Detroit Symphony strike prompts discussion of what’s fair pay for symphony musicians


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

It isn’t often that you get a fairly wide cross section of Americans in one place, discussing the value of a branch of the arts.

The Detroit Symphony musicians’ strike is the occasion for such a colloquy in the comments section accompanying a report in the Detroit Free Press about last weekend’s developments: the musicians rejecting a final contract offer, and management suspending the season’s remaining concerts.


As often with comments on a hot-button topic, some are uninformed. But if you plow through the 200-plus responses, you’ll find a fair amount of reasoned discussion about how to value -– and reward -– highly trained and highly skilled working artists who are not celebrities.

A large majority of those commenting, including some professed lovers of classical music, are incredulous. Many ask who in these times, especially in hard-hit Detroit, would refuse a contract that, while calling for a 23% pay cut (from $105,000 per year) and mandating additional educational ‘outreach’ work at management’s convenience, nevertheless provides salaries above $80,000 for a 36-week season, with four weeks’ paid vacation and good benefits.

On the other hand, there’s this: ‘The DSO members are big leaguers in an incredibly competitive field, and in that light, their salaries make sense.’ The same person notes that tickets to what many of the commenters scorn as an elitist luxury are more affordable than what top-tier pop acts charge.

Here’s a link if you care to observe (or join) the fray.

By the way, the L.A. Philharmonic musicians, playing for an organization that has enjoyed a string of successes in the seven-plus years since Disney Hall opened, are in the second year of a four-year contract that calls for aggregate raises of 17% over its term. Annual base salaries will reach $148,720 when the last year begins in September 2012.



Deal puts L.A. Phil base pay in top tier

Deborah Borda, the other power behind the L.A. Phil’s podium

A rocky road, step by step

Philharmonic staff members face pay cut or wage freeze

-- Mike Boehm