d have to simply see it become unheard of for an orchestral musician anywhere to have their organization be a full-time job for a level of scarcity of full-time jobs to influence this alone.

  9. thanks for the clarification on the DSO/FWSO comparison and my apologies if I misinterpreted your original comment.

    There are a number of groups who have dedicated chamber ensembles that focus on one niche or another. One of the problems with this is contrary to popular belief, the overlap between ticket buyers is not that high. Consequently, marketing expenses can be prohibitive at the onset of building a core audience.

    At the same time, I’ve seen groups do a very good job at exploring chamber series under a “presents” label by setting up a zero sum requirement (where tix sales must cover all costs) and then taking the the most successful series and incorporating them into their regular concert subscriptions.
    But in the case of the Northern Virginia orchestras where two of the four groups used the same venue and had entirely similar programming and no other special mission based hook, redundancy is certainly an issue.

  10. In the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex area, you have two orchestras — Garland Symphony and Symphony Arlington — with the same conductor and same musicians, playing the same programs two nights in a row in the two towns under the two different names. They even have the same web site design. They have different administrations and boards. I don’t know of such a situation anywhere else in the country.

    Redundancy is definitely an issue and it’s good to read Drew and Joe Horowitz talk about this. There has been a real disconnect in the laws of “supply and demand” when it comes to the arts.

  11. Chris Blair’s comment about tuition reminded me of my late father. I, too, am an NEC graduate and for many years my father could never get over the fact that my NEC tuition was more expensive than my brother’s medical school tuition!

  12. Drew, I have been following with keen interest your Detroit coverage. As one who played a number of times with the DSO (Bruckner 9; Mahler 2 & 6, Strauss Alpine) in the early 80s, and studied with the Principal Horn at the time, Eugene Wade, I grew up with the ensemble.
    So I see what is happening as really tragic.

    Interesting that you had something of a dust-up with Joseph Horowitz, whose work I admire tremendously, and whose research into
    the musical world of the 19th Century cleared much of the way for my recent digging into the Boston Symphony’s earliest days.

    They managed to get themselves going without trustee boards, without development departments, without marketing plans. Yet they managed to succeed, yes without the media that we now have, but with a different set of challenges that lead me to admire what they did back then with complete awe.
    Thus, I see a massive disconnect with how orchestras got established in the first place and the lack of “out-of the-box” thinking now.
    It is plain to me that the Boston Symphony’s founder, Henry Lee Higginson drew up what we may now regard as the first-ever full time player contract (26 weeks!) in 1882 for the BSO’s second season (the New York Philharmonic gave six performances that season).
    He lost a tremendous amount of money that second season, but it became the basis for the ensemble we know now. I think looking back at it might make for a clue or two of one of the roads back today.

    In 1882-83, after the BSO played their Saturday nights in Boston, their Thursday night concerts were given in Portland, Providence, Worcester, Salem, Fitchburg, Lynn, New Bedford and the like, a total of 77 concerts. In many instances, the concerts were given early (like 7:30 in Worcester) in order to make the late evening train back to Boston.

    This wasn’t an original idea at the time, for nearly 3 decades (something like 1867 to 1890 or so) Theodore Thomas had his orchestra, regarded at the time as one of the world’s finest, an ensemble without a home, journeying from New York up through New England, on to Chicago, down to Saint Louis through the lower midwest to arrive back in New York. This “highway” (as it is called in his memoirs) was sometimes followed more than once a season.
    For good reason he later said that he would go to hell if he could have a resident orchestra there. He only had to go to Chicago in 1891.

    To an extent, I surmise that one cannot perform in Orchestra Hall, in one of the Detroit’s rougher neighborhoods week in, and week out, and reasonably expect that the DSO can make a go of it.
    I look now at Detroit and think they should play at Orchestra Hall no more than once or twice a week.
    Then they should go to Toledo, to Ann Arbor, to Grosse Pointe, to Bloomfield Hills, to Lansing, to Flint, to Saginaw. Maybe a few weeks in Florida in January like Cleveland does.
    I realize that travel is expensive, but there are quite a few cities they could play in that wouldn’t require an overnight stay.
    Some enterprising hotel chain could sponsor them if it did.

    There is a historical reason for the “part-time” concept that Mr. Horowitz has been connected with, as if you read his “Rise and Fall of Classical Music” you will see that practically every orchestra, save Boston, was part-time through the 1950s.
    (And Boston, for decades, played at Carnegie Hall 5 times a year for 2 concerts each. The annual BSO concerts they played in Providence lasted more than a century and numbered in the hundreds.)
    So the idea of a full-time ensemble is a rather recent one.
    Hence the “part-time” comment is merely looking for the orchestras to revert back to an economic model of previous generations, and not an admission of failure unique to today. I emphatically recommend the book for anyone looking at the challenges for classical music in the 21st Century.

    I think that blindly expecting the audiences to come to neighborhoods that have seen better days is not the answer. The orchestras need to venture a bit to where the audiences are. They wouldn’t have to rehearse as many programs as a result.

    Meantime, here’s hoping that innovative thinking, even when it comes from the past, has a basis for a brighter future.
    Brian Bell

  13. It’s sort of ironic how calling for “innovative, out of the box thinking” has become the easiest and laziest way to discuss this issue and others like it.

    Couldn’t it be, just maybe, that the DSO management has done an especially crappy job over the past 10 years or so, leading to their current state of affairs? I see this idea dismissed regularly, but never actually refuted. Can’t we entertain the idea that, with effective management, the DSO could be functioning well – even in Detroit? Is that really so farfetched? If other troubled cities can have functioning (and in some cases, flourishing) orchestras – why could’nt Detroit be expected to do the same with the right leadership? Why does it fall to the players to redefine their job description?

  14. Amen to Brian Bell for offering some historical perspective.

    Yes Henry Higginson invented the Boston Symphony – and the full-time American “symphony orchestra.” By 1900, the BSO was giving 100 concerts a season and more. Nothing in Beethoven’s or Brahms’ Vienna predicted an institution remotely of this kind; then as now, the Vienna Philharmonic was essentially a pit orchestra. The template fit Boston – its singular appetite for Beethoven and other symphonic masters. It was not then and is not now self-evidently a universal template.

    A useful point of reference may be Dimitri Mitropoulos’s Minneapolis Symphony (1937-1949) – one of the most impressive American music directorships of the twentieth century. With Stokowski’s Philadelphia Orchestra, this was one of two American orchestras with an instantly recognizable sonic signature (listen to the astoundingly edgy recordings and broadcasts, more remarkable than what Mitropoulos later achieved with his “full-time” New York Philharmonic) – it sounded like no other. In Minneapolis Mitropoulos regularly purveyed important new and unfamiliar music. He was trusted and beloved. The orchestra magnificently fulfilled Theodore Thomas’s credo – it both challenged and embodied “the culture of the community.” Though it toured ambitiously, its subscription season was exceedingly modest by today’s standards. I have no doubt that the musicians did not earn a “living wage” as members of the Minneapolis Symphony – but they had ample spare time to earn money in other ways.

    It seems to me merely self-evident that frequency of performance cannot be predicated on the number of rehearsals and performances necessary to amass a full-time salary for the instrumentalists. An orchestra’s chief beneficiaries are not its member musicians – fundamentally, it serves others first.

    If I sound unsympathetic to the musicians, it’s because I’ve heard one too many times the strident union litany blaming ignorant boards and incompetent managers. Running an orchestra is a thankless task. I’ve done it.

  15. So you admit, Mr. Horowitz, that your contention isn’t actually based on evidence, but a personal conviction that musicians are “strident” and don’t appreciate how hard management’s job is?

    There’s plenty of history for musicians not getting paid and still playing well. Many of us had hoped we’d evolved past those days, frankly.

    Performances aren’t what pay musician’s salaries. As Robert Levine (not me, by the way) has often pointed out, earned revenue essentially functions to cover the cost of putting on concerts. Endowment and contributed income are what determine how much players can be paid – what they “should” be paid is a question of what exactly the community wants in terms of quality.

    I repeat – refute the claims of bad management if you can, Mr. Horowitz. There are many, many examples of managers and boards doing it right all over the country (LA, SF, Nashville, just to name a few). In many cases, they’ve turned around very bad situations. They would seem to prove the contention that good management makes a critical difference. That logic is at least as sound as any you are presenting for your argument.

  16. Bob,
    Consider that what I wrote implies opportunities not taken by the current management in Detroit. That I choose not
    to finger-point to past management
    decisions does not mean I’m being
    lazy. I certainly entertain the idea that effective management might have resulted in the DSO functioning well. But condemning their past actions, and lack of action, will not solve the current state of affairs.

    I wrote what I did, as I am dealing with how orchestras grew and developed more than a century ago. If they succeeded
    then, then perhaps performing outside of the city limits might be one aspect to rethink how the DSO best functions
    today.
    Wouldn’t you consider that to
    be a more palatable option than redefining the players job description?

  17. The area around Orchestra Hall in Detroit is significantly better than it was when I first played concerts there when I became a member of the orchestra 22 years ago. The DSO also weathered financial downturns much more easily before it was saddled with a 25+ year interest only mortgage debt of $54 million on the addition to the hall. In the 1990’s we had consistent full houses and frequent sell-out concerts before the addition to the hall was built. We also had a full schedule of concerts typical to a 52 week season orchestra.

    Our biggest problems stem from an inconsistent development department, with constant turnover from the VP of development down, and the debt on the building. Our management, currently drawing their full salary, continues to bring in a parade of consultants, including Bruce Coppock, who was head of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra when they settled a very controversial contract 5 years ago that nearly split the orchestra apart. The management’s proposals, including a much lower salary and no seniority pay for newly hired musicians, seem to draw clearly on that philosophy.

    As DSO management won’t supply language pertaining to ‘service conversion’ even though Mark Stryker’s article in the Detroit Free Press many weeks ago summarized it somewhat, here are some relevant passages of ‘Proposal B’:

    “Guaranteed paid weeks of work: Each Member of the Orchestra shall be guaranteed 33 weeks of work as scheduled by DSO. The different Members of the Orchestra may be scheduled for different weeks.

    Guaranteed work: The assignments provided to each Member of the Orchestra in the 33 guaranteed weeks shall include any combination of playing (including full orchestra, split orchestra, chamber ensembles or individual solo performances and rehearsals, or any combination thereof) and non-playing work (i.e., education services, public appearances, library work, and other assignments related to the member’s musical skills). Such assignments will not exceed the number of hours in a week equal to the hourly equivalent of the maximum number of services in that week. Members of the Orchestra may elect not to perform non-playing services, but, in that case, will have their weekly pay reduced on a pro rata basis. Playing assignments will be made in accordance with Section 3.3 of the Agreement, as revised (see below). With respect to non-playing assignments, management shall make such assignments by:
    1. determining the specific instrumental skills necessary for the assignment;
    2. from among those with the necessary instrumental skill, evaluating the member’s (i) experience with the work in question, (ii) past performance with, and ability to perform, the work in question, and (iii) then need, if any, to increase the number of orchestra members with experience in such work (including, whether it would be appropriate to use such assignment to do so); and
    3. where all other things are equal, the assignment shall be offered to members of the Orchestra with the necessary instrumental skills in seniority order.”

    Other sections refer to ‘Optional work’, beyond the 33 week season, done on a voluntary basis, and paid on a per service or hourly basis, with details very similar to the sections 1,2,and 3 above.

    Additionally, ‘Proposal B’ completely eliminates peer review for firing a tenured musician; a common practice for the industry, which helps to provide a fair process and avoid retaliation by management or a conductor for anything not involving a musicians ability to perform at the level of the orchestra, and allows the Executive Director to initiate the firing of a musician.

    (note- the ‘ii’s) refer to other sections of the agreement, and the capitalizations are as they appear in the proposal. )
    It’s also interesting to note that in all comments by the management to the press, the musicians of the DSO are referred to as ‘the players’.

    At this writing, 12/6/10, management’s ‘Proposal B’ remains in effect, and the reason for the musicians’ strike.

  18. I chose this route and nobody promised me anything. I’ve done fairly well at times and not so much at other times. I’m often irritated by many musicians’ sense of entitlement.

  19. As a quick pointer, Mr. Ventura is a member of the DSO orchestra and according to the current player’s committee, “Brian is not an official spokesman (although we have deputized him a few times this fall when we were shorthanded), but that he has served as a spokesman in previous years.

    Haden McKay, DSO musician spokesperson, did confirm that full copies of Proposal B were distributed to member musicians but my request for a copy of the full Proposal B contract imposed by DSO management was declined (as have been requests to the DSO administration for the same document).

    As such, any details in Mr. Ventura’s comment have not been verified or discounted and readers should take that into consideration.

  20. Just wanted to concur that I personally have always felt comfortable with the trip to downtown Detroit and Orchestra Hall, even with my kids in tow. There is considerable and often free parking in the immediate vicinity. However, I don’t get to Detroit as often as I’d like and would welcome the opportunity to see the orchestra more often in Ann Arbor and other Michigan communities. I would hope that this community relationship building might help expand the DSO’s base of financial support. Tricky would be that Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing, etc. all have their own professional orchestras at this point.

  21. I completely agree that a great orchestra means great players, a great board and great management (+ a great community of listeners). One problem in Detroit is that 30-40% of the management staff were laid off 18 months ago in budget cuts. “Bob” is undoubtedly right that, at least in retrospect, the financing strategy for the Orchestra Hall renovation and expansion was a mistake. It’s a tragedy for all that this strategy failed.

    I also agree with “Bob” that some orchestras, like the SFSymphony and LA Phil, are doing well, have great leaders, and show that a positive symbiosis among musicians and management is clearly possible. What helps San Francisco is a local tax passed in the 1930s that continues to help fund the orchestra’s activities. What helps in Los Angeles is the Hollywood Bowl, which provides significant earned revenue such that the LA Phil does not depend as much as most U.S. orchestras on donations. So, I’d amplify Brian’s reading of history and his call for more creative problem solving. San Francisco’s tax was instituted during the Great Depression to save the orchestra at a time when the whole community was hurting. The Hollywood Bowl opened in 1922. Clearly, there were some good ideas put in place long ago that continue to pay dividends for top U.S. ensembles today.

  22. As a member of the former Minneapolis Symphony, now the Minnesota Orchestra, I’ve had a chance to speak with many of the musicians that played in that ensemble. They did have the “spare time” to earn money in other way; painting houses, selling insurance, selling encyclopedias or moving themselves and their families to other cities for a few months to find other employment. If you have part time musicians, you have part time quality. There are many community orchestras that have people that are working 9-5 jobs and playing once a week, but they are not going to be anywhere near the quality of an orchestra where the musicians can devote themselves full time to our profession.

    And by the way, changing the name of the Minneapolis Symphony in 1968 was probably one of the dumbest moves in the history of orchestra management. I’ve spoken with colleagues who were there at the time- they were not consulted, they were simply told that this was what would happen. The historic identity of an ensemble that had existed for over 60 years was erased in an instant.

    The orchestra never regained the stature it had in the 50’s and 60’s. To this day, 40 years later, we still have disclaimers in our literature that we are ” formerly the Minneapolis Symphony”.

    Having that kind of managerial heavy handedness leads to the “strident union litany blaming ignorant boards and incompetent managers”. Most musicians have very little control over the the decisions being made about their livelihood, in many cases by people that don’t understand the orchestra business

  23. yep, we get that a lot!

    I also understand that the change iwas a product of the times and the region- all of our sports teams since the ’60’s have been identified as “Minnesota” rather than Minneapolis or St Paul. The one pro team that did have a city identity was the Minneapolis Lakers. Interestingly, that identifier was kept when they moved to that other city of lakes, Los Angeles!

    I understand that there was also the hope that changing the name would increase state funding and regional touring, neither of which has happened.

  24. This discussion skimps on the question of how we got full-time orchestras in the first place – leaping from Henry Higginson to the ca. 20 52-week orchestras currently in the US. As also seen in the creation of the NEA and the state arts councils, the “culture boom” of the 60′s, the building of many performing arts centers (among them Lincoln and Kennedy) and the creation of performing arts degrees at many universities and colleges, there was a concerted movement among business, academic, political and philanthropic leaders to bring culture to cities across the US. We wanted to show the world that American civilization rivaled any of the great cultures of history and especially contemporary Soviet culture. Congress held hearings on the state of the orchestral musician’s career in the late 50′s, and many witnesses deplored the fact that musicians were subsidizing the arts for their community via their meager wages. The Rockefeller Foundation Report on the Arts (mid-1960′s) established a goal of 50 full-time symphony orchestras across the US. Among arts supporters, it was generally recognized that forcing major orchestra musicians to have to work outside the field of music was detrimental to the quality of the art, and was responsible for the shortage of qualified string players.

    It seems to me that we’ve succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the leaders of the early 60′s in creating orchestras and filling them with outstanding professionals. The questions that are implicit in the financial struggles of many orchestras are:

    1. Do we still value western classical music as evidence of a great civilization?

    2. If not, what is its role in society and in our communities, and how important is it to us?

    3. What is the function of a particular orchestra in relation to this music? Does it provide access to the art form? How? Is it a model of the highest level of performance, and/or a vehicle to reach the broadest possible audience?

    The solution to Detroit’s situation lies in a long-term engagement of these questions by musicians, board, management and community. Right now it looks like management and the board have suddenly realized, “Oh s***, we better change something,” and the musicians have no confidence in what appears to be a haphazard and cursory answer to the underlying issues.

  25. On another point of verification, the DSO has not responded to requests confirming whether or not they have hired Bruce Coppock and if so, what the parameters of his work entail. Given Mr. Coppock’s history with service conversion as pointed out by Mr. Ventura, answers to these questions would undoubtedly shed a great deal of light on what the DSO has in mind for the future.

    It is also fair to note that anytime an organization engages the services of a consultant, especially during a period of financial stress when resources are already in short supply, it is reasonable to assume a heightened level of interest in the respective work.

  26. I don’t know if having the DSO travel to cities that currently support a per service orchestra is necessarily a bad thing. There’s a distinct difference between one or two concerts a year and something like a multi-week residency and that being said, I’ve always encouraged clients that control their venue to bring in other orchestras. If they can attract larger budget groups, even better.

    Giving the core subscriber and casual single tix buyers something to compare their orchestra is never a bad thing. The only word of caution is bringing an outside group to town shouldn’t divert funds that would otherwise go to support the resident orchestra. After all, the idea of bringing in outside groups is to ultimately build added interest in the local offerings.

  27. Henry,
    Good to hear from you, and I must
    say, this is a very astute post.
    You are absolutely right in saying that
    we have succeeded beyond the wildest
    dreams of the leaders of the early 60s.
    The gains that many musicians naively assume have always been there,
    are indeed recent.

    Your final 3 questions should be pondered by all reading this blog. I’m not a fan of
    yet another mission statement, but I gravitate toward the third topic. The function of one particular orchestra might be entirely different for one and not another, depending on location and budget. I totally agree if they look
    at what they should do, and/or have
    the best chance of succeeding, then perhaps Detroit wouldn’t be in the 3 month state of “Oh s***”.
    Regards,
    Brian

  28. Thanks Henry for this post. I’ll have to check out the Congressional testimony.

    One item that strengthens your point is the Ford Foundation’s endowment matching program for American orchestras, which was sparked by a request from the Detroit Symphony for a contribution. The program brought $165+ million into U.S. orchestras between 1966 and ’76. This was a significant increase for the time and did much to make full-time orchestral employment possible. Among the Ford Foundation’s explicit goals were to increase artistic quality by lengthening seasons to focus musicians’ attention on orchestral playing AND “raising the income and prestige of the music profession.”

    It seems to me that this is pertinent to your three questions in that major foundations today (Ford was the biggest in the 1960s, comparable to the Gates Foundation today) seem less interested in orchestras. Gates focuses on health, poverty, education, and access to information technology. Also difficult is the fact that few business are really local anymore and those with the deepest pockets are multinationals, less interested in the status of any one city or even nation.

  29. I would like to clarify a few points about the St Paul Chamber Orchestra’s past negotiations. First of all, the contentious negotiation which produced division took place in ’02’. We took an 18% cut at that time. Our next negotiation took place in ’05’, and I was a member of the committee. There was a proposal from management to hire new players at a much lower rate than players who had been there 25 years or more. In fact, it was a $25,000 difference with a few tiers between. Their reasoning was that they thought the players with longevity in the orchestra would feel that their service was being appreciated more. Needless to say we balked at this and rejected it immediately because of it’s divisive nature. We were able, in the end, to achieve growth in salary over 5 years. Unfortunately, we have taken cuts of 12% and 11.3% in the last two years. Both of these cuts happened after Bruce’s departure from the orchestra. However, he left us with the collaborative model that has weakened our ability as a bargaining unit to counter their demands. There is a call from the Board to balance the budget every year which inevitably results in lowering “fixed costs”, namely salaries of musicians and staff.

  30. If you want an inferior product, pay musicians less. If you want a spectacular live performance of great works of art, as they were conceived by the composer, pay musicians what they deserve…as much as a board can come up with. Most professional musicians aren’t paid enough for the time and effort they put in or the education they must have. They are eking by. In a world of instant gratification and watered down talent we should be fostering this kind of vocational expertise not hanging it out to dry.

    So sorry you couldn’t make it as an actor and had to fall back on writing there, Horowitz. You’re doing a great job.

  31. Mr. Horowitz writes:

    “I write books. I’m on my ninth book…I don’t expect to support myself and my family through that one activity. I have to do other things because in deciding to be a writer I chose a field that’s not like a being a doctor…it’s not as lucrative. It has other rewards…and musicians all made that choice and they refuse to live with it.”

    Nonsense! Musicians have always made that choice and they have always lived with it. The choice is to acknowledge that failure is a distinct possibility and proceed, regardless. What is different today is not a function of supply and demand. At any audition, there are always many who are good enough; there are very few who are truly exceptional. If our society (or Detroit) values exceptional art, it must be prepared to pay for it. To paraphrase Ray Kinsella, if you build it, they will come.

    The reverse corollary is self-evident.

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