Virtual Discussion Panel
:: Driving for Dollars
:: 2/4/2019 - 2/15/2008

Welcome to day 2 of our Virtual Discussion "Driving for Dollars". If you've missed the previous days, use the buttons above to catch up.

About this Virtual Discussion (Click to Show)

Panelists

Ann Drinan's Statement (Click to Hide)

Ann Drinan  

Ann Drinan

Senior Editor

For our second round, I've asked the panelists to talk about logistical and contractual problems with juggling so many different schedules and contracts. What are the absence policies in the orchestras you play with? How difficult is it to get excused from a rehearsal in one orchestra in order to play a series in another? Does management understand that you are "cobbling" a livelihood together by playing for multiple employers? What happens when two orchestras' schedules conflict by just the one overlap too many? Any stories about someone calling in sick and getting caught?

Post Reply for Ann Drinan's Statement:

Please log in to comment:

Lost User Name?
Lost Password?
Register Now


Meredith Brown's Statement (Click to Hide)

Meredith Brown  

Meredith Brown

Free-lance hornist, San Francisco area

Since I am currently contracted in nine orchestras in the Bay Area, I am definitely qualified to speak about scheduling conflicts! It seems like every set I choose to do means opting out of at least one other--and with the Murphy's Law way things seem to happen, often I'll have 3 or 4 "options" in a given week and only be able to do one of them. I would like to choose based on my enjoyment of a given gig and how much money I would make, but the reality is sometimes I have to give up doing something I would really enjoy in order to fulfill an attendance requirement.

Some orchestras are excellent about realizing that they are not our only employers--we have had Oakland East Bay Symphony change one rehearsal in a set when they realized it conflicted with Marin Symphony, which shares a lot of players with Oakland. This is the sort of thing that makes the musicians feel valued--they made an effort to make it possible for their regular players to do both, rather than hiring subs. Some orchestras, however, are notorious for having a blatant disregard for how we must make our livings--for example, two orchestras in the same union local (actually the only two orchestras with CBAs in that local!) have had 3 to 4 set conflicts (out of 6 or 7 total sets) for the past 3 years. That makes us feel like they don't really value having us there, they just want a butt in a seat.

Lately I've been feeling really constrained by all the requirements. I've had to turn down playing some big gigs because I have everything so delicately balanced that if I get out of one required set without enough notice, the whole house of cards comes down. I know I'm VERY lucky to have a lot of work options, but I am getting tired of the jigsaw puzzle--I am in an "in between" space where I need to be less busy to be available for when the big houses call, but can't count on them calling, so can't turn down any of the work I already have. Anyone know of any rich benefactors?

Post Reply for Meredith Brown's Statement:

Please log in to comment:

Lost User Name?
Lost Password?
Register Now


Paul Castillo's Statement (Click to Hide)

Paul Castillo  

Paul Castillo

Free-lance clarinetist, LA area

Today I would like to start with a few comments about health insurance.

The Los Angeles musicians do have access to a plan provided through their local union, and it's a very good plan. It's been in place for
about 30 years. There are qualification standards, and you do need to work enough under union contracts with health and welfare provisions (which must be negotiated with the employer) each year to qualify. If musicians are looking to create some sort of union group insurance plan, they will need to work with their local unions and be willing to pay
higher premiums for several years just to get things started. High premiums are discouraging, to be sure, but health care coverage probably won't get cheaper in the near future, so there's probably no time like the present to get one started.

Paid sick leave is generally not offered in any of the orchestra contracts I work with. More importantly for my colleagues and myself though, is that there usually is not an excused absence provision, once the "bailout window" has closed, except for sick, and that's almost always unpaid. I do know of several instances where musicians have abused the policy and called in sick to take another job for the day, and in one instance a musician got "caught" and was fired. Not for missing the rehearsal, but for employee dishonesty.

Scheduling is always a challenge. The practice in most orchestras is that a musician must play all rehearsals offered in connection with the
concert set. Musicians can cancel out on the work provided it is with sufficient notice, but if the musician can do all but one rehearsal he
or she must either turn down all the work for that set or decline the work with the conflicting schedule. The notice requirement is usually 2 weeks (for some orchestras 3 weeks). I call it the "bailout window," and once it closes one is committed to the work unless something drastic happens. It is not unusual to be called for other work that may pay more or in other ways be more attractive after the bailout window closes, and this has happened to me often over the years. This creates a lot of frustration - and temptation - for the musician.

Recently the orchestra managements have started to take an aggressive stance on matters of absenteeism. Within the last year 2 musicians that I personally know were fired and another severely disciplined for unexcused absences.

Post Reply for Paul Castillo's Statement:

Please log in to comment:

Lost User Name?
Lost Password?
Register Now


Bruce Chrisp's Statement (Click to Hide)

Bruce Chrisp  

Bruce Chrisp

Freelance trombonist, San Francisco area

In the San Francisco Bay Area, all of the union regional orchestras allow any musician to miss one rehearsal per subscription set. The San Francisco Symphony, Ballet, and Opera do not allow this, but for most of us, that is not much of our income, and if you're playing a week with them, you're making enough money that missing a rehearsal is not necessary. There are about 20 orchestras in the Bay Area that do allow missing rehearsals during subscription sets. This is something that conductors and personnel managers don't like, but they know that it is not something we're willing to give up. Most understand that we are scraping together a meager existence and that it would be impossible to do so if they were more strict. The funny thing is, that if the orchestras were more organized, many of the conflicts could be easily avoided. The orchestras, for the most part, are unwilling to put in the extra effort, and until they do, there will continue to be conflicts and we'll continue to miss rehearsals. There are 9 Bay Area regional orchestras offering paid sick days at this point, which does help, even if it's only 1 sick day per year.

Juggling schedules is a pain and we do have to take leaves from orchestras some years, depending on how the schedules line up. Most
orchestras around here are not super strict, with the exception of two; the Fresno Philharmonic and the Oakland East Bay Symphony. In Fresno, they offer a lot of work, and require a relatively high percentage of sets. They have not successfully fired anyone for missing too many yet, but they have given notice that they will be more strict now. In Oakland, we must perform 60% of the sets offered over a 2 year period, which is quite flexible, but if you don't do enough, you're fired. This has happened a few times. I am contracted with 6 orchestras and it seems to work out most years, so I'll keep 6 as long as I can.

Post Reply for Bruce Chrisp's Statement:

Please log in to comment:

Lost User Name?
Lost Password?
Register Now


Christine Coyle's Statement (Click to Hide)

Christine Coyle  

Christine Coyle

Freelance cellist in New England and NY/NJ

Conflicts are a big problem.

It is very difficult for boards of our orchestras to understand when we ask for them to provide more services but then at the same time ask for a lenient absence policy so we do not have to play them. The idea that we can't move anything in our schedules in order to maximize the amount of work we can fit in is hard to get across. We need more services and the ability to be flexible in order to make a living. Also, there are premium days and times to consider.

Sometimes we have to give up a week of work because one rehearsal overlaps. I sometimes have to give up a $300 gig because the drive time from one to another is 15 minutes too long. (The if I had a helicopter I could do it situations.) Every year I anxiously await my schedules for the coming season and hope that there are not too many conflicts. It is very stressful. I don't want to lose any of the jobs I worked so hard to get because of a few conflicts. There is no job security at all.

Also, we have the ability for a few orchestra committee members to participate on the Board. We can almost never attend because the meetings are at 4:00pm, a prime teaching earning time. We are not paid to participate on committees and volunteering is great, but we can't be expected to give up hundreds of teaching earnings and pay gas and parking etc... It just doesn't happen.

Post Reply for Christine Coyle's Statement:

Please log in to comment:

Lost User Name?
Lost Password?
Register Now


Kale Cumings's Statement (Click to Hide)

Kale Cumings  

Kale Cumings

Free-lance trumpeter, San Francisco area

I find the logistics of scheduling to be one of the most disheartening aspects of this job. Sometimes it seems that the two sets I find most musically rewarding in a year happen at the same time.

Since I only have two orchestra contracts, juggling requirements isn't as crucial to me as trying to balance artistic fulfillment and good business sense. Most of my employers are aware of the way we make a living and try to accommodate what they can, but often they are bound by conductor's schedules, hall availability, etc. Of course, like anything, there are times when I think more could be done to make our lives easier.

I remember when I first started freelancing it always seemed like I would get called for only two things in any three month period and they would both be happening at the same time. In some ways, I do have many more choices now, but it is always a compromise trying to keep everything together.

Post Reply for Kale Cumings's Statement:

Please log in to comment:

Lost User Name?
Lost Password?
Register Now


Marjorie Goldberg's Statement (Click to Hide)

Marjorie Goldberg  

Marjorie Goldberg

Freelance violinist, Philadelphia area

Scheduling conflicts seem to be one of the biggest problem with freelancing when you are depending on regional orchestras for the bulk of your work. In the Philadelphia area it seems that all the orchestras tend to schedule for the same weekends. Of course much of this is due to holidays, sharing concert halls with other groups, etc. Most regional orchestra players realize this early on, and I know more people than not who choose to just sub in some of these groups because subbing eliminates the whole minimum requirement issue.

In the Harrisburg Symphony our minimum requirement is fairly reasonable, and we are allowed to miss two rehearsals a season as long as they are not on the same series. Because we have two children in elementary school, we usually save our absences for childcare reasons, not to do other gigs. If I am using an absence to do another gig, it's generally not another regional orchestra, since most of our orchestras have the same Thurs-Sat or Sunday schedule. At this point I only have the minimum from Harrisburg to fulfill.....contractually that is. Smaller non-contracted groups may not require a minimum but you always run the risk of not having your "spot" on the list after too many absences. In Philly Pops we have no minimum requirement but we also do not have individual contracts, so skipping too many series is risky as well.

In my husband's case he has two minimum requirements that he needs to fulfill, Harrisburg Symphony and Reading Symphony. These cities are only about an hour apart (and there is another orchestra in Lancaster, PA which is right between those two cities), and many players have contracts with all of these groups. Some people need to take a year leave from one or another of these groups at various times because they can't make their minimums.

Another issue is the time frame in which one must "bail" from the gig. Usually it seems to be 30 days. This is fine for bailing to do work that you know about, but not for the unexpected call for a gig that you really can't turn down, financially or musically. In Harrisburg Symphony many of the players sub in NY Phil, Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony and National Symphony. Our conductor is usually pretty willing to let those players get out of a series inside of the 30 days as long as they don't make it a huge habit.

It seems that violating the 30 days is a little more acceptable than not fulfilling the minimum attendance requirement.

Since most of the regional orchestras in this area are all within a 2 hour radius of Philadelphia, I don't know many people who lie in order to do another regional orchestra since it would be easy to get caught.

When I was younger I preferred playing in regional orchestras as much as possible. Now that I have kids, I try to do as much work with as little driving as I can. Sometimes it's not the most musically satisfying choice but I have learned to let that go when necessary.

Post Reply for Marjorie Goldberg's Statement:

Please log in to comment:

Lost User Name?
Lost Password?
Register Now


Todd Jelen's Statement (Click to Hide)

Todd Jelen  

Todd Jelen

Freelance bassoonist, Cleveland area

Each of the groups I play with has vastly different attendance policies. If one is to ask off for a rehearsal during a series, most of the time it is granted provided you're missing the first rehearsal. It also helps if you're asking to be excused to play with an orchestra of better reputation and pay. Some conductors don't allow any absences during a series.

Orchestras say that they understand that we have to piece together a livelihood with several groups, but they often contradict themselves with their attendance policies. I think that orchestras want to have good musicians playing for them and many don't mind sharing musicians, but each group wants to be the "first choice" of their musician pool. They try to establish attendance policies that end up hurting the musicians that they're trying to keep in the seats. I have a situation coming up later this season where I am taking off for a classical and a youth series in the same week in one group to play a youth concert in another orchestra because of the attendance policy of the second orchestra. The end result is that I am forced to play less services for less pay during that week because of a restrictive attendance policy.

Post Reply for Todd Jelen's Statement:

Please log in to comment:

Lost User Name?
Lost Password?
Register Now


 

General Comments on This Discussion (Click to Hide)

Great topic! I've observed this growing trend for years, and I don't know what to make of it. I'll be following this discussing with great interest.

Yvonne Caruthers
yvonne on February 5, 2019 at 10:17 AM

Log In to Post a General Comment:


[back to top of page]


Day 1Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5