As most of you are aware, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are in the middle of a protracted lockout, which threatens to undermine one of the great orchestras in the US. Regardless of the side you might take in the debate, we all know it is a shame to see such a great musical institution in duress.
But that is not what interests me about the issue. Joe Patti, who blogs at Butts in the Seats
, has gathered together fifteen different bloggers
who published their opinions on the current state of the MO and in particular the lockout. He created this initiative in response to the current orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson, who said, "blogs are senseless and must be ignored." It makes for some interesting reading, but I think there is more to it for us in the American choral world.
My thoughts when I look at this issue through the lens of a choral conductor, in no particular order or relevance:
- Choir singers are not generally regarded as professionals. Or at least the professionalization of the field is relatively small compared to the instrumental world. What percentage of good choral singers (I know, I know, "what does that actually mean?" Just roll with it.), ever get paid for what they do.
- I don't like that.
- We also don't have singers unions to fight for things like compensation.
- I have mixed feelings about unions. On one hand, I recognize that when I was a public school teacher, my salary and benefits were what they were because of the union. In 1998 my starting salary was $31,500. That's not horrible at all. It's more than some starting salaries in North Dakota today, which is a "Right To Work" state.
- On the other hand, I resented unions protecting bad teachers. And I also resented their resistance to assessing teachers and accountability. At the time, I wanted them to evaluate me against the older more established teachers.
- I cannot for the life of me imagine abandoning even one concert for a lockout or strike. It makes me ill to think of it.
- Yet I am often disappointed when people ask me to provide expertise, but don't expect me to be compensated (service to the profession aside).
- I know of one "professional" choir that is quite excellent, that pays their singers minimum wage. My first thought is "how cool is that!" and my second thought is, "minimum wage?" and my final thought is "at least it's something!"
- The average salary for a MO player was $135,000 in 2011.
- The lack of these kinds of drammatic confrontations in the choral world is a wonderful thing. The orchestral world has been struggling with these issues for some time.
Go and read the different blog posts
. Then go read the MO Website
where they justify their positions. Try not to take a musician side or a management side. Try to take a "choral" side. Tell us how you feel.