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Cleaner’s wage orchestra posts ‘a defence’

Thomas Carroll, artistic director of the Orpheus Sinfonia, has responded to the slave-wage allegations posted on this site.

 

thomas carroll

His response appears on a smiley music-buff site and makes no reference to offering professional musicians £100 for 18.5 hours work.

So what’s the point? Thomas, if you think you can defend your practices, address them head-on and at source.

We, at Slipped Disc, find them indefensible and unworthy of public or private subsidy. The implement below is not a musical instrument.

 

hoover

 

 

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Comments

  1. David F says:

    One has to wonder whether you are not pursuing a personal vendetta.

    • Why does one wonder? Stick to the issue.

      • Is slave-wages really an accurate representation of the situation?

        This is NOT a full-time professional orchestra, regardless of whether they market themselves as such, so I cannot understand why you are treating them as such, Norman. If they choose market themselves as such, this is just a silly error from relatively in-experienced promoters and managers.

        Your use of the work “slave” surely implies that the players are being “enslaved” in some respect.

        This is simply not the case and is a huge misjudgement – the young players (most of whom would not consider themselves professional in the most literal form) happily choose to take on the work at the agreed fee, so where is the enslavement here, Norman?

        Furthermore, the orchestra is paying the players everything they can. There is no big-name conductor or CEO taking all the money, just a group of young musicians trying to make the best of a less than adequate economic situation – so, again, why are you treating them as such?

        Anyone who doesn’t take on the work because the fee is not high enough is entitled to do so. Therefore, why is it neccessary to employ something akin to a smear campaign, and stop these young players from having ANY WORK AT ALL, in a time which is hard enough.

        It is clear that it is who is ignorning the issues, Norman, not Thomas.

        • “the orchestra is paying the players everything they can.” How is this relevant at all? If you do a job for me professionally and then I pay you “Everything I can” and it works out at less than minimum wage, are you going to smile and accept that? If you can’t afford to enter into a project without paying any professionals involved the going rate, then the solution is very simple: DON’T DO IT.

          Of course some people will always take whatever they can, but that does NOT justify offering these paltry sums in the first place.

    • Nicholas Korth says:

      I am a friend and colleague of Tom Carroll’s. Despite this, I can
      honestly state that in 20 years experience as a professional horn
      player (initially as a member of the Oslo Philharmonic under Marriss
      Jansons and subsequently, for the past 13 years as co-principal horn
      of the BBCSO) I have come across few conductors with so much talent,
      energy and, above all, brilliant communicative powers. He is also an
      excellent motivator as well as having good stick technique. Most of
      the aforementioned comments could be negatively applied to a large
      number of ‘trained’ conductors I have experienced. If, 20 years
      ago I had had the opportunity to work with such a dynamic director I
      should have been delighted, and, I am sure, benefitted hugely from the
      experience. So long as Orpheus remains a training orchestra (as it is
      now clearly defined) and is not seriously displacing professional
      outfits (which I believe is certainly not its aim), then I believe
      that it fulfills a valid role. It would, in my view, be a travesty if
      its influence were to cease. Furthermore, the atmosphere I have
      experienced during three appearances as soloist with them has been
      very positive and collaborative. In terms of training, I have also
      engaged several of my BBCSO colleagues as well as other distinguished
      musicians including Michael Thompson, one of the world’s leading horn
      players. We have all worked for vastly reduced fees. I would urge you
      to please add these comments to your blog as you risk damaging a
      worthy organisation through your negative comments.

  2. The cleaning staff (probably) does not get applause…or much personal fulfillment.

  3. Mark Pemberton says:

    Hmm, this para contains some very dodgy assertions: “Our generation is facing the worst recession since the 1920s where arts funding has been reduced by 40% over the last 5 years which has resulted in redundancies across the industry, closures, and in many areas full eradication of music provision in schools. There are fewer opportunities for young people to teach in schools and to secure full-time posts in an orchestra.”

    And it doesn’t address Norman’s point that £100 divided by 18.5 hours is less than the National Minimum Wage. The absolute rock-bottom ABO/MU minimum fee for a tutti player for a 6 hour session (one rehearsal and a concert) is £92.25. The current NMW for people over the age of 21 is £6.19 per hour.

    The key point ultimately is that either the individual chooses to work for nothing (ie. volunteers their time ) or if paid is subject to National Minimum Wage legislation. It would take just one disgruntled player to pursue a claim for breach of the National Minimum Wage, and the orchestra could be in big trouble.

    • I can’t help but think this is all a massive over-reaction…

      Why couldn’t Orpheus have just called their “fee” something like “expenses” or “subsistance for your time” and avoided the term “professional” in their marketing?
      The practical situation would’ve been the same, but there would’ve been no need for the press to get involved.

      It’s up to the players to accept the work, or not accept the work. This is witch-hunt is totally unneccessary and hugely unhelpful to young producors trying to bring these young players a bit of extra cash/experience.

      If you think this, do you think the same issues existed with the Montiverdi Choir, City of London Sinfonia or Academy of St Martin-in-the-fields (all of which begun in the same vein as the Orpheus Sinfonia, building up from having very little money, to raising the funds to eventually pay the players a living wage, rather than just subsistence/expenses)?

      • “It’s up to the players to accept the work, or not accept the work. This is witch-hunt is totally unneccessary”

        So, just because some people are misguided or desperate enough to accept appalling fees, it’s OK to let these people go unchallenged? It’s a good job people of the past didn’t take that attitude or we would still have REAL slave labour, dangerous working conditions, children going up chimneys (or whatever the 21st-century equivalent might be) and women not being allowed to vote.

        Good strategy.

        • In fairness, Derek, children weren’t often given a choice about going up chimneys, they were made to do so; Nor is playing a violin an activity made dangerous by the fee being offered (neither is anyone asking anyone to play an instrument in less than ‘normal working conditions’ for the task.
          I see your point, but you don’t help it with this analogy.

  4. “Cleaner’s wage orcestra” “slave-wage” “smiley music buff site”. One wonders if you’re actually interested in this topic at all, or just wishing you were able to stand up at PMQs with a bit of rehearsed outrage and sound-bite opportunities. Frankly, it can’t be taken as sensible journalism in the slightest.

    Regarding your assertion that the vacuum cleaner is not a musical intrument – it appears you got that wrong too.

  5. I believe in the MU says:

    The Orpheus Sinfonia have modified their aims on their website, updating their status to “a training orchestra with charitable status”.

    Previously:

    The Orpheus Sinfonia is a young professionals’ orchestra, supporting exceptional musicians emerging from music college as they begin their careers, becoming the stars of tomorrow… Orpheus Sinfonia is in an exciting position, going from strength to strength, constantly increasing our professional profile and opportunities, only made possible by the generous support of benefactors to The Orpheus Foundation.

    Currently (as of today):

    Orpheus Sinfonia provides vital performance opportunities to exceptional young musicians emerging from music college. As a training orchestra with charitable status, Orpheus Sinfonia believes in the importance of nurturing and supporting a new generation of musicians at the start of their orchestral careers… Orpheus Sinfonia is in an exciting position, going from strength to strength, constantly increasing its public profile and opportunities, only made possible by the generous support of benefactors to The Orpheus Foundation.

    This is an excellent outcome for the industry, and hopefully they will continue to benefit young people’s development.

  6. John Gordon says:

    Hi Norman. When Tim Benjamin, Peter Donohoe et al write articles for Slipped Disc, how much do you pay them?

    • None of your business: because Slipped Disc receives neither private donations nor public subsidy. We are free professionals, doing as we please with our skills. None of us, however, would work for the insult offered by Orpheus.

      • I challenge Norman Lebrecht to set out clearly and simply his financial model for training orchestras, young orchestras and similar that are growing and hope, one day, to pay full rates. Mr Lebrecht, don’t just answer by saying if you can’t pay union rates/minimum wage you shouldn’t operate, that’s not the real world. As a ‘cultural commentator’ who is supposedly well connected and knowledgeable, try contributing rather than just lambasting people trying to grow themselves in a very difficult profession.

    • I believe in the MU says:

      From a similar blog by Andy Waddicor:

      Regrettably, the trustees consider that an audit of their accounts is not required, so details of costs (fees to musicians/staff) are not in the public domain. An interesting note was made in their 2010 financial report though…

      “The surplus for the year rose by £30,800 to £38,400 at the year end. This is in part because grants made to Music in Mayfair (later Orpheus Foundation) were held back before the Year End when the latter transferred its assets to Orpheus Foundation (the successor company limited by guarantee). The additional funds passed over during the year enabled the Orpheus Sinfonia orchestra, which is managed by the Orpheus Foundation **to increase its performance fees closer to market rates**.”

      Hmmmm…

      • Andy Waddicor says:

        Thank you for quoting what was not a blog of mine, but a comment on another thread discussing this particular issue. You have omitted the point of my comment, which was in regards to the Orpheus financial statement – “The additional funds passed over during the year [2010] enabled the Orpheus Sinfonia orchestra, which is managed by the Orpheus Foundation **to increase its performance fees closer to market rates**.”

        My point was…

        ** Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the offer made to the young musician asked to play in this concert. £100 for three full day’s work as a section principal with a professional orchestra is abysmal.

  7. Tom Emlyn Williams says:

    Equity has been having a very similar discussion on “No pay/Low pay” mainly in Acting work for the past few years. Unfortunately there is no easy answer other than possibly restricting the numbers going into full-time training in the Arts by closing many of the Conservatories and Drama Schools, but that too would bring about an outcry! Young people choose to go into the business without seeing that they may not make it. When that happens, there is a never ending supply of the unscrupulous who are willing to take advantage of that situation.

  8. Halldor says:

    This entire argument is about semantics. If this was a professional orchestra, this would be a scandal. They aren’t, it isn’t, and now they’ve clarified the position on their website. Full stop.
    .
    Nothing more to see here Can we move on now please?

  9. David Shaw says:

    Mr Lebrecht suggests in his latest blog that a piece that appeared in Gramophone is somehow a “defence” of the matter he raised in his earlier Slipped Disc blog. This is not the case as readers who take a look at the Gramophone piece will see. The Gramophone piece outlines the objectives of the Orpheus Foundation of which I am Chairman, talks to our current activities and the pressures which face young musicians. It is heartening to see the volume of Slipped Disc responses which are positive about Orpheus which has for some years been supporting young musicians though it’s concert and recital programme. It is clear that the focus of our activities are on training young musicians on the edge of their professional career. That this training is welcomed by young musicians is clear and the possibility of this opportunity comes about by a combination of professional musicians, whether conductors or soloists being prepared to work for modest sums alongside these young musicians. We are fortunate to have an inspiring artistic director in Thomas Carroll who works tirelessly and for modest sums, a hard working team who help put on some 20 concerts and recitals a year as well as some generous sponsors who underwrite the recitals and concerts. If Mr Lebrecht were to come, as our guest, to one of our concerts (next one July 11th at Cadogan Hall) I would hope he might feel that what we are doing is actually worthwhile

    • Why then, Mr Shaw, is it headlined ‘In defence of the Orpheus Sinfonia’? And why does it not address the paltry fees offered to respected professionals, as well as musicians at the start of their careers? I am happy to hear the Sinfonia at some point, but not until the second question is addressed – and certainly not on July 11, which is my birthday. best wishes, NL

      • Andy Waddicor says:

        Thank you David, if I may, for taking time out to explain the mission of Orpheus Sinfonia, and helping us get nearer to an informed view..

        So Orpheus is not a professional orchestra, point taken, it’s a “training orchestra”. As there is nothing on the website about Orpheus’s training courses, could you elucidate, do the beneficiaries receive training and coaching on a regular basis from musicians with a long experience of orchestral playing? Are there any masterclass visits from maestros they might ordinarily never get to work with outside of a professional symphony orchestra? As the annual accounts filed with the Charity Commission are unitemised, it’s difficult for prospective students to assess how much funding is reserved exclusively for their tuition and coaching.

        I do believe one or two training orchestras in London would be a very worthwhile thing indeed, so long as the musicians are actually receiving regular quality orchestral training at the highest level, something they may not have received at music college where solo performance commonly takes priority. This may even mean the musicians receive no payments at all, if tutoring fees preclude them, I understand that, but their time (and their charity’s funding) might be better spent this way I feel, as part-time education students getting side-by-side coaching from seasoned professionals, actually gaining experience from mentoring, rather than just getting together with their peers to provide a symphony concert at a major venue for the price of their tube fare and a pizza, effectively working for free. I do hope that Orpheus Sinfonia is the former, and not the latter, and I wish them all the best with their professional training courses. I’d welcome more details on those please, how can I find them?

        P.S. Some of the players have argued that if Orpheus don’t promote themselves as a professional orchestra, then people might not pay to come to their concerts. That is a curious argument to make, surely an audience should not be misled, if they are paying market price to see a youth/college/training orchestra (which would automatically tell me they were not receiving professional fees), they should be made fully aware of what they are paying to see, something to do with trade descriptions I think.

  10. Folks, let’s remember, please, that we can disagree while still respecting each other.

  11. Observer says:

    I’m going to link some topical issues on this site. It seems to me that in our society as it is at present, there may be an over-supply of young classical musicians hoping to make a living in the profession. SO…..(I envisage shrieks of indignation here) maybe now would be a good time to close one or more of the UK’s specialist music schools ( a couple of which seem to be in great difficulties one way or another and not providing the educational environments their pupils should be studying in). Why should ‘The State’ give extra-special support to talented musical children as compared to children with other obvious special talents in say tennis, football, mathematics, languages, writing?

    • “Why should ‘The State’ give extra-special support to talented musical children as compared to children with other obvious special talents in say tennis, football, mathematics”

      …Or, for that matter, any of the other art forms?

    • Violinist says:

      It takes a lot more musicians to make an orchestra than writers to write a novel. And let’s not forget that young people are paying for their own education these days and their choices are their own. We can only try to support them in the best way we can – by providing jobs for them when they leave their chosen institution. London i a leading light for culture and why would we want to damage that reputation? Don’t campaign to restrict education and curtail culture and risk plunging us back into the dark ages. Create, and help to create, don’t destroy.

  12. None of this bluster really amounts to anything if the musicians themselves don’t speak up. I don’t know how things are in the UK, but where I am, this is the domain of the musicians’ union. A similar situation came up recently in my city, and the ‘training orchestra’ in question was obliged to negotiate a deal with the union (AFM) in order to keep paying below-average fees. Why has this not happened with Orpheus?

  13. This is not a professional orchestra! Listen!

    • Trumpeter says:

      To me this looks like a conductor trying to gain some experience. Not valuable orchestral training.

    • The video says it all. They seem an odd vehicle to use for an argument on musician’s rates of pay. They are clearly gaining experience and receiving expenses. If this is not the case then minimum wage legislation is clear, so report them to the necessary authorities if you think it is an issue.

      In general though, the world does not owe professional musicians a living, so, if the rate complies with the law then if you’re still not happy you need to do something else like the rest of the non-musical world has to do. Subsidy can only stretch so far.

      If rates are low then it means either demand is low and/or there are too many musicians. These days I think both cases are true.

      • Halldor says:

        “In general though, the world does not owe professional musicians a living, so, if the rate complies with the law then if you’re still not happy you need to do something else like the rest of the non-musical world has to do. Subsidy can only stretch so far.

        If rates are low then it means either demand is low and/or there are too many musicians.”

        Quite so.
        There also seems to be an assumption floating about in these discussions that these players are being taken advantage of. The question, then, is: who is gaining that advantage? Do people seriously, honestly, think that this – or any classical orchestra – is a profitable, money-making concern?

        Serious, professional classical music, by its nature, doesn’t make money. It costs money. “Professional rates” are subsidised ones (privately, or by the taxpayer) . Market rates, sadly, are probably closer to what we see here. UK taxpayers continue to fund reasonable salaries for several thousand full-time classical musicians; they can’t be expected to fund an unlimited number. A little realism would be healthy here.

        • I have noticed, frequently over the years, that when actors, designers, dancers, etc. engage in conversation on this topic, they usually bemoan the low pay of artists in general, but when musicians discuss it, they usually bemoan the low pay only of musicians.

          A little solidarity is helpful, and an occasional acknowledgement that all art forms are equally worthwhile.

          • Halldor says:

            @Jeffrey
            When major arts fundng cuts were first mooted in the UK a couple of years back, actors, directors, writers, visual artists and filmmakers banded together in a public protest / lobbying campaign. Classical musicians were noticeable by their absence.

          • I wish that surprised me. I can remember more than one time when I’ve seen AFofM musicians cross the picket line of another arts union.

  14. I’m usually a fan of Mr. Lebrecht’s posts, but those related to the “cleaner’s wage” of the Orpheus Sinfonia have provoked me to comment for the first time.

    I’d have far more sympathy for the anger and disgust expressed for the (alleged) unfair labor practices if they weren’t wrapped up in a layer of embarrassing elitism and classism. If “professional musicians [are being offered] £100 for 18.5 hours work” in lieu of fair compensation, that’s obviously dodgy at best.

    But isn’t equally appalling that anyone, including “cleaners”, should be expected to live on such meager wages? Why the persistent digs, as if it’s acceptable to short unskilled laborers but not professional musicians? You might find more success arguing for fair labor practices for musicians if you weren’t simultaneously dismissing another group with whom they actually have something in common – the folks who take care of the spaces in which they, the equally impoverished musicians, perform.

    • French Horn player says:

      Worse off

      In this case it would be great if the musicians got close to the cleaners wages, they are actually worse of then the people that clean when they leave the building.
      Several comments are made of “internship” status of these musicians, but I think internship means that someone is taken into a professional structure and can learn/improve himself by looking and learning from the far more professional peers. I don’t see how that would aply here, since everyone is in the same boat. (Even the conductor, although he might hope that through name recognition he can eventually abandon ship, just like the previous conductor).
      It is extremely hard with subsidies in place to say anything about market value at this moment, because subsidies clearly influence value, as do unions. Unions however exist exactly to help workers get a reasonable pay, and I would be interested to see the Musicians Unions standpoint on all this.
      Even though I agree that solidarity is something to strive for, one has to realize that not every art form is the same. Being a sculptor or an orchestra musician may both be seen by the outside world as being an “artist” ,however the actual activities, work hours and networking they have to commit to, are probably vastly different. Hence the different unions and organizations for the different art forms. One can argue of course wether these larger organizations make the right decisions but I am not sure wether that really belongs in this topic.

  15. Anna Edsson says:

    This is by far not the worst orchestra in London, I played in Orpheus for a couple of years and it was a great atmosphere with a close group of friends. We enjoyed making music together and this was the point of the project, even though at that time we had much shorter rehearsal times. The difference between this and some other orchestras is that Orpheus is not a commercial orchestra with a profit making aim.

    One orchestra I’d like to name is the Women of the World orchestra which I’ve been asked to play in for two years in a row, an orchestra that is celebrating the women’s day and wants to support females all over the world, and also support young female music students in London. Unfortunately there is no fee (as they so nicely explain it in the text message: you all know how the British arts fund system is these days…) but you get two complimentary tickets and it will be a great experience as it is in the Royal Festival Hall and you’ll be able to get a lot of contacts.

    My first year in music college I was a bit too inexperienced to know when to say no to a gig and I actually went to play the first year. Two days rehearsal plus concert on the second day, it showed up that almost all of the famous female comedians from British tv were there to make the show a great one. But where was the support for these young music students that they praised so highly in the concert? Support through giving them two tickets each for the price of £35 each and no possibility to get any money? This was obviously a big project with lots of money coming out of it but with nothing for the musiscians. The second year I was asked to do this gig I said that I would only do it if I was paid £30 for travel per day of rehearsal for transport of a bulky intrument and £80 per day as a fee, and that I didn’t want any complimentary tickets. Unfortunately they didn’t want me to play afterwards.

    Link to the web page:
    http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/women-of-the-world

  16. Well, if they were to hire the same players for each and every concert as opposed to relying on the lame “the following musicians have appeared with the Orpheus Sinfonia this season” principle, were to have a trained conductor as their Artisitc Director not a cellist, were to stick for part of the season to chamber orchestra repertoire as their moniker suggests (possibly without a conductor), were to up the ticket prices to something commensurate with the “art” they are claiming to support and produce, were to invite properly established conductors to guest once in a while (surprising how much generosity of spirit is out there and which is plainly not being harnessed), were to offer real training and workshops, and finally were to make their annual accounts wholly transparent (there’s nothing to hide obviously), they might stand a better chance. And in response to another comment, Jupiter does not sound that bad, but that’s not a criterion for even paying a tenner to hear it…Huummph…

    • Graham – a lot there, but to address the musical issues:
      - I suspect they do ask the same players, but by the nature of it not being well-paid, and by the nature of OS fulfilling its goals of career development for the participants, the same people aren’t always going to be available.
      - I’d like to agree on the suggestion of a “trained conductor” – but that’s rather vague and misses the point. Paul Watkins is a ‘cellist first and foremost, but I don’t think anyone would say he wasn’t a good conductor (though in his early days not the best). Passionate leadership is more important than anyone who says “but I’ve been trained as a conductor”, and I don’t see anything wrong with Thomas Carroll providing that. Besides, isn’t Toby Purser a “trained conductor”, which addresses your concern from the off?
      - if the ensemble is to provide orchestral experience it would be silly for them to stick exclusively to one segment of repertoire. To give their players the most valuable experience to allow them a better chance of jobs with the big orchestras, playing bigger repertoire seems sensible to me.
      - I suspect ticket prices are as high as OS think they can make them, there’s no reason for them to undersell themselves. If making prices higher results in less income and a smaller audience, is that a good thing?
      - OS seem to be inviting established guest musicians as you suggest (why limit it to conductors?), so I’m not sure what your point is here. I’m sure at some point they will find an established conductor who will help likewise.
      - training orchestras are not necessarily about individual playing lessons nor workshops. Players at this level post-college are likely to have a relationship with a private teacher who suits them in any case. It’s a question of orchestral experience (playing in an orchestra is very different to playing as soloist), and this seems to be being provided.

    • Nicholas Korth says:

      I am a friend and colleague of Tom Carroll’s. Despite this, I can honestly state that in 20 years experience as a professional horn player (initially as a member of the Oslo Philharmonic under Marriss Jansons and subsequently, for the past 13 years as co-principal horn of the BBCSO) I have come across few conductors with so much talent, energy and, above all, brilliant communicative powers. He is also an excellent motivator as well as having good stick technique. Most of the aforementioned comments could be negatively applied to a large number of ‘trained’ conductors I have experienced. If, 20 years ago I had had the opportunity to work with such a dynamic director I should have been delighted, and, I am sure, benefitted hugely from the experience. So long as Orpheus remains a training orchestra (as it is now clearly defined) and is not seriously displacing professional outfits (which I believe is certainly not its aim), then I believe that it fulfills a valid role. It would, in my view, be a travesty if its influence were to cease.

  17. Mark Stratford says:

    == if rates are low then it means either demand is low and/or there are too many musicians

    Yes, far too many musicians and far too many music schools pumping them out

  18. Minimum hourly wage is minimum hourly wage, either it applies to all work, or it is meaningless.
    Classical musicians spend years training to play, a fortune in exam fees to get qualified and 3 years at college. Why shouldn’t their pay reflect this?

    • …Because in a free-market economy — or variant thereof — a person is worth whatever someone is willing to pay her/him.

      Actors, dancers, and designers spend the same numbers of years training, yet typically — especially in the case of dancers — get paid even less than musicians. Fair? No. Real world? Yes.

      • French Horn player says:

        Dear Jeffrey

        Unfortunately this is not a free market economy, it is vastly influenced by subsidies, unions, and surprisingly, laws. Hence it will be extremely difficult to say wether there are to many, to little or exactly the right amount of musicians, listeners and conductors. And then there is the problem of measuring the fulfillment of the audience factor, although I’m sure some clever management type has tried to figure that one out too.

  19. Musician says:

    I hope that you will begin to understand, Jeffrey, that by protesting sub-minimum wage practice, this attempts to raise the bar across the arts and across all sectors of employment.

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