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Exclusive: How Fort Worth Symphony put me on the breadline

September 18, 2016 by norman lebrecht

47 comments.


The orchestra has proposed cuts to its players’ wages. The musicians have gone on strike. Behind the rhetoric are the worsening lives of real people, family people, who struggle to make ends meet in a rich city that has lost the will to listen. Here is a firsthand account from one of the musicians. Her anonymity has been protected.

 

anonymous-musician

 

Mine is the Great American Immigrant Story.  Music and marriage allowed me to leave my home country, and brought me to the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  An audition for a position in the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) was announced, and I won the job!  This salaried position actually made me the primary breadwinner, which gave me a deep sense of pride.

I joined the FWSO, perhaps in its salad days.  The Music Director, John Giordano and President, Ann Koonsman, had big dreams to give Fort Worth a “real” orchestra; so they were raising enough money to increase the number of salaried musicians.  They were taking the orchestra on international tours to China and Spain.  They were actively (and successfully) building the symphony’s “family” of audience members and supporters.

My spouse and I had two children.  Unfortunately, we divorced a few years later, and I became a single parent, financially responsible for my children.

The issue of health insurance was always a family problem.  The FWSO only covered its employees, and my spouse was self-employed.  With family coverage costing as much as 40% of one’s salary, I was forced to look for dependent coverage elsewhere.  For many years, my children were covered through CHIP (for low income families), or weren’t covered at all.  All this despite a salaried position with the FWSO!

Classical musicians are highly-skilled, well-educated people.  The fact that their salaries don’t mirror those of other “professionals” doesn’t usually stop them from pursuing their chosen career.  As a parent, I knew that my children needed the best education I could afford.  I happily sacrificed everything I had to send my children to one of the best private schools in Fort Worth, thanks to financial aid from the school.

I was intent on raising my children well, but always had limited funds, so I had to get creative.  My oldest child received the Golden Hammer award from Habitat for Humanity for completing 350 volunteer hours.  The skills he learned came in handy.   He – and I – did many home repair projects on our own to save money.

The oldest child graduated from high school and entered college.  I had to carve those costs out of my FWSO salary of that time, while still raising another child at home.  I was appreciative that my salary was in the ballpark of $60,000 then.  (By that time, Bass Hall had been built.  A new music director had been hired.  The FWSO Board had committed to making us a 52-week orchestra with 72 musicians.)  Then my second child entered college.

I have always had the best interests at heart for my children, but my efforts came with a cost, albeit one I was happy to pay.  I carried balances on my credit cards as I tried to manage college payments, car, and house payments.  I never ate out, and I didn’t buy anything I didn’t really need.

Then 2008 happened.  The market crashed.  The FWSO started losing paid performance opportunities.  The FWSO contract negotiations in 2010 could only bring musician cuts.  And we took them – 13.5% (a reduction of 7 paid weeks).  Here I was, with one child still in college and another pursuing post-graduate work.

Since the cuts in 2010, I have managed.  My children are underemployed or paying off school loans, so I do what I can to financially support them as they pursue their own careers.

My parents, now in their 80’s and still in in my birth country, are poor and starting to have real health problems.  My children and I visit every year, and I send them money as well.

fort worth symphony

The proposed cuts of 2016 for the FWSO may seem inconsequential by itself.  Someone really can live on $50,000/year in North Texas in 2017, right?  Perhaps they can.  These days my salary covers all of my financial obligations, but I LIVE on what I make outside the symphony.  So, perhaps that question is just too simplistic.  When the Fort Worth household median income in 2014 was $59,530, my FWSO salary was almost $5,000 below that.  A 2017 salary of $50,000 only widens the gap.

How do these proposed additional cuts affect me?  How do I, a hard-working individual who financially helps my children and parents, manage to get ahead on $50,000/year?  I live and work day-to-day.  I am proud of what I have accomplished, but my story is not an unusual one.  I am not alone with the financial realities I have faced.  And I would make the same decisions if I had it to do it over again.  In the end though, I guess people just have different views on how much $5,000 really is to a person.

(c) Slipped Disc


Comments (47)

  1. mbhaz says:

    It’s going to be hard to generate a lot of sympathy for this situation. $50,000 per year isn’t that much below the average salary of Fort Worth, and when you consider that it isn’t a 40 hr/week, 52 week job, it’s a pretty good deal. Better than teachers make. It’s a shame that Americans by and large aren’t interested in the arts and that the orchestra’s product are more in demand, but that’s the way it is.

    1. music_montreal says:

      you are entitled to your opinions about what 50K a year represents vs the average. that is not the point. the point is management asking for cuts again after getting 13.5% concessions in 2010, in a city which has been thriving. the board and management have to do their job better, period.

      oh, and if 8 services a week doesn’t amount to 40 hours on stage, orchestra musicians typically have to do another 10-20 hours a week at home to prepare for the weeks ahead.

    2. Brian Brown says:

      Who says Americans aren’t interested in the arts and coming to concerts? Orchestras across are experiencing greater ticket sales, more exposure, and expanding audiences. They reach out to their communities like never before via educational outreach programs, family performances, innovative programming, and expert marketing. With a strong, collaborative team of visionaries, that’s the way it is. And there’s absolutely no reason at all why it can’t be even better in Fort Worth.

      As for your comments about it not being an 8-hour day, 52-week year, you probably know by now that there’s so much more to the job than the time spent on stage and in rehearsal. I would suggest finding a professional musician and asking them exactly how much time it takes every day to prepare themselves before ever setting foot in rehearsal. I’ll give you a hint: it starts when they’re about 9 years old.

    3. Melinda says:

      Thank you for bringing up the teachers. While comparing the two professions isn’t apples to oranges, you brought them up so let’s take a look.

      Here is the 2016-2017 salary schedule for a FWISD teacher. http://www.fwisd.org/files/_RdJYT_/292823c9f6d8ff953745a49013852ec4/2016-2017_teacher_salary_schedule_-_approved_at_6-28-2016_board_meeting.pdf

      As you can see, with a minimum of a Bachelors, a brand new FWISD instructor starts at over $50,000 per year. You’ll also notice that they receive incremental pay raises with each year they remain on the job – not so with FWSO as Management is trying to reduce salaries rather than raise them.

      Furthermore, these teachers’ salaries are based on 187 days of work, or only 37.4 weeks. FWSO was working 52 weeks in 2010. Now they work 46 weeks but still play over 200 concerts per year. Management is requesting to cut to 43 weeks while still playing the same amount of concerts.

      To give a bit of perspective, Dallas Symphony played 156 concerts in 52 weeks. FWSO Management’s proposal puts FWSO musicians’ salary at $40,000 below a Dallas musician’s.

      As anyone who has been or knows a teacher, teachers put in a lot of work in their off-time. So do the musicians. A symphony level musician has put in tens of thousands of hours before they even get a job. Once in the position, they put in 10-20+ hours each week in continuing practice on top of rehearsals and performing.

      “That’s the way it is” is the same defeatist attitude that the FWSO CEO has. She has been often quoted as saying that the organization was hit with circumstances beyond their control and there was nothing that can be done. This is a cynical and ridiculous way to run an organization. In art, business, and life, every last one of us is hit with things we can’t control. The difference is how we handle it. A true leader rises above, lets go of excuses, and makes it work. No matter what, a true leader adapts and continues to rise and push forward. A bad leader gives in to the excuses and gives up, as it appears that FWSO management continues to do. Organizations around the country and right here in Fort Worth are proving that the money is there and that overcoming unfortunate circumstances CAN be done.

      If everyone adopted the motto “that’s the way it is,” nothing would ever be done or innovated ever again. Thankfully not everyone sees things that way. The musicians know that better can be done. I do too.

      1. StillPissedOfInAtlanta says:

        +1 Well said!

  2. Andy says:

    Sol Hurok used to paraphrase Yogi Berra and say, “If people don’t want to come to concerts, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.”

    If the Fort Worth Symphony is supplying more than its audience demands, or is willing/able to pay for, then solutions are limited.

    This musician’s story is deeply compelling. But it isn’t unique, and isn’t limited to the orchestra industry. Union and administrative rhetorics notwithstanding, it’s audience and donor indifference to the concept of symphonic music in 2016 and beyond that is the culprit, and it would bode well if both sides realize the important part they both play in addressing such indifference. Picket lines, with musicians finally smiling at the public whose support they wish to acquire, are not the optimal approach in boosting confidence in the institution. And so patron and donor will erode further with each passing day.

    Detroit and Minneapolis bounced back, and Fort Worth can too, but only if they work beyond the considerations articulated by this musician, who doesn’t once mention her audience, the people who pay the money they have earned to hear her play, the community to which the FWSO owes its very existence. Her very personal perspective is understandable, but does is nevertheless imply that the orchestra exists to provide gainful employment to musicians, when it exists for so many, many more reasons to so many, many more people.

    1. Concerned Arts Lover says:

      You make it seem as if orchestras are on decline at large, when in fact, this year dozens of orchestras are seeing record-breaking growth in budgets and musician salaries, not only due to increased ticket sales but increased donor bases. The arts are very much alive and thriving in America right now, and so is Fort Worth’s economy. So it’s baffling how management has come to the conclusion that “there’s just no money in Fort Worth.”

      The real reason most of the musicians agreed OVERWHELMINGLY to a strike is not the nickels and dimes lost or gained. It’s that management has failed to do what they promised in 2010 and increase the budget and donor base, and now seems unwilling to share any sort of plan for future growth.
      With a management team who’s only solution to budget issues is slash and burn, the Symphony is starting to see an exodus of their top talent to more financially growth-minded institutions. At the same time, other highly talented musicians are not auditioning for those positions because of all the troubles with management. See the problem there? Fact of the matter is, if you want TOP talent and you want to keep them in the city, you have to pay a competitive wage, compared to other orchestras that they are qualified for. And FWSO management isn’t interested in having a world-class orchestra, it would seem, even though the growth in orchestras around the country suggests that everyone else in America is.

      The musicians are fighting in the language of nickels and dimes, but are fighting in spirit for the future of the orchestra, and the future of the arts. Cuts upon cuts will only lead to the death of the FWSO as we know it.

    2. Michele says:

      I’d say that you are absolutely right about supply vs. demand, but it seems that you are commenting on a situation you don’t know enough about. Ticket sales are up in Fort Worth, their annual Concerts in the Garden summer event had a record-breaking year in 2016, and paid performances that were lost in the recession have returned. Tarrant County is one of the fastest growing areas of the country, with an economic increase of 32% since 2010. But, the organization is looking for its 5th VP of Development in as many years. There hasn’t been an endowment campaign since 2000. Their budget has been stagnant or in decline for a decade. Musicians have no confidence that these cuts won’t just lead to more.

      As to garnering public support, you obviously haven’t been to a FWSO concert in the last five or six years. Otherwise you would have had the opportunity to meet and visit with the musicians after Sunday matinees at the old Barnes and Noble bookstore coffee shop. You would have had a chance to eat a piece of candy and visit with a musician before almost every Bass Hall concert. You would have been invited to join us for free musician-organized benefit concerts to raise money for local charitable projects, or you would have been invited to come and enjoy dinner at local restaurants while FWSO musicians performed chamber music for its audience members. Please don’t imply that the FWSO Musicians aren’t fully aware of why they exist – because of their audience. The picket lines are not fun for anyone, but the Management backed the musicians into a corner, by offering a Last, Best, and Final offer (after 15 months of negotiation) that had no provisions for how the business might improve. Just cuts.
      This musician has fully admitted that their situation is not unusual, nor you notice, are they complaining. They are just stating what their reality is living on an FWSO salary. This musician has been an integral part of the Fort Worth community for almost 30 years – owning a home, raising children, providing beautiful music in worship services and weddings, and teaching generations of children. I think FWSO musicians exist for so many, many more reasons to so many, many more people.

      1. Andy says:

        ‘Twas not I who initially indicated that there is a supply and demand situation. It was the third sentence of Mr. Lebrecht’s introduction, when he wrote of “a rich city that has lost the will to listen.”

        ‘Twas not I who implied that the musicians of the orchestra don’t understand the importance of their audience. I had just read a long and detailed article penned by a musician of the FWSO that included not a single word devoted to that vital relationship. Virtually every sentence, however, referenced money.

        I’m encouraged by Michele’s observation that FWSO ticket sales are up. But five directors of development in five years? In so wealthy a city? Perhaps Mr. Lebrecht should have written of ” a rich city that has lost the will to give”. Is the difficulty in fund-raising for a symphony orchestra during the ravaging economic climate of the past several years so surprising?

        As for the notion that the importance of the FWSO maintaining its compensation at certain levels in order to attract and retain the best available talent, well that’s been AFM mantra for decades. Keeping up with the Jonses has always been a trademark AFM strategy, for good reason: it ignores economic and political realities. Whether true or not, whether urban legend or documented fact, is not for me to say. I will say that the notion is belied by the author of the article, who does not seem inclined to audition elsewhere, and whose own interests seem to trump those of any musicians who may feel inclined to join the FWSO.

        I expect the author of the article appreciates the clarification you’ve both provided, and maybe also the deflections and posturings in which you’ve indulged on her behalf. Regardless, I’m taking her words at face value.

        1. Concerned Arts Lover says:

          The fact that there have been 5 development directors could mean a lot of things. You assume that they have quit because they had a hard time doing their jobs; raising money? I find that hard to believe, as the Fort Worth Opera just raised 1 million dollars in 3 months, exceeding its goal, and the Fort Worth area is experiencing economic growth of over 30%. If anything, it should be easy to raise money in this economy.

          No, what I think is far more likely is that these development directors are not being allowed to do their jobs, and so they take their talents elsewhere. Why else would management only have 2-4 staff members in the department, compared to the average of 7-9 in most other orchestras, if not because management refuses to look into new sources of income?

          1. Andy says:

            Goodness me, Concerned Arts Lover, you certainly are busy putting out the pesky brush fires being set by non-believers. Your AFM brethren will be so pleased.

            I assume nothing. I don’t know if the FWSO directors of development quit, or were fired, or died. As with most of your other posts, you’ve assigned words, perspectives and positions to the people to whom you respond, and then take issue with same. Also typical AFM strategy.

            Perhaps Mr. Lebrecht got it right after all, the people of Fort Worth have lost the will to listen, if not to the music made by the FWSO, then perhaps to the threadbare and tiresome rhetoric of their union.

  3. Linda Grace says:

    John Giordano would not have let this happen. May Ft.Worth figure this out, for the audience’s sake.

  4. Elene Gusch says:

    Our New Mexico Philharmonic members are lucky to get $15,000, let alone $50,000. Just sayin’. At least our orchestra is on a sound financial footing at this point, and those in charge are trying very carefully to keep it that way, because its last incarnation folded due to bad management, meaning pay for members was $0.

    I’m sorry that this orchestra is cutting pay. My pay as a health-care provider (reimbursement from insurers, that is) is being cut left and right, even though there is certainly no less demand for health care, and we are constantly being told that health care costs are going up (why are they going up when providers keep getting less?). It seems like it’s not even necessary for a business entity to have fewer customers in order to be paid less these days. It’s hard to understand.

    Fine musicians deserve excellent pay, not just-getting-by wages. Still, most of us here would be more than delighted to have $50,000 per year. That’s far more than most of our teachers make, for example. And it is gigantically more than almost any of our musicians are making. While it may be challenging to live on that amount in the Fort Worth area, it is hardly the “breadline,” especially when one also teaches private students and does other gigs.

    1. Concerned Arts Lover says:

      You’re right. $50,000 a year, especially if supplemented by other sources of income, can be a livable wage. That’s not really the issue here, though.

      When you see a cancer, you try to treat it early on, before it grows and consumes you. Your orchestra may be smaller than the FWSO and make less money, but it may also, in fact, be in a healthier place than FWSO. In time, your orchestra can grow, and that’s what the supporters of any arts organization give their money for. Management shows no interest in building the donor base, having another endowment campaign, or hiring development directors who are allowed to do their jobs. And that won’t change if the FWSO and its supporters sit idly by.

      Let’s put it another way. If you were a highly specialized doctor, and every other hospital were offering better wages and benefits, would you even send in an application to the Fort Worth hospital? Absolutely not. Over time, this hospital would only attract inexperienced doctors who, while capable of doing the basic work, aren’t who you’d want to go to for brain surgery.

      I’m painting with a broad stroke, of course, but the point is, cuts upon cuts upon cuts WILL lower the quality of the Symphony, and the fact of the matter is, donors who are used to hearing a 1st class orchestra don’t want to give their hard earned money to a second tier one. THAT is the death spiral that the musicians of the FWSO are trying to avoid before it’s too late.

    2. Ashley says:

      I’m sure you aren’t working 46 weeks for $15K…And if you are, perhaps you should strike, too!  🙂

      1. Truth. If you’re playing over 200 concerts in 46 weeks for only $15,000 then you should DEFINITELY do something about that. Talk about undervalued.

  5. To those who have brought up that $50,000 is more than a teacher makes – not so in Fort Worth. While comparing the two professions isn’t apples to oranges, the comparison has been brought up so let’s take a look.

    Here is the 2016-2017 salary schedule for a FWISD teacher. http://www.fwisd.org/files/_RdJYT_/292823c9f6d8ff953745a49013852ec4/2016-2017_teacher_salary_schedule_-_approved_at_6-28-2016_board_meeting.pdf

    As you can see, with a minimum of a Bachelors, a brand new FWISD instructor starts at $51,000 per year. You’ll also notice that they receive incremental pay raises with each year they remain on the job – not so with FWSO as Management is trying to reduce salaries rather than raise them.

    Furthermore, these teachers’ salaries are based on 187 days of work, or only 37.4 weeks. FWSO was working 52 weeks in 2010. Now they work 46 weeks but still play over 200 concerts per year. Management is requesting to cut to 43 weeks while still playing the same amount of concerts.

    To give a bit of perspective, Dallas Symphony played 156 concerts in 52 weeks. FWSO Management’s proposal puts FWSO musicians’ salary at $40,000 below a Dallas musician’s and $20,000 below the national average.

    As anyone who has been or knows a teacher, teachers put in a lot of work in their off-time. So do the musicians. A symphony level musician has put in tens of thousands of hours before they even get a job. Once in the position, they put in 10-20+ hours each week in continuing practice on top of rehearsals and performing.

    Whatever you feel for how “good” or “bad” a $50,000 salary is the bottom line is that it is well below what these talented musicians deserve and would earn at a better run symphony. Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra management is flat-out lazy and their insistence that the musicians need to bear the brunt of leadership’s incompetence is egregious and misguided.

    This isn’t the Fort Worth Way. Our city deserves better, and these talented musicians deserve FAR better.

  6. Bruce says:

    Ticket sales are not the biggest source of income for any orchestra, no matter how big. The point everyone seems to be missing (or at least not mentioning) is that the board’s job is to be fundraisers for the organization. Apparently the city, and by implication its wealthy class, has been doing well over the last several years. The musicians (correct me if I’m wrong) seem to be wondering why it’s increasingly hard to catch fish in an increasingly well-stocked pond.

    1. Exactly. Mercedes Bass is listed as giving over $1 million to the Aspen Music Festival – her ex-husband even more. This woman is the CHAIR of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, and she is directing her millions anywhere but this orchestra.
      I can well imagine the FWSO being afraid of her, but since she is apparently happily funding other organizations while the FWSO starves, maybe it’s time to cut the Bass family free.
      https://www.facebook.com/karen.houghton.357/posts/10157353573180486

  7. herrera says:

    A lot of recent conservatory graduates (or older unemployed musicians) would be more than happy to take the job for 45K.

    People talk about supply and demand on the audience side but not on the musician side. There is an great supply of excellent musicians dying to break into the job market.

    Why shouldn’t orchestras hold annual auditions for all positions to ensure that the best player is found and that everyone has an equal chance of getting the job?

    The writer assumes s/he *deserved* his/her position for the rest of his/her life, that natch, s/he was the best musician in the world for that position, and the only thing in dispute is how much s/he should be paid.

    We all have sad stories, out there is a poor musician whose mother is dying, whose children are starving, and who probably plays better than the author, but he can’t even apply, because the job market is closed.

    1. Brian Brown says:

      That’s an intriguing idea for a training orchestra. Perhaps you could start one of your own using that business model rather than suggest decimating a well-established organization that is well on its way to becoming a destination orchestra for top quality players. That would be much more constructive and beneficial in the long run.

      1. StillPissedOfInAtlanta says:

        I agree! +1

    2. Concerned Arts Lover says:

      The reason there aren’t auditions every year is simple: the same reason every other job doesn’t fire their staff every year and hold expensive interviews for every single position. Who would want to interview for a job that had absolutely no job security?

      Plus, it takes time to develop synchronicity with one’s fellow musicians. People will play better together with other people that they have played with for years. And there’s no way to develop a sense of orchestral identity or a unique cultural sound if the players change every year.

      You’re using the same argument that is used to move manufacturing jobs overseas. “Why aren’t you happy with minimum wage? Children in X country would kill to get paid half of what you do!” Fact is, a job is worth whatever we say it is, and the musicians of the FWSO, and many of their patrons, believe that musicians deserve to work in an orchestra that has a financial plan for growth. All of those musicians who would kill to work in the Symphony for 45K? They are better off overall when musicians fight for higher wages, because those that are, in fact, at the highest levels will receive the wages truly equivalent to their talent levels.

    3. Mark says:

      Why not have the Fort Worth Symphony management and Board re-apply for their posts annually, too? Wouldn’t this ensure the Fort Worth Symphony musicians an equal chance at the best leaders to move the organization forward amid a current climate of success at peer orchestras?

      Where is the evidence that the job market is closed when US orchestras hold auditions yearly for open positions and have done so for decades?

  8. Mary Kellogg says:

    Try living on a meager pension and Social Security. I was lucky to get $20 seats for the FWSO Pops Series.

    I suppose everyone sets their priorities.

  9. Wai kit leung says:

    I am just curious: are management and administrative staff’s salaries getting cut also?

    1. Anon says:

      The CEO’s salary is certainly not being cut. I believe that non administrative management staff, such as personnel managers and librarians, have had their health care premiums go up.

    2. Bruce says:

      I don’t know about the case with this specific orchestra, but it’s fairly common for management to take a pay cut as well (although it’s usually a smaller cut, taken from a larger salary).

      1. Eric says:

        With the disgusting vitriol being spewed by the CEO Adkins, I SERIOUSLY doubt ANYONE on the board is getting their pay or benefits reduced!!

        The board needs to realize they work FOR the Musicians!!! NOT the other way around.

        1. Andy says:

          Eric, you’re wrong wrong wrong. The board does NOT work for the musicians. Neither, for that matter, do administration and staff.

          The board is responsible for oversight of the organization, and is accountable to the community of Fort Worth.

          And the board is likely made up of volunteers who don’t earn any manner of salary and don’t get any benefits from the FWSO. They may get free sandwiches and pop at board meetings, but they are also probably required to donate a minimum amount to FWSO annually, and to buy their own tickets and subscriptions to FWSO performances. They “give” far more than they receive, in time, effort and resources.

          A question for you, Eric: To whom are the musicians accountable? Themselves? The AFM? The composers if the music they play? The people of Fort Worth?

          1. Eric says:

            Good question regarding the musicians accountability. And since you know SO much about the board and their responsibilities & lack of income, please enlighten us!

          2. Andy says:

            Ah, Eric, you’re just a wee complainer. I took you seriously, but that was a mistake.

            So continue fulminating; it’s always fun to have a floor show.

          3. Mark says:

            Sickening.

            If the Board and administration are accountable to the organization and the musicians are a vital component of the organization, then how can the Board and administration not be accountable to the musicians in some way?

            If the Board isn’t there on some minuscule level for the musicians, then what reasons do they have for being there? To feed secret addictions to soda and finger sandwiches? To study the wallpaper in a stuffy downtown conference room once a month? To stroke their egos that they’re “important” enough to sit on a community board?

            If it’s true that a FWSO Board member can give a seven-figure donation to a summer music festival but has been a party to demanding continuous musician cuts and withholding support for the home team, then why bother sitting on the FWSO Board?

            The musicians are accountable to the audiences that put their fannies in seats to hear them play. If they don’t perform at an acceptable level, they are removed. By the same token, the Board and administration are accountable to the organization, of which the musicians are a critical part. If the Executive Director and Board can’t get the job done and only have the strategy of cutting, cutting, cutting for six long years in light of successes around them, then they are hardly performing adequately and should be removed, too. That’s why the musicians are striking: they have no confidence in “leadership” that mistakenly believes they aren’t accountable in some way to the actual product they’re tasked with managing.

          4. Eric says:

            Ah Andy, spoken like a truly mindless, junior level corporate minion.

          5. Andy says:

            Mark, you didn’t read what I wrote, which was “the board is responsible for oversight of the organization, and is accountable to the community of Fort Worth”. I never wrote that the board was accountable to the organization; that would be a catch-22 dontcha know.

            Gracious me, people like to put words in my mouth and then argue with themselves.

            No, it’s you who have written that the board is accountable to the organization. Which is wrong. If the board is accountable to the community, then so is the organization, and so are the musicians, unless their special status makes them somehow untouchable.

            The board does not work FOR the musicians, as Eric believes and about which he fulminates and complains.

            If the community of Fort Worth decides it’s no longer interested in maintaining an orchestra, we’re back to Mr Lebrecht’s initial comment, which was “a city that has lost the will to listen”, which I believe more and more as I read the comments in this string.

          6. Mark says:

            “Mark, you didn’t read what I wrote, which was “the board is responsible for oversight of the organization, and is accountable to the community of Fort Worth”. I never wrote that the board was accountable to the organization; that would be a catch-22 dontcha know.”

            Hey Andy:
            Being accountable for the oversight of an organization but not being accountable to the organization itself isn’t a paradoxical Catch-22. It’s a laughable splitting-of-hairs to try and absolve a non-profit board of any responsibility to the people in the organization they manage. In short, it’s the viewpoint of people who have no business being on such a board.

            But, to reply using a viewpoint you’re trying to further: the musicians and their supporters, i.e., “members of the community of Fort Worth,” are informing the Board that their “accountability for the oversight of the organization” (but not the organization itself, according to you) stinks.

            “No, it’s you who have written that the board is accountable to the organization. Which is wrong. If the board is accountable to the community, then so is the organization, and so are the musicians, unless their special status makes them somehow untouchable.”

            As I’ve just pointed out using your own laughable parsing of words, it’s not wrong, and if that’s the way the non-profit board members think, then get off the board. They don’t operate in a vacuum, nor do they have their names randomly drawn from a hat or via Anonymous Non-Profit Board Duty Roulette. They aren’t there under duress, sending letters of captivity to their families. They chose to be there, they chose to serve on a non-profit board, which very much makes them accountable to that particular organization, not just the “oversight” of the organization, as you wish to claim. Otherwise, why are they there at all?

            But, back to accountability of the “oversight’ (only) of the organization, since that’s what matters to you. The FWSO Board is being called upon specifically to be accountable for its oversight, which has failed to grow the organization in six long years, has demanded more musician cuts despite a sizable musician cut already, has very curiously not demanded the same cuts to administration, staff, or stagehands (the latter successfully renegotiated their agreement and took no cuts…), and all this with other non-profit/arts organizations in Fort Worth and across the country showing clear success with (the oversight of) their organizations. Doesn’t add up; or, to speak in your terms, the Board’s oversight of the organization is questionable and in need of accountability. Doesn’t make any sense that the only solution they can come up with for “responsible oversight,” with many options at their disposable, is more musician cuts.

            The musicians are accountable to the audiences of community members by being expected to play at their highest level all the time. That’s what is assessed when they audition for their positions and what is assessed on a daily basis after they get their positions.

            Funny that you mention special status, though. I wouldn’t describe being a musician in an orchestra with targeted cuts over six years as having, or being/feeling deserving of, “special status” or being “untouchable.” I definitely would, however, describe a Board Chairwoman who demands cuts only of musicians while simultaneously giving huge sums to out-of-state arts groups as “special status” and “untouchable.” Sounds like a “let them eat cake” scenario (again, why serve if she’s not going to display better commitment to her home team, as she clearly has to Aspen and New York City? She certainly doesn’t have to give a million dollars to FW; hardly, but she has reportedly withheld support in FW and is claiming hardship there while giving generously and conspicuously elsewhere at the same time). Same for a local paper that chooses to print only the Board side of an issue in an editorial without disclosing its direct tie to that Board; sounds pretty “special status” and “untouchable” when you use a public forum at your particular disposal to sway community opinion towards your side of an issue.

            “The board does not work FOR the musicians, as Eric believes and about which he fulminates and complains.”
            Well, then LEAVE the non-profit board if you aren’t there even on some tiny level for the organization itself. No one’s forcing you to be there, after all. Preposterous ideology.

            “If the community of Fort Worth decides it’s no longer interested in maintaining an orchestra, we’re back to Mr Lebrecht’s initial comment, which was “a city that has lost the will to listen”, which I believe more and more as I read the comments in this string.”

            Interesting: as of this writing, it seems like more people are for the musicians than the Board on this string, but I digress…. FWSO’s own administration has said ticket sales were up, so that’s hardly a sign that the community doesn’t want to listen. But by all means “believe more and more” whatever you want; your comments show you do that enough already.

            Oh: to make sure I don’t misread any more of your musings, I’ll be sure to avoid reading any more in the future.

          7. Andy says:

            What a fine manifesto. So many words! How proud you must be. And no doubt your union brethren will be mightily impressed.

            I’ll be brief. The board works for the benefit of the community. So does the organization. And the musicians. The community created the orchestra, and they can abandon it. If the musicians think that the board and administration work for the musicians, and that the musicians are entitled to community support, they’re mad as hatters.

            Will the community show some love and pay more (a lot more) for tickets to listen to the orchestra so the musicians can all get their raises? I suppose it depends on whether they themselves have earned raises, or if their investments have been flourishing, or if they’ve even kept their jobs through the last 8 years.

            And that’s the bottom line, not the AFM perspective (through the looking glass).

            Good luck and good night (if anyone is even still reading this thread).

          8. Sam says:

            And in one fell swoop you have discredited yourself, Andy. Pay more for tickets? Is that what you think the problem is? That the Symphony isn’t making enough revenue on ticket sales?

            This isn’t Kanye or the Circ de Soleil tour. This is an orchestra, and ticket sales don’t even come close to filling out the budget. That goes for every orchestra, ballet, and opera in the world, by the way. That’s where endowments and patron donors come in. The problem with the FWSO isn’t ticket sales; it’s the other sources of revenue that they aren’t curating.

          9. Andy says:

            And so the city HAS lost its will to listen. Blame the board all you wish, but the board IS the community.

            Returning to the article and the author, what shines through her sad story is a magnificent and oblivious sense of entitlement. What shines through in the comments from her union comrades is a remarkable (and ironic) tone deafness. Mark has even taken a philanthropist to task for her temerity in donating to an organization other than the FWSO for gawdsake.

            You state the obvious (at least to readers of this blog): Ticket sales don’t account for more than a slice of orchestral income. And so I’ll state the obvious as well: the people of Fort Worth don’t think their orchestra is worth more, whether in ticket purchases, or donations, or bequests, or sponsorships. The community that created the orchestra no longer wants to continue feeding their little beast. The musicians and their union blindly focus on the board and administration, assigning blame, ignoring the real reason behind their predicament: the community has not only lost interest, but also that the orchestra is not as valued as the musicians believe it is and should be.

          10. Sam says:

            Mark, you act as if community interest isn’t directly tied to community knowledge. How many people even know that they CAN donate to an arts organization? And don’t misconstrue my meaning: I’m sure most people are aware generally that there are several organizations in every city worth donating to, but if that organization isn’t staring you in the face, asking for donations, do you really think anyone would donate? Who just wakes up one day and decides to break their daily routing by randomly giving money to the first organization they find?

            That’s why union members are calling upon the board and management to rectify this situation: it takes outreach to CULTIVATE community interest in ANY organization. It’s no different from how for profit companies need advertising in order to sell their products to a wider audience.

            It’s not that the community has stopped caring, it’s that no one is asking them to care.

    3. Mark says:

      The Atlanta Symphony musicians were told they must agree to deep cuts for the viability of the organization. The musicians pointed out the administration had as many staff members as musicians (almost 85). The musicians (reasonably) countered for management to take the same deep cuts demanded of the musicians. The Atlanta administration and Board resultantly locked out their musicians for weeks.

      Has the Fort Worth administration demanded guest artists reduce their fees since they only play one piece of music and are in town only for a single weekend? Are they informing the guest artists they will be flown in Economy and must stay in cheaper accommodations? Is the administration increasing the Music Director’s conducting weeks during the season but keeping the salary the same? Is the administration demanding that the stage crew work for much less? Is the administration petitioning the hall owner for lower rent, on the basis that the orchestra deserves a discount for being the primary tenant and books a majority of weeks each year? Will Executive Director compensation be reduced by the same amount demanded of the musicians?

      Isn’t it disingenuous to claim hardship while failing to exhaust every avenue of cost-cutting?

      The tired, early-decade “solution” of repeated musician cuts, a now-public expression of “No Confidence” by frustrated striking musicians, and current financial success stories from comparable orchestras points squarely towards ineffective FWSO leadership.

    4. Wai kit leung says:

      I think the management’s demand for a pay cut would have been more convincing if they were to lead by example and take one themselves first.

      A bit like an overweight family doctor asking a patient to lose weight …

  10. Rigoletta says:

    No sympathy from me for this story. I see an attitude of entitlement from someone who was not even born in the US. For every ungrateful immigrant, there are thousands of equally or better qualified US born musicians waiting for a job like this, especially one that pays $50K.

    How many foreign born musicians do you see in UK orchestras? Practically none. Because the UK gives preference to its own citizens in this highly competitive job market. The US has opened its doors to everyone, often marginalizing its own well-qualified grads to make room for whining, entitled foreign employees like this one.

    I am a US born orchestra player with a MM from a top conservatory and I was obliged to seek employment outside the US, where I work for HALF of what this woman makes with exactly the same family responsibilities, because of the shortage of orch. jobs in the US. Many of these jobs are occupied by non US citizens, like this whining, entitled complainer.

    Is this the face of the Fort Worth Symph. musicians? If so, I have no sympathy.

    1. Wai kit leung says:

      There are many foreign musicians in UK orchestras. There are a couple of Frenchmen as principal oboes, for example.

    2. Joe Shmoe says:

      Rigoletta, you do understand the irony of complaining about foreigners taking good US jobs when you yourself are taking your job as a foreigner, right?

      You act as if orchestras just GIVE these jobs out to whoever they want, when in fact every single person in every orchestra had to audition for their job. They won because on that particular day, they received a majority vote and were ostensibly the best player who applied and auditioned for the job. So no, foreigners aren’t “taking” US orchestral jobs; they’re WINNING them. If US citizens want them, they can produce more competitive musicians.

      Surely you understand, with your work situation, how difficult it is to maintain a foreign artist visa. I have several foreign friends who are trying to stay in the US as musicians and all they ever talk about is how scared they are that they won’t win a job in time before being deported/not getting a visa renewal. Perhaps it’s this pressure to succeed that pushes them to practice harder than our own home grown musicians.

      Also, Rigoletta, I’m sorry that your financial situation is tough. I’m sorry for your frustration in not being able to get one of the extremely scarce orchestral jobs in your home country. But if anyone is entitled here, it’s you. You seem to think that if someone makes more money than you, then you deserve to not have to feel sorry for them. Okay, well then, we can extrapolate that feeling backwards. Let’s go down the rabbit hole of complaining! Perhaps I could say that you don’t deserve to complain about your financial situation because at least you HAVE an orchestral job, unlike the thousands of college graduates who are shouldering massive student loan debt. Or that you don’t deserve to complain because there are starving children in “blank” country! There are diseases that needed to be researched and instead you chose music. Etc etc. Fact is, EVERYONE has the right to defend their livelihood, and even the richest citizens have money issues. “Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” as the saying goes. So while pointing the finger at someone who makes more money than you may feel cathartic, it is ultimately self-defeating.

      So while I completely agree that there are WAY more qualified musicians than there are jobs, and that perhaps something should be done about that, you seem to think that the FWSO should have just “manned up” and took the cuts without complaining.

      If you want more job opportunities for qualified musicians, without lowering the standard for the arts, what we need is pressure on managements everywhere for growth, not cuts. Because continually cutting orchestra salaries will only lead to a reduction of quality and, consequently, a reduction of people interested in donating to the arts. Less donors, less orchestral jobs. Plain and simple. You think that people who aren’t winning jobs now will win them if things become even MORE competitive? All it will do is force the most qualified musicians to work for less than they are making now.

      Proof: I’ve never advanced in auditions where the pay was above $90K, but have frequently advanced in auditions where the pay was $30-60K. Fact is, higher pay attracts better musicians. And I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to admit that my playing is not worth $90K+ YET. You, on the other hand, can’t seem to come to terms with that fact. Perhaps you were cheated in all your auditions. Perhaps not. But if you never won an audition here in the US, don’t blame foreigners, blame yourself.

  11. Derek says:

    Am I understanding correctly? This person put their kids through private schools, paid for college, and is giving them handouts as adults, and travels internationally every year? And the argument is that they’re not paid fairly?

  12. Arts Supporter2 says:

    If the nightly news was : news, arts and weather — this would be less of a problem. And those sports organizations (in the news, sports and weather) would be in the same boat as the musicians are today.


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