Letter of the day 9-4-2013

August 31, 2013

This infamous post is from a member of the SFO board, writing during the recent musicians’ strike. It illustrates the attitudes the Minnesota Orchestra is up against; they are, unfortunately, very common memes.

“Making over $85K per year to do something a talented high school musician can do for free is pretty generous. Simple statistics tells us that’s pretty much all a professional musician in San Francisco deserves… San Francisco Symphony’s unionized extortionists are unable to figure it out because their greed blinds them to market realities.”
“If the Symphony needs a scab player for the triangle or tambourine to help break the strike, then I volunteer to perform for free. I’ve had no musical education at all but those instruments don’t look that difficult.”


By all means, read it all; you’ll be revolted.

His “simple statistics” assume a 40-hour week. Any musician at this level plays, rehearses, and practices far more than 40 hours.

He also ignores the fact that musicians at this level have spent many years learning and refining their art, and the fact that they have to work hard to maintain it.
A surgeon can get a degree and license to practice seven to eleven years after high school, at which point the education stops. Afterward, the only practice necessary is one that pays far more than most musicians ever make. By contrast, most musicians, by age 30, have probably been learning and practicing for upwards of twenty years, and will work for the rest of their lives to maintain their skills.

My point is that the people who serve on these boards don’t necessarily have any knowledge of the realities of a musician’s life. Nor does it seem that they care, being laser focused only on a salary that is not only deserved, but which is continually re-earned. It would be most helpful if they drew on more than a spreadsheet in making their judgments.
The solution to the MOA problem is a better board and management consisting of people who can see past a spreadsheet, who realize that they are custodians of a not-for-profit cultural institution, and who also have knowledge of what they claim to supervise.

James Brinton

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