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How long will a $2,000 pay cut save an orchestra from slow death?

The musicians of Spokane go back to work today after a four-week lockout, having agreed to cut wages from average $17,460, a year to $15,539, covering 160 sessions (or ‘services’, as they are oddly termed, as if music was a religious rite).

The original pay is so low and the saving so small, you wonder why the board of the Spokane Symphony even bothered to change the locks. A fire sale might have been the better option.

Orchestras like this in medium-sized US cities are dead unless they find a big benefactor, or a better way of doing business.

Can’t they see the old method is bust?


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  1. Slightly off the exact topic, but in London a pay cut of £2,000 per player would see the Philharmonia in better health, with no deficit, further to your recent report:

  2. Interesting point Anon, and a player could make up the difference by taking on a couple of extra students on their roster. (Considering an average of about £40 an hour for lessons.) Still, we’d better not be giving the management any ideas… at least, not for free…

  3. Sam McElroy says:

    As a general comment, it should be clear to us all by now that the old system is bust because the market has spoken, and it doesn’t fit what the market is telling us. However, I think Steve jobs had it exactly right when he said that we should not ASK the market what it wants, but SHOW the market what it wants. Simon Cowell is another expert at this.

    Do do so, we have to find fresh and exciting new ways to SHOW the world what we do. That does NOT mean compromising standards or content (though some of the attire, perhaps!), rather addressing the delivery system. I am so pleased to see more and more LIVE streaming, and the willingness of orchestras to allow it. The next step is to let those concerts live perpetually online for free, rather than gather dust. We must share willingly and freely as other artists do, thereby taking advantage of this miracle of the internet, rather than fearing it. Funnily enough, soloists understand this. It is the collectives that do not.

    Many will want to argue that pop artists can afford to give away content for free, and that we can not. That is simply not a creative argument for the longterm. Without a highly visible and attractive product, the next generation can not know it exists, nor, therefore, where to find it. The more they see the product living online, mixed in with everything else, without prejudice, the more they will want to witness it LIVE. Simon Cowell has taught us that simple principal with his “talent” shows. They serve to build a profile of the performer and to mould the market. Once the very clever, season-long commercial has run its course, along come the tours, which sell out stadia on day 1.

    The younger generation of artists are onto this. They are all so much more internet savvy than the orchestras, and while they can not compete with Simon Cowell’s access, they have learned that they simply must be visible, which means giving away free content online and re-thinking production values for the new world of the ubiquitous camera. Are you listening to them, unions?

    Human nature has not changed. Beauty is always going to be beauty, and humans will always react to it as they always did, and as they DO when Simon Cowell occasionally feeds it to them, with what most readers here know to be underwhelming hints of the classical idiom. We just have to deliver. Literally.

    • Steve Soderberg says:

      Sam McElroy,
      You may have heard that B Ark is scheduled to leave next Sunday. I understand Simon Cowell will be on board. Space is going fast, but if you hurry you may still be able to get a seat. My friends and I will be leaving shortly after on A Ark and C Ark. We’ll be right behind you. Have a good trip.

    • You’ve made some good points about accessibility, Sam. Even though I don’t care for Simon Cowell, I see that he is an astute businessman. And if you are who you say your are, my compliments to you – a gorgeous, haunting voice, and a striking presence.

  4. Norman,

    US orchestras commonly call rehearsals and performances “services,” and the # of services is negotiated in their contract.

    Rosalind, and Anon, Not every orchestra musician has the opportunity, or the temperament to teach, and may not have students. Also, why should management be allowed (sometimes welcomed?) to balance the budget on the backs of the musicians? In 2nd tier, most of them make less than the mid-level administrators.

  5. Brian Hughes says:

    I think that everyone needs to jump over to Greg Sandow’s blog and read his ongoing commentary on his vision of the future of our art and the artists who present it. Of course, any ideas about “reinventing” the current model will necessitate a major paradigm shift among “classical” musicians and musical organizations. The question remains: Are they willing?

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