Spokane Symphony Proposing Cuts

Although you wouldn’t know it from local press, but if appears that the Spokane Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and its musicians are approaching a potential showdown. According to the SSO musicians, management offered a last, best, and final offer on Thursday 10/11/12. The two year proposal reportedly contains a 13 percent reduction in core orchestra salary, no guaranteed wages for the second year, and what the musicians characterize as an overly restrictive attendance policy that will make earning additional pay outside of the SSO more difficult.

piggy bankDetails are slim as the SSO website has no statements about the offer and there are no local newspaper articles. The only information is available via the musicians’ website and Facebook page although the details presented in both platforms are vague.

At the time this article was written, there were no press statements and no information regarding whether or not the musicians intend to conduct a ratification vote on the current proposal.

The SSO situation is not unlike the one in Richmond VA where the lack of information creates more questions than answers although in the case of the latter, the local news has finally picked up on the dispute.

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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6 thoughts on “Spokane Symphony Proposing Cuts

  1. I play in the Spokane Symphony and would be happy to discuss the contract details and broader situation with you if you’d like to have more information to share about this on your blog. We are hoping to get the word out, precisely because the media hasn’t really bothered to pick up this story. We started a website and Facebook page recently, but as you mention they are not completely informative yet. We are hoping to add more content over time. Please let me know if you’d like to discuss this situation sometime.

    • Hi Ross, assuming you are a musician spokesperson, feel free to send along details via Adaptistration’s contact page, otherwise, I will keep an eye out for information made available via your official communication channels.

  2. Hello,
    I am a subscriber to my orchestra and when I heard about this, I was floored! I cannot believe that the Symphony board in good conscience could do this. But then, they are not exactly playing fair. Concert after concert I hear from administration that things are wonderful and that we all need to come to the concerts and enjoy them. All well and good, folks, but have they considered what it takes to live as a musician in Spokane these days, let alone anywhere else in the country? Nope, they have not! I have told one individual that I know quite well and I will tell any others that should drastic action come to pass, I will be marching along with them in full evening dress-even in daylight! My suggestion to the Symphony Board of Trustees and Administration is not to interrupt the music the orchestra makes, otherwise if you think it’s bad now, you haven’t seen nothing like many subscribers turning in tickets for unused concerts and refusing to come to concerts. The Fox will look mighty empty if that happens. It would also not be a good precedent to set for the long haul. Give the musicians of the Spokane Symphony back the 13.3% and then give them another 12% to boot. If they do, the musicians would be exceedingly happy.
    All arts organizations these days are in trouble but the joy that an orchestra brings to those who hear the glorious music it makes is truly something to witness. It does my soul good to hear live classical music from a stage and I know I’m not alone in saying this. I believe that if all parties will come together and talk all of the points over and reach a settlement, then the music will not stop and we can all be taking advantage of the opportunities this season presents to hear all of it. I hold no position within the Symphony board or other body of authority, I’m just a Spokane music lover that would hate to be missing Symphony nights and other classic music as it comes along. Thank you

  3. Surely the symphony is one of Spokane’s jewels that sets us apart from other cities of comparable population. We can’t afford the risk of losing the precious talent by allowing the differences between the management and the orchestra to move from standoff to impasse. The risk of permanent damage to our city’s image cannot be taken lightly.

    I call upon the board to bring their financial needs to the community, with clear intent to find the funds to guarantee a 2013-14 season, with restoration of the pay cuts imposed for the current season.

    W Robert Schwandt
    222 S Evergreen Rd
    Spokane Valley, 99216


    • Going along with Mr. Schwandt, I would propose that the cuts be restored this season, not next. I cannot imagine that anybody would advocate that a musician would work at poverty level. After all, the time and labor that has gone into making them a professional is surely worth the price in salary that the Symphony pays any of them. If services are the question here, then I propose a solution: add more concerts to the schedule in 2013-2014. There’s room in November, January and February not to mention March. I know I would probably welcome an opportunity to see my Symphony twice a month during the winter. Now, the question is can they afford this, as many of them are professors or teachers at one of the local schools of higher education and as such they have to make sure their departments of music are covered too. It is an interesting predicament-how to make the Symphony’s season pay off, but yet not stretch themselves too far. Between family, job and anything else it is quite a challenge. As Mr. Schwandt has said, our Symphony has built a reputation that is not equalled for an orchestra its size. Our city promotes the daylights out of the symphony and to lose any of these fine people would be a blow in the wrong way. Yes, the savvy musician is one that develops skill and musicianship in every way, but to be stopped all because they cannot afford to play for the dollars offered is just wrong. That scenario could very well be happening here, but shouldn’t be allowed to happen at all. Let’s pray the parties involved-musicians, union, board-can all come together, work out a equable solution, and continue to play for the ones that matter-the fine folks of the community.

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