One More Reason To Get A Copy Of The MN Orchestra CBA

As bits and pieces of the Minnesota Orchestra’s new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) begin to see the light of day, there’s one detail flying under the radar worth mentioning here in that the musicians apparently elected to trade away substitute pay in order to bolster their new base compensation.

Adaptistration People 133The 1/15/2014 edition of published an extensive article by Doug Grow that reports on this term toward the very end (emphasis added).

The big savings for the MOA would appear to come in required orchestra size. Although the contract maintains that the orchestra’s full complement should be 95 members, the actual numbers are much smaller: 77 in the first year, 79 in the second and 84 by the end of the third year.

Additionally, when fill-in musicians are brought in for big presentations, they will be paid at a lower base rate than full-time orchestra members — a precedent-setting reduction, according to Kelley.

Still, overall, the MOA’s desire to make up $6 million in operating deficits in cuts to musicians wasn’t achieved. Kelley says savings to the MOA will be about half that amount.

For a group of musicians that campaigned hard on solidarity and publicly lamented the loss of colleagues that left for other positions, the news that they accepted to adopt a lower pay scale for substitute musicians – musicians that have the same artistic responsibilities and are expected to perform at the same standards of excellence – may appear to some as a puzzling turn of events.

At the same time, we’ll need to see the complete CBA in order to comprehend the full context; to that end, a request for a copy has been submitted to both the employer and musicians but they have yet to respond.

One way or another, those details will emerge and it will be interesting to see how both musicians and management respond when asked about how these terms developed.

Stay tuned.

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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84 thoughts on “One More Reason To Get A Copy Of The MN Orchestra CBA”

  1. Do you happen to know roughly how much orchestras at this level typically spend on substitutes over the course of a season and how many bodies that represents? I suppose, depending on the instrument and need, they might have to pay more than the reduced scale on occasion–e.g., if you need a first trumpet on short notice for a Mahler 5th or something.

    • That’s an excellent question and it will be thrown a curve in this setting since the orchestra now has a lower number of minimum musicians (77) they’ll need even higher than normal (for that budget size) ratio of substitute musicians.

      As to demand based pricing, I know of a few instances where short notice has driven up related costs such as travel and lodging expenses but otherwise, no, those fees are generally very firm.

  2. It’s interesting that the musicians’ collective bargaining agreement appears to specify the salary for substitute musicians, who I’m assuming are *not* members of the musicians’ union. Is this standard practice? As a former public school teacher, my union did not negotiate anything for substitute teachers, who have the same “responsibilities and are expected to perform at the same standards of excellence,” to use your words. They were paid at a rate that was much lower than a beginning teacher.

    • Excellent question Phil and as it is, substitute musicians are in the same union (American Federation of Musicians) but they do not get to vote on the collective bargaining agreement. They must trust that their colleagues will act in their best interests and demand equal treatment within the master agreement.

      Having said all of that, there is an interesting related side discussion here in that there are those inside the AFM that have advocated for AFM Locals to negotiate separate agreements for substitute musicians, which they apparently have the authority to do but I’m not aware if this has ever happened.

  3. Thanks for your reply, Drew. I just did a quick Google search, and it turns out that substitute teachers *are* covered by some union contracts. Apparently, it varies from state to state, and maybe even from district to district.

    In all these cases, including the musicians, it might be harder to provide representation for substitutes, since the group is not as defined or permanent as it is for the employees who have an individual contractual relationship with the employer. That might also explain why the substitute musicians don’t get to vote, since at any given moment, it might be difficult to determine who should be included in the voting.

    • That’s another interesting point and related question Phil; although it does vary from orchestra to orchestra, it isn’t uncommon for mid to large budget size orchestras to conduct regular substitute auditions which are then used to compile the list of substitutes used throughout the year. Some groups rank them in a fixed call order, others use it as a general hiring pool, some allow more direct input from section leaders, etc. So in instances such as those, the musicians are defined individuals who engaged in a process defined by the master agreement. Fascinating business, no?

      • Yes, it is fascinating, and I’m glad to learn more about it. I can certainly understand why an orchestra would want to ensure that substitute musicians would meet a very high standard, since anything less than that could ruin an entire performance.

        While public schools would like to have highly qualified substitutes, that doesn’t always happen. A bad substitute might make for a rough day or two for one class, but the damage is limited. Larger urban districts sometimes have a pool of “permanent substitutes,” and I think that they are covered by the union contract.

  4. Off-topic but worth a discussion on another day: today has a sobering account of the many back-office jobs that were lost for various reasons during the lockout–fundraisers, stage managers, etc., not to mention conductors and players, including several principals. Re-filling these positions with the right people will take time.

    I continue to marvel at the M.O. board’s risk-taking in pursuing a $6M savings from musician compensation via a lockout, damn the collateral damage. They achieved $3.5M, which seems like a very weak return, given all the mayhem.

  5. I’ve been a sub in a few ICSOM orchestras over the years, and in some cases the sub pay was 10-15% less than a member of the ensemble. I was initially ok with this until members of the ensembles would: 1. complain about their benefits 2. get rotated off a concerto that I’d end up playing and still complain about their tired arms/lips/fingers 3. get their friends from other orchestras in lockout/strike/bankruptcy put in the hiring cue over me.

    I’ve always been a loyal sub, I’ve got a good pedigree as I’ve won positions in other ICSOM orchestras. But what broils me is when a musician in an organization forgets so quickly how freelancers live and the pride and loyalty we hold in our jobs.

    Sure, there are no rights as a sub player, however, trust, relationships, and understandings of and ensemble’s traditions do go a long way.

    I wonder, just how many freelancers across the country sat silently as the spots they’d usually sit in were used to support musicians during lockouts and strikes?

    I also wonder, since the Minnesota Orchestra is back to work, if those who have accepted work elsewhere would consider giving back those offers and returning to their home orchestra immediately so that the local freelancers could also return to work?Everyone has a family to feed, not just ones with contracts.

    • Surely you know by now that there are cliques in the orchestral world, just as it was in high school. And most musicians are not going to forgo some of their pay in an act of consideration towards another — especially not the “Musicians of the MN Orchestra.” Just ask the former stage hands, clerical workers and librarians who lost their jobs there in an effort to keep the musicians pay at a “world class” status a couple years back. (Nobody wants to remember that for some reason.) The musicians are looking out for themselves, obviously. That’s why they agreed to a deal that was nearly a carbon-copy of what was offered to them over a year ago.
      I’ve always thought freelancers like yourself are the real unsung heroes of orchestral music. You work without a solid net, and if you’re constantly asked back, you can walk into the hall knowing that your desired work is a direct result of your consistent effort to maintain your talents with little to no resting on your laurels. Good luck to you, and keep your neck covered lest the other dogs start to gnaw on it!

      • Jason, I’m surprised you think this is “nearly a carbon-copy of what was offered” to the musicians. Plenty of changes took place, both in terms of salary and work rules. Had this offer, in fact, been on the table originally, I bet the whole mess could have been avoided.
        What have you read that leads you to believe the offers are so similar?
        And what makes you think that the staffers were sacrificed purely to keep the musicians’ salaries at a world-class level?

      • Jason: for your information, librarians in almost, if not all, ICSOM orchestras are part of the bargaining unit. In MN’s case, this means that they were locked out with the rest of the orchestra. Librarians are every bit as much musically qualified as those who draw a bow, blow into a horn, play a keyboard or hit a drum.

    • At this point, the actual figures are unconfirmed but once they become available, we’ll be able to say with certainty. Nonetheless, any potential gap between offers that still results in a substitute scale less than parity is going to be more than difficult to explain away or justify. Having said that, I’m very curious to learn the facts and any related rationale.

  6. Jason, The stage hands and the librarians helped out the musicians with their concerts! The librarians were locked out as well. The stage hands while having a separate contract with the MOA helped the musicians out at their self produced concerts except one and that is the one where the MOA called them all in to sit at the MOA and do nothing just so they couldn’t help the musicians at their concert that night.

  7. As Nanci and Jess have already stated, there are other ICSOM orchestras who pay subs at a lower rate, and have done for some years. Additionally, since regularly contracted members receive paid vacation, health insurance coverage, and are frequently paid over minimum scale, sometimes considerably over, it’s fair to say that subs are always cheaper than regularly contracted players.

    • I don’t know if anyone is asserting anything contrary to the point that substitutes cost an employer less than salaried musicians inasmuch as the point about whether it is justifiable to pay substitute musicians a lower per service scale based on the weekly salary base pay. But if that isn’t the point anyone is making, I’d love to hear more about it.

  8. One of the NY freelance orchestras tried to put a 3 tiered pay scale into our contract. ‘Regular’ subs were to be paid substantially less than contracted players and first time subs at an even lower rate. Our Local 802 plus our players committee fought valiantly against that whacky idea, and we won on that issue. How crazy that idea sounded back then. Now MN Orch management seems to have read the same play book. To me, it seems short sighted. Can’t they see that by chipping away, the quality of their product will diminish?

  9. It has become fairly standard industry practice for large orchestras to pay subs around 90% of tenured members salary. In reality the pay tends to be much lower, as this figure is usually base weekly salary less EMG divided by 8 (number of services in a full week).

    • Is your data anecdotal or based on something quantifiable? Likewise, which orchestras are considered large? I have yet to see a verifiable resource for sub compensation rates across ICSOM/IGSOBM orchestras, although if one exists I’d love to see it. Otherwise, the only way to know for certain is to dig up the CBA’s and compile the data.

      But perhaps more to the point, what’s you’re position on the practice of paying substitute musicians less than contracted musicians?

      • Drew,
        I am currently looking at the wage scales and conditions chart for ICSOM, and I can confirm that Steve is speaking accurately.
        It is worth noting that many orchestras do not hold sub-auditions. Even if they do, the list is often much shorter than that expected of people who audition, and because the audition is not for the security and benefits of the full time position, the pool of people is mostly local. Furthermore, though many of the freelancers who sub with orchestras are fantastic players, they are always at a disadvantage as far as performing with same standard as the full-time members because they don’t do it every week.
        This is a difficult issue. Obviously, the best scenario is to have enough full-time musicians in the ensemble to perform whatever is needed. Some orchestras who cannot afford that have an A, B, C contract situation, where some members are full-time, others are per-service, and everyone is protected by the CBA. That can create conflicts between members of different contract levels in negotiations, however, I have observed situations where this has happened. Then there are the orchestras who are all full-time, but small, who have to hire subs on a regular basis. This can be very frustrating, for many of the reasons that I mentioned earlier.
        Probably the orchestra negotiators weren’t happy with having to give up substitute pay, but can’t one understand them wanting to first protect the people who have won auditions for full-time positions in their orchestra first?

      • Many thanks Andrew; unfortunately, I don’t consider the Wage & Scales charts accurate enough to serve as a reliable source (reasons behind that decision are here), as such, I’ll need to look at the source content within the respective CBAs in order to compile the necessary data.

        Having said that, I have to say that your final sentence is shocking and only reinforces an ugly stereotype that professional orchestra musicians are greedy, self absorbed, and only care for their own interests (regardless of how it impacts others). Are substitute musicians so much artistic chaff, worthy of consideration only as an afterthought? Musicians only invite continued abuses and negative patron perception when they demonstrate willingness to put their own interests above those of colleagues.

        As for the points from the second half of your first paragraph, I’m going to let other musicians respond as they see fit.

      • I see why this is a sensitive subject, but not really what is shocking about his last sentence. He said that though the choice was difficult, they chose to protect their own interests before those of their non-member (of the ensemble) colleagues. This happens in innumerable other situations in daily life. First, me and mine and then I can afford to look out for others. This is a prevalent attitude.

        An interesting part of the conversation is the limits of solidarity when things get difficult. Does the solidarity pertain FIRST the members of a given ensemble THEN to the remaining relevant union members involved in the artistic product? If there is an ‘order’ can it still be considered union solidarity?

      • If I’m understanding you correctly, it appears as though you’re purporting the justification that self prioritization for something which rises far above the threshold of basic sustenance is not something that should have to reconcile with the fundamental tenants of unionism.

        Meaning, it is reasonable to place restrictions on protections provided by a unionized workplace for one segment of membership provided they feel justified for whatever the reason.

        I’m not sure if that’s the position your promoting or not and I’m interested to hear more about what you think.

      • Hi Drew,

        It wasn’t my intention to justify self-prioritization of any fashion. To me it simply isn’t shocking (not that I agree with it) that, collectively; members of an orchestra (or company) would be thinking of their livelihoods first and foremost especially after being out of work for such a long period of time. This could be one reason, not justification, for not sharing equally in the financial burden with their non-member musician colleagues. It’s unfortunate but not shocking.

        That being said, if I were a substitute musician/union member I think it would be hard to not be disappointed in my colleagues and union for leaving this option on the table to negotiate. They pay dues to be represented and seem often to get a lot less return on their investment. Solidarity didn’t seem extend beyond the institution in question to the union’s other affected, paying members.

        However, since I know nothing about the details of the pay cut that the subs/extras are taking I’m going leave the option open for me to be shocked in the future!

        Thanks for your response. It’s an interesting topic.

      • I’m having a hard time digesting what you’ve just written. If I read you correctly, you are putting more value on someone with a contract than someone who is expected to play at the same level and represent the ensemble as if it were their own.

        When I sub with large budget, or small budget groups, I am expected to wear what the contract stipulates, behave how the CBA demands, and perform at a level that would be the equivalent of the standard the ensemble sets.

        Many times while subbing I have found myself next to performers who are contracted players embarrassingly lacking in preparation, dressing in dumpy clothes, and carrying a bad stage presence. On more than a few occasions, I’ve been approached by contracted members who say they are glad when I’m there because they appreciate how much I treat the engagement as though it were a group I was contracted with and they know the section will sound better.

        So your statement, “though many of the freelancers who sub with orchestras are fantastic players, they are always at a disadvantage as far as performing with same standard as the full-time members because they don’t do it every week” is ludicrous.

        Did it not occur to you that some of what you call disadvantaged freelancers are formerly members of the Syracuse Symphony, Florida Phil, and now City Opera in NY. So are they now irrelevant? Are they lesser musicians because they don’t have a contracted position? Are they less of a musician or even less of a person? Is there need to provide for their family less important?

        Your statement is certainly insensitivity and borders on outright discrimination toward a talented pool of musicians. These are the colleagues and life lines you will be calling when your orchestra falters. Trust me, I get calls every time one of these orchestras starts tipping, asking for favors and numbers of contractors. It’s amazing how humble one gets when the regular check becomes a memory but how quick those memories fade when they are living high in their dream world. Amazing.

        I hope that attitudes like yours are a minority but it is high time this issue is brought to the forefront so everyone can stop hiding behind convenient excuses and looking the other way.

        And for your information, a vast amount of orchestras hold sub auditions. It’s not just locals only!

      • This is anecdotal data based on my experience and the experience of colleagues, but I spent many years freelancing in various parts of the US. Some orchestras I worked with would pay base salary if a sub played every service of the week, but this was rare. It is common for brass, percussion or woodwind subs to only be needed on one half of a concert, in which case the orchestra almost never hires them for every service. By large I’m referring to orchestras that work 34+ weeks and whose members consider it a full time job.

        I am on the other side of the fence now, being a member of a full time orchestra, but I personally don’t agree with the practice of paying subs a percentage of base pay. As others have mentioned even if a sub is paid base salary, they are still obviously not receiving any access to health benefits, retirement plans, instrument insurance. These things constitute a large part of a tenured musician’s compensation package. I believe a fair practice is to pay substitute musicians base weekly salary if they play every service that the orchestra is working. If they only play a few services then I think base salary divided by 8 is reasonable.

      • To be clear, all readers are encouraged to restrict their comments to their own experiences and resist the temptation to present second hand information as anything other than what it is.

        To your other point; if I’m understanding you correctly, you are now endorsing the notion that substitute musicians should be paid the same per-service rate as contracted members for all services. Is this correct?

      • It seems to me that there are two issues here: (1) In an ideal situation, what percentage of a full-time musician’s salary should a substitute musician be paid, and (2) in the reality of negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement, with issues of representation, membership, work rules, etc., how should the salary for substitute musicians be determined.

        If substitute musicians are members of the union, but are not able to vote on the CBA, as one of Drew’s earlier comments suggested, then this puts the union negotiators in a difficult position. The negotiators have a responsibility to represent their members, but if the substitute musicians can’t vote on the CBA, while full-time musicians can, there appears to be a double standard in place even before the negotiations begin. Under these circumstances, it should not be surprising if the substitute musicians receive compensation that is less than full-time musicians.

        Whether or not this is fair or desirable is a separate (but important) question.

        Another question that I haven’t seen raised here: if the substitute musicians are non-voting members of the union, do they have to pay union dues, and if so, what percentage of the dues that are paid by full-time musicians?

      • Yes, substitutes pay the same work dues as contracted members provided they are AFM members. It’s not common to find substitute musicians who aren’t and even then, it is limited to right-to-work states.

        That being said, I’m not certain why it wouldn’t be anything but surprising to see contracted musicians taking from substitute pay in order to bolster their own salary. Likewise, I’m not certain your questions are mutually exclusive; instead, they are integral components of the same topic.

      • I couldn’t reply directly under your most recent comment, so I’m doing it here. You wrote, “I’m not certain why it wouldn’t be anything but surprising to see contracted musicians taking from substitute pay in order to bolster their own salary.” I view negotiations over a CBA as a political process, because negotiators are representing members who will have to vote on the contract.

        If one views contract negotiations this way (and I’m not saying one should, it’s simply the way that I see them), then it should not be surprising that the negotiators are going to work towards a settlement that suits the needs of the majority of their members. The political element becomes even more important if the substitute musicians do not vote on the contract (a practice which strikes me as unfair, since they pay full-time dues).

        That is why I believe that the negotiators are in a difficult position, because they’re trying to allocate limited financial resources among different groups within their membership.

        Based on what I’ve read in the comments here about the expectations for substitute musicians, a good case can be made that they should receive the same salary as full-time musicians. But that leads me to ask another question: let’s assume that union negotiators were able to settle every aspect of a CBA except for equal pay for substitute musicians. Should the union refuse to settle, perhaps leading to a strike or a lock-out? Or should they settle?

      • Yes, the comment engine caps the reply level at five so in order to continue commenting in the same sub-thread, simply go back up to the first available “reply” link and use that.

        But back to the discussion at hand, it’s important to note that musicians elect their negotiating committee from among their own ranks. That committee works with a non-musician negotiator of their choosing but they still control the parameters under which that negotiator operates. Moreover, the committee participates in most, if not all, bargaining sessions. As a result, the scenario you’ve described rarely, if ever, applies to orchestral negotiations thanks to the direct representation structure that has (roughly) been in place over the past 50 years.

  10. I guess that for this extended discussion to be more enlightening would require what I asked earlier: What kind of aggregate dollars in an average season are we talking about for substitutes at an orchestra at the M.O’s level?

    The musicians endured a 16-month lockout at great personal cost and after extraordinary effort on their part to fight back on several fronts. There were multiple issues that had to be resolved, including the very mission of the orchestra, salaries, health care, size of the orchestra, and dozens of work rules.

    Given all of this, I don’t think it is at all fair to accuse the M.O. musicians of selling the substitutes down the river by agreeing to a 90% rate for them.

    Any kind of agreement in these circumstances is going to have elements that are distasteful to all parties. The M.O. board leadership & management did not exactly come out of this looking very good, as they failed in their financial goals for the lockout despite the mayhem they created. I imagine that at least some board members are acutely aware of this.

    • That’s a very good point with regard to the need to have the exact language in order to form a reasonable frame of reference. At the same time, when talking about generalities such as percentages, it doesn’t matter if the figure is 75 percent or 99 percent; anything less than parity is suspect. Given that substitute musicians have no vote in the ratification process, they must trust that their contracted colleagues will not only act in their best interests but treat them as deserving equals with equal artistic responsibilities.

      Although the temptation to rationalize results other than parity as simply a compromise or difficult decision is admittedly alluring, it ultimately belittles the value of substitute musicians and relegates them to a second class status. If anything, such decisions are counterproductive in that they only reinforce arguments from the employer that contracted musicians deserve to be paid at variable rates; such as only paying a salaried musician for actual on-stage services regardless if his/her instrument was used in that week’s programming or paying them less during those unused weeks.

      • Given that the musicians beat back all but 15 of the 200+ work changes demanded by mgmt, and given that they negotiated a much smaller pay cut than was first proposed, and given that sub pay is based on musician pay, it does seem that the musicians did indeed act in the best interests of all. The musicians also signed, which means more work opportunities for subs, who were locked out with everyone else.

      • I’m not sure how you know for certain what the ratio of proposed vs. final work rule changes are given that the contract has yet to be released. Am I mistaken and is it available?

        I’m also having difficulty resolving the notion that substitutes who stood on the picket line with the contracted musicians should be grateful for having to accept a larger pay cut than the contracted musicians. They also shared their freelance work with their locked out colleagues only to have a new agreement that requires them to contribute a greater sacrifice. Or is your point, and correct me if I’m wrong, that they should feel grateful whatever the final outcome for having the opportunity to work?

        Lastly, the substitute pay was based on contracted musician base pay in the previous agreements and there doesn’t appear to be any difference in this agreement. As such, how does that factor into your assessment?

        In the end, the temptation to justify what is looking like an inequitable agreement is indeed alluring, but that doesn’t change the outcome in that the group of colleagues with no say in the ratification are required to accept a greater sacrifice than those who did.

      • This part of your reply is what I’m talking about when I describe negotiations as a political process: “the group of colleagues with no say in the ratification are required to accept a greater sacrifice than those who did.” It sounds as if the substitute musicians have little or no political power within the union, but I’d be happy to learn that I’m wrong about that.

        They cannot vote on the contract, yet they pay full dues, they walk the picket line, and they are expected to behave, dress, and perform as if they were full-time members of the orchestra.

        Do the substitute musicians have any input about the issues that are to be brought up during negotiations, including their own pay? Do they have any representation on the negotiating committee? Are they allowed to vote in the election which determines the members of this committee? (I apologize for asking so many questions, but I’m very interested in this topic).

      • I see what you mean, thanks for taking a moment to elaborate. As it is, all of these excellent and entirely relevant questions (and more) are going to be covered in a post scheduled for 1/20/2014. As such, you’l;l have to excuse me for simply saying stay tuned…

  11. While I agree there is a big ethical problem with adding a lower tier of pay for extras, I think that if the voting members of the orchestra in this example had agreed to the employer’s intractable terms back in 2012, that orchestra’s extras would have taken a much larger paycut than the 90% of the paycut in this settlement, no?

    • That’s an intriguing proposition but there isn’t any evidence to date to support it. What we do know is the final terms were quite different from what the MOA had been proposing throughout the course of the negotiations. Similarly, it seems as though there was ample opportunity to maintain contracted and substitute musician parity. The issues that remain unknown which could impact this is if the MOA uniformly refused to accept terms that including parity but based on the willingness to accept zero sum bargaining goals, that scenario seems highly unlikely. That is precisely one of the items I’m curious to discover because if it is discovered that the MOA was willing to accept parity once both sides agreed to the final concessions, it’s simply a matter of adjusting the contracted musician compensation enough to bring them into parity with substitute musicians. The only reason, therefore, that parity wasn’t achieved is because the musician negotiators didn’t want it. If that’s the case, I’m equally curious to hear that rationale.

  12. I guess I would question the characterization that “musicians that have the same artistic responsibilities and are expected to perform at the same standards of excellence.” The audition and tenure process are the mechanisms by which entry is granted into the “clique” (as one responder called it). Musicians take the audition process seriously and for better and/or worse it has been the known enormous hurdle that has stopped many and allowed only a few through for decades. While it is true that auditions are generally much more rigorous than section jobs, the pre-tenure expectations for those musicians who win are higher than they are for subs: for one thing official members must sustain a demanding schedule week after week. While it is regrettable that subs in Minnesota now will be paid less than the base minimum of their tenured and tenure-track counterparts, it is hardly a surprising way for books to be balanced in this era of belt-tightening. Will it diminish the quality of subs available to the orchestra? Quite possibly, but if not then the orchestra will be paying a “market” rate for such work. On the other hand even if the policy does diminish the quality of the sub pool and negatively impact the performance of the occasional Mahler, Strauss or Berlioz work requiring fuller forces, if it helps maintain the long term fiscal stability of the orchestra it may be defensible. Hard to say for sure but this might be the least odious of many possible avenues for fiscal restraint.


    • Those are some interesting notions Stefan and with regard to your points about the audition and probationary period prior to receiving tenure, don’t those processes have separate rewards; i.e. tenure? substitute musicians do not receive those benefits along with all of the additional benefits and perks such as health insurance, seniority pay, individual agreement overscale, sick days, etc.

      Consequently, when it comes down to two musicians sitting on stage, one contract and one substitute, are you still asserting that they don’t have equal artistic expectations?

      • I don’t necessarily ascribe the “rewards” as separate in the way you suggest, and it would seem that the Minnesota Orch, admin, and board don’t either. The idea that everyone is equal once they are out on stage fails to recognize some other inequities in the way subs are compensated, including over-scale, sick days, and paid vacation.

        In the end all arts organizations must strike what they can collectively decide is an appropriate balance for their organization between artistic and fiscal imperatives. Having seen the Minnesota Orchestra emerge from a truly horrendous work stoppage (bad for EVERYONE) I am relieved to see some collective agreement on important sacrifices that need to be made to maintain sustainability for the organization.

        As much as the sacrifices themselves are painful, it would be far more painful and damaging for the orchestra to fail to address underlying structural issues such as might exist. The orchestra business has become extremely expensive to support. I don’t know if there is another responsible way forward for the Minn Orch and I haven’t looked deeply into the specifics of their fiscal issues. If I were more informed I might be in a position to disagree with the measures being taken, but in relative ignorance I do have a general instinct that the very survival of the art form beyond all of us may require shared responsibility between tenured orchestra members, boards, and administrations in making difficult decisions like these.

      • I am entirely befuddled as to how one does not acknowledge and differentiate the benefits assigned to a contracted musician position from the comparatively limited number of compensation oriented offerings awarded to substitute musicians. So yes, because of the reality that they have the same artistic expectations and responsibilities as contracted musicians but are segregated from benefits such as tenure, sick pay, seniority pay, individually negotiated overscale, etc. the very least substitute musicians deserve is parity for base compensation on a per service basis. To be clear, I’m not suggesting substitutes should receive any of those benefits but when it comes down to the entirely quantifiable issue of equal pay for equal work, I don’t see any reasons that cloud the issue or require what you’ve defined as difficult decisions. Quite the contrary, it seems rather clear cut.

        To that end, you mention shared responsibility but so that I understand your perspective here, and please correct me if I’m not interpreting your points correctly, it is justifiable to oblige one group of artistic stakeholders to sacrifice more than another (and it is worth pointing out at this juncture that staffers are in the very same predicament). And in the end, this imbalanced sacrifice structure will promote artistic cohesion and excellence as well as have a positive and nurturing impact on developing a healthy cultural environment. Is this an accurate representation of what you’re purporting?

      • Honestly my position is practical, not ideological. The presumption here is that something has to give, and if that is true I think that sub compensation is a likely candidate. If by invoking that I engender some moral hazard, I am willing to accept that risk as an advocate for longevity for the art form over the interests of specific groups in any one moment.

        As to the more ideological aspect of your argument, I do acknowledge and differentiate the differences in benefits between subs and contracted musicians. My point is that it is potentially arbitrary to accept any one line of demarcation for benefits over any other. For instance, one could argue against over scale altogether. Some orchestras strictly define over scale by percentages of base. Other orchestras have propagated systems featuring gross inequity between the compensation of their contracted section players and their star principals. These systems each have their various merits and problems, especially in extremis: flat compensation and tenure fail to incentivize artistic standards, while gross inequities and lack of job security seem inhumane and can see artists terrorized by an environment of fear in the workplace.

        While the arguments around this are interesting and worthy, in a very practical sense the whole question is pyrrhic once the music stops. My position is that keeping the art form alive and the music playing may necessitate serious compromises and that some of those compromises seem likely to fall on substitute musicians. Is this fair? Not remotely: music, like all of the arts, can be a cruel profession. At the same time we need to be careful in flinging around rhetorical indictments of those that must make those decisions. I haven’t ever seen orchestral musicians happy about voting rights away from subs. I myself was on the short end of such a vote back in the 80’s. But the music must go on and so I defend rather than second guess our colleagues who must make such decisions.

      • For what you’ve described as a practical perspective, I’m confused on how parity within this context isn’t easily achieved once the final expenditure figure is determined. Moreover, your rationale for determining that substitutes should shoulder a greater responsibility for carrying a larger share of concessions is equally puzzling. Nonetheless, I can understand why people find comfort by justifying decisions that marginalize individuals with no recourse yet are equally necessary for the system to function. It sounds reassuring to enclose it language that makes it seem as though the decisions for actions are somehow beyond our control and just the way the world works. It’s justified a number of inequities over time that we look back on now and wonder how in the world such disparity was ever justified.

      • The comments here have been fascinating to read, and I’ve learned a great deal. I am still confused about one thing: what benefit do the substitute musicians derive from being dues-paying members of the union, when they have no direct representation on the negotiations team, and they are not able to vote on the CBA? In a different context, this sort of arrangement could be called “taxation without representation.”

        An analogy, while imperfect, might be to the residents of the District of Columbia. These citizens are taxpayers who pay one of the highest per capita federal income taxes in the country, so they’re certainly “paying their dues.” Yet they have no meaningful representation in the federal government, with only one non-voting member of the US House and no Senator, and they must rely on the goodwill of the rest of the Congress to pass laws that affect them.

        The residents of Washington DC are stuck with this unfair situation because of the US Constitution, but why would substitute musicians choose to pay union dues when they have so little to say about their own compensation?

        I’m not being critical of the union, I’m just curious about how this arrangement began in the first place. My guess is that the orchestras were union shops and musicians, full-time or substitute, had to have a union card in order to play, but it’s just a guess.

      • That’s a fascinating question Phil, especially when you take a historical perspective related to how contracted musicians secured the right to bargain directly instead of taking whatever the respective AFM Local thought was acceptable. The The First Fifty Years of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) publishes a history document with some information that touches on what you’re asking about but you’re on the right path with those questions. I’m equally curious to know what sorts of responses would come in from not only the MN musician committee but ICSOM leaders as well. In fact, you’ve inspired me to ask. Stay tuned.

      • As I understand it the union negotiates pay scale for union jobs outside of the orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement under independent guidelines. The union also normally plays a role in the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement for the orchestra. As long as that CBA doesn’t pay subs less than the going rate for non orchestra services in the area, it doesn’t necessarily violate the terms of the union for union members.

        A set priorities in order then might be something like:
        1. Survival of the an orchestra with highest artistic standards.
        2. Preservation of the core compensation by which the orchestra attracts and retains the most capable people in competitive auditions.
        3. Maintenance of a reasonable budget for facilities, marketing, and grant writing.
        4. maintenance of a reasonable budget by which to sustain subs to provide relief for players and to help augment the group for larger artistic projects.

        I would argue that if this means that 4 is under pressure in the service of 1,2, or 3, that is defensible even if the priorities might be given different weight by different interested parties.

      • I don’t believe that is entirely accurate. Although the Local is the eventual signatory for an orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the contracted musicians have the right to elect their own representatives from among their membership and they must ratify the agreement by rank and file vote. The engagement agreements you’re referencing are negotiated via the Local but those are mutually exclusive of the CBA negotiations and utilize different standards. and to my knowledge, the CBA could define a substitute rate lower than the engagement rates although I’ve never seen such an arrangement (if anyone knows of one, I’d love to learn more about it). At the same time, I would be surprised to see a Local agree to such a provision and sign the agreement.

        Nonetheless, all of this is academic and the orchestral employer can just as easily justify paying the contracted musicians the same rate as the engagement scale due to the similar artistic expectations among contracted and substitute musicians within the ensemble.

        I’m still entirely baffled at your prioritization schedule and that you distinguish substitute pay from contract musician pay unless you unilaterally consider all substitute musicians as having lower artistic ability. Is this what you’re proposing?

      • Drew:

        i am not proposing any such thing. What I would say is that the obligation of an orchestra to it’s mission could reasonably be construed as extending to the maintenance of highly competitive salaries by which to attract and retain the most in-demand contract players over maintaining equality of base pay between subs and contract players. Subs are important, and they have a role to play, but it is the long-term contract players who make or break an orchestra over time. Subs are available on a “spot” basis in the market and if the sub pool is sputtering an admin can more easily move sub pay up than it can adjust contract pay downward if the organization is hemorrhaging money. If that position ultimately serves the contract players’ arguments, it is no rationalization by me: I have no vested interest in either side of the debate as I long ago left the professional orchestra world.

        In a real sense, it is a brutal world in which artistic excellence sometimes cuts against more humanistic values. For the record, I am a card-carrying liberal with a deep interest in social justice. I believe in a strong social safety net and have voted consistently for changes to the tax code that would strengthen our social welfare programs and promote greater income equality.

        At the same time I refuse to conflate an artistic agenda with a social one: an orchestra that strives too hard for egalitarian values may find itself supplanting artistic values in the process, and that I simply can’t advocate for.

      • Stefan says “an orchestra that strives too hard for egalitarian values may find itself supplanting artistic values in the process, and that I simply can’t advocate for.”

        Well then I’m confused. Could we not argue the same about using audition screens and the related processes that help make auditions anonymous? We used to have an old-boy’s network of friends putting friends into positions, playing for conductors in hotel rooms and such. Now we have a new system of fairness so that everyone has the same chance without favoritism. Why? So they can be judged by their merits.

        and while we’re at it, why bother with tenure? Won’t it help improve artistic values if we eliminate tenure and require that all musicians undergo the audition process every few years and let the music director decide who goes and who stays? All of those protections Stefan mentioned earlier as being part of what contracted musicians deserve don’t agree with his sentiments here.

        If an orchestra has to beg (or force) the indulgence from the substitute players in order to keep a certain status, then we might as well return to feudalism system. The other option, in my humble opinion, is to stop playing status games and present programs that are within means.

        Which brings me to another point. Playing big programs in order to give the appearance of a particular size and standard on the backs of substitutes, who are earning less, is quite similar to how the 1% rode on the backs of so many during the credit crisis. So Stefan, you can take some imaginary artistic high ground but that’s all it is, imaginary.

      • Well one can draw in many potential points. In doing so now we have strayed far from the original point I made that I think that sub pay is a defensible place for an orchestra to look for savings. Still, on balance I am more interested in quality than in putative fairness, and if that makes me seem mercinary then I am guilty as charged. Realistically I suppose that for all of us the reconciling of tensions between fiscal and artistic agendas falls within a range of expected norms, none of which degenerates to feudalism.

      • The more I learn of your perspective Stefan, the more confident I am with the idea that valuation by means of subjective vanity statistics and at the expense of others is a representative example behind the trouble in this field.

        I gave a key note speech at the 2013 OCSM (Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians) conference to discuss Fourth Generation theory (details & downloads); what it is, how it applies to this field, and how it helps explain the current environment along with what we can expect moving forward. This particular application was vis-a-vis the perspective of the musician stakeholder and in a very small nutshell, musicians currently exist in a time of High Risk Aversion coupled with Low Collective Identity.

        I wouldn’t wish the product of those qualities on my worst enemy; at the same time, I don’t believe I’m capable of crafting a better example for acknowledging its presence than the notion and rationale you’ve been offering to justify artistic stakeholder disparity. But as I’ve mentioned before, please correct me if you feel I’ve misinterpreted your observations.

        Nonetheless, I am grateful for your participation as the more these views are discussed, the more likely the field can step out of entrenched thinking and begin to realize a better way to resolve its conflicts.

      • This all seems rather heavy-handed as a response to my original thesis that a lower pay rate for subs is a defensible cost saving strategy for an orchestra. Suffice it to say that not everyone agrees. As it happens I have been around the block every imaginable way but I don’t think that is relevant to conversation. I believe that my position on this has consistent in support of this thesis throughout the discussion.

        High art is often described as elitist. In fact I think of a field in which pursuit of excellence places fairness as the first priority. At the same time I do truly understand that there are differing points of view and different values that inform perspectives. I am sensitive to those other points of view even if they are not my own when narrowly circumscribed. The question of whether or not the ends justify the means is at the heart of many debates, and the answer certainly depends on the details for any of us.

      • Drew:

        I advocate the audition as the most objective means we have to avoid crony-ism although the process is highly flawed. Is there a more objective measurement to advocate?

      • I disagree strongly with your original statement and your follow up arguments show a lack of continuity. Your contradicting points of artistic value is offset by your earlier statements about the CBA and union rules. If anything, the rules set by the union, and the CBA further justifies a better look at the need for equality. That is, unless you wish favor the side of an elitist, which you are certainly entitled to, but our industry is suffering enough by that quality.

        I am most certain you’ve been around the block, but it seems you’ve only been one way around that block. I’ve been around the block too, only both ways. I’ve been a regular sub, and a contract player and let me assure you, how we treat our colleagues, whether they are a substitute or contracted musician, is a direct reflection of the artists we are, and the character we posses.

      • Stefan, I’ve been following your posts with great interest and I’m curious to know your opinion on a related issue to your outlook on substitute pay. When Minnesota was locked out, it was common for the musicians to be offered sub positions in orchestras that have smaller base musician salaries. In what I have to imagine are most of those cases, doing so displaced a regular substitute.

        Given your practicality toward achieving artistic merit, do you think the Minnesota musicians should have been required to undergo the same screening process as those displaced subs in those institutions or does their mere membership in the MO enough to give them an unquestioned “Advance To Go” card?

        I’m also curious to know if you think the Minnesota musicians should now feel equally obliged to offer substitute positions to musicians in smaller budget/pay orchestras if they get locked out? Or do those musicians need to go through their established substitute selection protocol and just be happy they were even considered if they draw a “Go Directly To Jail” card?

        P.S. I thought you’d appreciate the capitalist Monopoly reference.

      • This is another mischaracterization of my position. I will state it for the last time: I think it is defensible (not necessarily “right”) for an orchestra to prioritize compensation for contract players over that for subs. This for purely practical reasons. The other issues you put forward have various worth points of tension for discussion, but frankly I am most interested in talking about things that can be effectively addressed as opposed to hypothetical scenarios involving quasi-political ideologies.

        I am not a lover of auditions, but it is the best we have. In the old days great orchestras like Cleveland under Szell and Phlly under Ormandy were built via the crony system. Even though that had it’s merits, I don’t advocate a return to the gross inequities of such a system. What I do advocate is a little forbearance as some of our colleagues make tough decisions in an effort to reset unsustainable models rather than see most of the orchestras of this country slide into oblivion.

        The big picture here should be our “true north.” I believe that we will have an easier time finding each other in the world if we keep our eyes focused on the big picture goals and the practical steps to achieving those goals rather than descending into ideological squabbles founded un less than realistic expectations for how people are likely to behave.

      • I’m sorry you feel like there has been a bit of heavy-handed blow back to your views but are you really that surprised? You’re advocating sacrificing musician well being who have no vote or recourse for the sake of what you define as artistic excellence for no other reason than the musicians on the other side of the fence won an audition God only knows how long ago.

        It may strike you as odd but most people don’t have the sort of moral ambiguity needed to defend making those with the weakest voice pay for someone else’s subjective definition of artistic excellence. The very notion seem surreal to me and I keep expecting Rod Serling to show up here in the comments to offer up some moral of the story to warn everyone against such high minded folly.

        I’m glad to see this getting talked about and I’m glad to see people like Stefan speak up because we all need to be reminded that there are views out there like that and we need to have the courage to stand up and point out that the Emperor isn’t warning any clothes.

      • I am not surprised by differing opinions, but the scale seems out of proportion and the broad lack of rigor in characterizations of my position here betray (IMO) more ideological fervor than thoughtful consideration. My simple thesis is that it is defensible (not necessarily “right”) for an orchestra to prioritize compensation of it’s contract players over compensation for subs. Judging by responses here others don’t agree that it is defensible. Fair enough to have a different notion but I would argue that the expectation of something otherwise would appear to be unrealistic. My argument doesn’t extend to post Ayn Rand, libertarian views and I certainly wouldn’t espouse anything like that. All of the moral high ground that has infected this debate seems unneeded and frankly more defensive smokescreen than anything that might lead to a practical outcome.

  13. I must support Stefan here. He’s correct, subs have zero rights and frankly they should be thanking the gracious offers of work. Additionally, adding a high caliber symphony to their resume is a gift and that has to be worth something.

    Like Stefan says, in the pursuit of the high level of artistic excellence the sacrifice is worth it. After all, sacrifices like this are how our great country was founded. It wasn’t right to have slavery, but it was a tool in which our country was able to profit and become the richest and most powerful nation there is.

    • Eek Warren I appreciate the support but can’t begin to agree with some of what you say: I would steer clear of equating this with some kind of endorsement of slavery. The reference is offensive and inflammatory. All Americans should be embarrassed at the hypocrisy inherent in the founding of this country on so much naked genocide and slavery. I also don’t believe that subs have NO rights. I just argue that they can’t practically expect to have the same rights as contract players. Subs should be paid a professional wage and should be treated as the high level professionals that they are. To be engaged as a sub in a major symphony is a big deal that deserves a lot of respect. At the same time, orchestras need to survive and produce concerts at the highest level. In tough economic times subs are a likely casualty in numbers and in overall compensation for very practical reasons.

  14. I think I see your confusion Stefan, the aspect I’m referencing via auditions (and its use here includes the the extended probation review period) has nothing to do with process and, instead, is related to your comment here where you used it to justify the basis for the artistic superiority (and subsequently priority) of contracted musicians over substitute musicians.

    Specifically, you promoted the notion that contract musicians selected via the audition process inherently possess a higher artistic standard than substitutes yet this threshold for comparison is only an applicable if each substitute was administered the same audition process (regardless if a position was in fact available). Simply put, your asserted that contract musicians deserve to rank higher on your prioritization chart because they successfully completed the audition process.

    My response questions the reliability of that premise because substitutes are not offered the opportunity to undergo the same evaluative process. consequently, there’s no way to accurately measure the artistic contribution to a level that satisfies your ranking based on the system as it currently exists.

    In order for that to happen, I have to assume that you advocate contracted musicians should be contractually compelled to re-audition for their seat on a regular basis (say, every three to four years). Is that what you’re advocating?

    If not, then the basis for your defensible vs. “right” (which I assume you meant to convey with the morally justifiable definition) justification measure is built atop an argument with questionable reasoning.

    • I too see the confusion Drew so let me try to clear it up. As I have continued to say, my comments are practical and should not be extended to imply some sort of ideology. For instance:

      “Specifically, you promoted the notion that contract musicians selected via the audition process inherently possess a higher artistic standard than substitutes yet this threshold for comparison is only an applicable if each substitute was administered the same audition process”…is your interpretation but not my quote or my position.

      I don’t think that auditions necessarily select artistic superiority and in fact I have often railed against the audition process. But that process has emerged as the best we have: I do believe that higher compensation levels and percs including tenure draw more competitive audition pools and that a broad, high quality pool at auditions is integral to maintaining ongoing quality in an orchestra. Whereas subs will move on the minute that they manage to win a tenure track job, the contract players (for better and worse I am sure) are the ones that the quality of orchestra will live or die by which is why audition and tenure sets rigorous and high bars.

      It also appears that structural problems plague the orchestra model and that expenses have to be trimmed…somehow. Assuming the cost cutting IS necessary, (not a forgone conclusion) limiting compensation for subs first so as to minimize artistic impact on the orchestra over time seems defensible, if not the only option.

      While many of your readers find this notion abhorrent, but it may be that short of limiting compensation for subs, the choices facing orchestras now are: 1. reduced the complement with no subs, (I would think subs would prefer to work for less than not at all) 2. a damn the torpedoes approach that risks scuttling the whole thing, (when orchestras go under nobody works) or 3. Reduced recruiting power at international auditions (everyone works but the quality flags over time). One thing I would assert is that there are no easy paths and no one has a premium on the moral high ground with these difficult decisions.

      • I am once again profoundly confused as to how your reasoning always manages to result in justifying requiring substitute musicians with disproportionately higher concessions. I’m equally curious as to why the only condition for recruiting prowess and the capacity to reach maximum artistic excellence is rooted singularly in base salary levels. Outside of perhaps the finance sector, this approach rarely does more than produce a string of toxic byproducts that create work environments that drive people away or shackle them to a job because they are addicted to the paycheck. Add a group of resentful, disgruntled subs into the mix and I’m wondering how that contributes to long term survival.

      • I too am bewildered seeing my simple thesis continually twisted. Try it this way: Salaries and benefits (including tenure) attract musicians to audition for major orchestras. Members of the New York Philharmonic aren’t part of the sub pool for Minnesota for instance, because they have conflicting positions that already pay more. The same quality pool of musicians auditioning for an orchestra paying say $125,000.00 annually won’t be in evidence at the audition for an orchestra paying $80,000.00. While a player will need to be very strong to win either audition, and while no one result is necessarily definitive, the general yield from auditions for the higher paying orchestras is likely to be stronger. If this weren’t true, there would be no reason for any orchestra to pay more than another. It is a competitive environment and a top class orchestra won’t remain top class if it fails to offer competitive compensation.

        A the same time, orchestras (like sports teams) struggle to balance the books, particularly in smaller markets. The tension between these tow realities seems to me to understandably produce casualties. Case in point may be the Minnesota Orchestra where, unconfirmed reports suggest that the compensation for subs will now fall below the base rate for contracted musicians. If that balances the books while maintaining the orchestras competitiveness in attracting the best talent, it is defensible (not necessarily defended by me) and preferable in my mind to seeing the orchestra go under altogether on the one hand, or seeing it lose it’s artistic edge which has been so carefully and skillfully honed over decades.

      • Let’s try to rein in this discussion a bit. I think the core (no pun intended) issue here is that (to oversimplify a bit) a certain dollar amount of salary savings had to be achieved, and instead of that loss being distributed equally among all musicians (both contract and subs), it appears that the contract players voted for the subs to take a greater hit. Drew finds this remarkable (as do many others), while Stefan does not; instead of arguing about whether the American orchestra model is sustainable (a much, much larger [and ongoing] argument that might not be relevant here), could we focus on this point: Why did the contract musicians decide to reduce sub pay below norms? (Especially since, due to the fact that there are more contract musicians than subs [almost by definition], and that contract players get more in total compensation [via benefits] than subs, the math would seem to indicate that any cut would be easier/gentler for the contract players to absorb, rather than hitting the subs more proportionally. You’re reducing salary by $X amount, no matter what; the decision on who takes a bigger proportion of the hit is thus a moral choice, not a pragmatic, do-what-you-can-to-save-the-overall-symphony stance.)

      • Those are excellent points Michael, to that end, the questions originally proposed in these articles will help provide necessary clarity:

        1) Was the need for having a pay discrepancy a deal-breaker for the MOA?
        2)Once the final concessions were known, was the MOA unwilling to engage in the zero sum bargaining they have been purporting throughout the course lockout in order to maintain parity?
        3) Did the musicians have a bottom line for base salary, even if it meant requiring substitute musicians to accept a greater cut?

      • Thanks for the clarity Michael, I think you are on topic…partially. My thesis is only that a choice to save money by limiting extra/sub compensation is defensible if it helps the orchestra sustain recruiting power in the international market for talent. The mission of an orchestra, after all, is explicitly articulated as producing an organization capable of playing great concerts rather than the creation of a lucrative salary base for a maximum number of musicians. That mission itself is at the core of an organizations mandate, so if there is any question of morality per se, I believe it should appropriately reach up to the foundation on which the organization is built.

        In a perfect world I would imagine an arts community fully funded by higher tax rates (especially corporate) and a generous base pay for all who work in major arts organizations. That utopia is far from the situation we find ourselves in now in this era of libertarianism. I think our best chance to effect change in society towards a value system more in line with my utopian ideals is to adapt to the circumstances in play, celebrate the push for quality, and educate, educate, educate.

    • I must speak in defense of Stefan’s posts. I find them quite well-reasoned. I have been a regular freelancer and a full-time orchestral player. Let’s say one thing off the bat–there’s nothing ‘fair’ about the freelancing world. I know, I did it for eight years. One misunderstanding with a gig contractor and you can instantly be out thousands of dollars per year. You have no protection, and live in constant stress. I subbed with big orchestras all over the US, and was quite a regular sub with every orchestra and performing organization in the city in which I lived. I had voting rights on CBA’s for organizations in which I was a member, but it would never have occurred to me to complain about not being ‘represented’ in contract negotiations for orchestras that I was not a full-time member of, even if I subbed with them regularly (10-15 weeks per year). I was not a member of their orchestra, hadn’t assumed the same level of risk to perform with them, and didn’t have a huge stake in their success. Additionally, out of the 15 or so salaried orchestras that I subbed with multiple times, I never had to take a single audition. There was no process, no sub list ranking, nothing. Now, playing well in those weeks is what got me call-backs for future weeks, but in every orchestra I’ve ever subbed in, there is no work involved in getting your foot in the door. Certainly nothing like an audition, trial, probation, etc.

      Now that I’ve won an audition and have played with dozens of subs in my own orchestra, what do I see? I’m very sorry to say, but generally speaking, the pool of substitute players does not play to the level of the pool of contracted musicians in my orchestra, nor do I expect they would. The phrase that has been tossed about, “held to the same artistic standards” is a little misleading. As a principal player, yes, I will give the same comments to my section members regardless if they are core members or subs. This does not mean I have the same ‘expectations’; weeks where we have three subs tend to be more difficult weeks for artistic cohesion than when we have a full section of core players. This does not mean we do not get fantastic subs; we’ve certainly had a number of extremely fine players who I think would have a very good chance of winning an audition with us, and some have done so. But the number of subs that we use (even regularly) who would never win one of our auditions is higher than the former. Please keep in mind, I do not say this to denigrate any substitute musicians, or people who are professional freelancers. I know how difficult the life is.

      As far as compensation, I do not have a problem with a sub receiving base pay, but I don’t have a problem with a sub receiving 90% either. I never received close to 90% of base pay in any orchestra I played with, save one, and I never thought this was unusual. Subs don’t have to participate in committee meetings, listen to auditions, screen resumes, bow parts, or do a number of the educational outreach/community involvement activities that I now do without compensation. Given a choice (and I admit, without input from MOA or MN Orch players, we won’t know if there was a choice), I don’t have a problem with contracted musicians receiving the larger share. Certainly in the case of the Minnesota Orchestra, where there was no guarantee (and still isn’t) of organizational survival, I’m willing to cut them some slack, especially as their sub pay is still far better than most orchestras who have not faced the same difficulties.

  15. “Tenure:” The dire out-pouring of selfishness that is proven (according to Chronicle of Higher Ed) to significantly diminish the quality, energy and attractiveness of Sharing in all sorts of fields, but I find it abhorrent primarily in orchestras and Education in the USA. Let’s imagine a ballerina or footballer with tenure… (or your anesthesiologist.)

  16. It is unfortunate that “tenure” has diminished your enjoyment of orchestras. But to have a basis for your abhorrence, it would be best to first understand the concept of tenure and its purpose. Judging from your post, I feel you don’t. Disclosure: I am both a musician and an educator.

    • Larry W, thank you for your comment. As a former public school teacher who earned my tenure, I agree with you that Mr. Brown simply fails to understand the meaning of the word. Contrary to what Mr. Brown wrote, sharing among teachers is not only encouraged, it is expected. Like all teachers in my district (and in my state) I was observed and evaluated on a regular basis. My tenure was contingent on these evaluations.

      It is a myth that tenured teachers cannot be dismissed, but it is true that they cannot be arbitrarily and capriciously fired. This blog post includes some other myths about tenure, as well as reasons why it is important:

      I’m aware that some may discount my comment as well as the blog post because they were written by teachers, but Mr. Brown’s comment was so inaccurate and unwarranted that it could not be left unanswered.

  17. I would like to respond to several parts of this lively discussion. Drew, in response to Stefan, you said: “I’m confused on how parity within this context isn’t easily achieved once the final expenditure figure is determined. Moreover, your rationale for determining that substitutes should shoulder a greater responsibility for carrying a larger share of concessions is equally puzzling.” In my opinion, you are misrepresenting Stefan’s position. He said compromises seem likely to fall on substitute musicians, but also that it is not remotely fair. This part of the contract is a relatively small part. We have no way of knowing what other work rules or conditions were exchanged for maintaining status quo on substitutes. Michael asks: “Why did the contract musicians decide to reduce sub pay below norms?” Not having yet seen the contract, we don’t know that. It may be the same as before the lockout. The stated goal was to keep the base pay of the MO in the top 10%. At the same time, the MOA had to show reduced costs. Without actually being there, we have no way of assuming how or if the musicians fought for parity for subs, as the return to work would have been their priority. The focus in the discussion here seems to be on what the musicians could or should have done, and so far it is all conjecture. There is far too little discussion about what the MOA management did, and that is a matter of historical fact.

    If the Minnesota Orchestra’s new contract is for a less-than optimal size (77, then 84, and optimally 95) there will undoubtedly be substitutes along the way. The hiring of subs is common practice with virtually all orchestras, most often on non-subscription concerts. It is to the financial advantage of managements to use subs since subs usually cost less. If the core musicians are paid more, keep in mind that they are contractually obligated to the schedule they are given. Just as a lawyer receives a retainer to clear their schedule and turn down other offers, a full-time musician does likewise. The substitutes can always decline the offer to play if they have better paying opportunities.

    Drew, on 1/19 at 2:15pm, you wrote: “That being said, I’m not certain why it wouldn’t be anything but surprising to see contracted musicians taking from substitute pay in order to bolster their own salary.” In Houston, the ballet orchestra voted to hire seven additional musicians who were subs to the core, with the result being that no one received a raise. So much for self-centered greed among musicians.

    • Who said anyone was being a self-centered greedy musician besides you? It’s sad to see such unproductive rants like this as it only reinforces bad musician stereotypes that lead to situations like the MN lockout. Your ideas come across as the musician version of the Ugly American. As a fellow musician, all I can say is you do not speak for me and I do not share your views. I would say to every listener out there reading this that I don’t know a single other musician that would agree with these ideas so please treat his sentiments as a lone and unsupported voice.

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