Tag Archives: orchestra

Discretionary Overscale and Parity for Subs and Extras in the Symphony Orchestra

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Counsel, Schuchat, Cook & Werner

Under the Bus, On a Pedestal, or Business as Usual?

Fairness and justice are hallmarks of unionism. Unions have fostered the concept of equal pay for equal work: the expectation that the person standing next to you on the assembly line, or sitting next to you on the stage, receives the same rate of pay. So it is uncomfortable, but also important, to examine two ways in which our industry fails to live up to that ideal: “discretionary” individual overscale and compensation for subs and extras.

Ask any savvy elder statesman of the business and he will tell you the practice of individually-negotiated overscale predates the start of his career. But commonplace as it was and still is, such individual overscale exists in a shadow realm, separate from scale wages and collectively-negotiated overscale percentages for titled players. These latter amounts are visible for all to see on the face of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and, like compensation for doubling, are tied to the expectation that individuals who hold certain positions bear additional responsibility and should be compensated accordingly.

Discretionary overscale, on the other hand, is generally kept confidential and a musician’s ability to obtain it depends on a range of factors including the musician’s rapport with those holding the purse strings, his or her perceived value to the institution, and negotiation skill. The League of American Orchestras’ Antitrust Policy prohibits managements from sharing with one another specifics of individually negotiated overscale payments (although it does provide for sharing of aggregate data) as a form of collusive price-fixing. Musicians themselves are often reluctant to share specifics for fear of compromising the confidential relationships that yielded the deal. Such secrecy, whether enforced or simply cultural, stands in stark contrast to well-established labor law protections for employees to discuss with one another their terms and conditions of employment—wages in particular—as a necessary predicate to collective action.

At the other extreme from those whose individual bargaining power opens the door to discretionary overscale, are subs and extra musicians who depend entirely (with rare exceptions) on the collectively-negotiated wage scales. Subs and extras have always been indispensable to the American symphony orchestra, but when employers propose cutting or leaving core positions unfilled to save money, the ability to attract and retain first quality subs and extras becomes critical. These musicians have trained in the same conservatories as “regular” players, sit side by side with them, play the same works led by the same conductors, and perform for the same audiences. While they are often (but far from always) compensated at a per-service rate that is intended to approximate the service rate of salaried musicians (and often receive pension), subs and extras have no real job security nor (with rare exceptions) access to the other benefits (e.g., health, disability, and instrument insurance and paid sick leave) that regular musicians enjoy. Under these circumstances, focusing solely on service rate tells only part of the story. Complete parity is illusory so long as these musicians are anything other than regular contracted musicians.

In general, there is nothing unlawful about either individual overscale or a lack of parity for subs and extras. Where a union has been designated as the exclusive bargaining representative of employees (as is the case in all of our AFM-represented orchestras), the employer must deal with the union regarding the employees’ terms and conditions of employment. Because the law recognizes the great potential for mischief and divisiveness when employers bypass the union to deal directly with employees, the employer must have the express permission of the union to do so. In our industry, we have consistently granted such permission, although our contracts do sometimes limit individual bargaining, and in any case, such individually bargained terms may not be less favorable than the collectively bargained ones.

Nor does a union’s duty of fair representation (DFR), taken on when it becomes the exclusive bargaining representative, require it to bargain precisely the same compensation for each and every bargaining unit employee, regardless of facts and circumstances. Whether or not a given CBA specifically includes them in its definition of the bargaining unit, subs and extras perform bargaining unit work and are therefore bargaining unit employees, entitled to fair representation by the union as a legal matter.

The DFR requires only that a union exercise good faith in the performance of its representational duties and not act in a manner that is arbitrary or discriminatory. It does not preclude a union from bargaining different terms and conditions for different groups or classifications of employees, so long as the union acts reasonably in doing so. Nor is a union required by law to afford a contract ratification vote to every musician who may work a single service under an agreement; CBA ratification is an internal union matter and a union may set reasonable parameters when determining eligibility to ratify.

However, “not unlawful” is not always the same as “wise.” Adverse consequences abound. All too often in bargaining an employer walls off substantial funds for discretionary overscale, separating them from the “pie” available for across-the-board wage increases, but considering overscale a musician salary expense all the same. As discretionary overscale payments become more substantial and commonplace throughout a bargaining unit, bargaining for scale wages that takes place between the employer and the union remains meaningful only to the few who cannot or will not negotiate their own special deal. When subs and extras are essential (as they always are) to musical excellence, an employer (and bargaining team) that fails to safeguard their compensation does so at its own peril.

It seems to me that our industry has not fully reconciled the artistic individualism that makes for fine, exciting performances with the collective consciousness that makes for well-organized, well-compensated orchestras. Employers who see the union and musicians’ collective as the adversary are only too happy to exploit that tension. I am a pragmatist: I harbor no illusion that the symphony orchestra will ever become a Utopian ideal of fairness, doing away altogether with compensation irregularities. But pragmatism also requires that we regularly take stock of the sources of and threats to our bargaining power. Where it is within our control as musicians, we must ensure that industry practices with such destructive potential, no matter how deeply embedded in our history, are not allowed to subsume the collective strength

new use

Having Musicians on the Boards of Directors May Not be a Good Idea


Steve Mosher

Bernard LeBlanc, Director, Symphonic Services AFM Canada

Bernard LeBlanc

by Steve Mosher, Associate Director, Symphonic Services AFM Canada, and Bernard LeBlanc, Director, Symphonic Services AFM Canada

A quick look at the 2014 OCSM Wage Chart indicates that 17 of 20 Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC) orchestras have at least one representative to their boards of directors. One orchestra has four representatives, and six orchestras have full voting responsibilities. The time that we’ve spent on this topic is reminiscent of the discussions we’ve had about whether musicians and other workers in the arts in Canada should be considered employees or self-employed. While there’s still no definitive ruling on the employee versus self-employed question, there is news on the matter of musicians on boards of directors.

The point here is not to argue the pros and cons of musician involvement with our boards. There are several articles in the archives of the AFM, the player conferences, and the Symphony Orchestra Institute that deal with this issue. The discussion was rekindled in November 2013, when Orchestras Canada received an opinion letter from a law firm regarding the remuneration of directors, with reference to changes in the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. There are a few such opinions available on the web at sites like Canadian Charity Law. The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General website offers the following:

“Generally a charity cannot pay a director to act in the capacity of a director. Also, a director cannot be paid for services provided in any other capacity, unless permitted by a court order. In appropriate circumstances, payment for services other than as a director may be allowed by court order or by an order made under section 13 of the Charities Accounting Act, where it is in the charity’s best interest to do so.”

(NOTE: Registered charities are often referred to as not-for-profit organizations. However, while both types of organizations operate on a not-for-profit basis, they are defined differently under the Income Tax Act. The terms “charity” and “not-for-profit” are interchangeable for the purposes of this article, since the same rules apply to both.)

The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General further addresses the duty to avoid conflict of interest: “Directors and trustees should avoid conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest arises when a director or trustee has a personal interest in the result of a decision made by the charity.” Katherine Carleton of Orchestras Canada shared their opinion letter with the delegates at the 2014 OCSM/OMOSC Conference and it gets more to the point, “In general, if an orchestra is a charity, then any musicians who are paid directly or indirectly by an orchestra cannot sit on the board of that orchestra as a director, regardless of whether the board seat is voting or nonvoting.”

There are always wrinkles to legislation, and there is no absolute rule that covers every situation. The Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act applies in provinces that follow common law. A provincial court can state that a common law rule does not apply in that province. In the case of Quebec, there appears to be no restriction on board participation by employees in not-for-profit organizations, since it is the only province in Canada that follows civil law, not common law. There is one orchestra in Quebec that has taken over its board, installing musicians. They feel that this is the only way to keep the orchestra afloat and it seems to be working, at least in the short term.

But Michel Nadeau, general director of The Institute of Governance of Private and Public Organizations (IGOPP) in Montreal, is clear: musicians should not be members of boards of directors, no matter as voting member or not. He explains that decisions taken by all board members are for the long-term viability and well-being of the organization; these decisions might be against musicians’ interests and would put the musician in a difficult position facing his peers. He adds that annual activity reports from the executive director or the board to the musicians should be a priority of management to maintain good working relations and should be sufficient information from the board.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra deals with musician representation in Article 27.7 of their collective agreement, as follows: “On an annual basis, two members of the orchestra shall be selected by the Orchestra Committee, with the approval of the members of the orchestra, to attend regular meetings of the board of directors, as permitted by the board of directors. To be clear, orchestra members are not members of the board of directors and, as such, do not have any voting or decision-making power.”

For Canadian orchestras, musician participation on boards of directors needs to end. We want to ensure that our orchestras comply with the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act. At various times in the past, the AFM and OCSM have had voting representatives (or ex-officio status—also no longer allowed) to the Orchestras Canada Board of Directors. Orchestras Canada is in the process of changing their bylaws to ensure that they invite guests “fundamentally vital to our operations” so that the AFM and OCSM have voice in an informal arrangement. The same can apply to our orchestras.

There are alternatives to full participation on your orchestra’s board. Musicians should be allowed to attend board meetings as guests, with the right to speak. Musicians should also be welcome to sit on committees and advisory boards, since musicians are directly affected by the decisions made at those meetings. It’s one thing to have a voice in meetings but, according to the rules, a vote at the board is a clear conflict of interest. The message that we understand from the documents available to us is that directors cannot receive salaries, stipends, grants, honorariums, or consulting fees from a charity. The only way you can sit on the board is if you’re playing in the orchestra for free. Or you can seek a court order, but both options are rather extreme.

Employee or self-employed? We’ve probably passed the 50th anniversary of that debate, and for those of us who want to keep it going, it’s still alive. There might still be some life in the board discussion as well, but at least we now have clear parameters to guide the conversation.

orchestral audition recording

6 Tips on Nailing That Orchestral Audition Recording

orchestral audition recordingAfter your résumé has been processed, you will probably receive material detailing how an audition tape should be prepared. Often specifications are very detailed, and you should follow them to the letter. If there is any doubt, call the personnel manager, but don’t phone him or her with trivial questions about details that you may have overlooked on the instructions.

Typically, audition tape instructions will tell you: what excerpts to record; the order to record them in; what recording equipment to use; what recording format to send (CD or tape); and how to label your recording. Beyond the technical and bureaucratic demands, there are several elements you should keep in mind when making an audition recording:

6 Tips on Nailing That Orchestral Audition Recording

  • Aim for perfection–this is your chance to showcase your playing to a hiring committee that must listen to many such recordings, so never send a recording that contains errors in tuning or timing. The quality of your playing should be matched by the quality of your recording–seek help with the technical side if you need to.
  • Choose the right environment–an empty concert hall will have too much reverberation; your bedroom will have too little. Good places to record are in a rehearsal room, classroom, or church hall. Make sure that the room is quiet and free from outside noise interference.
  • Choose the best equipment–Use the best microphones (condenser mikes rather than dynamic) and recording equipment you can get your hands on. If using tape, buy professional quality tapes with good noise reduction. Record in stereo. Set the microphones about 15 or 20 feet from you and about seven to 10 feet high. Check recording levels so you don’t peak at levels that cause distortion.
  • Experiment and practice–Give yourself plenty of time to make your recording as you will want to check recording levels and mike placement in addition to warming up and running through the excerpts. If recording over a couple of days, note where you placed mikes and equipment in case anything is moved in your absence.
  • Be Your Own Critic–Very often a committee will only listen to one or two excerpts of each tape, and switch off when a mistake is heard. You must be as critical with your own recording as the committee members will be. Play the excerpts in order when recording, stopping if you make a clear mistake but playing through minor lapses. Then play back, critique, and re-record till you have one good representation of your playing for each excerpt.
  • Do-It-Yourself–Professional recording studio rates can be high and often what they produce can be done just as well at home. It’s better to spend money on your own recording equipment (buying or renting) and learn how to do your own recordings–you may find you have a lot more fun this way as well!
houston symphony logo

Houston Symphony Creates New Orchestra Positions

houston symphony logoHouston Symphony plans to hire four new full-time string players, whose primary role will be education and community engagement. These musicians will perform 25 concerts per year with the symphony, but mainly they will work outside the concert hall, in neighborhood schools, community centers, and healthcare facilities.

Due to their direct engagement with Houston’s diverse populations, potential candidates must be bilingual. The initiative is part of Houston Symphony’s 10-year strategic plan to expand its reach and relevance in its community

cincinnati symphony

Cincinnati Symphony Ratified New Contract

cincinnati symphonyOn May 6, the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra ratified a new five-year agreement during an endowment drive that has achieved a $26 million increase in the past year. The contract provides 1.5% salary gains in each season, in addition to the restoration of 14 of 23 permanent musician vacancies. A one-time income supplement of 12% to all current tenure track musicians creates a compensation package of 3% over the life of the deal.

This is a major step forward for an orchestra that saw a drop in endowment value from $92.7 million during 2000 to $56 million during the financial upheaval of 2008. Musician concessions in 2009 and a contract extension in 2011, along with new and prudent board financial practices, provided a path to this agreement. The original goal of $20 million for the endowment was exceeded by $6 million, establishing full funding of the salary increases and restored vacancies, plus a future reduction in annual endowment draw from 5% to 4.5%.

As the institution faces the challenges of a $125 million renovation of Music Hall during 2016-17, the new labor agreement provides financial stability and eliminates the last of a structural deficit by the 125th anniversary season of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 2020.

baltimore symphony orchestra logo

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Provides Music in Wake of Riots

baltimore symphony orchestra logoOn April 29, as Baltimore was reeling from riots gripping the city, musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) gathered to do what they do best: play music.

The idea for a gathering of musicians came to BSO oboist Michael Lisicky of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD) while he was sitting in a coffee shop the day after the riots broke out. Everything fell into place in less than 24 hours. “Originally I envisioned some unannounced chamber music outside the hall to whoever was around,” he says. “I didn’t want to call it a ‘performance’ because it wasn’t about us. The city was very damaged, emotionally and physically.”

Lisicky pitched the idea to his fellow musicians and many quickly came on board, agreeing to donate their time. BSO management joined in the effort, arranging logistical details, preparing sheet music, and working on publicity for the impromptu musical offering.

The next day at noon, the BSO musicians played the National Anthem, and Baltimore’s city anthem, Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, and the finale from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 conducted by Music Director and Local 802 (New York City) member Marin Alsop, outside of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. A crowd of 1,000 people joined to listen, including media outlets from around the world.

The music uplifted spirits and demonstrated the power and purpose that a symphony orchestra can provide during times of struggle. “It blossomed into a great thing,” says Lisicky. “Playing Bach and Beethoven was what we could do, and it worked. It showed that we are part of the community, and it showed that we are professionals.”

BSO’s scheduled education concert took place the day after the gathering. While the hall was mostly empty due to safety concerns, the music was streamed live into classrooms under the terms of the Integrated Media Agreement.

Reno Philharmonic Ratifies Four-Year Contract

In a secret ballot, members of the Reno Philharmonic, represented by Local 368 (Reno, NV), ratified a new four-year agreement in September 2014. The previous four-year contract expired June 30. The new deal is retroactive to July 1 and includes improvements to employee wages and a guaranteed number of performances during the concert season. The contract covers the orchestra’s more than 60 musicians. Reno Philharmonic is northern Nevada’s largest performing arts organization.

Four Couples Play Together in Springfield Symphony Orchestra

valentine's-dayEvery orchestra is special, but the Springfield Symphony Orchestra has something a little extra special. Four married spouses all play together in the orchestra. Doug and Lori Wright of Local 160 (Springfield, OH), Fred and Genie Thiergartner of Local 160, Jennifer and Arturo also of Local 160, and Joe and Angela Heck Mueller of Local 103 (Columbus, OH)

“I think it makes this orchestra more special than most with this,” said Robyn Zimmann, former Executive Director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. “It adds to the synergy we all experience with one another onstage. I was proud to be a colleague of all these folks.”

A majority of the couples met through music. Jennifer said she loved Arturo’s music, and says the cello is what brought them together. The Thiergartners both played in a park band and things only took off from there. Angela asked Joe for help on a piece when they both attended the University of Oklahoma, and a small crush blossomed into something more. The Wrights met at a job interview, but they say it wasn’t until a teacher conference down the road that they grew into something more.

There are some negatives, like how Fred practices at three in the morning, right below their bedroom. Overall, they all make the most of it, claiming it brings them closer together. The drives to the symphony, and all the practice time together only strengthen their relationships.

“It’s wonderful to experience with your spouse.” Said Lori. “It adds a dimension to our relationship.”

Union Musicians Book New Strip Shows

Union Musicians Book New Strip Shows

Frank Leone, the 14-year president of Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV), is impressed with the turnaround of orchestra’s being hired for the Strip. After all, the membership of orchestras in casinos was around 2,000 people back in 1989, and it has dwindled down to about 600 currently. However, that all appears to be changing recently.


“The business is curious as we know,” Leone says, “However, one of my mantras is that live music validates a performer, and a large amount of it validates one even more.”

One of the more popular shows currently in Vegas is Celine Dion performing with a full 30 person orchestra. The orchestra isn’t in the pit either, they are in full view on the stage.

Leon claims this is something the audience loves to see. “The public knows they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck possible. No one should complain about the price of the ticket when they know they’re getting 30 people.”

Leone admits that while orchestras are one of the best ways to enjoy a performance, they can come with some big overheads. To cover this, Leon explains that the musicians drop down one pay scale level. Essentially, the casino is getting the 12-piece string section for the price of a no-strings band.

It’s hard to say what the future will hold, but for right now, it certainly is heading in the right direction.

Indianapolis Symphony Continues to Balance Budget

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) achieved its second consecutive surplus, slightly more than $266,000, in fiscal year 2014. Its total revenue was $23.5 million.

The orchestra saw a 16% increase in revenue from ticket sales, with a 30% increase in subscription sales—the highest subscription numbers since the 2008-2009 season. Fiscal year 2014 was the second best fundraising year in ISO’s history—second only to fiscal year 2013—and brought in $9.73 million. The value of the endowment increased, from $86.5 to $92.5 million, and the orchestra’s 5% endowment draw was much more conservative than the 12% draw taken in fiscal year 2012.

Although the ISO report shows an upward trend, the musicians are still feeling the difficult pay cuts following the 2012 lockout, but welcome this positive news and look forward to continued financial and artistic growth.