Hot Town Summer In The City

There’s a fascinating article by Philadelphia Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns in the paper’s 7/20/2013 edition about a recent Philadelphia Orchestra performance featuring violin soloist Nicola Benedetti. Stearns reports the heat was so high that the orchestra cancelled a sound-check rehearsal and Benedetti clearly suffered during that evening’s performance.

ITA-GUY-163Stearns’ article is timely during a period in the field where work rule flexibility is all the rage during collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations. In cases such as temperature clauses, flexibility seems great on paper; after all, you can’t control the weather and HVAC systems have a way of breaking at the worst moments. But some work rules aren’t there for the sake of convenience, they exist for safety and artistic standards.

Temperature Clauses Defined

For the most part, temperature clauses are pretty much what you would expect in that they define maximum and minimum temperatures under which the orchestra will perform; likewise, it is common to have a different set for indoor and outdoor conditions. In most cases, the language includes provisions for rain and direct sunlight and in certain parts of the country, humidity can be a part of the equation. Typical provisions include:

  • A specific maximum and minimum temperature under which the musicians will rehearse or perform.
  • The personnel manager is typically responsible for monitoring the temperature and implementing solutions when possible.
  • Union stewards usually monitor the temperature as well in a sort of checks and balances role.
  • The employer must notify any venues they do not directly manage about the temperature provisions with enough time to let the building make proper arrangements.

Not Always Black And White

Although it might seem like temperature clauses are fairly straightforward, it isn’t uncommon for orchestras to get stuck in the gray. What you would do in the following situations:

  • One portion of the stage violates a temperature extreme and impacts a portion of the musicians, but not the entire orchestra (think heating and cooling ducts), and the conditions cannot be resolved.
  • 10 minutes before the beginning of the scheduled rehearsal, the indoor stage is 15 degrees too warm because the venue operator forgot to turn the AC on. That oversight has been fixed; the temperature is dropping, but very slowly. The guest conductor wants to begin right away and the musicians are mixed. Should the employer as the orchestra committee for a variance; if so, should the orchestra committee grant it?

These are only a few examples but the full range is as varied and you can rest assured that outdoor events add considerably more variables to manage.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The financial ramifications are greater than some might realize; for both employers and employees. For employers, delays cut into rehearsal time and can result in overtime payments. In worst case scenarios, rental fees, guest artist fees, and related stage crew expenses skyrocket due to rescheduling. Perhaps needless to say, unexpected production expenses during times when budgets are thin can have a very negative impact on an institution’s wellbeing.

For musicians, the dangers are more than mere discomfort. Extreme temperatures, direct sunlight, precipitation, and humidity have profound impact on string, woodwind, and percussion instruments. Exposure to these conditions usually results in increased maintained and adjustment costs and instruments can even be seriously damaged. Given these risks to a musician’s primary instrument, most own a secondary instrument to use in conditions where conditions flirt with temperature clause parameters. To that end, secondary instruments are an unreimbursed expense for musicians.

Then there’s the dynamic cost of increased workplace tension; employees are less efficient, patience is strained, and music making suffers. In the worst cases, events are cancelled and most, if not all, the related earned income is lost but the production expenses are there mocking you in red ink.


During this period of economic stress, it is easy for employers to push temperature clause boundaries in order to mitigate expenses and maximize potential revenue; but more often than not, it simply isn’t worth the risk, especially for new ventures.

The variety of climate extremes from one region of the country to the next make any sort of universal temperature clause impossible and each organization determines appropriate limits. And short of adopting high-cost measures of supplying secondary instruments for at-risk musicians, it is better to err on the side of caution when crafting this language and exercise prudence during season planning.

At the same time, orchestral employers would likely secure more flexible extreme weather work rules if they provided secondary instruments to musicians, as is the practice at United States Armed Forces ensembles (remember the carbon fiber instruments during President Obama’s first inauguration) and a number European orchestras.

On that note, and if time permits, I’ll relay some fascinating anecdotes later this week from my 2008 consulting project with the Qatar Foundation where I had to craft a myriad of working condition rules and orchestra policies related to extreme weather conditions for their newly founded National Philharmonic Orchestra. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it gets very hot and humid in the Middle East, yet outdoor activity in those conditions is not uncommon.

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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4 thoughts on “Hot Town Summer In The City”

  1. Just for the record, after my piece went to press (long after, actually) the Philadelphia Orchestra curtailed its Friday light-classics concert at Longwood Gardens. A few short pieces were cut. So was the intermission. I don’t know what the temperature situation was, but the humidity was quite high. Is that another one of the gray areas that you discussed?
    Also, just for the record, Nicola Benedetti reportedly agreed to all of the conditions. Then again, what choice did she have?
    Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops told me that he was once so heat impaired during a concert that he was seeing triple. A problem when you’re giving cues, no doubt.
    Thanks for your piece. All the best, David Patrick Stearns.

    • Thanks for the followup David. That’s an interesting point about Nicola; it really depends on her contract. If she uses representation, like most artists, the artist manager should take those issues into consideration and have similar type of language in the agreement. The variables there which are different than a CBA is whether the artist is paid, must reschedule, etc.

      Humidity is absolutely a gray area. For example, large budget orgs like Philly usually take this into consideration because the groups tour both Nationally and internationally and move from one climate to another.

      And the change causes more damage than something like consistent levels (even if they are on the high or low end).

      A few years ago, I did a piece for The Strad on the cost of ownership for string instruments and was genuinely surprised to learn just how much moving from one climate to another wreks havoc on the instrument and as a result, increases annual maintenance fees.

      On the other end of that scale, musicians in very small budget orchestras experience similar problems because of the need to travel larger distances more often in order to earn a living.

      In the meantime, dress light, bring a handkerchief, and hopefully the venue allows patrons to bring in a cool drink (as is the case here in Chicago at Grant Park, my fav outdoor venue).

  2. In June of 1988 the Minnesota Orchestra had an outdoor festival over 4 days or so in a huge tent that celebrated the local connections with Sweden. The evening I went Elisabeth Soderstrom did a wonderful recital of Jenny Lind songs. And Neeme Jarvi conducted the Mahler 8th Symphony with the MO and his Gothenburg Symphony joining forces, along with soloists and huge choral forces. The problem was a freak heat wave with daily temperatures for the entire festival of around 105. (That happens more often now.) The show went on and they compensated by having an intermission after the first movement. I forget exactly, but they may have cut an opening piece. It was tough, though, and that was the end of the outdoor classical festivals here.

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