Another principal flute says men are paid 28 percent more

Another principal flute says men are paid 28 percent more


norman lebrecht

July 05, 2018

Brook Ellen Ferguson, principal flute of the Colorado Symphony, has picked up the baton from Elizabeth Rowe of the Boston Symphony, demonstrating that women wind principals are paid a lot less than men.

Brook has posted a recent decision by the National Labour Relations Board, ruling on her complaint that she was ‘underpaid compared to male musicians in similar positions,’ and this by a factor of 28 percent.

She alleged that the Symphony had been paying her less than her male colleagues on the principal woodwind block since she started with the Symphony in 2010; that the Symphony’s most-recent final offer in 2016 did not bring her up to the level of her male peers and was conditioned on waiving her legal equal-pay claims; and that she believed the Symphony was discriminating against her because of her sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act.

The Colorado Symphony refused to provide details her fellow-principals’ wages. It has now been ordered by the NLRB to do so. What follows should be of universal interest. ‘This is not an isolated experience,’ Brook tells us. ‘It is rampant.’

UPDATE: Brook tells us that since the NLRB ruling, the Colorado Symphony has made efforts to remedy the disparity. However, she is still paid quite a bit less than several musicians in the woodwinds and brass sections.

The other point worth underlining is that the precedent-setting NLRB ruling has given every musician in the US the means to demand fair play from those who fix their wages.

Here’s the full NLRB ruling.


  • Anon says:

    I honestly believe it’s more supply and demand related than it is gender related. Good flute players are a dime a dozen. And most of them are women. Do the math.

    • Michael Comins says:

      BS! – as a regular Juilliard concert attendee and patron, I note that fine flute AND oboe players seem to be equal in numbers. That the oboe sounds the “A” is the result of the instrument’s pitch stability and has nothing to do with its player’s musical ability.

      When it comes to a flutist’s capability, repertoire solos such as found in Daphnis separate the wheat from the chaff. A superb principal flutist is just as indispensable to an orchestra as an equally superb oboist.

      • Tutti Flutie says:

        My dear we all know Daphnis and if we don’t play it well we practice it until we can. It’s expected, and at a very high level of any aspiring or non aspiring pro flutist. There is no doubt that a princ flute is just as important as a princ oboe. But there are more qualified flutists on the market than oboes and most of us are women.

      • Mindy Kaufman says:

        Totally agree Michael!

      • Anon says:

        Michael, nothing was said here about why the oboe gives the A. Of course it’s because of the instrument and not the player. That’s common knowledge.

        Nothing was said also about about the indispensiblity of superb flutes vs. superb oboes. They are both essential to a good orchestra.

        The point being made is that there are more superb flutes than superb oboes out there looking for superb jobs. This is why Boston had to go looking for a Principal Oboe and had to negotiate John Ferrillo away from the MET by offering him a competitive salary rather than just have an open audition.

        WIth flute, they just held an open audition, which Elizabeth Rowe, a fine player won. They didn’t have to negotiate her away from another top paying position.

        This is most likely why there’s the pay discrepancy between BSO’s Principal Flute and Oboe. It’s supply and demand.

        • MK says:

          The BSO held auditions for principal flute for 10 years, so it was not easy to fill with just one audition.

          • Anon says:

            True, but a lot went on during those 10 years that didn’t have to do with there not
            being qualified candidates.

            Jaques Zoon was certainly qualified, but for whatever reasons he left. Marianne Gedigian occupied the seat much to the satisfaction of her colleagues but from what I understand there was not a consensus between mgt. and the players on her appointment.

            So yes, there was a 10 year gap, but it wasn’t because there weren’t qualified players.

  • Tutti Flutie says:

    Reminds of a situation many years ago, when a colleague, a fine African American flutist, was applying for a grant for minority musicians.

    A mutual friend, who happens to hold a top US flute position, exclaimed “Dear, you’re not a minority. You’re a flutist!” And so it goes. . .

    • John Borstlap says:

      I have always been a minority. If there were many more of me, I would have been eligible for grants. (For composers, grants are only awarded for members of hughe majorities.)

  • anon says:

    Honestly, I think orchestras would love to put in place equal pay and lockstep salary!

    Management: “Mr. Principal Horn, we would love to pay you an extra $15,000 as you requested, but if we paid you that, the law requires that we pay everyone that, you wouldn’t want to be known as the one that made the orchestra go bankrupt, would you? Plus, it would disrupt the harmony that exists among your colleagues, if only you got more, and you wouldn’t want that either, would you?”

  • Caravaggio says:

    Excellent. Exposing the abuse of salary inequality time and again is the only way forward.

    • Doug says:

      That’s right! Equality of outcome, not opportunity! Smash the patriarchy!

      Hey, wait a minute, why am I not principal oboe of the Boston Symphony? I demand reparations!

  • anon says:

    If orchestras want to keep the merit system, they should follow the university hierarchical endowed chair system.

    Endowed chairs are what makes extra pay possible, based on merit (or fame or market competition). But at universities, there is a hierarchy of endowed chairs, such that, at Yale, the highest endowed chairs are the Sterling Professors, at Chicago and Harvard, they are the University Professors, and if no one is worthy of the highest chair, it simply remains empty. Some committee made up of the president, the provost, the dean, the department chairperson, other top professors, choose the holders of these top chairs.

    Right now, orchestras have endowed chairs for all principal positions, but the chairs are not hierarchical. If Boston thinks that its principal oboe is a better musician than other principals, Boston could reward its principal oboe player simply by appointing him to some “Sterling” Chair. Then the principal flute can’t complain.

  • COSO Supporter says:

    Norman: Look more closely at the Colorado tax filings (form 990). Those are NOT the highest paid musicians. Those musicians are listed because they are musician members of the Colorado Symphony Board of Directors. Did you really think that third horn and a section bassist would top their list? Do you research.

  • Doug says:

    Anyone ever stop to think that some nefarious Fifth Column agent has planted a bad seed to spread among orchestras now to bring them closer to their demise?

    Haven’t I said here on this pages countless times that leftism will eventually destroy classical music? And you chuckle.

    Remember, you read it here first.

    • Tamino says:

      Not every problem is a nail that needs your one monotonous stupid hammer.

      • Bruce says:

        Give Doug some credit. I think this is the first post of his I’ve ever seen that actually has anything to do with music (or with the topic at hand). Maybe it’s the beginning of a trend.

  • Tamino says:

    I believe the fact that I’m a man and not a woman is pure discrimination. Who can I sue?

    • The View from America says:

      God, I guess.

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Your father. Fathers determine the baby’s gender…

      • Bill says:

        A father provides the determining genetic material, but the mother supplies the arena (usually) in which the competition to fertilize takes place. How do we know that she didn’t have her thumb on the scale?

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Tuba players need more money because we’re huge equipment junkies. Several CC tubas, maybe a BBb, a good F or Eb tuba, cimbasso, Bb euhphonium or tenor tuba. You name it – we’ll buy it.

    • Bruce says:

      Hahaha — our tuba player probably has all those things. I have seen him play a serpent and an ophicleide. (Midsummer Night’s Dream: so much more than just an audition excerpt 😛 )

  • BAWest says:

    In response to ‘a principal flutist should get paid less than a principal oboist because there is more of a supply, therefore, less of a demand’..if you’re going to base it on an economic theory, why are CEOs’ salaries so incredibly high ? There are PLENTY of people prepared, available and READY. waiting for those spots !!!!..
    Another thought based on the higher number of available flutists..considering the competition is much higher and harder for flutists, chances are, any orchestra is getting a better qualified flutist than oboist, because of the lesser competitive need in the field of oboe playing.
    ALWAYS pay the Prinicipal Flutist MORE than the principal oboist..the should be THE PRINCIPLE !!!!

  • Sharon says:

    As a non musician I am confused about this. I was under the assumption that most musicians were unionized.

    If that is the case, they should have a contract that covers the whole orchestra that says that a person who has job title A should earn X and should earn X+Y for each year or two years of seniority and experience. Extra work such as extra performances etc would earn a musician Z depending on the job title and seniority.

    There used to be something in the women’s rights movement that one does not hear too much about anymore–equal pay for equivalent work. For ex. a skilled secretary should make as much as a skilled electrician if the skill levels and educational levels are roughly equal.

    The idea was that if women’s wages were lower at equivalent skill and educational levels it was because there was a greater supply of women because women were limited to a few job titles whereas men had more options at the same skill and educational levels.

    When I was in graduate school there was an institute at my university that was largely concerned with these questions and trying to determine what the equal pay would be for various equivalent jobs.

    Can we say that, since most professional musicians take up their instruments as kids, that girls in high school and younger are funneled into flutes and discouraged from other instruments, while boys are more likely to have more choices? I don’t know.

    Negotiations in a union shop should be collective, not between the individual musician and management. Or am I missing something?

    • M2N2K says:

      You are. Unions in US orchestras negotiate minimums. Managements are free to pay more to whomever they wish.

  • Manny says:

    Flutists are full of hot air. Oboists play under constant pressure. Flute solos are mostly decorative. Most flutists lack guts. But I will grant them this, they are more important than clarinetists. Why aren’t the bassoonists complaining, too? Perhaps they’re not sober enough. If flutists were all so wonderful, there would be more than a handful of great ones the world over, but there are not. They all seem to suffer from overly grand self-opinions.

  • Mike Barbour says:

    Just makes me sick! Whether you are Male or Female has NOTHING to do with how you play! The good old boys need to die already that are propounding this disparity! Absolutely intolerable!!!

  • barry guerrero says:

    “But I will grant them this, they (flutes) are more important than clarinetists”


    Mozart might have had to say about that.

    • barry guerrero says:

      Mozart might have had SOMETHING to say about that.

      I wish we could edit our posts here (or at least have a preview).

      • davidrmoran says:

        Huh? Mozart’s pieces for clarinet are sublime and substantial, for flute quite the opposite, even flutists admit that.

  • drld1956 says:

    Are all of the Men of the Symphony paid the same?

  • db says:

    Sounds like a typical American problem. Here in Europe (in civilised countries at least), musicians’ salaries are based on collective bargaining agreements, fixing the amount of their pay in relation to their position and seniority. Puts everybody into agreement, prevents discrimination and the kind of idiotic market rhetoric that always creeps up in this kind of debate. Market values are good for selling stuff, not for playing out people against each other who should be working in harmony within the same body.

    It’s just that conductors are overpaid, like anywhere else. (But thanks to Uncle Sam for that as well.)

    • Bill says:

      US salaries for orchestral musicians are typically negotiated by the union in the form of a Collective Bargaining Agreemet (CBA) which sets the work rules, pay, etc. But some members of the orchestra (principals, most usually) are able to negotiate “overscale” pay agreements, solo appearances with the orchestra, etc. which can add substantially to their net compensation. Otherwise, rank-and-file members with equal seniority make the same (discounting any benefits which may vary from player to player – instrument insurance or health care insurance costs being two examples).