Orchestra Musician: It’s Not a Cush Job

sfs1A couple of days ago, an article appeared in Bloomberg that was so misinformed, so short-sighted, so petty, so ignorant, and so utterly ridiculous that to let it go unchallenged would be irresponsible.

The article came from Manuela Hoelterhoff, the Pulitzer Prize-winning executive editor for Bloomberg Muse and author of Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the Opera With Cecilia Bartoli. Clearly, a capable and decorated writer who has been in the business for many years and deserves respect from this lowly radio host.

HOWEVER…

Earlier this week, Hoelterhoff decided to take on the labor dispute at the San Francisco Symphony. She proceeded to rail against the SFS musicians for “sulking,” saying they “have stopped working because they don’t like doing what they are meant to be doing.” As if a labor stoppage is ever about enjoying one’s job.

SFSymphStrike1

“What do we want?”

“A more enjoyable way to pass the time between paychecks!”

“When do we want it?”

“Now!”

But this is only a simple misunderstanding of intent. The musicians of the San Francisco Symphony have clearly stated fair wages are the primary purpose for the strike. It has nothing to do with how much they enjoy playing classical music.

Hoelterhoff errs even further, though, when inelegantly brings herself into the story.

“That a bassoonist could actually make a nice living playing oompah-oompah is thrilling to know. I begrudge bassoonists nothing.

Long ago, I played second bassoon in the Nyack High School Band. That I might wish to continue playing oompah-oompah filled my parents with dread (so here I am in another endangered profession).”

With all due respect, the comparison between playing second bassoon in a high school band and in a world-class orchestra is about the equivalent of saying, “I once drove the bumper cars at a carnival; therefore I fully understand what it takes to be a champion at Le Mans.”

LeMans2006

Hoelterhoff declares that “running an orchestra is actually a tough job.” She is correct. I have immense respect for the great orchestra CEOs of the world–chief among them, the LA Phil‘s Deborah Borda, who I know quite well and about whom I cannot say enough positive things. In the very next breath, Hoelterhoff goes on to level her biggest insult yet to professional musicians. She says, unlike musicians, “[Orchestra CEOs] don’t just rehearse, play and go home.” Again, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to be an orchestral musician.

One reason Borda and her predecessor–Ernest Fleischmann, who I was also fortunate to get to know before he passed away in 2010–presided over more than 40 years of labor peace at the LA Phil, is they recognized the contribution of their orchestra’s musicians to the ultimate artistic and box office success. Treat your musicians well: you will attract the best and they will commit to making your organization a success.

The San Francsico Symphony has done this…and they’ve been rewarded with Grammy Awards, a huge endowment (2nd-largest of any American orchestra), and considerable cachet on the world stage. The average salary of a musician in the San Francisco Symphony is $165,000. They are the third-highest paid orchestra in the United States, behind Chicago and the LA Phil. Certainly, $165k is a paycheck most of us would thrilled to see come our way each year. (As a public radio lifer, I’ll never see that kind of scratch.)

But did most of us begin training for our vocation as a five or six-year-old, like most top-level musicians did? Have we been slaving away in practice rooms several hours a day for decades? Do we have thousands of people scrutinizing every minute detail of how we do our job day in and day out, offering up snap opinions over a glass of bubbly at intermission? Do we have to pay six-figure sums just to obtain the materials necessary to do our jobs? Do we have multiple media outlets critiquing the articulation of our sixteenth-note runs, the intonation of that high b-flat, or whether or not we were in exact ensemble with the cello section on that passage in the slow movement? Is our professional benchmark perfection? When we achieve perfection, but fall short of transcendence, are people disappointed?

Oompah-oompah, this is not.

SteamRoller

(Aside: further education about the artistry involved in great bassoon playing can be found here, courtesy of SF Sym principal bassoonist, Stephen Paulson.)

The San Francisco Symphony is one of the top orchestras in the world. Their musicians are some of the best in the world. Management admits as much:

“The performance of classical music at the highest level of excellence demands a lifetime commitment. The pursuit of perfection in performance requires extraordinary emotional fortitude, physical stamina, and tremendous innate talent.”

So, when Hoelterhoff suggests there are plenty of musicians–recent Juilliard grads, she says–who could fill the roles of the current SF Symphony musicians with no artistic depreciation, she betrays an ignorance of what it takes to be a great artist. Quite simply, there is not a world-class orchestra out there just waiting to be created.

(Remember the replacement refs?)

replacement-refs

Juilliard, by the way, costs about $55,000 a year. Roughly the same as medical school. Multiply that by four years (Bachelor of Music), six years (Master of Music), or eight years (Doctor of Musical Arts) and it means you have young musicians graduating into the job market with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

We pay our recent medical school grads six-figure salaries straight out of residency. But the route from conservatory to top-tier orchestra generally runs through a regional per-service or part-time orchestra. A place like the Tuscon Symphony, where salaries are about $17,000 a year–or about $93 per concert.

Even in full-time orchestras, wages aren’t much better. The principal bassoonist of the Louisiana Philharmonic in New Orleans makes slightly more than $25,000 a year. The Alabama Symphony musicians make $39,485.90 per year. Base pay in the Buffalo Philharmonic is $43,134. Management of the Minnesota Orchestra wants to cut their salary by 34%. (Source.)

Part of the problem facing musicians is their skill set is so highly specialized  From a management perspective, then, why not just cut pay? It’s not like there are that many principal bassoon jobs out there. Where are they going to go?

But that’s precisely why these musicians deserve a fair wage. Out of 313 million people in this country, they are literally one of probably 100 people who can do this job. They’ve been training their entire lives to do it. These musicians uniquely possess the talent, the artistry, and the dedication to skillfully and movingly execute the intricacies of the music of Mozart, Stravinsky, and John Adams. They deserve to be paid like the superstars they are.

They do not deserve public ridicule at the hands of a misinformed writer.

 

[Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed the Louisiana Philharmonic as a per-service orchestra.]

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248 thoughts on “Orchestra Musician: It’s Not a Cush Job

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  29. It is a very complex problem overall to sustain an orchestra, especially in the financial decline in the US. Perhaps most of the readers here know that each orchestra concert loses money, and that has been true for a very long time. Ticket sales come nowhere near enough to cover the total costs of putting on an orchestral concert. The business model generally relies on donations and income from previous donations invested. If the orchestra management suffers losses in income due to lower donations and lower income from investments, they have no where to turn to keep the business running. Even professional money managers lost money and had reduced income for years straight during the 2000 decade, and orchestra management are usually relying on those people. Some would say that the business model is flawed and the business should die. Others would say it is not a business but a charity, and as such is an “entitlement” that is expendable.

    We look at a few successful orchestras and ask why they are OK, and point fingers at other orchestras and say “Look they can do it why not you?” The answer is again complex, having to do with the particular orchestra, its financial health and its donor community. There isn’t a silver bullet to fix them all as each community and organization varies in these aspects.

    Gabriele Baldocci proposes orchestras should do better at branding, own their content and find ways to make more from that content using the Internet. Some orchestras are doing this (the Berlin and L.A. Phils mentioned in this thread for example.) Let’s hope it helps. Member musicians will hope to tap into that income stream as royalties have been one way to help make a viable income for musicians. Orchestras struggling to survive the downturn and come back from it will probably fight to keep the income to flow through them to rebuild savings or to create savings to fulfill the investment income stream portion of the business model.

    The kinds of leverage that the movie industry, video game industry, the popular music industry have wielded over musicians has been offset to some degree by unionization. Orchestral musicians have participated in the same unionization but the business model for their employer is totally different from the others. There are some strange business “customs” in hiring orchestral musicians that might surprise management of other types of businesses. As others in this thread have touched on, this is partly due to the unique nature of the business, the tenuousness of the existence afforded by this work, the high level of specialization and the high level of competition. As someone who’s served as orchestra president, orchestra donor, and orchestral musician, I empathize deeply with all three points of view, and don’t begrudge any of their stakes or rights to negotiate for survival in these situations.

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  32. The argument that musicians don’t work enough to justify their salaries is akin to the bashing and maligning of teachers and university professors these days. Look at any op-ed piece saying K-12 teachers and college professors “don’t work hard enough” and it’s exactly the same argument: they only “perform” X hours per week as compared to average Joe plumber (or CEO or executive) who works more/harder/better. It’s total BS, of course, but it comes from the same mindset, that the only work that counts is when you’re out in public doing it, and any preparation or skill maintenance should be on your own time. UGH!!

    • Amen! I am a university instructor (not having a PhD yet does not allow me to call myself “professor”) and must teach 6-7 classes a semester, at 3 or or 5 different schools– just to keep my head above water financially This gives me an income of about 18-20K per year out of which I must pay rent, a car payment, my bills, food, gas, and take care of my cats. And these classes are not math or chemistry or even history where there are objective answers on exams graded with an answer key in about 15 minutes. No. My classes are Eng. composition classes, classes in which there are 4 essays, 3 response papers, a research paper, a journal, and a portfolio for EVERY student–of which I have over 100–and all of which I must grade without the help of an answer key. Writing is a subjective and fluid art and not a subject whose papers others can help me grade. I, too, began my career as a 5-yr-old, have studied all my life, have finished a BA, have obtained an MA, have started a PhD, and all on loan dollars. Which means that now, as a PT adjunct teaching at 4 different schools, I still do not make enough to pay back the over $100K in student debt I owe. We need a new mindset in this country about what is valued. While I understand the need for and value the service industries, there is NO WAY an uneducated garbageman should be making 4 or 5 times what I make, NO WAY an uneducated young man or woman who holds the “stop” sign at road construction sites should be making $28/hr, while I make less than I would if I worked at McD’s. The problem is that a garbageman can refuse to do his job and piles of stinky garbage force people to pay him what he wants. If a teacher walks off the job, or a musician, the attitude is “So what. There are many waiting in the wings. You are expendable.” When educators are expendable and garbage men are not, there is an imbalance.

      • Oh dear. It’s a real bitch being a liberal in America these days, isn’t it? I can absolutely understand your frustration with the pay differential between you and your garbage man, but just because you’ve chosen education over ignorance doesn’t mean that your time is worth any more (or less!) than his. OR any more or less than the plumber who earns what also seems like an outrageous amount “per hour.” Try not to pump yourself up by putting people down. All it does is make you sound bitter and is counter-productive.

        Personally, I can’t imagine going $100K in debt for an English degree. Whoever convinced you to sign those papers as if you’d ever even be able to service this debt did you quite a disservice. I say this as an English major myself. After reading your post I feel doubly glad that I didn’t insist that my daughter keep working toward a degree. I couldn’t say in all honesty say to her what people said to me when I was growing up: “Get a good education and you’ll get a good job.” She’s a good little writer, but storytelling, writing and musicianship are all vocations which don’t necessarily require a formal “degree” to achieve a level of success. Certainly HAVING a degree in any of these fields is no guarantee of making a good income. It’s one thing if you see a job you want, that you feel you’d be good at, and learn that it requires a certain degree to even be able to APPLY for it, but even there, it’s up to you to do your research to find out how much it pays and what are the odds of a full-time job in that field opening up when you need it?

        I find it very frustrating to hear the numbers bandied about on television. Median income? What that says to me is that most people make far less than that amount, and a very few make WAY more than that amount. At $40K for a “median” household income, that tells me that one person in the house is probably making $25K and the other is probably bringing home another $15K. Just enough to push the whole household into a higher tax bracket, but not enough for either of them to make it on their own. Separately, they wouldn’t owe any tax at all, but neither would be able to keep a roof over their heads. If one loses their job or they divorce, it’s a disaster.

        When Warren Buffet talked about the basic unfairness of the tax code, he wasn’t kidding. It’s both wonderful that he was able to invest surplus money until after a while this money was making more for him than any regular “job-job” could pay, but it’s very frustrating for “ordinary” people that somehow they never seem to have enough surplus money to be able to invest like this. Not that we don’t want to, or are too stupid to see the advantages, it’s just that every time we start putting money away into a mutual fund or 401K plan, something happens (we lose a job, have a medical emergency, etc.) and we’re knocked back to square one again, forced to eat our seed corn just to survive.

        Ultimately, Allison, it’s up to you to decide how best to use your time. You can grade other people’s papers or you can decide to write that Great American Novel. You can keep working part-time for a university which will NEVER put you on full time (even when you get your doctorate; don’t believe them if they say anything different…they’re stringing you along), or you can apply to be a high school teacher and grade English composition papers at a better pay scale than what you’re currently earning. University teachers (I think) don’t have a union, just as library workers don’t have a union. Your pay is whatever you can screw out of them and that’s not very much. Public school teachers, however, DO have a union and they’ve negotiated to have teachers with Master’s Degrees earn more than teachers with only a BA. What you do with your time and education is your business and your decision. Personally, you couldn’t pay me enough to convince me to be a garbageman. That’s not how I want to spend my life. They earn every penny they get.

      • The recovery takes different paths in different areas, but at least folks are trying. The local symph players–all AFM–agreed to a pay cut, to keep more people employed, and instead of going belly. They have put out many world class recordings, and are not afraid of the occasional avante-garde, and I am grateful they are working. Lots of them teach as many as they can, too. Around here, the talent pool is large enough that groups come and go. When it’s a group of a quarter century, that’s a hurting on the income, if you’ve been there 20 years. Can’t hurt to be entrepreneur enough to team up and release your own stuff. Lots of free-lancers who can do fun things cheaper than typical studios, and sound and look good. The affordable tech today is incredible. With startups, collegiality is No. 1, evan ahead of ability, for lasting output, instead of out-pout.

      • Our local monthly symphony didn’t so much as decide on a pay cut per service as management simply decided to do mostly smaller works during their season to enable them to both stay afloat and do the occasional “larger” piece. That means that they look for works which only use two flutes instead of three or more, and don’t require multiple harps, etc. Sometimes they’ve done pieces which don’t require any woodwinds at all. So they’re saving money but it also means that anyone who plays third chair in any section can’t rely on a monthly amount from the symphony. But, at least they’re aware of this at the beginning of the season as they sign contracts which specify which dates and times they’re being hired to work.

  33. Thank you, everyone, for the lively discussion! I live in San Francisco, and am a San Francisco Symphony patron and donor for many years. The current situation feels like watching two dear friends in a relationship crisis, and there is nothing I can do than watch and hope they find a way forward through all of this. My own thoughts are that, if there is to be a future for organizations like classical orchestras and opera companies, the current model “management versus union” (and vice versa) is out of date. While I respect both the musician’s and the management’s position, incalculable damage has been and continues to be done to the Symphony’s organization and reputation. Many music lovers and patrons in town and in the Bay Area are holding off buying tickets and subscriptions for the coming season, as thwy wait for the outcome of this strike. It will take years to restore the good will among all sides. There needs to be a different model, similar to the one that is in place at Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser is one of the country’s leading health care systems, and some of you may say that as such it is very different from a performing arts organization. Nevertheless: Kaiser has now for years been successful in practicing a Labor and Management PARTNERSHIP (- see http://www.lmpartnership.org/home). I think that this is the crux of the matter: musicians and management need to work in partnership to make sure that the Symphony can move forward on a path that is sustainable. To quote the website: “Partnership brings frontline managers, workers and physicians together to make full use of each individual’s expertise” – in regards to the San Francisco Symphony, this could be a partnership that brings together management, staff, and musicians, and making full use of each individual’s expertise and, I might add, experience. The formula (L+M)P has worked well for Kaiser Permanente – management, workers, physicians, and above all patients. Potential conflicts are recognized well before they get out of hand, and averted through creative search for a solution. There have been no labor actions for a considerable period of time. I suggest that the major performing arts organizations in this country have a closer look at Kaiser Permanente’s (L+M)P model. The time has come to engage in solid, thorough and creative imagination here in San Francisco and elsewhere. Otherwise, I am afraid, the future looks very grim indeed.

    • Too right, well thought and extensive for me, I admit, having no KP familiarity. But something less contrary would serve all sides, as you say so thoroughly. When our opera company went bankrupt, there were many subscribers that lost confidence in buying the season tickets for the newer company that replaced it. They are suffering from the sins of the old. It’s proving very difficult to regain that trust. Isn’t it important though, to try not to devolve into pettiness (guilty) or nastiness, (guilty again) and just get in the way of actual progress? Thank you for the insightful and earnest effort to contribute to the solution, rather than the problem.

    • Good suggestion! For so many organizations, there has to be more to solving their fiscal problems than simply blaming the unions or the players. It’s a time of high anxiety all the way around. Thank you for making a constructive suggestion.

  34. Pingback: Are Striking Musicians Just Whining? | Kelly Rotterman

  35. Thank you so much for this article. I am a professional clarinettist and have sat next to some amazing bassoonists.. The skill, musicality and characterisation of Doug Ayer’s and Matthew Ockenden’s playing in the the demanding repertoire of the Australian Opera & Ballet Orchestra is a joy to behold, not only underpinning the orchestral richness but giving great expression and life to wonderful, often extremely difficult solos. And each player in the orchestra weaves an intricate and colorful thread to the tapestry of sound so carefully woven by the masterful composers.

  36. It all depends on the demand and in due to the decline in culture and lack financial resources has had been on a bumpy road. This profession cannot be compared to other sports in sports they have a larger audience and have higher earnings. The down side sports are that you be injured, retire early age, etc. They suffer many injuries during their life time and start at an early age and suffer later on in their lives injuries sustained. For race car drivers they live for the car same way a musician lives for music its more then just driving a car they have to find sponsors and risk their lives while driving at outrages speeds while also being constantly in the harassed by the media. So i have respect for all traits and believe its non sense to criticize another based on assumption. I have tremendous respect for this trait and believe strongly that there must it actually enriches our society with culture and in recent years due to the the economy their is an attempt to lower its standards by depriving them from a rightful salary, its fair these Musicians request a raise. A professional is a professorial it is degrading to look upon them as employees from a RadioShack that you can easily just replace they and even then they respect for their hard work and dedication.

    • Musicians get injuries too. How many musicians do you know who have had to have rotator cuff surgery? Playing a musical instrument often puts the body in an unnatural position. I know many musicians have tales to tell about injuries, and yet they often won’t tell because they don’t want to seem to be “damaged goods.”

    • Sev. you have some good points, but are not able to express them well in written english, which is not your native language, obviously. It is too much work translating the translation you are trying to express from your thoughts. Perhaps you could share your note in advance with a native english speaker of 8th grade or farther, who reads books beyond the elementary school level and who can assist you with editing. It is just too much effort to understand your writing, though a live conversation. We do want to understand you!

      • I did, too, and though I think reading a post should take a lot less work, I have been guilty way too often of letting polysyllabic articulation interfere with communication. A no-no, I have expressed my regret for the post already.

      • You are correct, Leslie, and after re-reading my post, I regret allowing my copy-editing ability to interfere with the dialog. I do think if someone takes the opportunity to post, a re-read or two doesn’t hurt. Thank you.

  37. Thank you for understanding & articulating so well what we musicians do, & what we went through to get there. If only non-musicians would read this & take it to heart. We still have to practice, not just rehearse, perform, and go home. For those of us who freelance add the stress of an empty calendar, which is emphatically not a vacation.

  38. I have been a professional French horn player and teacher for 40 years and have played in the SF Symphony a number of times. The musician’s union publishes a newsletter every month with all the union job openings in the US and Canada. On average there is one full time opening listed per month. ONE! For all of N America. Think of all the horn players graduating every year from the thousands of colleges and conservatories here and there is one job opening. Does that give you an idea how hard it is to get (and keep!) one of those jobs? The competition is incredible which means you better be incredibly talented, skilled, educated, lucky and hard, hard working. And anyone who thinks playing a Mahler symphony is an easy day of work is just ignorant.

    • As you expertly point out, too many posters are weighing in with opinions based on way too little info, and way too much on No. 1 from the Bill of Rights. The right does not mean it has to be exercised and thus show one’s ignorance to many who otherwise would not know how ignorant–sometimes ‘pig’ ignorant–of the factors involved beyond their blinders. I have been guilty, I admit. Not in this case. We would not even need to debate this if not for the disaster that was Cheney/Bush–yes, in that order. That mean sob has colored our outlook and interactions horribly, and though we are working hard to get past that, still lots of work to do. It won’t happen soon, in the Fine Arts, when those artless or nearly so hold sway.

  39. As an unemployed musician, I have been chasing after an orchestra gig for 20 years. It is somewhat insulting that a writer of repute would even jokingly say that an orchestra musician’s life is easy. Even if you get the job, there is a probation period. Not only are members of the audience checking you out, but all of your colleagues too. Imagine going to work each day knowing that you had no real friends to count on. Imagine moving across the continent with a family and not surviving the first year in an orchestral position, for whatever reason. Cushy, my ass.

  40. An admirable article about a sad phenomenon sweeping the nation.

    Applying the “Get the workers” conservative rhetoric to world-class symphony orchestra musicians, or any artist, misses a fundamental distinction between such an individual and a typical American employee. In most businesses, the owners employ managers who hire and manage employees to be able make and/or sell a product or service. In a symphony orchestra, the musicians themselves and what they play are the resource and the product. They are actually the ones creating the jobs for the managers, not the other way around. The “company” doesn’t even buy their instruments. The logic being applied to this circumstance is 180 degrees from that applied to professional athletes or movie actors, where getting the best is taken for granted as the only way to win.

    Here in Minneapolis and St Paul, the musicians have assembled and performed on their own while being locked out of their jobs, as well as taking contract work all over the globe. Could auto workers go down the street and build cars on their own during a lockout? In spite of the lockout here, the chief executive of the Minnesota Orchestra continues to receive $400k+ annual compensation without producing a single note or organizing a single concert. That is more reminiscent of bonuses for CEOs of failing companies than any other circumstance I can think of.

    • by Gabrielle Baldocci

      The classical music business revolution

      Posted on September 30, 2012

      I guess. Being a classical musician isn’t seen as a profession by most of the people; they usually think it is rather a hobby than a normal job. This creates a never ending circle of frustration among aspiring musicians, which starts a chain reaction that ends up with creating the exact problem my students are so scared about: very little money (or not at all) for the performers most of the times.

      Let’s analyze the situation and be honest: the classical music industry is a big rip-off. It isn’t really true that there is not enough money: big companies and wealthy individuals sponsor performing arts series all the time. But then, at the very end, the majority of the performers struggle to make a living. Still, when you were born to be a musician, there is no way you could possibly do anything else in your life: music is your dream profession and, no matter what, you are going to pursue that unrewarding (economically speaking) path because, at the end, the very big reward comes by music itself.

      Now I want to make a painful comparison between a musician and a business specialist. I promise, I’ll be very positive by the end of this article, but allow me to be catastrophic for a moment.

      A professional musician is somebody who is highly specialized: usually a performer starts learning an instrument at a very young age, sometimes even when he is three or four-years old. That means that the process of learning that PARTICULAR aspect of life goes on for the whole life. A musician is in complete control of his instrument, he knows the particular shade of sound he wants to bring out, he spends countless hours researching and studying the meaning of a particular score, he knows about history and harmony, he studies every single little movement of his body in order to achieve the best results, he travels constantly around the world… and I could go on for hours! After some decades of training, he finds himself in the middle of a big jungle, where he has to fight for every single little badly paid concert and develop good relationships with people from the music business in order to survive. I have heard that some statistics say that during his development, the total amount of money that the average professional musician spends for his training is around 150.000 dollars.

      An MBA (Master in Business Administration) spends quite a remarkable amount of money for obtaining his degree. He starts his studies when he is around 21-years old (or older) and in a couple of years, if he is good (and he should be, because in order to enter an MBA course he need to pass a tough exam called GMAT) he will obtain his prestigious title. Now, being an MBA, he can start applying for nice jobs. The minimum annual salary for such a specialized professional will be no less than $80.000. Here’s some statistics for you: http://officialmbaguide.org/top40.php?rnk=salary

      There are basically no differences between a musician and an MBA in terms of preparation: both of them have to be good and highly specialized, both spend a remarkable amount of money to reach their goal, both are doing a job that they probably love doing. The enormous difference is the meritocracy behind the two systems: nobody would ever even dream to propose an MBA a job for, let’s say 150K. Unfortunately $150 is an example fee that many concert pianists could eventually get for a complete piano recital, which takes months of hard of daily practice to prepare (and a lifetime devoted to the study of the instrument).

      The system is sick, and it is partly because of two of the reasons I was explaining at the beginning of this article: from one side, music performance is not seen as a job. From another side, people in the music industry know that a musician would never live without performing. So, as long as a performer is not a superstar (but how do you become a superstar?) the compromise would be: “if you don’t do this performance for 150K, somebody else will”, and since it is so hard to find an opportunity to perform today, the musician will just accept silently and almost being grateful for the beautiful opportunity. Nobody would never approach an MBA proposing a ridiculous salary, and even if they would, the MBA would just laugh, refuse and go for the next opportunity. A musician that needs to develop his career would not.

      I remember a couple of years ago, I was touring with Martha Argerich and I received a phone call from a person who invited me to perform for the inauguration of a museum in Tuscany. The request was: “Maestro, we are opening our museum and we would like to organize a series of concerts for celebrating the event. Many musicians have already accepted giving their performance for free as an homage to cultural development. Would you accept to participate?”. Now, I have given tons of benefit concerts and I have organized a lot myself because I find very rewarding to be able to give my contribution to a good cause. What I found offensive and ridiculous about that proposal was that the city council spent money for opening the museum, charged people for visiting it but still they didn’t even think about musicians as people who make a living with their work. My answer to the phone call was: “Did you pay for the workers who restored the building? Was the plumber paid? And the electrician? Are you going to pay the catering service who is in charge of the opening event? Yes? So why do you give for granted that a musician will come and perform for free? I am sorry, I am not interested”. Period. I didn’t need that concert but I am aware that some years before I would accept it even if it would be frustrating.

      Another essential aspect of being a musician is recording. Most of the times classical musicians have to produce their own recordings, either by doing some fundraising for their projects themselves or by directly paying for them. Costs can be pretty high: renting a studio, renting a piano, hiring a studio engineer, hiring a technician, paying for the editing. Once the master has been edited, the big majority of the independent recording labels will accept producing it for a fee. Basically the way it works is a musician has to buy a certain number of copies (sometimes 1000) to sustain the production costs and sign a contract where he accepts not to have any control over royalties. So recording labels, since nowadays it is so hard to sell a cd, basically makes their earnings from the musicians, who renounce to all their economic rights.

      Now the good news: this can be changed. By all of us. I like to call it “the classical music business revolution”.

      Many careers are now arising from the internet world. A YouTube video becomes popular and suddenly you become a celebrity, people start downloading your music from your website or iTunes and concert presenters invite you spontaneously. Many career were born this way. When you become famous online, on the social networks, you are famous in the real world. The revolution starts with CONTENT CREATION. Musicians should create content each time they perform live, each time they want to say something to the world, each time they have nice ideas to share. Content should always be presented in a nice way, it should be unique and it should represent what the musician, as a brand, represents.

      One of my task, being Ambassador of the Martha Argerich Presents Project, is to help promoting outstanding musicians by creating a network of people from different countries and age. I spent the last couple of years trying to understand how we could change the way musical business works. A revolution is needed. And those are the pillars:

      1) Creating contents and brands.
      2) Reducing intermediates and lower the percentage of their earnings. It is unacceptable that basically everybody is leeching on a performer’s work by leaving him with a ridiculous percentage of the available budget!
      3) Providing massive exposure through the internet and the social networks.
      4) Let performers be in charge of their own career.

      I am currently working, with some great business specialists, on the creation of a platform that will help classical musicians pursuing the revolution we need. I will be more than happy to share it with everybody once it will be ready!

      So, stay tuned… The Revolution began!

      • correction: So, as long as a performer is not a superstar (but how do you become a superstar?) the compromise would be: “if you don’t do this performance for $150, somebody else will”, and since it is so hard to find an opportunity to perform today, the musician will just accept silently and almost being grateful for the beautiful opportunity. Nobody would never approach an MBA proposing a ridiculous salary, and even if they would, the MBA would just laugh, refuse and go for the next opportunity. A musician that needs to develop his career would not.

      • This is not a reply to Anonymous, as there are so many with limited imagination as to use the pseudonym. Perhaps the bold Anonymae could distinguish themselves with a number–other than the number 1–ha, ha. To my observation–there are many good or even great posts in support of the arts. But even the detractors of the worth of pro musicians are at least informative….in that it becomes apparent that to the artless ones with their brains in their wallets and purses, can not, choose not, or will not get it, no matter the well-thought-out reasons given. Back in the 60s, we had music class for the whole class up through the 8th grade, beyond that music was an elective, but still available. Choral, jazz, band, orchestra, rock……(Good luck finding that anymore outside private schools.) And that was under the LBJ admin, probably the least interested in the Fine Arts in my memory, except for W, of course. In those classes, we didn’t just learn simple melodies to pass the time. It was also music appreciation. I still remember when teach brought in the new Sgt Pepper album, and we were blown away, that rock and classically trained players could make such a landmark album. No, it wasn’t Bach or Kodaly, but it was good, as the Duke said. If kids only get lowest-common-denominator exposure to music or other arts, what chance do they have? Some, yes, epiphanies can occur anytime. But in the main, that probably won’t happen. Our opera went bankrupt several years ago, and fortunately a new company is starting up. The only big city opera that has come back, as far as I know, out of numerous ones that have also gone belly up in this country in recent years. Thanks, Cheney. Devolving into insults of each other as musicians does not help, just like saying a conductor is not a musician. I have seen several opera/orchestral/choral conductors who can sing right along with us on stage, they know the entire opera by heart, and if there’s a memory slip, you can get right back on by reading his lips. Or who can play well enough for the concert stage–but who enjoy conducting and are also good at that. It is distressing to see the Fine Arts so undervalued as to neglect giving kids a chance to appreciate what our culture has to offer in Music and Art. (don’t bother, I/we know..) Some will remain artless or unable to appreciate it, no matter the length of the argument. Others, maybe a poor kid with less than even modest means, can realize a talent that can take them out of their meager situation—if there is opportunity and the right teacher. There just is no explaining it to some. I remember in the 90s, my girlfriend for one gig drove 3 hours each way for rehearsals and performance. Reh @ 90$–that’s 6 hours driving and the 2 hour rehearsal. I couldn’t believe it, drove it with her once just to see how bad that was. OUch! I think the perf went 120$. Big whoop. That was unusual, sure, usually they were a half hour to hour drives to gigs. Toting a viola worth thousands and thousands—the bow alone was nearly 4K, and that was just middling for a professional bow 18 years back. She’s happily married, moved to Germany, and finally, after years of trying, succeeded in breaking into the local orchestras as more than a sub. Now she plays in castles and such. And lives in a tiny little house maybe the size of our basement, and we don’t have a big house–but she has good medical care taken care of. And she is happy, playing at such a level. If we allow the uncultured folks to denigrate and destroy or seriously damage the Fine Arts, it will be hard to resurrect it. Cushy job, my spotty patootie.

      • “Unfortunately $150 is an example fee that many concert pianists could eventually get for a complete piano recital, which takes months of hard of daily practice to prepare (and a lifetime devoted to the study of the instrument).”
        $150? I wish! More often than not, it’s “We need a/an {instrumentalist}, and you should come and do it for free because you have a gift. It should be shared. And if you’re too selfish to do it, someone else will.”
        Then the choice becomes, “To play, or not to play.” At all.
        I do agree with everything else, except with:
        “A musician that needs to develop his career would not {accept the crappy-paying or non-paying gig}.”
        How does that musician develop a career or gain experience by turning down opportunities, even crappy ones, when just starting out?

      • There a few ways to do it; some depend on looks, style or showmanship–others depend on raw, natural or trained talent, have enough dough or scholarships to concentrate wholly at music school/conservatory and become proficient enough to be invited to play or sing with a good local or area orchestra or two to get some nice reviews to quote–and there are others. Perhaps starting your own group and developing a local following that expands to other areas….this is often termed ‘paying your dues’–by which I do not mean AFM or AGMA dues, that would follow. Paying your dues applies to most of us; classical, jazz, blues. even rock
        Maybe with modest videography skills, or with a generous friend with them, and uploading something to the Tubez that goes viral due to excellence, uniqueness, humor, shock value or whatever. Be ready for opportunity, accidental or planned.
        Example: A choral colleague went on a drive through a wild animal sanctuary, and had some snax in her lap. An one-eyed emu sniffed those out after she offered it something, then came back repeatedly to duck his beak into her lap for more snacks, scared her several times, but the hilarious smart phone vid of it all went viral, and was featured on more than one national tv show. The emu was just trying to survive, and so was my colleague, sort of…..It was not, as she termed it, being an a-hole, it was being an emu. It did not come into her neighborhood, she came to its. But LOL funny? Oh, yeah!
        She also misnamed water buffalo (please don’t bother) as water moccasins. Very funny, you can find it on YT. Though not musically related, the ads on it have probably financially helped her musically, and she also has a lovely voice. Sings solos at the National Cathedral, etc. So, think outside the box, look for opportunity where you might not expect it.
        I assume your question was about pursuing music for its own quality and employment, not a T & A show like Madonna’s (or Janet’s or the Gaga, or a host(ess) of others), with their shows that distract, attract, or entice fans from noting the mediocrity of vocal production that would hardly get her anywhere in a screened, so-called ‘legit’ audition past the community musical theater level. I have no beef with them, nor any interest, can’t help there. But I was raised by helpful parents to be helpful, and I hope I have.

      • This is really interesting. I understand what you put so well, completely. This is the way of artists. I get asked to donate my art for a good cause, by people who see it in shows and know that I sell it to make my oil and gas and food money.

        I shall share this on Facebook. Thank you.

      • There a few ways to do it;
        This ought to be interesting…..
        Nope, sorry — I had to delete my original response because it was overly vicious. Deserved, Jason, but still overly vicious.
        I do classical — 3 instruments proficiently, 3 uni degrees, playlist includes orchestral, jazz, band, theatre, opera, chamber. Did I mention I’ve run my own chamber group for the last 20 years? I do everything for it — programs, hiring, programming, securing venues, procuring the music, arranging music, publicity, marketing, etc.
        Everything you ‘suggested’ is a been there/done that for me.
        And no, I refuse to debase myself in a vid with a f**king emu. JMJ, how humiliating that must have been for you and your friend to prostitute yourselves that way. I pity you for that, no matter which nation’s cathedral you may have stood in front of and ‘sang’.
        As for me — there was no box to begin with. There is nothing else left for me to do via promotion. The majority of what’s available in my area is “Play free or don’t play at all.” And I am at the point where ‘don’t play at all’ is starting to sound pretty damn good.
        As another poster aptly said, “I didn’t spend 20+ years studying my craft just to give it away.” I have come to agree with that. But for me, that means I won’t be playing. And I am at a place where I’ve had enough of giving it away.

      • Why, Bonnie, would you even think about being vicious, when someone is trying to be helpful? There are more reasons why than I can imagine– and I can imagine quite a few, as I don’t know you, so I will generously assume the second B stands for your last name. You seem to be even worse at conclusion jumping than I. I am sorry the few outlets in your area are so limiting to one of your no-doubt marvelous talent. I was not part of the emu sage, (FB has a few different ones) but it’s still funny to those with any sense of humor. As you seem determined to miss my helpful points, it makes me think you are so bitter your interactions with your colleagues would detract from their wanting to work with you. I have worked with musical whores, or as you so delicately inferred, prostitutes, and they are often too self-absorbed and equally often not much fun. Maybe it’s better you don’t have those outlets, if you can’t get over yourself. You didn’t first say what your efforts had been, it looked from your insipid post that you wanted the gravy train. I see you have paid some dues, which I respect more, but after 27 years professionally, and half that many as an amateur, I am not jaded at all. Maybe it depends on who you work with or for. Or perhaps, how much talent you actually have, versus what you think you have. I don’t need to flesh that out, I hope? Nevertheless, good luck to you!

      • Why, Bonnie, would you even think about being vicious, when someone is trying to be helpful?
        Because you’re not being helpful. The post of yours to which I replied was a laundry list of ‘been there/done that’ (minus that sad emu video suggestion) for not just me but for many others. Your assumption that I and no one else had considered doing anything you suggested (thus motivating you to ‘be helpful’ and mention it at all) came across as less than ‘helpful’, to put it nicely.
        Beyond that — think what you need to about me. I’ll still respect you for your thoughtful career decisions. :-)

      • Motive matters. Or it doesn’t. To me, it does. I wish for you a surprise opportunity. Let me know if it happens. :-)

      • “Motive matters. Or it doesn’t. To me, it does. I wish for you a surprise opportunity. Let me know if it happens. :-)”
        Thanks. I recently did have a surprise. Let me tell you about it:
        I was hired in January to play a show we will refer to as Phuque-meeeeee: THE MUSICAL (PmTM). As per usual for this area, there was no contract. I was contacted by the music director (whom I’ve known for years and is a good friend) on behalf of the theater (all normal for this area). The MD is supposed to have sole discretion on hiring, within the confines of the allotted budget. Again, all normal. Because of a mix-up in communication between the box office and the MD, the revised version of PmTM was being used, and that did not have woodwind parts. MD let me know and asked if I could still play the show, maybe make up a few parts. Well, I actually have the score for the original version of PmTM, so I said I would look into it. I ended up borrowing the revised score for the show and photocopying it for study purposes — $30 of my own money. I compared the two and let the MD know I could whip something up (I’m also a published arranger, so I have the software to aid me in that.)
        MD thanked me, and I said I would do that gratis because we are friends, and because I wanted to play the show for personal artistic reasons. (I like the music for this show.) So I got busy on creating those parts, to the tune of about $300 if I’d been charging. But I wanted to donate that.
        Meanwhile, I’d also been asked to play two other gigs — one a church gig at a reputable church with a fab music director that pays well, and another subbing on piccolo clarinet (my favorite instrument) for a local concert band, whose conductor was inviting several people to come play one concert on picc clar as a live audition, as conductor did not want to hold an official audition. I had to turn them both down because the dates all conflicted with PmTM rehearsals and performances (no subs allowed for PmTM).
        So when I turned down the concert band, my name was removed from the sub list and placed on their “too busy — don’t call” list (yes, they have one — that’s how their walking phallus of a personnel manager rolls). And there’s no other way for me to get back on the sub list or even audition to get in (conductor doesn’t like to hold auditions).
        Five days before the first rehearsal for PmTM, I got a phone call from the music director. She was actually sobbing because the stage director had just told her that SD only wanted piano, bass, and drums for PmTM, and she (SD) had cut the music budget to pay for the construction of the platform on stage that would hold the pit. So, I was being “unhired.”
        SURPRISE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        I was out the fee for the show, as well as the pay for the church gig, the pittance for the concert band, the opportunity to be heard for the concert band, and my arranging fee (which I would have charged that theater if I’d had a contract. Sadly, in this area, people who demand contracts are not hired, thanks to our ineffectual union, it’s a long story).
        Anyway — that’s the flavor of SURPRISE that comes along in this area. And it (the hiring/”unhiring” thing, along with being paid less than promised) is par for the course around here, too, when ‘payment for services rendered’ is involved. So I really, really don’t think I need any more SURPRISE, thanks all the same! :-)
        What I need is more translating work and program notes this month to make up for my missing income.

        PS — the music director from PmTM and I are still friends, and we’re performing together in April on a chamber concert — another freebee, but she’s really good, and we work well together. The thought of saying no to that one gave me a great big sad, so I’m doing it. Yeah, and that’s another net loss for me, since I arranged the pieces for free, am playing for free, and am driving 45 minutes one way with no compensation.

      • I am not one of those pros who think a donated gig is beneath me.
        Let me be clear for you — I’m not averse to playing for free, depending on the repertoire and the people involved. Nice people playing Mozart or Brahms always get my attention and best efforts. But when I’m informed (not asked) that I should be doing X gig for free because I have a gift that must needs be shared or I’m being selfish {snort}, then I’m not doing it. And that’s 90% of what’s going on in my area. I refuse to be taken advantage of in that way, continually and constantly.
        So Mozart and Brahms, free or paid — sign me up. Christian pageant crap at a televised mega-church with a music budget bigger than my income for the last decade — send me a contract for no less than $50 per service.
        Local music org that charges admission for their events — ditto on the contract and fee.
        Two of our local musical theatres that refuse to use contracts and have a history of booking then ‘unhiring’ — they can kiss my .
        I have had great experiences both paid and unpaid. If that’s what outlets there are, and if you are a real servitor of the Muse, free is still better than not being involved
        Bullsh*t. Especially when the electric bill is due, or the cell phone needs to have minutes added, or the fridge is empty, or the dog needs his annual booster shots, or the soprano sax needs an adjustment/repair that I can’t do myself, or I don’t have the money for gas to make the 45 minute drive to show up and play for free {which is a laugh because I’m actually throwing away money to get to the gig, pay for music, buy reeds, etc.)
        There comes a time for most free-lancers where being some vaunted musial servitor {how condescending is that, BTW, since we all value our art form, not just you, O Benighted Servile Altruist} ain’t gonna pay the bills. That’s the point where the hard question needs to be asked — to pay or not to play. And maybe after DECADES of giving it away, the effort isn’t worth it. I know I’m there.

      • ‘Servile’, B? Your sneering mockery of altruism for one thing, is just a non-starter, you can’t and won’t get that, any more than the ‘great unwashed’ will ‘get’ advanced musical arts over whatever makes their foot tap. You won’t get it because any free gigs you gave, look to have been cooly calculated for how it would benefit you. In this country, you can’t expect others to make plain your path, and just turn bitter when it doesn’t work. You can’t move to Arizona and complain about the dryness, or to DC and complain about your allergies, without the obvious question–why didn’t you move where the jobs in your field are, instead of whining ad nauseum about your lack of opportunity? I understand your job woes, if you don’t have a supplemental day job. Clarinet was my first instrument, and that reed thing wore me out. My sympathies, even if you are a bitter old thing. Most pros I know have other income, as I do. It’s a hassle and hustle here, too, even making union scale, but it beats complaining. As to any altruism, I am embarrassed that you should think I am anything like you do. I give away too little–hardly ever do I sing a note publicly without that almighty paycheck. I wish I were half as altruistic as you mock me for being. As I wish you were half as unhappy as you make those around you, from your dismal post. Neither wish to be realized, sadly. Scabbed over people are anathema to collegial production, to the joy in music making. Jus’ sayin’….how’s that for ‘servile’?

      • Servile, B? Your sneering mocker…
        Servile, as in the adjectival form of “servitor,” which is YOUR word, not mine.
        Don’t like it? Then maybe you shouldn’t have said it! :-)
        if you are a real servitor of the Muse…
        Remember that, Jason? Do I need to explain all 8 flavors of sneering condescension that that is?
        I don’t begrudge you the opportunity to get your kicks performing for free {even though you’re putting full-timers out of work in the process}, but please don’t presume that people who make their living making music {and serving that same music} are somehow “less than,” which is what your “if you are a real servitor” comment clearly indicates.
        This is my EMPLOYMENT. I don’t have the absolute luxury of always being in the completely artsy-fartsy/hippy-dippy/fluffy-bunny/feelgood mindset as others seem to be with their leisure time fun. But I need to eat, and this is my job. For how much longer? Now that’s the question….

      • As you miss all my points, including my giving music away being 20-odd years in the past and not part of my life for a long time–you may think of music as a job, but it has turned into a grim chore. I don’t live in the world you describe, never have, it is revulsive just thinking about such a place. I know the difference between servitor and servile better than you ever can or will; they are not family members, root or not–cousins at best. Enough pot stirring. You respect my choices. Great. It’s not necessary to be a pill with every sentence. Could have been nice chatting with you years ago, maybe, but not now, it’s all about you. We good? See ya. You get the last word, because you won’t be able to resist another barb. I can.

      • “As you miss all my points, including my giving music away ….
        Nope — caught that and all the other fluffy-bunny/feelgood “serve the muse” stuff. I apologize that I don’t have time to join you in that space. It’d be nice though….

      • Forgot something. I am not one of those pros who think a donated gig is beneath me. I have had great experiences both paid and unpaid. If that’s what outlets there are, and if you are a real servitor of the Muse, free is still better than not being involved, as long as you keep control and don’t allow yourself and talent to be abused or presumed upon. It can lead to things, too. Good luck in your progress.

      • This is an interesting thread. I live in a “right-to-work” state, so there isn’t any kind of musician’s union here nor agents willing to promote musicians here simply because if they actually had clients here they’d starve to death because very few seem to want to hire musicians at living wages. It’s rather sad, since this is a wonderfully arts-supportive area in general, but although the entertainment aspect of the arts always seems quivering on the brink of edge of blooming, somehow it never gets beyond the budding stage. Most musicians who try to make their living with their music end up moving away to someplace where they have a better chance of being heard and/or paid. But there’s always enough musicians here that yes, the junior league wives try to go after them for freebies. There’s not a lot of point in getting all upset with people who offer less than what should be considered union scale. Mostly they either don’t know what an appropriate amount would be, or they genuinely feel it’s a good cause and a good opportunity for the musician to get exposure.

        I liked what was said earlier in this thread about how it’s pretty much up to the musician to be their best representative/business manager. So someone calls up asking you to perform at what you consider to be a ridiculously tiny fee. You can be insulted or you can view this as an opportunity to talk with them as your business manager. Explain what your normal fee would be; not because you’re greedy or selfish, but because–practically speaking–you have to keep a roof over your head. Suggest ways that they can come closer to meeting this amount (a corporate sponsor?). Ask if you can offer your records for sale and/or promote them during this event. (If you’re a professional musician, having at least one professionally produced cd is pretty much de rigeur nowadays. It’s a combination business card, resume, product to sell, and party favor.) You’re not going to get rich off of cd sales, but my husband has had them bump a 45 minute $125 retirement home gig up to a $175 gig; it all helps. One storyteller/workshop presenter I met once was really good at explaining how–with a little effort on the person who wanted a “free” week of workshops for the kiddies–could make it possible for him to both do this good work for them AND enable him to meet his basic living expenses by also hosting a series of evening storytelling programs during the week they wanted him to teach the kids during the morning. They could charge an entrance fee for the evening programs or get sponsors for the programs…whichever they preferred. He’d be happy to do everything they would need in the way of creating press releases for their local papers and radio stations, and if they were willing to do the ground work, he was also quite willing to be available for local interviews to raise interest in the workshops he was going to be presenting for the local schoolchildren and the evening storytelling concerts. Yes, he was milking the connection for everything he could get, but isn’t that better than simply saying: “This is my price, take it or leave it.” It’s up to the performer to negotiate conditions that make it possible to not just survive but thrive.

        Oh, and to Bonnie B…unless we happen to be independently wealthy with a large trust fund, we’re all prostitutes in one way or another. Personally, I’d like to hear more about how to get paid for ads connected with our youtube videos. Even small amounts add up and help.

      • Oh, and to Bonnie B…unless we happen to be independently wealthy with a large trust fund, we’re all prostitutes in one way or another.
        Ain’t that the truth! :-)
        Of course, some of us only service one client at a time on the cheap rather than offering to “do” all their friends and colleagues (and their secretarial work and PR) for the same cheap fee.
        A week of master classes for free??? Plus a concert every evening? What were those organizers smoking, because I want some!!
        Srsly — I know who your husband is (I have a colleague who plays on one of his piccolos, and her tone and pitch are amazing; she attributes it all to the instrument), and not to make light of his decision, but those people were obviously using his name and reputation to make money for themselves and/or increase the prestige of their group. And although I think it’s gracious in the extreme for him to offer what he did, that group had the means and funding to compensate him better — for his time, efforts, experience, skill, and his name.
        But we all make professional/vocational choices as we are able to according to our time and economic means. Personally, I no longer have the time or the means to keep giving it away. {Plus, I need a new piccolo clarinet.}

      • Just one more “note” on the volunteer gigs. My husband has rarely donated his time and talent where it didn’t end up paying him back in one convoluted form or another. He plays in a volunteer community symphonic band once a week and we can only classify this as “cheap therapy.” He has discovered–the hard way–that music is not just something he “likes” to play, it’s something he “needs” to play. Having full-spectrum (not canned) musical sound waves hitting his body at least once a week is absolutely necessary for his mental health. And every so often this non-profit group affords him an opportunity like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rm7D4Zfv6g. A nice showcase for both his flute playing and making skills, and a useful sales tool as we refer potential customers to this site to prove to them that his SquareONE flute design is NOT a marketing gimmick.

      • Very good! I would work for less, or for free, if I had to, too. It’s not easy to unnerstan’, and if one just can’t, it just don’t matter. I love your phrase, ‘full spectrum sound’. When our Barry was coming down on both bass drums simultaneously about as hard as he could during Verdi’s Dies Irae–and you can feel your whole rib-cage submitting to that encompassing thump, or the final dying zing from a cymbal crash that just scalped you, or the un-jittered Lark ascending into tiny upper partials.. —that does not fit on an mp3–but for those for whom that’s ‘good enough’ all the time, what are you gonna do? You sound like that prized find, the understanding spouse. I lucked out, finding mine in one of our groups, so we both ‘get it’ about rehearsals and the time it eats. I’ll check out his site, and thanks for your understanding input.

      • To Bonnie: What, you’ve never done a 45 minute concert or practice in the morning and a 45 minute concert in the evening? Not at all a stretch for a musician and certainly not for the storyteller/drummer/dancer who led a workshop I attended about a decade ago on earning your living with your art. He wasn’t talking about a “master class” for musicians, he was talking about an elementary school program. I personally thought it was brilliant of him to put the onus of fund-raising and venue seeking/providing on the person who was asking him to “volunteer” his time. Getting a week’s worth of employment/pay AND extra advertising out of someone who thought they were going to try for freebies? Cool. If they decide that that’s too much work for them to do, oh well, at least he’s turned them down with much regret and sadness and (hopefully) planted some seeds that may come back to flower later.

        I’m glad you’ve heard of my husband, but I’m a little puzzled to learn that your friend is playing on a SquareONE piccolo since he’s only made one prototype and that’s what HE plays. Powell makes what they call an “Art Deco” piccolo with square-ish keys covering round holes. It’s not a Lopatin. Possibly your friend plays a Lopatin flute. His round-holed flutes are wonderful, but the pitch, intonation and ease of playing with his SquareONE flutes are absolutely amazing.

        Regarding his community band participation, he’s made FRIENDS in the band; he appreciates being in a group of non-back-stabbing musicians and they respect his professionalism. They like it when he’s there, but they also understand that paying gigs come first. He’s been on their board of directors in the past, and he’s quite well aware that the dues that all of them pay are part of what paid for a decent venue, with ticket sales (each band member had to sell–or rather, buy–at least five tickets) covering the rest of the costs. He was simply pleased to be able to show off the good stuff; something that his once-a-month Asheville Symphony gig doesn’t do. I love that you think this group was “using” him and his “name.” :)

        Being a professional musician IS a constant hassle and a hustle, but remember that even Mozart had to hustle to make the rent.

      • To Bonnie: What, you’ve never done a 45 minute concert or practice in the morning and a 45 minute concert in the evening?
        Of course I have, but I’m not sure why you’d ask that.

        I’m a little puzzled to learn that your friend is playing on a SquareONE piccolo
        Oh, piccolo – flute… they all sound the same to me. :-)

        I love that you think this group was “using” him and his “name.” :)
        I meant the master class/evening concert week freebee. Were those two the same gig? I didn’t get that impression. :)

        Being a professional musician IS a constant hassle and a hustle, but remember that even Mozart had to hustle to make the rent.
        Yup, and he died penniless and ill at 35. I don’t think I want to go out that way.
        But that’s another thing — “make the rent.” I know it’s just an expression, but I do still rent, while my non-musician peers ‘own’. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll probably never own my own home, which is fine. But just the word ‘rent’ — with the connotations of a month-to-month subsistence — maybe this article sums it up better, but at another level:

        http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/03/why-im-leaving-san-francisco-by-principal-timpanist.html

      • Phew, it’s getting too late in the evening here (nearly midnight) to keep responding to your posts, Bonnie. Go back and reread first my postings and then yours, and you may realize why I thought you were suggesting that our local community band was “using” my husband’s name and reputation for their own benefit. As for the storyteller, he was more than willing to have his name linked through advertising with the school system he was doing the “free” (yeah, if you count the income from the evening performances as paid, and the mornings as “free”) performances for as well as promoting him as the fabulous drummer/dancer/storyteller/performer that he is. He wasn’t actually offering to give anything away for “free,” he was simply showing the caller who didn’t have a budget for paying him, how she could piggyback additional concerts/gigs onto the same travel time so that his bottom line requirements were met while she managed to obtain his services for her school system at no cost to the school. He was happy to be “exploited” in this way; even encouraged it. You’ve been an impresario in the past, so you should be able to appreciate the benefits of being given a free performance venue, a place to stay during the performance week, and having someone else talk you up to your potential audience and/or sponsors.

        As for renting, Lenny and I certainly understand where you’re coming from. We don’t own the roof over our machine shop and some months making the rent feels very dicey. For a lot of people this “Great Recession” started in 2008; for us it started in 2006, right after we got married. I had sold my house during the peak of the housing bubble and moved into his rented space…and the phone immediately stopped ringing. No sales at all that year, and the money from my house which was supposed to be used as a down payment on a new home for us was used instead to pay the rent and keep food on the table. We’re still feeling very instrument rich but cash poor, and it’s not fun at all. We know other professional musicians in this area who play for the Asheville Symphony, three other symphonies within driving distance, teach during the day and STILL have to have roommates to be able to keep a roof over their head. So if the San Francisco Orchestra can raise awareness of the general plight of musicians by striking, more power to them. Maybe you ought to find the other woodwind players who also got stiffed by the PM show and picket them. At least you’d be doing something positive for yourself before throwing in the towel and resigning yourself to getting a job-job.

  41. Great blog. Your arrangement is thorough. Your analysis of the pettiness of the popular media article in question is on key. I would add that .these professionals are allowed to demand what they demand and the business executives are allowed to negotiate whatever terms they see fit. It is market relationship; this is normal behavior for market actors. Popular media sources hire ranting journalists; this is typical popular media writing.

  42. As a musician who tours, i noticed that none of the commenters have factored in the deplorable situation of airlines allowed to arbitrarily decide how a prized, irreplaceable, instrument travels. This not only causes some unfortunate Saul-like choices: “Do i pay for a seat for my cello out of my own pocket? or do i buy an extremely expensive flight case which is still not guaranteed to protect my instrument from being heaved, dropped or run over.” I can’t imagine the stress that orchestra members with wood instruments worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars go through. In my own regular travels i wrestle with: Do i put my $4000 hand built guitar in a soft case and spin the roulette wheel for space in the overhead bin while defending it from passengers who try to sling heavy bags on top (knowing that if i can’t, i will have to miss the flight because i cannot, then, send it as luggage,) or check it in a flight case, hoping against hope that it arrives with me (not as common as one might think, from the several times i have had to borrow a replacement,) and arrives unharmed.
    I’d like to also introduce the topic of the insane insurance market for prized instruments but this discussion has filled me with despair and i need to lie down.

  43. Factoring in the costs of living in San Francisco, as I have since 1978, 165K is not as hefty a salary as it sounds. Ms. Hoelterhoff should do some research.

  44. Nice that you are happy with your baking job. There are some who are not going to be excellent musicians, no matter how long they work at it, but at least you tried.

  45. I think the musicians deserve the salary they are paid. I think they deserve great benefits.
    Do they “deserve” 5% raises every single year? Do the musicians of the SFSO specifically “deserve” to be the highest-paid orchestra in the country, when the actual highest paid orchestra is but a couple thousand dollars away? Is that mini-arms race worth going on strike?

    I think a lot of people are being blinded in this situation by the dire straits and terrible treatment of other orchestras, where “labor strife” means jobs cut, performances eliminated, contracts broken, benefits eviscerated. It means utter lack of respect for what ANY artist is doing, whether because of bad management or simple facts of our economy.

    Labor strife doesn’t mean going on strike – the strongest statement you can make as a unionized work force – because you are unhappy that the PACE of your raises is going to slow down. Or because you are worried you are going to slip a little bit further behind the absolute top pay rate in the nation, which you are nearly already making. Or because you disagree with other priorities management may have that aren’t exclusively about paying you more.

    I totally recognize that it’s obnoxious to hear people outside the industry disparage musician pay. I totally recognize that it’s irritating to hear people who do nothing with their lives but rake in investment and rentier income tell you what you deserve to make in your “cushy” job. Of course it’s ridiculous to suggest you could just replace the SFSO with 75 Juilliard students and not miss a blip.

    But none of these things make the musicians’ union right. This debate about the SFSO’s situation has lost all context. There is almost nothing worse you can do for the image of classical music than spotlight an orchestra going on strike because they’re angry they were offered too-small a raise on their very, very high compensation package. A package which – regardless of how much their schooling cost, or whatever other facts you wish to cite – is astronomically higher than the average wage in America for an entire family, including in expensive places like SF, including for people who need master’s degrees, and including those who work hours far longer than most musicians, even with practice time included.

    Supporting a musicians’ strike that, from the outside, seems to hinge on how thick the velvet will be on the chairs next year and has no hint of pay cuts, benefits eliminated, or performances cut back is the height of cluelessness, and so are the actions of the SFSO musicians.

  46. Charlotte Plotsky, grandmother of a performing music major at the University of Maryland on said:

    Violinist Isaac Stern speaking at the American Symphony Orchestra’s June 1981 conference as quoted in the “New York Times:” . . . in music. . .a man or woman has to study for many, many years to perfect a discipline. . .Artistic effort only comes from the most dfisciplined hand and mind. Only then does true freedom in the creative arts begin. It takes 15-20 years of training, study, apprenticeship, work, to begin to learn what is possible. I find it demeaning that at the end of such a long period these people—who do not work from 9 to 5 but day and night and in between as well, who don’t know hours, who don’t close up shop or close up their hearts and minds —that at the end of this long training period they are asked to take their hats and go out into the streets and beg for the right to exist.”
    Charlotte Plotsky, grandmother of a performing music major at the University of Maryland.

  47. What everyone needs to first understand is (1) arts in America are in a period of decline. Reduced public interest includes smaller audiences and less donor giving. Museums are laying off staff, the San Francisco Opera has been reducing the number of performances and the number of operas offered. The crisis of 2008 has seriously hit the endowment funds of non-profits and any recovery is years away if it comes at all. More widely, the middle classes has had their size and incomes reduced. America has been financially downsized – except for the very rich of course. (2) salaries of musicians are of course the largest expense item in an orchestra’s budget. (3) Salaries of top orchestras in the U. S. are twice or more than top European orchestras and the salaries in San Francisco are more than even the Berlin Philharmonic. If solutions are not found, more and more orchestras will simply fold. These things have to be faced directly and can be no longer ignored.

    • Berlin musicians have the excellent German medical system, among other things, which lowers their overall cost of living.

    • This post touches on part of the problem. It is a very complex problem overall to sustain an orchestra, especially in the financial decline in the US. Perhaps most of the readers here know that each orchestra concert loses money, and that has been true for a very long time. Ticket sales come nowhere near enough to cover the total costs of putting on an orchestral concert. The business model generally relies on donations and income from previous donations invested. If the orchestra management suffers losses in income due to lower donations and lower income from investments, they have no where to turn to keep the business running. Even professional money managers lost money and had reduced income for years straight during the 2000 decade, and orchestra management are usually relying on those people. Some would say that the business model is flawed and the business should die. Others would say it is not a business but a charity, and as such is an “entitlement” that is expendable.

      We look at a few successful orchestras and ask why they are OK, and point fingers at other orchestras and say “Look they can do it why not you?” The answer is again complex, having to do with the particular orchestra, its financial health and its donor community. There isn’t a silver bullet to fix them all as each community and organization varies in these aspects.

      Gabriele Baldocci proposes orchestras should do better at branding, own their content and find ways to make more from that content using the Internet. Some orchestras are doing this (the Berlin and L.A. Phils mentioned in this thread for example.) Let’s hope it helps. Member musicians will hope to tap into that income stream as royalties have been one way to help make a viable income for musicians. Orchestras struggling to survive the downturn and come back from it will probably fight to keep the income to flow through them to rebuild savings or to create savings to fulfill the investment income stream portion of the business model.

      The kinds of leverage that the movie industry, video game industry, the popular music industry have wielded over musicians has been offset to some degree by unionization. Orchestral musicians have participated in the same unionization but the business model for their employer is totally different from the others. There are some strange business “customs” in hiring orchestral musicians that might surprise management of other types of businesses. As others in this thread have touched on, this is partly due to the unique nature of the business, the tenuousness of the existence afforded by this work, the high level of specialization and the high level of competition. As someone who’s served as orchestra president, orchestra donor, and orchestral musician, I empathize deeply with all three points of view, and don’t begrudge any of their stakes or rights to negotiate for survival in these situations.

      • Wow, do you speak from a broad knowledge base! My wife is a sought after grant writer, with experience ranging from museums, to treatment advocacy, music organizations, and a major hospital. I have been able to proof-read numerous times (one’s eyes glaze after awhile), and things really got worse in the mid-2000s. She and I are both performers, met there as well, and we could experience the political climate got so hostile to the classical Performing Arts from 2002 on, that by 2008 our opera co. went belly up, the excellent symphony voted to keep more colleagues via pay cut, and now they scrabble for gigs just like us other free-lancers. Things are slowly looking up, but the competition for the available monies is just something fierce–kudos to the San Francisco musicians and management for working together for the bigger picture. No way do ticket sales even come close to what’s needed. Good news is rare enough in the biz, and this stands out. Preserving our cultural heritage is worth the fight. It is a sort of battle
        , of many fights.

      • I’m glad the SF union and management are finally working things out. From the story posted in the SF Examiner (http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2013/03/francisco-symphony-and-musicians-reach-tentative-agreement-end-strike), it sounds as if the musicians were/are fighting to be ranked with the other top orchestras of the country. Understandable on one level, baffling on another. Reminds me too much of the fighting over sports compensation battles in the past. I’m all for players (of whichever stripe) fighting for a fair slice of the profit pie, but it still seems strange (to me) to have non-profits wrangling in this way. But then, the compensation packages for upper management of some non-profits seem quite eye-opening to me. When it starts being less of an issue of “profit” and more of a simple acknowledge of what the pie is and how it should be divided, well, that just gets into the surreal for me. So many symphonies which used to have generous endowment funds now trying to survive on less. Trying to decide what gets cut first, last or the most. The worst thing about this time period is that any symphony or other music-based group which goes away is unlikely to be resurrected or replaced with another group. If the organizations with endowment funds are having a hard time surviving, think how much more impossible it is for a group just starting up.

  48. Susan in Indianapolis:
    As I have been saying for years, musicians are no longer the servants of the aristocracy. Or to restate, they should not be. I am a church musician, and sometimes someone will ask me why I don’t play for free since other people in the church volunteer their services for various jobs. I point out that these other volunteers do have other jobs, and volunteer in church as something extra, but not to earn a living. I, however, do not have a “day job.” Music is what I do. If the people in the church will pay my mortgage, car expenses, insurance costs, utilities, food and clothing expenses, phone bill, college tuition, medical expenses, taxes, etc., then I could afford to play for free.
    People in professional orchestras have many expenses that the public does not know about. And as has been pointed out, some might be paying off college debts and instrument debts. Musicians love music and we want to play, but the time is past when the starving artist should be a reality. Yes, music education and music appreciation belong in the schools. No, the arts should not be cut during a budget crunch. The statistics exist to prove that students who receive arts education tend to do better academically. But of course that is not the only reason to teach about the arts. What kind of society will we become if the arts are eliminated? That is a scary thought.
    Many good comments here. And many of us could go on and on about these matters, but we must get on with our lives. For myself, I must prepare for a funeral that I will play tomorrow.

    • Yes, my husband, a Jew and a professional (Juilliard-trained) flutist, has had the occasional comment when he’s been hired for a church gig by one of the church members to the effect that, “Oh, I wish you were a church member…then we could have you play with us all the time for free!” Yeah, really makes a person want to convert, eh?

    • Good post! Just found this site, some good comments. I am going to fwd the email notice to a fellow pro singer, whose new church’s organist has worn out her generous nature with manipulation, wheedling and arguments about why she should continue to sing anthems for free. She tithes. She has mortgage, car, medical and etc payments they don’t think about, as you said. Her phone call tonight finally convinced me Easter was going to wrap it up for free singing there, and she is firm about the decision. In my last 20 years of church jobs, they did not presume any such thing, and before that, the church at least would when they could. I think it has to do with the musical sophistication of the church involved, maybe the pastor even. Not that it’s necessarily meanly intended, if they just don’t ‘get it’. They pay the pastor/priest. Why, don’t they want to just bring in someone off the street to do it? They pay the janitor. Why, don’t they think the parishiners would take turns? They pay the organist. What’s wrong with letting a kid from the nursery bring in her little toy piano–that would be so cute!!! They may never ‘get it’, but at least now they will neither ‘get it’ nor get it (for free).

      • Don’t offer your skills for free. It is an invitation for abuse or your altruism.

      • This church organist is being paid to provide excellent, up-lifting music to the church congregation as part of her job. The more “free” additional music she can wheedle out of skilled musicians, the better value she provides for her services. Good for her, I guess. She (and her whole congregation) would be better served if she would apply herself to being the mouthpiece for local professional musicians. Convincing the church’s hierarchy that paying the equivalent of minimum wage/local union scale for excellent guest artists is a way to both support local artists AND have a wide range of artists EAGER to share their art with their congregation rather than having to browbeat and otherwise exploit the local talent, leaving them unhappy and feeling used and abused. Too often (I feel) the local church hierarchy simply doesn’t KNOW what local union scale is or should be. At the very least, it’s up to the individual musician to enlighten them and refuse to play for less.

  49. Virtually everyone repsonding to Hoelterhoff’s article here and on Bloomberg evidently have no experience with her decades-long style. Satire, wry observations, exaggerations, blunt commentary even brutal assessment have always been part of it. (The funniest I remember was a review of a Pavarotti concert in Atlantic City.)

    Instead of recognizing her overripe reactions, and handling them accordingly, the posters have taken everything she said literally and launched into the tired old arguments that erupt during every contract dispute. She laid a trap and everyone has fallen into it. Describing bassoonists’ work as “oompah” was certainly part of the trap-laying, though I must note that, on the surface, her comment was about a choice of a career.

    Describing her as uninformed is simply a statement of the poster’s ignorance. She has written about music for decades and has had an insider’s view of the intricacies of opera, orchestras et. al for almost as long. she simply didn’t bow to conventional nostrums.

    Her comments about music schools, again coached in overreaching exaggeration, and the reactions to them actually get to a significant truth about the state of American orchestral playing. The orchestras at all the major music schools now display such a technical virtuosity and acceptable skill of interpretation that the difference between them and a San Francisco Symphony is dramatically much less than even 20 years ago. The trek up the ranks through regional orchestras has been truncated.

    If you haven’t heard such groups, go. I took a friend used to the Berlin Philharmonic to one and he was very impressed.

    The NYT article today about the strike briskly lists the elements of the dispute: salary and the history of animus between SFO musicians and administration. Hoelterhoff made much the same obseravtions — but in a much more entertaining and amusing way.

    She’s getting a predictable reaction — and her editors will undoubtedly love that.

    • I would like to insult your professional career (if you have any) for the enjoyment of uninformed public.

    • The financial condition of the arts and especially that of orchestras, opera companies, choruses, and of concert-quality music is general is dire. Cultural decline is not an issue for Ms. Holterhoff to be joking about.

    • Oh, really, Anon? I suppose she would take the pedophile’s view just to play devil’s advocate? A pseudo-sophist-ick-ate, who is presuming to give inside info in the way she did, might as well be banging pots together and calling it a musical soiree. Maybe you can take your apologist points, such as they are, plus a sauce-pan and spoon, and join her, if you like pot-stirring. Did you vote for Bush/Cheney either time? The one that did more damage to the professional performing arts than any pres I remember. I remember Ike, heard him speak live, and that goes back a ways. If that’s the sort of buzz the editors of Bloomberg thrive on, they are pot bangers too.

  50. Loved the article!! Kudos! As for Juilliard…most of the musicians turned out of there don’t train for orchestral jobs. They train for solo careers. There are other schools better prepared to train orchestral players…Indiana University in Bloomington comes to mind.

    • The previous poster is Incorrect about Juilliard grads – very few musicians who attend any music conservatory (like Juilliard or Curtis) end up as soloists. Many teach, freelance, or leave music completely and become doctors or lawyers, but of the ones who ARE successful, most of them DO end up filling the ranks of major AND minor symphony orchestras throughout the country.

  51. I am a professional musician in several areas, one of which is church music. Several years back (in a different church than where I am now) a complaint was leveled at me by someone with power in the congregation: “What’s with all this practicing? Every time I come down here he is practicing. I thought we hired him because he knew what he was doing”. And that, my friends, is the level of knowledge that many many people operate with. They do not have a clue what it takes and if they knew, they wouldn’t understand. Yes, I love what I do – but that does not make it a hobby. There is a strange idea out there that music should be free. That is a lovely concept, but if it is free, who is going to write it or play it or record it and so on? Returning to a church experience, once a bride was complaining about my (ridiculously modest) wedding fee. I told her that instead of my usual fee, I would accept the average of what she was paying the photographer, the videographer, the florist, the dressmaker, and the cake baker. I was told that was ridiculous. Indeed it was – I had far more education, training, and experience than any two of them put together. Ms. Hoelterhoff should be ashamed for writing this and Bloomberg should be ashamed to have published it
    .

    • For the record, I am a former musician (music-school trained and studied since the age of four until well into my twenties) who is now a professional baker. I take my profession now just a seriously and as passionately as I did when I was a musician, if not more. I am educated, trained, and experienced at what I do, so I find your statement of “I had far more education, training, and experience than any two of them put together” to be insulting and completely ignorant.

      • “…. insulting and completely ignorant.”
        And yet, still true.
        And until you have a history of baking since you were 4 along with the DECADES of practicing and the university degrees, then you don’t have a point.
        And JMJ — why does this need to be explained to an alleged musician {“former”}?
        I mean, since we have to explain this to our own, above the din of their faux dudgeon, there’s no way the ‘great unwashed’ is going to grasp it ever! {eye roll}

      • Sorry to gently disagree here, Bonnie. I would have been consigned by you as one of the great unwashed. Born to a family of meager means, I was able to demonstrate enough potential talent as a kid, that with some generously donated lessons, that talent became more than merely latent. I’ll never be a ‘world class’ singer mentioned so often. But I never dreamed I’d be declining a spot following an audition with the National Opera, as ‘too much hassle’ (commute, parking, DC traffic). I never dreamed I’d be in the union, sing solos with the Baltimore Symphony, the opera company, or any professional group, when I was out in a wintry Ohio field milking our only cow, with freezing rain running down my back, huddled next to the darn cow for warmth, trying to keep my fingers from getting even stiffer from the cold. Can’t milk well with gloves, and I had to be ready to quickly pick up the pail if she scratched. If she got dirt or worse, in the pail, had to dump it. Music can level the field, and give some a chance who otherwise would never have it. I inherited my voice from my folks, both of whom could have been very good singers with training. But no chance for them, with even more to work past than I had. They were and are supportive, though. As octogenarians, driving 350+ miles each way, to hear me in a 2-hour concert and facing 14-16 hours on the road?–yeah, that’s supportive. You would probably consider them part of the great unwashed too, and your eyes would not just roll, but spin like dervishes. I have been dealing with that ‘tude since I was a child, wearing patchy jeans to the semi-private school I finally got into, and feeling viscerally the entitlement and disdain for me from some of the doctor’s and lawyer’s kids there. We can learn to ‘wash’, with the right guidance, consideration and thoughtfulness, many of us. Many can not. Wealth does not guarantee artistry, even with strong desire. Not even close, as I see regularly. No matter how Well-Washed, shampooed or made-up.

      • Sorry to gently disagree here, Bonnie. I would have been consigned by you as one of the great unwashed. Born to a family of meag
        Please don’t apologize for disagreeing, JR. You might want to re-think recounting your past to get underdog brownie points, though. Your history is neither unique nor all that different from others’ stories, maybe even mine. The original point (which you missed in your zeal to “be helpful”) was that there comes a point in some working musicians’ lives where they realize that there is no money in it, no matter how professionally, creatively, or intelligently that musician presents him-/herself.
        It’s also irrelevant that your friends and colleagues choose to devalue their time and talent (and by extension that of ‘full-timers’) by giving it away for free when those people are not relying on their music skills as their primary source of income.
        The phrase ‘the great unwashed’ does not refer to you or the colleagues whose altruistic choices you blithely used to gain brownie points. It does, however, sum up concisely ‘adult non-musicians whose often willful lack of exposure to the arts lead them to choose not to understand or even entertain what it takes to be a musician at the professional level.’ And I refuse to type that out to mollify anyone.
        So, you have a choice — will you choose to comprehend from the standpoint of a working musician (as you claim to be), or will you continue to ‘gently disagree’ from a POV of self-absorption? Choice is yours. :-)

      • Last first…. I don’t acknowledge those two choices you give as the only ones, but honestly, I don’t give much away for free. Way too rarely, and it has nothing to do with servility. When groups are willing and happy to keep hiring one, why give it away except for particular times of one’s choosing? It just breeds contempt for all the time, energy and skill it took to earn than place. I left my home area for just those reasons, always plenty of free gigs but few paid ones, as well as following ‘someone of interest’…oops, no personal boring sagas as per your implied request. The difference I was trying to show, that you are determined to miss, is you have every right to go where the gigs are. Or to have set yourself up to be able to. Lamenting your lack of success after decades of toil, is every bit as self absorbed as you hint I may be. FYI, my other profession is in the healing therapeutic arts. Self absorption does not go well in such a profession. The client comes first, for me, whether audience member, conductor, or client. For you, you come first. I can only communicate superficially with you therefore, your gloom is too deep. But I did not plant you where you are, working musician. You miss more points than you get that way. You can’t see the road if you can’t even get up out of the rut. I think you probably used to be a nice person to make music with, and just haven’t seen the realization of your early dreams. Too bad you seem accustomed to, and better at, slapping the hands that reach out, than accepting them. Possibly a factor in your loss of desire to stay in.

      • The difference I was trying to show, that you are determined to miss,
        No, sweetie, I got it. Loud and clear. Thanks, though.

        is you have every right to go where the gigs are.
        Oh, how benevolent of you to suggest that! Truly, I’m touched that once again, you suggest that someone else do something you did/do because that’s what you did/do. I’m just shocked you didn’t use the word “bootstraps,” though.
        Sadly, though — at this time, I am unable to pack up and go for reasons which are none of your business. And I’m not sure I want to start over again in a new area and spend the time, effort, and money (that I don’t have) marketing myself, starting a chamber group, taking auditions, feeling out who the local doyennes on my instruments are and paying for more lessons on three instruments just to make myself “known”….
        I suppose I could go back to school and work on a DMA (or another Master’s) if there were a school close enough to attend that had a DMA program.

        Lamenting your lack of success after decades of toil, is every bit as self absorbed as you hint I may be.
        You wish! :-)
        Oh, and FREE HINT: you left out the word “economic” before “success.”
        You actually have no idea what my opinion of my artistic success-to-failure ratio is. Nor am I going to tell you because it’s none of your business. What am I willing to tell you is that I’m not in it for the fortune and glory. I’d just like to not worry about the basics. And retire someday. Oh, and play Bartók and Schubert with a friend of mine in Europe (another freebee).

        FYI, my other profession is in the healing therapeutic arts.>/i>
        That actually explains a lot. I mean — ***A*** ***LOT****.

      • Bonnie, your responses to Jason just get sadder and sadder. I’m sorry that these economic times suck in general and I’m sorry that your economic realities suck in particular. From what you’ve described, your situation has definitely put you between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with very little wiggle room. No wonder you sound as if you’re about ready to either explode or implode. Losing out on gigs because of a gig which evaporated on you…beyond hard. Getting put on a “don’t call, she’s too busy” list…boy, I can see where it would be SO TEMPTING to call the other people in town who also play the same instrument(s) you do and–without suggesting anything actionable–kvetch a bit about all the crap you’ve been through in the guise of warning them about the PM gig and the multiple dangers of putting yourself out there without a contract. Too bad you don’t have anything in even email format that proves you at least had a verbal contract; that would enable you to take them to small claims court for expenses incurred on their behalf.

        I wish you all the best, and hope something better comes along for you.

      • Thank you for your implied supportive comments about my attempts. BB is in too dark a place to reach, as her attempts have gotten her burned so much it’s hard to keep reaching out and share her burn after enough attempts fail. Instead of being happy for the success from others’ hard work, she is so self-absorbed in her troubles that she sees so much wrong with any attempts, it’s remarkable she still tries at all, indicates all hope is not dead, just in the ICU. Sensitivity is a 2-way street, but emotional and professional scabs that are just thickening and becoming more calloused are in the way of seeing opportunity for what it might be, instead of yet another affront. She sounds more than competent, just burned out. All God’s chillun gots troubles.
        We had such a traumatic prep for last Saturday’s concert–a lovely Beethoven Mass–with castigation upon insult from the conductor, that no one wanted to sing a peep for him. We did our professional job, though, and the chorus got better reviewed than the soloists or orchestra, and it was earned. Bitterly, and joylessly, but earned. Sadly, one of our best finally had enough bullying (yeah, there’s a history) and turned in next month’s music also. If the group tanks, it will be the fault of the weakest link, who ironically is easily the best musician in the group, and that would be a shame, after last year’s Silver Anniversary. Besides the opera it’s the best gig in town, musically. Dude’s a genius, an incredible interpreter with nuanced, sensitive, and dynamic musicality. Not enough, if his own problems interfere with others, hirelings or no. Better to retire than be a boulder on the path.
        To have an accusation stick, one must not be guiltier of the same, so I had to laugh when my brief bio insert from younger days was more than exceeded by the personal saga she–well, ‘shared’–which was no doubt more entertaining than my la-la-la burbling from the imagined word she places me in. It is sad to see one with talent and ability get so soured as to vacate the field, but it’s better than infecting those without those scabs. Would it surprise you if she were on the do-no-call list because she has turned into too big a pill to put up with from her acerbic responses? I have been booted from one other group by the conductor, who had a few months prior said I was the best at my position in the city, and it is a sizable city. Didn’t keep me though, when I wise-assed off too often about the non-professionalism around me. Not smart, though I don’t miss him or his ho-hum conducting, I miss the dough as a core pro among vols. Smarter now, and I still have to negotiate more double-bookings of rehearsals and performances than I like, with the other groups. A joy that poor inaptly-named Bonnie will not know, which is sad after all her hard work, but my earlier concern for her she singed away with her dragon breath. She can have the last word, I have Kodaly and Britten solo bits to polish. Can’t take things for granted; one tenor (I admired so much after moving here), had to retire when the high notes went with age and maybe too many cigs. We have plenty of real baritones, can’t replace anyone with only an octave sellable range unless you’re a bagpiper. Choices, choices…..Even here in la-la land with all the bubbles floating about, it’s a competitive hustle. She might not succeed here, either, because the competition is probably far worse. I can’t believe how far some orchestra players have to range for gigs, from Richmond to Baltimore or even Philly, and DC in between, north and south, and from the coast to Hagerstown, east and west, say a 100-120 mile radius. Those folks HUSTLE. And kvetch? Some, sure. Whine? Not as much. Snarl? Not if they are smart. Yes, the unions are actually effective and that helps immeasurably, but with so much competent competition, no guarantees.

      • I shared Bonnie’s woes with Lenny last night and he was appalled and sympathetic. He DOESN’T like living in a non-union area, but he doesn’t want to move, either. I really want to continue this whole conversation, but I feel we’ve abused Brian’s good nature enough already. I’m on AOL with the screen name jwbrittn. Contact me there and we can continue this in private. Anyone else who’d like to be included, just let me know. — Jackie Britton Lopatin

  52. Hoelterhoff exemplifies an unfortunate modern anomaly. Years ago, if someone could write as legibly and articulately as she, it indicated someone had ideas to share–either her own, or the wisdom of others. But she has none we need, and her opinions are not worthy of national attention, publication, or any real discussion. There is too great a disconnect between her self-serving self-absorbed need to noisily prove she exists, and the realities of this planet. She is lucky not to have been fired for embarrassing an otherwise informative publication.

    • Yes, Hoelterhoff seems to exist in a bitter world of her own creation, unfortunately, making her less than ideal for commentary on just about anything.

      But then, there is an epidemic of vitriol on the internet regarding classical music of late, and it is more than sad. As long as the Hoelterhoffs of this world (and their blog partners) get clicks and hits, they’ll continue to multiply.

  53. There is no way to justify how musicians in San Francisco are being treated (or Minneapolis or St. Paul, or fill in the blank where this goes next). there is nothing that can be said that hasn’t been said repeatedly every time a dispute such as this has flared up over the years. The same arguments will always be used, every time, by both sides. That’s because this is not about justifying preparation time or effort, difficulty in obtaining a job, artistic integrity, or any of the other totally valid arguments brought forward. In all of these cases, the objective is union busting, probably inspired by the successful effort of Wisconsin’s governor. My profoundest sympathies to all the musicians affected–and to two of my sons who are just starting their educations and careers in music, but the only way through this problem is simply to walk away. Fix it or kill it. Fight as long as you can hold out, but think about another path if the situation does not improve. If, in the end, the Dark Powers will not come to terms, quit and get the pain over for the last time. Learn to work for yourself, as painful as the transition will be. Denying them your efforts in the face of the lack of their appreciation is the only option. They have revealed their belief that the organization is about and for them and not you, and as long as you are associated with them, that fact will never change. After they have been denied each of you, they will once and for all be revealed as the shallow, greedy bigots they are. Your job is to shine as much light on their greed and vileness to either kill the vampires in the light of day or to warn others of how they can expect to be treated should they choose to come in behind you. To do any less will only serve to perpetuate the problem. I am certain that is a legacy none of you would choose.

    • You are so right about the governor of Wisconsin; now he’s trying to destroy public schools. And he thinks he’s presidential material. God help us all.

      • If you have the power to vote, seeking help from God at the voting booth is Holy unnecessary.

  54. Didn’t go through all the comments, so I’m not sure if this has been addressed yet, but bassoonists (and other double-reed players) spend a considerable amount of time, not just perfecting their instrument-playing skills, but also their reed-making skills. Like fine craftsmen, they must cut, shave, and file those reeds to perfection, otherwise the instrument will not produce the desired sound. A flute players myself, I never envied my double reed colleagues, spending endless nights in the reed room. So to Hoelterhoff, I would also ask, who made those reeds she played on while at high school? Because when you have middle school and high school students as a professional bassoon player, your job includes making reeds not just for you, but for your students too.

  55. Reblogged this on Professorscosco and commented:
    This article struck me. I’ve seen this attitude toward musicians so many times. I don’t resent that many folks think we are overpaid, but that there are usually the same people who laud artists they love, who they can’t live without, who give them “my music” or “the soundtrack to my life” – also the same folks who will shell out hundreds to attend a well-known artist perform a well-known piece. Where do you think those artists and those pieces come (came) from? Not from hard work, patronage, self-promotion and single-minded devotion the the craft of playing and the art of music.

    • I second that emotion. People seem to think that it just falls out of the sky ready-made for consumption – and feel qualified to criticize its ‘quality’ or lack thereof. And if they go after the “best of the best” – the Olympic athletes of music – what hope do the rest of us have? I wrote this ten years ago – it’s worse now than it was then. A Day Without A Musician

      • Wow, what a wonderful essay, Alicia. It started out good and crescendoed to great! I once defined “art” as that which raises the ordinary to the extraordinary. I loved that you mentioned mechanics, cooks and teachers as artists as you described how “if it’s done with passion and conviction, it’s Art.” Brava.

        The only thing you didn’t mention in your article was that–unlike weekend or hobbyist musicians who kick back with their guitars or drums when they’re relaxing and having fun–professional instrumentalists have to practice pretty much every. single. day. simply to maintain that which makes them able to play, whether it’s their facial muscles (woodwinds and brass), tendons and hand muscles (keyboards), or callouses and arm/body strength (string players and any other musicians I may have missed). Playing on a professional level takes a ton of maintenance work and this can’t be emphasized enough. Musicians who don’t practice lose their chops, and rebuilding these muscles can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible. I marvel every day as I listen to my husband playing scales, patterns and etudes on his flute nearly every day, from between an hour to an hour and a half each day, simply so he can maintain his embouchure. He left a steady job with the Metropolitan Opera over thirty years ago to learn the art of flutemaking because he had some theories on sound production he wanted to test. He’s now a world-class flutemaker, but he also recognizes that there’s not much point in making the kinds of flutes he wanted to be able to play if he loses the ability to play them at a world-class level. Crazy, but a good kind of crazy. The world needs more crazy people like this.

  56. I am an attorney and my husband is a physician. Our son, gifted with incredible musical ability, is a piano performance major. People marvel that we’d allow him to pursue fine arts when we have such “traditional” careers. Who are we to deny him the opportunity to do something we could never do? He, as you pointed out, has practiced his craft since the ripe old age of five. Truly, to become a professional caliber musician, he has worked harder than either my husband or me for our advanced degrees.

    The North Carolina Symphony, where we live, does far more than just play music. They share their talents with children and offering kids exposure to the arts they might otherwise not get. They teach. They inspire.

    Music, as an art form, makes a difference in learning, healing and calming. If we don’t support the arts — and the artists who make the music — we will fail as a society.

    • I want to “steal” your last paragraph, it’s awesome. I’ll make appropriate attribution. I’m a middle-school music teacher that is not impressed by a lack of regard for music in my district

  57. I don’t see them complain when pro athletes make millions of dollars a year. The difference is, most musicians are simply trying to eek out a living.

  58. Thank you for a insightful article. Music making is an art and a science. To be world class requires a dedication and talent that very few people have. Society is blessed by musicians who strive to produce a musical perfection that trancendes language and speakes to all human beings. It is the hall mark of a civilized society.

  59. A very instructive article. But: musicians on strike – this is a very tricky issue… European colleagues look with a little astonishment at their US colleagues and their union organizations AFM, ROPA and ICSOM. Up to 6 month strike would be impossible in Europe. Even more strike-friendly societies in Italy or France are not used to this hard labour disputes. In Germany musicians are just preparing a major labour dispute and something like a nationwide strike with some 100 orchestras in the next few moths, because musicians have been cut off from common pay rises since 2009. However, strike culture is in Germany is very different to the US: Musicians on strike want to put direct pressure on the (almost public funded) employer and the employers association, but not on their audiences.

    • What a ridiculous comparison. Orchestras in Germany are supported by the government – the musicians don’t have to strike, and the management doesn’t have to raise money to pay them.

    • Uhhh. Are you really trying to say that Europe isn’t familiar with labor disputes? Are you familiar with strikes in Spain? They pretty much go to war.

  60. Amazingly well written. Thank you. As a former “Ooompa” player myself, I wouldn’t know where to begin addressing such a misleading article. Thank you Brian for saving me hours of angry *bleeps* & deletes in effort to calm the angst I felt towards such blatant ignorance in her article.

  61. Wonderful piece, excellent clarification of the situation. However: “A more enjoyable way to pass the time between paychecks!”??? We understand, do we not, that a work stoppage also means the paychecks stop, and no one knows for how long? And that shortly afterward, the benefits (i.e. medical insurance) go away, too? Regardless of one’s position on the issues, it should be acknowledged that SFS musicians clearly feel strongly enough about the contract situation to put their livelihoods at risk. As such, a vote to strike is an agonizing, last-resort decision, certainly not taken as a lark, and one that these professionals have made unanimously, knowing full well they may lose more income during a strike than will be gained in any eventual settlement. But they are mindful that their stature gives them the opportunity–indeed, responsibility—to have an impact on the industry as a whole; what happens here has a ripple effect on orchestras nationwide.

    Classical musicians are respected, admired, applauded, even gushed over—until it comes to money, which apparently is an untoward topic for them to address. Is it because they are perceived as having an obligation to do this for the love of music? Are they considered to have been given a gift of talent, thereby not qualifying for remuneration that mirrors their hard work and extraordinary success? Would that my accountant reduce his formidable fee in gratitude for his innate skill with numbers, or that my physician waive her office visit charges to give thanks for the intuitive bedside manner she brings to her work!

    Those with equivalent achievement in the corporate world easily make seven figures, enjoy lives of spectacular opulence, and endure remarkably little public scrutiny. Bravo to SFS members for the guts to hit the streets with their handmade picket signs.

  62. I would venture to say that a significant amount of the problems classically trained (“Jazzers” too) musicians face is strongly influenced by the lack of a true musical experience in elementary schools. I am an elementary music teacher and can tell you honestly that the experience I’ve seen—through discussions, professional development, seminars, etc.—that is given to children at this level does very little to make music a part of their lives (or their vision of what a good life is).

    [I will posit my obligatory proleptical statement here: Yes. I do what I can with my 15 40-minute lessons per year to instill a love and understanding of music into my students. But this description itself should argue back to my original post. Yes?]

    My guess at the demographic of the modern orchestra (or jazz) concert attendee would highlight two kinds of listener to the near exclusion of all others: Those who tried the Art through the upper grades (i.e. instrumentalist, vocalist, artist, drama or dance, etc.) and those who are of a class of society who think they are “supposed” to attend these concerts (and who end up appreciating them anyway!).

    The public is not trained/educated to understand and appreciate this kind of performance/setting to the degree that they are willing to spend their hard earned money on it—there is not enough reward for them. If they were given the education to understand and appreciate this genre, there would be fewer bankruptcies in the music performance world. Of course, that is just my opinion…isn’t it? :-)

  63. Great Article. I have been a musician all my life. I have worked hard and greatly admire the SF Symphony musicians. They deserve to be treated like superstars and their wages should reflect it. Our culture has become so electronic, that when we want to hear first rate music we just pop in a CD. Our senses have become numb to what effort it takes to achieve such skill. Shame on Bloomberg Muse for allowing Manuela Hoelterhoff to work. Her equating her skill in playing bassoon in a high-school band to the skills need in a world class symphony is inexcusable.

  64. I just want to remind people that we aren’t talking about ALL musicians here. If you think this is just musicians patting themselves on the back, or that they should teach for a stable profession, remember that the San Francisco Symphony is full of Master Musicians, the best of their field. They are not experimenting to see if it will work out. That have already some grammys, recorded concerti, and provided a fantastic example to follow. Most already came from other top notch orchestras! Also, the market is there, I can first hand talk about sold out opera, symphony, and ballet concerts in new Orleans, san Antonio, and Houston. The people want to see the musicians.

  65. Pingback: Orchestra Musician: It’s Not a Cush Job | Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony

  66. Brian, I am really impressed with your article. I hope that this manages to find its way on the desktops of those who really need to see it. What I especially appreciate is the manner in which you have balanced your discussion by addressing truly wondeful CEOs of orchestras, as not every administration is a problem. It is unfortunate that someone whose limited experience with musical excellence has not enlightened her to the nature of performance at the highest levels.

    It’s a pleasure to see your blog. Hope to have the opportunity to read more from your desk!

  67. I quit music after playing trumpet in the military for 8 years, and college for 2. I am unwilling to fight the entire nation on the fact that we pay millions to athletes and actors, but not to musicians. I realized that I was pursuing a degree in music to make the same amount I make now? No thanks. I gave it up, and I’m currently in medical school. Science is just as cool, and it pays.

  68. This is just musicians patting themselves on the back. I don’t question the amount of work and skill you all possess but the market demand for these orchestras is vanishing. It’s just the way it is. If you want a stable music job – teach!

    • demand for orchestras is vanishing? as in Poof Poof?
      not true, Mr Anonymous. Who have you been reading or talking to?

      • As a teacher myself I believe we need these orchestras to represent the excellence that we are striving for. My teenage students often comment about how amazing it is to see an orchestra perform live. It is inspiring and admirable work!

      • Chris? You are kidding right? Symphony orchestra jobs have been scarce and getting scarcer for years. Before you try to mince words with people who at least appear to take their argument seriously (i.e.know what they are talking about), you might want to take the most basic typing and grammar rules seriously. No educated, informed adult wants to waste their words on someone who talks and types like a teenager texting from the road.

    • Are you aware that music programs (and therefore music teachers) are the first programs on the chopping block in many school districts around the country? And private teaching? Seriously? A stable job? Students don’t show up. Parents lose their jobs–lessons are not a priority. Anyone who thinks becoming a teacher (of any subject) provides career stability is not paying attention to the state of education in our country.

    • Many of these orchestra members also do teach at local Universities and privately. However, teaching music is not a stable job and is rough to just make a living teaching. Especially in California where I know many great teachers who lost their jobs due to music programs being cut altogether. And teaching privately is not stable as well. The amount of students one teaches is in constant flux and many of the top players on their instrument that do teach, are always looking for students.

    • ” If you want a stable music job” —
      And right after you demonstrate your world-class proficiency on your instrument, then you will be allowed to dispense advice. Until then, I highly recommend starting with a music appreciation class.

    • You’re an idiot. What stability in public school music. That, along with art and gym are the first things cut in today’s world. We are teaching to the test and damn with the fine arts! AND if you are a great teacher and want to move to another district, you wind up taking a cut in pay AND lose seniority too.

      • No, NNK, I teach music because music is part of what makes us truly human. It’s emotional expression without words. And participation in band, orchestra, or choir is often the only way to keep some kids from dropping out of school altogether.

      • Beautifully put, bandlady74. My apologies; my comment was intended to point out the irony of Anonymous’s sweeping generalization (vanishing market)–untrue in this case– and questionable solution (teach). To suggest that performing artists turn to teaching for stability is an insult to education professionals: while many musicians are also excellent teachers, it’s not necessarily a given. What we need are passionate teachers like yourself who believe in the value of the arts and put their hearts and souls into bringing music to our children. Thank you and keep up the good fight.

    • The argument that hasn’t yet been made here is that teaching requires a very different set of skills than orchestral playing does. Sure, some orchestral players have it (and many who don’t still teach), but many don’t. As someone who studied at Juilliard with some of the best players, I know that the best performers are not always the best teachers, or even decent teachers. Teaching requires its own hours of dedication, and those that were stellar players from a young age often don’t really know how they mastered their skills. The suggestion is akin to asking a long distance runner who’s twisted their ankle to take up competitive swimming – because its a sport.

  69. Excellent article. One correction, though. The musicians of the Tucson Symphony for the most part make less than $17,000. A salaried core string player makes about $12,600. Principal players or players who play in an ensemble would make more. Per service players might make as little as $7000.

  70. If these guys want to make more than $165,000 per year, they should play music for fun and get a job with Apple, like I did.

    • You just DON’T get it! Did you spend you entire life slogging it out 6 hours a day in practice rooms and classrooms and lessons, spending $$$$ to travel to auditions for orchestras that pay less than one year’s tuition? Of course you’re working for Apple.

    • If only we musicians could get underpaid, forced labor like FoxConn workers who make Apple products for no pay or benefits, that Apple then sells at ridiculous profits to also make $200,000+ violins, then we could be as well off and as smart as you!

    • I’ll bet your playing sounds like amateur hour, too. For professionals there is no “fun” in hacking through music, making ugly sounds.

  71. I enjoyed your article and its humorous, yet serious content.

    Of course, you are right. Musicians deserve more support. Ms. Hoelterhoff and a few others have opened a can of worms. Musicians are all up in arms. And blogger Norman Lebrecht has helped fuel the fire. Controversy increases vierwership.

    What is missing in the debate is any perspective from a conductor. (not to mention any discussion about how conductors net income is only about 20% of their gross salaries).

    Why has MTT not gotten into the fray? Because we are already sandwiched between the wars of music and management.

    We cannot side with musicians because the board and managers are our employers.

    We cannot side with the board and managers because it is we who make the music with the musicians and must have their confidence.

    The last time a conductor did get in the middle of the debate, he was fired. So, its forbidden territory for conductors today.

    But I recently wrote a book (in German) about the anthropology and culture of the orchestra that has generated its fair share of controversy. Some excerpts were taken out of context online and did not fully represent my views of support for musicians. Indeed, our purpose is to develop not only audiences for classical music, but to bring audiences to hear the instrument that plays that music: The orchestra.

    The book, Making Beautiful Music Together…Or Not! will be released this year as an ebook by Naxos in the original English.

    Let me be clear: Some may consider my writing to you a shameless act of self-promotion. It is actually a genuine, sincere effort on my part to contribute to the discussion to help protect the very musicians who make beautiful music. That is all.

    As a conductor, I champion musicians whose virtuosity must be valued. The job of the musician is more than an oom-pah-pah. They are expected to be virtuosi every day and are judged to perform at the highest level in service of the composer and the public. That challenge is like playing a sport. Athletes are paid millions to be virtuosi whether they win or not. Orchestral musicians are paid peanuts by comparison yet have to play to perfection at every concert. There is a discrepancy between what is expected of a musician and how they are valued. Small wonder then they strike.

    One can even compare their work to the well paid efforts of Felix Baumgartner who virtuosically jumped from the stratosphere to the earth. Musicians jump from the earth to reach the stars with every concert. The only difference is Baumgartner had Red Bull as the sponsor and a global audience. Classical music has a limited market share of less than 2.5%. When society and the media begin to value that musical virtuosity, perhaps there will be greater audiences attendance, and therefore greater sponsorship.

    The problem is our system can no longer sustain the business model of a symphony orchestra. That, not the salaries, is the greater issue. The paradigm of the 21st century orchestra must be reconsidered. An increase in funding and providing an artistic vision are paramount to the job description of any Music Director employed by boards of an orchestra. Both are inextricably linked to sustaining an orchestra’s survival. But, inspiring musicians to continue to be virtuosi is the most important goal to protect the orchestra of the future.

    I am happy to forward to you the excerpts should have you interest.

    With kindest regards,

    • When the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington went on strike some decades ago, the great Rostropovich (Slava) was the Music Director. Instead of playing in the middle, he openly supported his musicians by walking the picket line. That, dear conductor, is how to end a strike!

      • Good for him!!!

        And, as someone who very nearly had to strike — that’s definitely the way to help end a strike. Show support for the strikers, and management will start really negotiating.

    • Hahaha, it’s just like a conductor to assume everyone is waiting with bated breath for his opinion about anything and then, of course, to promote his work and how great he is (he wrote a book in another language!).

      Playing the middle? Really? What a bunch of BS–playing the middle is just playing it safe. It’s not about sincerity, or understanding where either side is coming from on a strike, it’s purely saving yourself. Silence doesn’t say that you’re not siding with one party or the other; by not speaking out for the musicians, it says your siding with board–don’t you think that can be a huge blow to moral for the musicians you’re supposed to be conducting?

      Ugh, this is why every time a conductor tries to argue that he’s ALSO a musician, I roll my eyes and laugh.

      You do make a number of good points, but the first half of your post is ridiculous and self-aggrandizing.

  72. The only thing even remotely “cushy” about playing in a professional orchestra is having a steady gig, but even that isn’t steady! With the decline of attendance so many orchestras are suffering heavy burdens, including the Philadelphia Orchestra. Their incredible international reputation is going down the toilet because of bankruptcy problems. And when that first occurred, ignorant people like Hoelterhoff ridiculed the orchestra members for creating a ruckus, including performing outside the firm’s offices for days on end (music majors from Temple University and The University of the Arts sat in and played with them). They did it because they love their job, their conductors and bosses, and their city. All of that love doesn’t mean they will roll over and get treated like shit. Most of those orchestra members also have other outlets to make ends meet, often teaching at universities or out of their own homes.

    Orchestra/jazz/pit musicians spend their whole lives being told their career choice is a stupid idea simply because making ends meet will be tough. When will people realize how awful that sentiment is?? Telling kids to live miserable lives not doing what they love simply because it will be hard?! As a friend of MANY music majors, I know that people who spend their lives practicing day in and day out and playing low-paying gigs through college would rather be poor as dirt doing what they love rather than comfortable and completely miserable. Like they say-a musician is someone who puts $5,000 worth of gear into a $500 car to drive 100 miles to a $50 gig. And they love it.

    • “….. would rather be poor as dirt doing what they love rather than comfortable and completely miserable. Like they say-a musician is someone who puts $5,000 worth of gear into a $500 car to drive 100 miles to a $50 gig. And they love it.”
      Well, until the realization dawns (after how many of those $50 **OR WORSE** gigs) that all the ♥♥♥ in the world doesn’t pay the electric bill or fund a replacement instrument when needed or buy new sheet music or put food on the table or put gas into the car to get to the next pittance-pay or freebie gig…..
      And although I do like the meme, “5 Large” is a conservative estimate that maybe covers a decent piccolo.

    • The very end of your comment happens to outline one of the BIGGEST problems in the music world–that we are WILLING to take such gigs. It’s perpetuating the idea that because we love what we will do and we’ll play for anything because of it, people either 1) can get away with paying us shit, or 2) think we don’t deserve what we ask for in pay/are worth and WILL say things like “But you’ll be getting paid $9 an hour for this gig! You should consider yourself lucky since that’s above minimum wage!”

      Gigging musicians need to collectively stop allowing people to badger us around when it comes to pay and stop accepting those ultra-low paying/non-paying gigs because the only thing we’re accomplishing when we let that happen is creating more extremely-low paying gigs and letting people think they’ll STILL get amazing musicians for basically nothing. We’re managing to undermine OURSELVES.

      I’m not saying we should all ask $5000 for each two hour gig we play, but I am saying we need to start asking for fairer compensation and to turn a gig down (and let the people who want to hire you know why) if it isn’t fair pay, or if the only thing we get out of it is “getting our name out there.”

  73. Brian – Politics, Law, the Media, Sports, Religion, Medicine, Business, Academics – Art is just another category of how our culture defines itself. Let’s move away from petty bean counting arguments to higher ideals. We are blessed to have a President who understands this.

  74. In looking at this whole situation, do you think that livable wages was really the best way for the musicians to approach this issue? There seem to be greater concerns that are being lost to the sheer size of the paychecks (I don’t exactly see how comparing them to the musicians in Tucson makes them look any better).

    Having read over all of the materials, it seems that the musicians have two complaints.

    1. They are not being given raises simply to meet the increased cost of living and inflation (this being a somewhat different argument than the “we need to pay more otherwise we will lose people to Chicago and LA).
    2. They are concerned over the general management of the orchestra, specifically the multi-hundred-million dollar renovation of the concert hall. The concern stems from the fear that this is a “boom-time” plan, which will ultimately harm them if multi-year planned gifts are not continued AND, going back to the first complaint, given that they have access to several hundred million for a renovation, that they are denying cost of living raises.

    The Musicians’ Union has tackled this entire problem poorly – the photo at the top of your post has a picketer with sign reading “World class orchestra, low class (cut off, presumably ‘wages’)”. This is the cognitive disconnect. Starting salary in the $140ks, average in the $160ks – they are paid like an orchestra of their stature. In fact, using their argument (that they are losing players to Chicago and LA, the only two orchestras who pay higher wages), meeting or exceeding the top pay will lead to a bidding war between the orchestras that is realistically not feasible to sustain. There are legitimate concerns – but low class wages are literally 1/6 of the average orchestra salary.

    There is no question that the non-musicians who have written some of the more scathing comments don’t “get it.” But most don’t. Most people go to an orchestra to hear classical music, but don’t really have a basis of comparison to understand what separates a mid-level orchestra from a world class orchestra.

    Yet most unfortunately, the union has made a very large legal assertion about the management of funds, which if true, would be criminal. They assert that funds are not being properly accounted for in the annual 990 tax filings. All of these documents are legally required to be made available (which, in addition to being available through certain non-profit sites online, the orchestra admin has sent to the orchestra committee), and that they are reviewed by a third-party tax expert prior to submission. I am still at a loss for how the members of the orchestra could make this claim on a hunch (they have not actually brought any evidence to support this wild claim). It is the equivalent of saying “I think you murdered someone, because there are fewer people here than I expected.”

    I really hope that the orchestra committee learns to tailor its message. It is frustrating to feel like you generally support what the musicians are asking for, while at the same time agreeing with their (really offensive) opponents who state that they come off like teamsters.

    • Your assumption about the picket sign in the photo is incorrect. I saw the sign myself and the missing word is “management”.

  75. My husband is currently working in his masters in trumpet performance, and I couldn’t be more humbled by all of the work he puts in just for school and local gigs. I guess I could be loosely called a musician myself, having played in high school and college and currently playing with a community band, but most days out of the week, I only see him first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. His mornings start at 5:30 when he wakes up to get ready to work as a technician for high school trumpet section for 3-4 hours. He then heads to campus to practice for another 2-3 hours before either an orchestra rehearsal or a jazz rehearsal. He has maybe an hour to grab “lunch” with me around 3pm, then finishes his day teaching 1 or 2 lessons and a gig rehearsal between 20 and 90 minutes away. I’m exhausted just talking about it!

  76. Currently in the US there is little respect for anyone who actually produces and works for a living. Romney praised “job creators” as the people who matter, and that is the position of half of the country, ..most orchestra administrators are “job creators”..creating jobs for other administrators

  77. I AM a second bassoonist…. The article you mention made me want to throw something.

    Yesterday I got up at 7, went to the gym (because I knew I would be sitting the rest of the day)
    Practiced 2 1/2 hours and worked on my hand made reeds, using my expensive imported tools.
    Dressed in my concert black for the rest of the day and drove to a rehearsal.
    To that rehearsal I took a Bachelor and Master of Music from a noted conservatory, my expensive instrument that costs $1000 of dollars to keep up, my reeds(that usually take 2 weeks to break in) and mu used Honda Civic with 88K on it the dash.
    Rehearsed Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart for a concert today.
    Was asked to step in and play second for an ailing colleague that night.
    Rushed from rehearsal to grab a very quick bite to eat.
    Went early to the hall to look over the principal bassoon part and help the substitute that came in to read my part.
    Played a pops concert
    Ended my day at 10:20… stressed out, tired and very hungry.

    I made a per service rate.

    Today I have a concert, but will have to practice my Marriage of Figaro and the music for 2 Beethoven concerts coming up.

    People in my line of work have specialized skills, honed over decades of experience.

    I’m thrilled there are some people in the music world that are paid a decent amount of money for their skill set, expertise, and talent. – And for the stress that accompanies performing. It has become sport to point fingers at professions and say “Well that looks easy, why should they get a salary that high?”

    Well they should get more. Go for it SFS!

  78. I’m sure most orchestras/musicians/performances/instruments and maybe even composers sound the same to her..i’d love to give her a “drop the needle” test and laugh. it’s probably all a blur.
    Unfortunately for her, she really shows her ignorance. Seems she’s been lucky to get this far. Hope her career goes down hill from here on!

  79. Thank you for this. People are limited by their own experiences, but a journalist of her caliber really should know better. Just because I swam in high school, it doesn’t mean that I could swim like the Olympians. Have her play the opening solo of the Rite of Spring on her bassoon and see if she can even eeke out the first note without cracking. High school band… what a joke.

    • Your point is well made, but please don’t make the same mistake as the target of this article by denigrating the high school band experience. Many of the wind players in orchestras across the country embraced their destiny during their high school years or earlier and did it through band. I don’t know if your high school swim experience was a joke or not, but I presume it was a positive one that helped to shape you somehow or you wouldn’t bring it into the discussion. Let’s not be hatin’ on band.

      • Sorry if I sounded like I was putting down the high school band experience. I meant to point out the ill-conceived comparison between the writer’s own limited experience and a professional one. If her experience stopped with the high school band, how could she judge those who have gone to take the risk of taking on a highly specialized profession for life? My swimming experience was a positive one, but I knew that beyond high school, I didn’t have what it took (talent, patience, time, or even the interest) to make it to the big times. I wouldn’t dare compare my experience to an Olympian’s! Just so you know, my husband is an orchestral player and played in his high school band. I played in my high school orchestra and sang in my high school choir. I now have a DMA. That’s where it started for us. No, we do not hate the band!

    • Apropos your “joke” comment: do you know the “words” to the Rite of Spring opening? “I’m not an English Horn- this note’s too high for me…”

  80. My son was a bassoonist. He got up at 5:30 AM every day from age 10 on to practice. He double-majored in college (engineering and music) and finally gave up the instrument to pay college debts. Yes, that’s how much a world-class bassoon costs. He couldn’t see any way to survive on the money paid to a musician, even after the average player spends 10,000 hours perfecting his/her craft. It is a dirty shame that society has no recognition of the life of a classically trained player. Many thanks for your article. Keep it coming.

  81. Great article! I have to say, though, that 17K should not be presented as the “low end” for per-service orchestras. Many of us playing in regional orchestras make less than $10000 per year, often much less.

    • I’m the Principal Timpanist for my regional symphony and my payment is two season tickets that hardly get used. But I play because I love music and hope one day to play in a higher regarded symphony. It’s not about the money but at the same time it is. I like other musicians out there hope/expect to be paid for our services. The higher up you go the more you should/need to be paid. Business CEO’s and athletes have it, why can we? Playing a multi-percussion part is as active as a lot of other things.

  82. As a musician who just returned home from two Saturday services with Ballet San Jose (walked in the door at 10:42 PM and have another matinee service tomorrow–no we don’t work hard), THANK YOU for this. This blog and the Alfidi blog only reveal the authors’ complete ignorance about what it means to make it as a professional classical musician, or even what it means to play anything well in any capacity. I have a quite a few colleagues in the San Francisco Symphony and know the level of playing required to win an audition for that orchestra. Hoelterhoff’s rhetoric is beyond offensive. It is also what has landed far too many orchestras in this predicament in the first place. Thanks again for a great piece. We know who has our backs.

    • I too have friends there & just the level of playing required to even be allowed to audition…

  83. Hoesterhoff is an accomplished writer? You obviously didn’t read the very book you attribute to her, Cinderella and Company. It’s a heavily padded volume that had to resort to wide margins and large type to make it seem like a complete book. It was petty and tacky and offered no useful insights into the opera world. Not soon after she wrote a “thought piece” based on a hoax “press release” concerning Placido Domingo. She’s not someone I respect or take seriously as a writer.

  84. She says, unlike musicians, “[Orchestra CEOs] don’t just rehearse, play and go home.”

    seriously?? this is management’s view?? musicians rehearse, play, go home, and PRACTICE. i am not a musician, but my fiancée is a violist in 2 per service orchestras. i can speak of what the people who play the music really do, not what the idiot ceos think they do.

  85. Very well done but don’t forget Tony Alfidi of Alfidi Capital who published an even nastier piece in his blog. There’s a pattern and its part of an overall plan to discredit and marginalize union wage earners in all fields of employment. Here in New York, the venerable New York City Opera, viewed for years as an alternative to the Met has been reduced to a very short-seasoned company and forced out of its former home, the former New York State Theatre – now ironically renamed the David H. Koch Theatre. I used to think of the musicians of the Lincoln Center orchestras as the “minstrels to the 1%.” That may not protect them from the plans of the 1% to relegate them to the status of entertainers in the Middle Ages.

  86. Some people argue against calls for proper pay stating or implying that low musician salaries correspond with public demand. They seem to miss the point that inequities are being created inside the institution of the SFS. Great article, but just one small point: the Louisiana Phil is a full-time orchestra – you seem to imply otherwise.

  87. I would also like to invite anyone who thinks that the tambourine and triangle “don’t look that difficult” (which I quote from a blog post that doesn’t deserve linking) to post a video of themselves playing the tambourine and triangle excerpts from the recent SFSO principal percussion audition. I could use a few laughs…

  88. Musicians — stay positive about your art. The gossip will never resolve itself. Think about an experience when you can play, be relevant , eliminate ego and eliminate the burden of a volunteer non-musical board of directors, false expectations, administration exploitation its worth. Think about making classical music because you love it and you collaborate. Check out http://www.burlingtonensemble.com and Facebook.burlington.ensemble for a Bermont based solution. Wake up.

    • I’d rather read a tone-deaf, anti-union blog than a tacky, shameless plug disguised as a condescending “wake up” call for musicians who haven’t yet priced themselves out of an existence. We listened to the clips; you, sir, are no San Francisco Symphony.

      • My solutions offered via the the Vermont based Burlington Ensemble to present and perform classical music are working and evidenced based. Take another look at our programs to see clear examples of high quality music making and ideas that do celebrate music and musicians and not enable not-profit management. The business model used by non-profit symphonies does not work effectively or efficiently and therefore we do not seek to be like them.

  89. So people do not understand that you guys are one of the best orchestra’s in this country and you should be rewarded for that plus you have to live in the expensive city of San Francisco so how can you play if you do not earn enough

  90. The Louisiana Philharmonic is not a per service orchestra. In fact, it is the only full time self governed orchestra in the US.

  91. Excellent rebuff. Thank you for helping the public understand that a musicians work is both on the stage and off (more off than on I might add).

  92. This is the best article in favor of the musicians that I have read. It’s a shame that people don’t realize that the musicians of the San Francisco symphony are among the top 1 % of our field, much like top doctors or lawyers. Bravo! :)

  93. My wife is a professional cellist in a professional symphony. She and her co-workers work their asses off to provide our state with quality music entertainment. Thank you for writing this Brian. That woman has no clue and has no business calling herself a journalist. I am a professional journalist by the way and I call BS on her!! I deserve a Pulitzer a hell of a lot more than she does!

  94. I appreciate the addition of the replacement refs “toucherception” play, comparing them with the high school second bassoon player trying to thinks that oompahs would make you a professional. And the rest of the article is dead-on. Thanks for writing!

  95. You and so many still just don’t get it, do you? In a capitalistic society like ours (even a socialist/capitalist like ours), there is NO meaning to how philosophically important or good or hard your job is. If enough people don’t buy your product, you will not survive. Period. End of story. Sports players make so much because SO many people pay to watch them, not because what they do is important. That is all that matters financially in our society.

    • And you have no idea how an orchestra is run. No orchestra runs on ticket sales alone. Didn’t you see the word “endowment” in the article. The music, created by the musicians, is the point for SFO’s existence. They are in charge of deciding what their labor is worth, and taking action to get compensated accordingly.

      • Seriously? Dabroski, you shameless self-promotion here just serves to denigrate you further. Give it up. This is about the poorly written article of a journalistic hack and about the SFO. It is not about you or your ensemble. Go buy an add on Google!

      • The topic of discussion involves the business of music. I am qualified to provide opinions about that with examples including my own work. I encourage other participants to identify artists and organizations as example. I propose a different classical business model that diffuses negative media such as this piece of journalism.

    • You conveniently ignore that fact that about 1/3 of sports teams lose money. (39 out of 122 in 2010/11.) Sports teams survive the same way orchestras survive… rich people willing to part with tons of money (orders of magnitude higher than orchestras) to prop up an unprofitable business. The difference is that sports teams are run as for-profit businesses, while orchestras are explicitly non-profit.

      • ..and don’t forget that the taxpayers are usually on the hook for the “Sports Performance Venues”, aka, Stadiums. Professional sports are maybe THE most subsidized entertainment form in the US, and to make, as so many people do, the Pro sports/Arts comparison only serves to beg the question as to which one of them, in a truly free market, really deserves exist.

  96. Thank you. A wonderful article. You were quite kind to Manuela Hoelterhoff, who has written a number of articles/reviews I would term vitriolic, bitter, and less-than-informed n recent years.

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