Monday, February 14, 2011

We're Paid to Perform!

My sister, Anna, plays in a US symphony orchestra and has been involved, heavily, in the negotiation process on the player's side for several years. I sent Tony Woodcock's blog post (by way of Greg Sandow) to her and she responded by saying that the changes suggested by management scare a great many musicians in orchestras.  She pointed out the DSO player's blog which includes a piece by Doug Cornelson called "Defining 'Redefining'".  In it, there's a short passage that captures much of why players are objecting to changes:

"Just as the term “right to work,” is a falsely righteous euphemism for weakening the protective power of unions in the workplace, so the term, “redefining the symphony orchestra,” is a deceptively misleading description for contractually requiring orchestral musicians to do additional work -- and often work for which they were not trained -- for a salary traditionally paid for orchestral performance only."

It's pretty clear that neither side trusts the other one iota, and those feelings may be well-founded on previous experiences, but the problem is broader.  Yes, I agree that the "traditional" goal of remuneration was for performance only, but symphonies can't survive like that anymore.  I hear two messages:

The board and management are saying:  We need to use you for more than just music or we won't survive.  We can't define exactly for what we will use you, because we don't know what will work!  It's a brand new world out there and we're going to try a lot of different things before we find the right solution.  If we give you the right to individually turn down these jobs, nothing will happen, ever.  (Veto powers in a 70-person group?)  So you'll just have to trust us.

The players are saying:  We don't trust you.  You've shown us that we shouldn't trust you.  So we want to be able to turn down extra services that aren't for just playing (although the DSO musicians are objecting to playing as well).  Plus, we're musicians, and our job is to play music, not to do speeches on music, radio appearances without our instruments, video editing, blog posts, tweets, or anything else.  Just play.

I have to admit that I sympathize with the board here.  I agree that many boards and management groups have mis-used musicians in the past and will continue to do so in the future.  However, until all or most musicians step up and realise that their job entails playing but is not just playing, will orchestras succeed.  Police officers don't just drive around in cars and catch bad guys, they do paperwork and appear in court as well.  Besides, the more effective the musicians are in every aspect of the management and promotion of the orchestra, the less successful attempts to misuse them will become.

1 comment:

  1. More reading and reviewing done here....

    Of course, this is a simplified expression of what's going on. My impression is that there is a general trend towards poor management in good times by boards and staff that leads to real trouble when bust times arrive. But, this trend is accompanied by a general (but not all-encompassing) unwillingness by musicians to move towards a more generalized understanding of the business of music.