The musicians of the Hartford Symphony took a very difficult vote last Sunday night, after a lengthy but collegial discussion. The result was ratification of management’s “best and final” offer, which includes very significant pay cuts for the Core musicians. The entire package was a 38% reduction in musician compensation.
Musicians in Hartford are closely watching developments in Fort Worth, and truly hope that our actions are not interpreted to mean anything other than a response to the particular situation we find ourselves in here in Hartford.
Doug Fisher, bassoonist with the Columbus Symphony and President of local 103, addressed just this issue in a recent post to Orchestra-l, ICSOM’s listserve:
Having been at the front lines in Columbus when our orchestra found itself in situations similar to what the Hartford musicians faced, there is nothing worse after weeks and months of fighting than ultimately facing two terrible choices. One is to negotiate the best deal possible under the worst financial conditions and accept massive cuts. The other is to refuse the cuts with the knowledge that it will likely mean the permanent dissolution of the orchestra. In Columbus the majority of musicians chose the first for many good and valid reasons. But if instead we had refused, and the orchestra subsequently folded, that would have been an equally valid choice for many good reasons. I don’t believe there is a “right” choice because the consequences either way are devastating. Most readers of this list have never been in these terrible circumstances. Unless you have, it’s impossible to know what it’s like, or what you would do. I understand and support the decision of the Hartford musicians and wish them all the best as they recover from this long battle.
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra has managed to pull itself back from the edge, and for that there should be quiet thanks, as opposed to loud rejoicing.
This is not the right moment for rejoicing, because there is still so much to do.
I want to place on the table a few of the many questions this organization faces, now that it has gotten its eleventh-hour reprieve.
But first I want to salute the musicians of the orchestra for making what I know was an agonizing decision: to willfully accept pay cuts – in some cases of more than 30 percent – in order to keep the HSO alive.
The cuts were so severe, and the problems that led to them so clearly not of the players’ making, that some of the musicians must have been secretly tempted to invite the HSO brass to take their final offer and place it, as the late Dizzy Dean used to say, where the sun don’t shine.
But instead they took the high road, and for that the entire greater Hartford community should be grateful. The musicians can walk onto the stage with their heads held high.
I also want to salute music director Carolyn Kuan for declaring, last week, that she would voluntarily reduce her pay “commensurately” with the players. What that means exactly in terms of dollars and cents hasn’t been clarified, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she felt honor-bound to share in the pain that was being visited on her colleagues. Just for the record, she was evidently alone among management figures in feeling that obligation.
But now on to the future.
Media: Kudos for covering the contract dispute so thoroughly. Now, with similar zeal, make a point of covering the orchestra’s actual musical activities.
Companies and businesses: I know a lot of you tend to do your arts giving through the Arts Council and other vehicles. But the HSO is sort of a special case. Look for ways to help. Buy some subscriptions and give them to employees or clients. CEOs and high-level execs – your names should be high up on the printed donor list, don’t you think?
I know you don’t want to be living and doing business in a city that doesn’t have a topnotch professional symphony orchestra.
In fact, if the past few months have demonstrated anything, it’s that none of us do.