Printer-friendly version
The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Professional musicians play for free?

December 13, 2008 at 7:46 AM

Here's a question for tough economic times: should professional musicians agree to play for free if the orchestra for which they are contracted is having financial troubles?

The argument is that the musicians, by playing a free concert, are showing the community they care, and showing board members and administrators they care.

But does anyone care if we care? Or does this simply send the message that this whole business of paying musicians is rather like paying someone to go fishing or take a walk in the park? I mean, you have to pay rent on the office, you have to pay administrators, you have to pay vendors, but pay musicians? Pah!

What are your thoughts on the matter? Is there wisdom to doing this, as an act of good faith? Or is it a kind of foolishness to which artists are prone? Or is there just no choice, play for free or watch orchestras die?

From Dimitri Musafia
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 8:12 AM

Hi Laurie, tough one indeed, and a child of the times. However I think the answer is spelled out in your own wording. "Professional" and "free" are for the most part incompatible in this context except, of course, in a very limited way.

To play one free concert  - sure, or at least maybe, if you can afford it, and I would limit that to charity events or other venues when you actually want to work for free and your work goes to help others. But to play for free to help your own orchestra? Will workers at GM assemble a few Suburbans for free to keep the firm out of receivership?

I realize what's behind your thought of course. Keep the orchestra alive, keep people interested in music, etc. Many of us wouldn't think twice about it. However, to play for free because because of general economic difficulty provides a dangerous precedent for the professional - or should I maybe say the profession itself - indeed. 

To see if a concept is fundamentally valid, I use a little test, which is taking the concept to extremes and then judging the outcome. Here, the bottom line is: if you end up only playing for "free", you're no longer a "professional" at all. My 2 Euro cents!   

From Royce Faina
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 12:11 PM

I can see a free gig here and there for the public to be aware of their symphony and how important it is. It's a part of their heritage. It and the music that they play is a part of the bedrock of mankinds foundation.  The music and arts that it's keeping alive is also a part of our roots, and like a tree, even a family tree, will suffer without it's roots! Like a tap root it reaches down to that bedrock and brings to the surface enrichments for all to benefit!

Kind Regards,


From Paul G.
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 12:58 PM

I voted no.

I just don't see it helping. That change isn't a big enough one. And seriously, what classical musician has gotten into the business for money? When I hear about artists "starving" and living gig to gig, I ask myself where is the default in their planning? I just think that orchestras need to get more creative! For example, the Utah Symphony is having a "Here comes Santa Clause" concert on Sunday, and they're kind of keeping the music a surprise. Well at least to the students they gave free tickets to. And I think one of the secrets of say... Hilary Hahn's success is her creativity! She's been very wise and selective in choosing her repertoire. She also does so much to keep her fans happy. She tries to put up videos every once in a while on YouTube ( She keeps a journal, and still tries to stay after each concert to meet people. I think that is why she has such dedicated fans.
I think if orchestras had this creativity, they could "stay alive". There are so many thing they could be doing, but they're not! I've given ideas on here before but they simply seem to be ignored. Some were offering a concert where  young local soloists play with the orchestra; the friends and family are going to come to the concerts. Mix things up; have the orchestra split up and get creative with chamber music... Have a quartet night. Draw younger audiences in, by doing theme nights where it's something that will interest them and draw them in while exposing them to music. Themes could be things like Harry Potter, Pirates, and whatever the popular movie is at the time. Bottom line: Orchestras need to get creative and go out on a limb!! It seems like they're not willing to try something new.

The thing is, is that classical music is just plain boring to everyone but us musicians. I used to think the same thing before I became a violinist and I'm sure a few of you have had similar experiences. I think one of the other things is that people are just uneducated and unexposed. By uneducated, I mean that they don't know how to appreciate or understand the music. Like I used to hate The Four Seasons, but now that I'm a violinist and my brain has developed diffrently, I see the genius behind them.

Before I say more, I would like to know more facts....

Edit: Sorry! I just went through and fixed the typos... Could 'ya tell I was half asleep when I wrote that?

From Royce Faina
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 1:32 PM

Paul G- Nice post. I know of orchestras that are as creative as you have mentioned. Even players getting together doing Avant Garde. Those that are and have faired the best are those that did/do what I posted and a bit of what you've mentioned but both at the sametime. Getting more creative and promoting through exposure. Never under estimate exposure.

I think that a bit of what the both of us have said would do well.

Kind Regards,


From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 1:49 PM

One of the lower end ICSOMs played for free a few years ago, when management couldn't make payroll.  The musicians decided to keep playing, and the money did eventually start rolling in again (a month?  two months?  I can't remember, but I can ask...).


From Josh Henry
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 3:11 PM

Very well written Paul and Royce. Good suggestions about the orchestras. However, one of the main problems that I see with this line of questioning (that similarily parallels the big-3 auto makers) is/are the unions that most of the musicians belong to. There are orchestras out there that require that the players be part of the union. I don't have any specific facts, but I tend to believe that the vast majority of the players in orchestras are members of the musician's union. As such, the union would have to be involved to 'negociate' any kind of discounted or free playing, and any future benefits for the players.

If the players were actually free to choose if they would play a (singular) free concert to promote the orchestra and keep it from going under, I think that many of them would. However, too many free gigs, and money runs short for them. Don't forget that it is their livelyhood--how they feed their families and pay their mortgages.

Josh Henry, Bow Maker

From Dimitri Musafia
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 3:52 PM

I agree in part with Josh in this, although I realize it's a controversial subject.

There was a real need for labor unions when they were created. But today (in Italy at least) things are much different. The union guy is there to solve problems, OK, but when they're solved... he's there to create new ones. Otherwise how would he justify his pay?

My violin case making company is not unionized, because over here it's mandatory law that all workers get a union contract regardless. That said, union dues, which are not mandatory, are outrageous. As an employer, I pay less to my business union then my union employees pay to their labor union. That says a lot.

When there are real problems, like a global economic crisis, then the local union guy is totally out of his depth, as is the local union for that matter (or anyone else). New solutions must be forged to solve new problems. 

From Eckart Schloifer
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 4:34 PM

I voted YES.

It means: if it has sence to give a concert and if it helps the situation, whatever it is. It must be very important, maybe to differenmt reasons.

From Elaine Dowling
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 6:47 PM

I don't really know that there is a clear-cut, fits any circumstance answer to this question.  For the record, I voted no.  However, the players do need to figure into their decision the value of helping to keep their jobs.  So, should players consider accepting a reduction in pay?  More likely, yes.  Should players contribute to fund raising and marketing efforts without additional compensation -- yea.  I think that is in their best interests. 

Our downtown art museum has a kind of come and go cocktail hour after work on Thursdays.  Should orchestra musicians putting together chamber ensembles to play at something like that for free?  Assuming that there is some type of information available about the orchestra's schedule and financial problems?  That to me is different than playing a subscription concert gratis.


Norman, Oklahoma

From Royce Faina
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 7:23 PM

Josh Henry- You know, I didn't  think of the Unions!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 8:14 PM

Like someone said here, yes for charity events and once a while as a gift to the population. Tickets can be very expensive and it is great to offer some concerts for free because art and patrimonial things should not only be for the rich.   We often see cities in  Europe where the people are bounded with their city orchestra. I think it is because the orchestra really do things such as free concerts once in a while for all and put nice repertoire that even a "non classical" person would like.  I know a few persons that went at Vienna and Pragua and they said the musical life is very special.  The orchestra is even a tourist attraction and the tourists are advise to attend one of their beautiful concerts!  Like Paul said, creativity is not a word that many orchestra seem to know! Modern concertos is not the most popular thing to attract new audience members! 

I find that the conductor and some members of the orchestra should talk to people, to the audience.  By remaining silent and not presenting a single piece, it looks like if to be serious, they had to put a distance between us and them... How ironic if you want the people to like you! It look kind of snob in my opinion and we know that musicians are generally not snob at all...  This is even true between the conductor vs the musicians. I heard a well known conductor that I don't want to name on an interview. The interviewer ask him if he would mind to be friends and do things like go to the restaurant with orchestra musicians, play golf, go to theater etc.  He said that it was not professional and that you should always keep a distance between you and them.  I FIND THIS AWFUL!!!  If I was a conductor and happen to make friends in the orchestra, I wouldn't run away!  After all, Sarah chang has many friends that are orchestra members!  You can not like everyone but how ridiculous to think that you can not be professionnal if you are friens with a few musicians in your orchestra! With such ways of thinking about the musicians, the audience etc, they will not get more popular and they will not attract young people and reach the "heart" of the population!

But, to return to the topic, free concerts should not be linked with the economic crises and should only be for charity events or to make a gift to show their love to their city.


From Larisa Mihaela
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 10:42 PM

You are right , Anne Marie. If orchestras and conductors would loosen up a bit that rigid , aristocratic like conduite , maybe they would be more popular. And the etiquete expected of the public is too strict too , many times. There are many people out there who are not regular classical music attenders, so they don't really know how  to act at a concert . And there we are, judging them , and criticizing for expressing their enthuziasm too loud , or for applauding between movements , like God knows what a terrible crime they just comitted. Now wouldn't that just discourage those people to  coming to concerts any more? Wouldn't they rather go to pop music concerts where they can express freely and naturally ?

We do live in the 21st century , and everything around us has changed and modernized. Isn't it the time that orchestras would start modernizing too ? we need to realize that in the century we live in formality and the so called "etiquete" with all the strict rules that come with it, tend to not have the same importance as before. Rather, people lean more towards natural and simplicity . And we are indeed in a more extrovert than introspective time , so you can see why the young people would go to a rock concert and shake their heads , releasing their energy , rather than to a classical music concert, where they would have to stand still and barely breath for 90 minutes (well...I am not saying that people should go to orchestral concerts and shake their heads, don't get me wrong :P ). Yeah....we are not going to make rock concerts out of classical music, but a little change won't heart , right ?


To answer  the original question, yes , I would play a concert or two for free.  For many reasons. But definitely making musicians to play for free should not be the solution to orchestral economic crises. Rather, a change in approach , in connecting to and attracting audiences.

From Jodi B
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 11:05 PM

I just recently attended a recital that featured my daughter's violin teacher. It was held at Central Library in Indianapolis... a free concert. It is a wonderful Library, we were tourists taking pictures, and a wonderful auditiorium.

The recital, itself, had geat attendance. It simply wasn't just playing, her teacher explained the duets and gave a little music history. I think that every opportunity that is a teaching opportunity for the general public is really worth it.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 1:20 AM

I certainly agree that it is a good idea to occasionally perform special concerts/recitals which are free for the public to attend, particularly where they are in different venues from a normal hall, and with extra communication between performers and audience - as that has the potential to attract a very much more diverse audience than normally shells out their dollars for a symphony ticket.

However, when it comes to professional musicians performing for free - well - I think that is a much more difficult subject.  I mean, would you ask your plumber to mend your pipes for you for nothing, because you "want to know more about what he can do", or likewise your dentist or lawyer - for example.  It is vital not to let people forget that music is a profession requiring high level skills and like everyone else, the musician has to pay bills.  A charity concert is one thing, but a concert for no pay just because the orchestra management is inefficient at fund-raising is a quite different kettle of fish and I'd definitely not be happy about going down that road at all.  Where would it end?  Do one, then a month later management come back and say "oh well we are a bit pressed for cash again, how about doing another gig for free?"  

Also, what does it say about the "professional" image of an orchestra if they start regularly performing for nothng?   In a sense they've blurred the line as to what they actually are striving to be, haven't they?   You are giving the wrong message to a public which probably will start to regard a previously professional unit as an "amateur" community orchestra instead - not good for potential fundraising/sponsors and the like.


From Barry Nelson
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 3:38 AM

For Charity is one thing. If everyone in the audience gives a free day of their work to the musicians, then Ok. Doctors, mechanics,etc...line up.


From Paul G.
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 4:30 AM

"If everyone in the audience gives a free day of their work to the musicians, then Ok. Doctors, mechanics,etc...line up."


From Benjamin K
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 4:12 AM

"the conductor and some members of the orchestra should talk to people, to the audience."

I couldn't agree more. There is nothing more pathetic than musicians who don't address their audience. Fortunately, here in Japan, they break this silly rule of silence fairly often and audiences absolutely love it.

One of the most memorable concerts I have attended was a concert given by the Borromeo quartet. Not only did they announce what they were going to play, but Nicholas Kitchen, their first violinist, first explained the history of the piece in brief to then talk about the music itself whereby they played a few measures of certain passages that illustrated what Nicholas had just explained. During the actual performance of pieces the score was projected to the wall behind them. FInally, after the concert, they would mix with the audience in the lobby to have a chat. The audience loved it.

They do this every year here for an entire week of concerts with a program that ranges from Haydn to Shostakovich and the concerts are very well visited. Of course Tokyo isn't exactly comparable to Western cities, we have hundreds of symphony orchestras here and concerts are always well visited, but still I believe that the Borromeos' format would work elsewhere too.

I just found that the Borromeo concert I attended is streamed (including the talks) online ...


From steve newman
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 5:57 AM

re- Here's a question for tough economic times: should professional musicians agree to play for free if the orchestra for which they are contracted is having financial troubles?


Hi- Thanks for the question, and all the thoughtful responses. I tend to agree with the majority response that "professional" and "free" are not compatible. But the question implies another more basic question that,  though painful, should be addressed.  Namely- Should Music be a Professsion?  (Let me say upfront that I am an avid amateur musician)

  I don't think people assemble cars, or fix plumbing or people's teeth, because they enjoy it-  therefore they need to be paid for it. But should fun activities like playing music, or golf, or surfing, etc be paid activities? Or should they be the enjoyable things people do for recreation and spiritual well being, after they have done the less pleasant stuff it takes to make a living.

  If playing classical concert  music is unpleasant or so demanding that it requires pay it might be self-defeating.  Audiences can sense if musicians are having fun and audience enjoyment correlates with their perception of how much the musicians are enjoying it.

  Classical music in the US is not state sponsored. Salaries are based on a market situation. Musicians pay comes from ticket sales and charitable contributions to the orchestras.  If the market is such that people can get well paid to  play music, great. Go for it. It's a good career choice.  But if there's no market for it, it's time to  look for a different source of income, and continue doing the stuff you love for its own sake.  There's precedent for this.  At one time Dixieland jazz provided a livelihood for lots of musicians.  Today  there's none, or at most one or two bands in the whole country where musicians can make a living playing dixieland.  But dixieland music is not dead.  Thousands of people still play it for their own and their audience's enjoyment.

  Bottom line-  professions come and go. If orchestras cant be sustained by ticket and cd sales, then they must raise money by getting grants from the government, foundations, or private patrons. If that doesn't happen, it's over. Some good suggestions were made in this forum about how to reach audiences better.  They are worth trying.

Classical music will never die, but classical music as a profession might.  Professionals don't play for free,  but if there's no audience or sponsors who pay, then there's no profession, and one either plays for free or doesn't play.

  I'm sorry if this sounds harsh but it seems realistic.

I appreciate what you do. I wish you all well in being able to continue as music professionals.



From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 6:38 AM

I agree with many of the trhings that have been said here.

From janet griffiths
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 8:07 AM

Music as a profession is not only as a performer and there are many of us who are exclusively teachers. I consider my job to be much more than teaching youngsters to play the violin, or to play in an orchestra together.Firstly research has shown the immense benefits of learning an instrument. All sorts of other skills are developed and improved including mathematical and literacy abilities.Concentration and team work are developed as a result of ensemble playing.Fine motor slills lead to all round dexterity.The list is endless. We who teach youngters are part of creating and educating the the next generation which will be very important not only to the future of our planet but to ourselves in our twighlight years. I already consider myself vastly underpaid for the amount of hours I put in aside from actual physical contact with students.Would I teach students for free , the answer is no, because somewhere we have to draw a line between what is acceptable and not.An orchestral musician already has put in hours of preparation prior to becoming a professional.Many study parts at home outside the paid rehearsals ,  just keeping technique at an acceptable level costs hours of study time - unpaid!!. 

From Larisa Mihaela
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 1:31 PM

"don't think people assemble cars, or fix plumbing or people's teeth, because they enjoy it-  therefore they need to be paid for it. But should fun activities like playing music, or golf, or surfing, etc be paid activities? Or should they be the enjoyable things people do for recreation and spiritual well being, after they have done the less pleasant stuff it takes to make a living."


     YES, they should. If the orchestral concert would mean nothing more than that a regular person decides one day to dress up , after work , take a violin in his/her hands and go on a stage and play something , without any other bother or effort , than yes , music should probably not be paid. If violin would be something that you learn in 30 minutes /day , 30 days , and than go out there and show everybody how fun and easy it is to play it , than yes, it should probably not be paid.

    But when you take into account what it implies playing the violin as a proffession , what kind of sacrifices and education it requires, what is behind that simple , enjoyable , orchestral concert, than .....Sory. I can't agree with you.Music learned as a hobby is something very different than music achieved as a profession. People give up more than half of their childhoods , and maybe more than half of their lives , play violin seriously.

   Yes , it may be fun when you hear the player on stage playing with eas, but it may not be so fun for him all the time at home, when having to sacrifice other things to have the time of repeating a single passage for hours...And if music should not be a proffession , than why all the education required to do it? Why bother having conservatoires? Why bother having music schools?

   Should musicians play for free , just for the sake of playing ? Well, I think musicians are ALREADY underpaid, considering the amount of work that is behind all they do. The only case when proffessional musicians should play for free would be if our society would find a valuable replacement for "money" , and suddenly we wouldn't have to use money to pay for food and homes and clothes.... Because you can't do music as a proffession and do something else as a proffession in the mean time . Music as a proffession already eats up all your time. That's just the way it is.

From Benjamin K
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 3:01 PM

The idea that people should not get paid simply because they enjoy their job seems a little strange to me. In conclusion it should then follow that we should only get paid if we don't like our jobs, which seems even stranger, if not to say absurd.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 2:26 PM

my comment is my opinion on the idea below so skip it if you want to hear about if the musicians should play for free or not! I promise it will be my only big off topic comment!

don't think people assemble cars, or fix plumbing or people's teeth, because they enjoy it-  therefore they need to be paid for it. But should fun activities like playing music, or golf, or surfing, etc be paid activities? Or should they be the enjoyable things people do for recreation and spiritual well being, after they have done the less pleasant stuff it takes to make a living."

 I must admit that you are a little right but as Larisa said, the professionnal musician do a lot of sacrifices and it is not always fun.

Let me explain.  As an amateur, you are forced to do scales and studies if you want to be good but you can still  choose your pieces with your teacher. Something that is educative and that you happen to like. I think pros are often forced to perform so much work that they hate! (but they can not tell it to you and have to fake they enjoy concerto x) In addition, it is a popular believe that pros have 7 + hours a day to practice. In fact, maybe just some soloists have that. A teacher once told me, you know, for most musicians, they have to run many jobs at the same time (teaching and more than one orchestra) and they just don't have much time to do personnal practices. I asked " how do they do it if they can not practice" and the teacher respond "that is the problem and everything is always last minute you would be more happy as an amateur to do stuff you like and many practices + having opportunities that would be impossible for you in a professionnal world"  This advice was one of my best ones.  Of course, there is nothing in the world more fun than performing well a concerto you like but this is not exactly the everyday life of many professionnals (even if there are exceptions)

I respect very much the two types (amateur and professionnals) but there is many stereotypes like "amateurs will never play well" and "professionnal always enjoy themselves at the job"  but there is many cases different from these. I have heard about amateurs reaching pro level after many years and I have heard about professionnals who regreted their choice and were near burnout. The exact contrary is actually possible too!

But for sure, if you are lucky to have a job in music that you like, it's always more fun to do sacrifices in something you like than in something you hate. When I wanted to become a professionnal musician, I was like many young teens that are convinced they will earn their living in their "burning passion". What a schock when I realized that (I'm talking about my case and the solution could be different for another person) it would be better for my musical life if I accepted to go study in something I don't like and am no good in in order to have a job that I hope will be interesting ( I don't know yet what it will be because it depens on my grades etc )and allow me to do plenty of amateur music.  Of course it was so hard for the passionate teen I was to admit this!  At first, I was mad, very mad about those who told me I had a lot of chances to fail and didn't listen to them.  Even today, there is not a single day where I don't ask myself if I am silly to study in something so different from the real person I am (forever in love with violin)!  But to return to the topic, it's true that many people do jobs that aren't fun and there is nothing bad trying to find one that is fun but unfourtunately I find that not many people suceed in being able to earn a living in their asolute passion field. Maybe, I'm totally wrong but in my case, I've choosen to suffer now hoping it will allow me to have a wonderful musical life after. (better that what I would reallistically have if I was a professionnal). I think our occidental world make us believe that everyone is doing their dream profession, but it is not true and for many, the choice they made was only linked with survival reasons (even if exeptions remain). But I do not think the musical profession should be eliminated! (I think the best thing to do for the young ones is to go ask questions to as many professionnals and teachers as they can about is the profession that fun, what is the everyday life, how much sucess vs how much failures do you see, do you regret or not your choices, do you suggest this or not to me, what do you think will happen in the classical world in the futur etc) I did it (of course didn't ask such questions to complete strangers because I wanted the answers to be honnest and not artificial) and it helped me a lot to define what was the stereotype vs what was the real life of these people.

The profession should never be eliminated but the people should be more informed about the reality of all professions!


From Paul G.
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 3:45 PM

I have to agree sort of with what Janet said. An instrument will help you improve mathematically and with literacy. But I've seen it happen in myself... I used to suck at math. Seriously, one of the bottom students in my class and now I'm probably in the top 5. So it will change. But on the other side, I think it's slowed me in reading. I used to be very fast, but when I started learning my instruments and reading music it's like I slowed down as if I have to examin every word. Just like you would in music. But I don't know I may not have slowed down and it could just be in my head.

This discussion has gotten so many arguements over night I haven't had time to read them!!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 3:55 PM

It's maybe not in your head Paul. I have started the violin one year after you (when I was 14) and believe it or not, I'm totally convinced it has changed forever the way the information is processed in my head.  Even if I have always been more of a language person. But I have promised in the comment above I won't put another long off topic comment here. So, I keep me promist! lol Maybe as teens our brain was still able to adapt itself!


From Marc Bettis
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 8:18 PM


I have to make a living-and that cannot be done probono.  We all have stories of problems with people not paying us when they agreed to beforehand.  I know many folks who have gone to requiring 1/2 the payment at least 2+weeks in advance-as a booking fee; as people have taken to writing checks that bounce when they pay at the show.  I know many folks who freelance outside of the union, as the union dues are quite high-when the union wages aren't even a living wage, in their area.

There is a 4th wall in all theatre-and that is the proscenium.  Now moreso than before-as musicians are seldom payed enough to have to deal with audiences.  Like many employees, they have all manner of work to do--and to get up and make a good theatrical presentation for an audience-is not in the job description-nor is it in the paycheck. 

From Alison S
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 8:58 PM

Playing for free in a professional setting is a bad idea overall because it devalues the efforts of those who still need to earn a living from music, now and in the future. Although the credit crunch situation is serious, it won’t last forever.

I would even be cautious about providing free services for charity; anyone who goes down this route should set firm boundaries. Before people start throwing things at me, I am a volunteer worker for a local charity and have observed the chaos and decline in standards that result from a shift in reliance from the professional to the voluntary sector. I even feel a tinge of guilt that professionals are being asked to reduce their hours and take a pay cut because there is a mistaken belief that volunteers like me can cover for them. Some of the other volunteers are feeling overloaded and are dropping out, and that is still an option for us because we are amateurs/volunteers with no contractual obligation.


From J Kingston
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 9:31 PM

I agree with Jodi and others with respect to what a performer can do, short of playing for free, which I don't think is such a great idea.

I went to a chamber concert recently and there was a theme. The first violinist stood up before the first half and gave a very interesting and informative talk about the composer, the historical context and many other interesting things. He also explained how they decided on the program and how the selected theme tied together throughout the program. Then he walked the audience through the piece and it was really facinating. He said, "Listen for this...Listen for that..." the audience loved it, however he happened to be a great presentor who really pulled the audience into the show. Same for the 2nd half. It was not terribly expensive but a fair price for a really good show and everyone was paid, and the audience, I am sure, felt it was a wonderful value. It made me wish the boys were there but I didn't take them because I was worried they would be bored due to the composers. Shame on me...This guy really delivered beyond the price of the ticket and provided "access" to a some music many would consider too esoteric for an uneducated audience. Well done.

From Jessie Vallejo
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 10:43 PM

I think it's a really tough decision, but I agree that if it is someone's livelihood, if they are professionals, then it's asking too much for them to play for free.  I get really frustrated when people have this idea that art and music are not worth spending money on, but that you know, they need to have it for weddings and other events.

Seeing as that I'm not relying on performing for a living or an income, I may agree occasionally to do things for free (ie. just the ceremony music, no pre-wedding music for a friend whose job was cut), but in general I don't find that to be fair to ask of someone.

Hopefully the symphonies will figure out how to manage, though, since I'm not in that business, I'm not sure of what the options would be.

From David Allen
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 9:51 PM

Here is a question. How many orchestras actually operate as a real business; that is, profitable? Are there any? If not, how can anyone expect to make a living doing music without public or private support?

 Another thing is, the musicians I know play because it's who they are. Put another way, it is play, or be incomplete! As long as this is so, society will have the advantage of us. We need the audience more than the audience needs us! As my union rep. once said to me, "How often do you see carpenters  hammering nails on their days off just for the fun of it?"

One thing's for sure: when money gets tight the luxuries are the first to go. That means most people will buy less. What we need to do is reach out to those who need music the way we need to play. Perhaps we should take a more professional approach: find out whats wanted and give it to them-for a price! (and advertize).

P.S. I voted no.

From Larisa Mihaela
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 11:54 PM

Many persons expressed here the idea that making a living out of playing an instrument may give you an uncertain future.

Regarding this , I am wondering if it is not good for music students to focus not only on their instrument, but also on other musical studies (so , hey , still related to music:) ) , such as music theory , music history, composition , analyses ... For myself I am thinking that , just to secure my future, while trying to achieve my goals in violin studies, I would like to focus on composition (which has always interested me a bit) , music theory and music history. Thus I was thinking that after finishing a bachelor with focus on violin performance , to either go to a masters in violin performance , and than a doctor's degree in one of the subjects mentioned above , either finish the masters as well in a musical study different than violin . I also took a business management certificate (which , if at a time would be the case , could be prolonged towards a bachelor) , in case that at a given point I would want to start an own business, or simply have to switch to a different proffession (since many say that with music you never know...). Of course I do hope with all my heart that I will do nothing else than violin all my life.

Would this seem like a good strategy ? Maybe something to consider for other music students ?

From J Kingston
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 12:06 AM

One more thing. Everyone thinks teachers should not make a lot because they are suppose to be devoted to children or something to that effect. Same with musicians possibly. Everyone thinks because they love music performing is payment in itself in some twisted way. Also, great musicians make everything look really easy which perpetuates the myth that it is easy for them and therefore the performance is the payment. This reflects a very romantic view and probably classical musicians need to create a new myth about themselves. The old Rock Bands for instance always do tours when they need money and make not apologies about it.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 2:22 AM

I confess, I've voted "no" four times so far. 


From Benjamin K
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 2:03 AM

I do not believe musicians have any less right to get paid than people of any other profession, however, I totally disagree with the notion expressed in this thread quite frequently that musicians are special in that they like what they do and even do it "outside of work". I think that is utter nonsense.

I know many people of various professions who really like their jobs and love what they are doing, that even includes people with as "boring" a profession as accounting or legal. I also know many people who love what they do for a living as much as to do it with a passion outside of work, and I am not talking about artists. Carpenters had been singled out here, but I know carpenters who do woodwork, carving or building wooden models as a hobby, this is actually not uncommon. Workers in the car industry also had been singled out, but again, I know car mechanics who spend all their free time working on cars or engines as a hobby, also not uncommon.

In fact I find it very arrogant for any musician to make such statements about other professions, SHAME ON THOSE OF YOU WHO DID.

Last but not least, I know many people who not only engage in their profession's activities outside of work, but also do it for free as a service to society and do it out of an ethical conviction. Medecins sans frontiers would be a prominent example, but in particular I am thinking about software engineers. Yes, software engineers.

There are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of software engineers world wide who write free software in their free time. Not only do they insist that the software they write in their free time is available to anyone free of charge, but they also insist that the "recipe" for the software, the so called source code, which software companies try to keep secret, is also made available for everyone to see and use. This is called the open source software movement and more and more technology products today are based on such software, including consumer appliances and gadgets.

Like I said, I do not believe that musicians should be working without pay, but if you thought they are the only ones who love their jobs, engage in their profession's activity outside of work and occasionally do work for free, then you would be uninformed, if not ignorant.

From Jessie Vallejo
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 5:36 AM

J bring up a good point by using teachers as an example.  I've seen many, and many gave me the advice during my first year of teaching, that as rewarding as some days and things are in general, that there are other days when the only thing that gets you through them is the fact that it's your job and the paycheck. 

Also, Benjamin K, I also agree with you.  My father is a mechanic.  In his spare time of working on breaks and between his day job and helping out at my grandfather's garage, he works on his van and also restoring a 1948 Ford Coupe.   He was the first person in my family to COMPLETELY agree with my boyfriend and I when we would not do a  wedding for free in the summer (it wasn't a situation like with my friend, and we decided on a standard rate we would use for friends & family), but someone felt that we should still do it for free for them.  As a mechanic, my dad is expected constantly to do everyone favors, but it leaves him exhausted, spread thin, and BROKE.

Sure, certain charity events or extreme situations are to be considered, but in general I disagree with performing your profession for free, and that is why I voted no.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 6:21 AM

Wow, this conversation has gone all over the place! And that's a good thing. But I have to say that I come down on the side of not playing for free, with only the kinds of exceptions that perhaps the union makes: playing for family, for special benefits, etc. Also, we can't teach for free.

I have to say that I'm grateful for the musicians union, which has allowed musicians to be paid decently, helped negotiate things like reasonable time parameters for rehearsals. In LA the union also has an option for purchasing health insurance as well as a credit union, which helps musicians get instrument loans, among other things. It's not perfect, by any means, but we need a union. When you don't have a union, you end up doing back-brakingly long rehearsals for almost no pay -- it's not some kind of pleasureful thing, believe me.

The American Federation of Musicians actually has a trust fund for doing concerts that are free to the public, and musicians get paid a minimal amount for those concerts. So the idea of providing concerts and education to the public is something that professional musicians do think about.

Not only that, but just about every musician I know spends all kinds of time perfecting their art, whether they perform or teach. There is certainly a sense of mission, of dedication. But one does have to make a living, and if we want this kind of soul-affirming art in our society, we need to look after our artists.

Now, I suppose we can have the whole argument about whether or not art (music) is a necessity for humans or a luxury! Hmmmmm...I feel next Friday's vote coming on....

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 2:17 PM

The right answer here is clear; if it's always about the money, then never play for free. 

And - if it is always about the money, and you think the government ought to support you (the results of two recent polls here), you ought to be run out of town!  Just like GM and Chrysler.

Want to add that it's a fallacy to think working for free somehow cheapens what you do, not to be confused with driving wages down.  And hopefully the value of what you do isn't measured by the wealth and prestige you gain doing it (what the Heartland calls the L.A. Syndrome)   :)


From Benjamin K
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 3:21 PM


aren't most roads and bridges in the US publicly funded, using taxpayer's money?

if so, then the car industry has already been subsidised for ages (probably since the 1930s).

as for opera houses and concert halls, not sure if those are funded by tax money in the US, somebody else might be able to tell us.

if they aren't maybe they should cut down on subsidising roads and put some of that money into other "worthy" things for a change, things like opera houses and concert halls perhaps? In any event, a subsidy is a subsidy is a subsidy. Once you subsidise one thing, you have lost the high ground arguing against subsidising another.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 3:18 PM

David, how is it possible for professionnals to find people that needs music as much as musicians do? In the past times roughly 1920-1970, some people lived in horrible conditions and it happened that music was in style then. So I believe the population of these countries began to really need music.  It's not just a coincidence if Menuhin, Stern, Ida Haendel, Oistrakh, Heifetz, Kreisler etc were so famous and internationnally loved. For sure they had incredible talent but extraordinairy musicians were less numerous then than today and the population needed music more than today with all the other distractions (the net, Ipod, football etc).  Recreate this phenomenon is quite hard to not say impossible!  But in these difficult economic times, everything is possible but I am not sure if people will "through" themselves in this type of music.

Larisa, you seem very wise to take much different courses related to music. I really wish you it will work and we need more than ever new beautiful concertos!  So it is a great thing if you study in composition too! Many people should follow your example and the halls would be filled with beautiful new music!  Congratulations!

Benjamin, you are right. I know some people who love their profession even if I know more that don't really like it that much (in all fields) but if you happen to love your profession, it is the best!


From Larisa Mihaela
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 3:59 PM

Yes...what is happiness if not doing what you love and being paid for it?

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine