Symphony Musicians, Management Need to Face the Music

Everything about the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its lockout of their musicians is a total mess.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is in dire straits and looked for state assistance through an addition $3.2 million allocation from the state thanks to left-wing Delegate Maggie McIntosh. This, of course, was a terrible idea to start and became even more terrible when it became obvious that the Symphony was mismanaged. The Democrats continue to this day to demand state funding to a failing organization that needs to sink or swim on its own.

Meanwhile, the unionized musicians are left without a contract and have not come to a new agreement with the BSO after six months of negotiating. The BSO has locked the musicians out until the sides reach an equitable conclusion.

Needless to say, both the Symphony and their musicians have made a giant mess of things.

The musicians, accurately from what it sounds like, are harshly criticizing the management of the Symphony as the Baltimore Brew reports. They’ve criticized the Symphony’s management of its endowment, cutbacks in benefits, and how the salary for musicians is lagging behind that of other symphonies elsewhere. The musicians also have been angling for the release of that state funding, money that Governor Larry Hogan does not want to release.

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The problem here is that the argument of the musicians is defeated by the facts of the situation:

  • The Symphony has a $72 million endowment; why do they need a penny of state funding for anything ever?
  • The starting salary of a BSO musician is “about $83,000” according to the Brew article. That’s a very high average salary and exceeds the starting salaries of teachers and public safety employees.

Under that logic, why do Symphony musicians deserve a raise? If they can’t earn their keep, why do they deserve more money? In a tweet, the BSO Musicians stated: “Baltimore deserves a great orchestra, and its musicians deserve normal lives!” But as one Twitter user pointed out, “You know what other musicians do? Live off their ticket sales and merch, not a government handout.”

And it’s true. While there seems to be a lot of administrative overhead for the Symphony, but just about every other professional musician needs to sell tickets, sell promotional merchandise, and generate enough revenue to pay their expenses and pay their salaries. It’s clear that not only do the Symphony musicians know they have not been able to do that, they realize that they do not have what it takes to make money without a government handout.

It’s hard to generate any sympathy for these unionized Symphony musicians when they seem to acknowledge that they aren’t good enough to make it on their own.

This mess has been made by both sides; unionized musicians who think they’re worth more than they really are and incompetent Symphony leadership that can’t seem to manage its way out of a wet paper bag.

Governor Larry Hogan needs to hold firm and not provide the Baltimore Symphony with any additional funding. It is very clear that they have no idea how to manage their money. Other government entities should also stop funding the BSO or its musicians, a memo that Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski seemed to not understand.

Symphony management needs to completely restructure their business model. They need to replace their board and fire their management to make sure this level of incompetence is never reached again. If they can’t do it under their current structure, they should dissolve it and create a successor entity that can.

And the musicians need to realize that they are replaceable. There are hundreds of musicians who would love to play for the Baltimore Symphony at a rate that is lower than what these unionized musicians want. The musicians also need to recognize that there just isn’t enough money to go around to meet their demands, even though it isn’t their fault. And the musicians should realize that unionization has led them to this point; they should agree to fair terms and then decertify their union to create a right-to-work shop that allows Symphony management to be more nimble with their structure in the future.

At the end of the day, Baltimore doesn’t need a symphony orchestra. Maryland taxpayers certainly shouldn’t be expected to pay for it out of taxpayer funds. It’s time that cooler heads prevail to get this done to avoid any additional tax dollars being wasted on the Symphony.


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