A Musician’s Worth Tied to an Orchestra’s Worth

Peter Sachon is a professional cellist (and also my cousin); I spoke with him about his money and industry in May.

He has a column at Polyphonic.org arguing that the demands of striking locked out musicians around the country  (there are striking locked out musicians around the country) are not realistic given the orchestra’s current role in society. He writes that if orchestras—and musicians—are to survive, that role has to be broadened: “The fact that modern generations would rather hear the symphonic music they love on iTunes than regularly attend a live concert is the symphony’s fault, not their audience’s.”

Until then, he says that he and his fellow musicians will need to accept paycuts. To me the essay highlights that labor issues are TRICKY. I’d never tell a snackcake baker to accept a paycut! But, and here’s the but: People were getting rich off of snackcakes. No one is gaining wealth from the orchestra. Except, you know, cultural wealth, which, while valuable, isn’t actually valued.

UPDATED TO ADD: Ha! Peter emailed to LET ME KNOW that striking and being locked out are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS and NOT SYNONYMOUS, as I assumed, and wrote, wrongly. A strike is a work stoppage initiated by the employees. A lock out is also a work stoppage, but initiated by management, during which they literally “lock the employees out.” Both are the result of a labor dispute.


3 Comments / Post A Comment

City_Dater (#565)

However — and this is a ‘however’ that applies to pretty much all arts organizations — if there are administrators earning six-figure salaries within an organization that claims to be unable to pay a living wage to those creating the art (“the product,” if you will), there’s something wrong with the institution, no?

awk (#840)

@City_Dater Many musicians in the most elite American orchestras make darn near close to six figures themselves. And that’s to start out:


I agree that administrators shouldn’t get paid extraordinary salaries. But when an entry-level third viola player is making almost $100k in Pittsburgh, a $200k salary for the business manager isn’t that outrageous.

Markovaa (#1,509)

As an arts administrator, I’m really sick of the “blame the administrator” knee-jerk reaction. First of all Administrators tend to have their pay cut, be fired or furloughed first simply because they do not belong to a union and there is less red tape. Most arts organizations now have fairly lean and mean administrative staffs from when the recession hit in 2008. Pay cuts were given across the board, costly staff fired (and then often replaced with someone cheaper), younger staff furloughed, and matching pension contributions evaporated. Now an organization has to do what an organization has to do BUT musicians/actors/stagemanagement/general artistic unions have not only been pushing for the status quo but have often been pushing for raises for the last four years. It is not unfair to ask the artists to feel some of the hurt that the rest of the organization has felt.

Any orchestra/arts organization that wastes time arguing over the last quarter of a pea left on the pod will fail. An organization can not be that divided in order to think of creative ways to succeed. Michael Kaiser (of the Kennedy Center) has written a lot about the subject. I suggest checking out his HuffPo column. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-kaiser/the-orchestra-conundrum_b_819434.html

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