Orchestral Pay

Edited: January 16, 2020, 11:35 AM · I've read numerous articles on how major philarmonics and orchestras in the US have their musicians on quite a high pay wage so why are orchestral musicians in the UK given such low wages? I think it was the detroit symphony who went on strike to not get paid less than $100,000...while UK musicians are earning way less. Musicians in major UK orchestras are averagely earning £20,000-£30,000 and those players are in major orchestras nonetheless. Its quite sad how musicians who have fought fierce competition and worked so hard to get into these positions and have a job doing the thing they love, be paid such a salary, and having to find other work to survive on like freelance or teaching...Why is this so? Why do musicians typically get paid more in the US? Also, is it better to teach violin than play in an orchestra, wage wise?

Replies (117)

January 16, 2020, 11:47 AM · Here, the Ulster Orchestra has always been lowest paid of any full-time orchestra in the U.K.
I was talking with the wife of one of the players a few years ago, and couldn't believe how badly paid they were.
No wonder they all have to teach etc. to make ends meet.
I left in 1982 to go into I.T. and was paid far more there.
It's appalling really. And they are superb players.
January 16, 2020, 11:53 AM · I know...and its such a shame since they've worked so hard and gone through so much to get to where they are.
January 16, 2020, 11:55 AM · To answer in two words: Margaret Thatcher.

A British Prime Minister with a solid majority in the Lower House has a lot more power than a US President. She shaped the country in her image.

January 16, 2020, 11:55 AM · To answer in two words: Margaret Thatcher.

A British Prime Minister with a solid majority in the Lower House has a lot more power than a US President. She shaped the country in her image.

January 16, 2020, 11:55 AM · Because the UK is in its twilight years after a century of decline?
January 16, 2020, 12:02 PM · Only roughly the top 20 full-time orchestras in the United States pay salaries of over $50,000 a year (that's base pay for a 52-week season; i.e. what section players can expect to make).

Other full-time orchestras pay less, and many don't have a 52-week season. Most of the orchestras are part-time, per-service orchestra, and pay a per-service fee, not a salary, and they don't pay benefits (which in the US means no health insurance, which can run a family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per month). And there might not be that many services. Lots of US players would be grateful for a guaranteed $20k/year + health care, which they could supplement with other gigging and teaching.

Take an entry-level IT job in most major cities in the US, by contrast, and first-year pay is likely to be over $100,000/year.

This is why I always mention the opportunity cost of pursuing music.

January 16, 2020, 12:41 PM · Sticking to the math and the last question because that's all I know...my student's parent was asking related questions and our local professional symphony (US, high population area) conveniently has section violin positions open and information posted. The dollars come out to 45k for a partial year although total compensation package would include paid vacation, health insurance, and others. It's like with school teachers, who typically don't get a salary during summer months or can have less per paycheck spread out over more paychecks. Unless you were planning to live on 45k/year, you would be doing something else too.

Taking the 45k number over a 29-week season, suppose you were teaching privately 20 hours/week, you can make "the same" by charging 78/hr. That assumes maintaining a stable private teaching roster and schedule. (You can even pay for insurance and other benefits by teaching more weeks per year, more hours per week, or charging more per hour!) I don't know about teaching in a school situation, which by the way means education degree.

My job at a major US bank straight out of undergrad (non music, clearly) paid more than 45k (but not more than if 45k/29wks were annualized). I had several substantial raises before leaving and my private teaching income will basically never match that. Wage is only one consideration of many.

January 16, 2020, 12:59 PM · People play the violin because they WANT to do it. Much of the compensation comes from playing music.

Edited: January 16, 2020, 1:12 PM · What does "major UK orchestras" mean? If it includes all the full-time orchestras in the UK, then, no, American orchestras don't typically pay more.
Edited: January 16, 2020, 2:03 PM · Work with low pay generally has one of two qualities. Either it is absolutely necessary (e.g. bus driver, postal clerk) OR it is enjoyable (English professor, musician). With a few exceptions, the types of work that are consistently highly paid are unnecessary/destructive (financier, CEO) and/or not that much fun. ;)
January 16, 2020, 2:11 PM · The IT, medical, legal, and finance professions tend to be necessary, highly paid and a fair amount of fun. There's certainly an element of finance which is destructive, but it's hard to argue that a modern economy could function without a financial services sector. And one could probably make the argument that we do not need as big of a legal sector as we have, but certainly some of those jobs are necessary.
Edited: January 16, 2020, 3:02 PM · I think the major UK orchestras would include the big 5 in London, plus Covent Garden and a few others sprinkled over the country. The regional BBC orchestras, perhaps, and the Halle. I don't have first-hand info, but I'd be surprised if any of that batch paid as well as the top 10 or 20 US orchestras. Unless by "all of the full-time UK orchestras" you mean playing in all, concurrently. Remember, starting salaries for the US are not too far from $100K in the top tier, and principals often get 3 or 4 times that.
Edited: January 16, 2020, 3:11 PM · What I mean is: are we comparing two different tiers of orchestras? If all the full-time orchestras in the UK are "major" then the point of comparison should be top-50 US orchestras, not top-10 or top-20. And that makes average US wages for that category of orchestra much lower than $100k.
Edited: January 16, 2020, 4:00 PM · I'm not a professional musician but I know many of them here in the NY Metro region of the USA. Orchestral pay is basically function of just how popular and well-subscribed the orchestra is maintained. The top orchestras pay well and have good benefit packages. Obviously when a chair opens, the competition if fierce. Each tier has less money and eventually you reach the community orchestras that may pay the conductor and a few key musicians (generally those most difficult to find) while everyone else is a volunteer.

My guess is that the same situation prevails around the planet the only exception being those orchestras that are government funded. We have a few of those in the USA but they are military orchestras and the musicians get military pay an benefits.

FWIW: When I was in the military and stationed in DC (because I was cook and met a lot of people) I knew a few of the musicians from the Marine Corps and Navy. They liked being paid to play, having supplied uniforms and maintenance of their instruments as well as not having to deal with commercial air travel- they did travel a lot.

January 16, 2020, 4:02 PM · "FREEWAY PHILHARMONIC" - an hour-long documentary movie of a decade or so ago, portrayed some of the SF Bay Area musicians who comprise the half-dozen or so full-symphony orchestras ("REGIONAL ORCHESTRAS") within "commuting distance" of San Francisco. Most highlighted in the film is a cellist who performs with a half-dozen of these orchestras. Some, including him, are members of the world renowned New Century Chamber Orchestra and play frequently with the SF opera and ballet orchestras).

To cobble together a living, these fine musicians do an awful lot of driving, hence the name of the film. If they have the time - they also teach. I have had musical interactions with several of these musicians, much to my benefit.

By the way - some big city opera orchestras also rank as major orchestras in fact and salary scales.

Edited: January 16, 2020, 5:19 PM · OK, so as far as I know the full time UK orchestras are:
RSNO
BBCSSO
SCO
Northern Sinfonia
Halle
BBCPO
RLPO
CBSO
BBCNOW
LSO
LPO
RPO
Philharmonia
BBCSO
BBCCO
Bournemouth SO
Ulster

Plus SNO, WNO, Opera North, ENO, ROH
Maybe a ballet orchestra or two, not sure.

The salary structure for the London orchestras is a little opaque. The median salary for an orchestral player will I guess be a rank and file string players salary - starts around £30k per year but doesn't get much higher. [Edit: outside of London. I looked at agreements for Bournemouth, Opera North and Halle. Also, players with numbered seats earn more]

Bear in mind that (most of) these outfits are publicly funded to a large extent via the Arts Council. Its a shame that there isn't a greater value attached to music, or at least greater commercial demand, but the entire public sector is stretched. I can see why highly qualified, skilled and experienced professionals who beat huge fields to win jobs deserve more money. I can also see that when orchestras can't generate the money through their own revenue streams then there are good reasons why public money is spent elsewhere first.

If I was a good enough violinist, I'd take the pay cut to become an orchestral player tomorrow.

January 16, 2020, 5:44 PM · What does an average ticket cost in the UK if you want to go and see a pro orchestra perform? A night out at Tanglewood to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra isn't cheap!
January 16, 2020, 7:59 PM · Take an entry-level IT job in most major cities in the US, by contrast, and first-year pay is likely to be over $100,000/year.

Okay, this is just frankly not true. Maybe if you go to a top tier school, have a master's or have a killer resume w/ high profile internships- 100k+ is the highest end of IT jobs. Think 1%ers. Most IT jobs are contract code crunching and pay maybe 60k a year.

Regarding Orchestral pay, the pay is proportional to the reputation of the orchestra. Detroit Symphony is very high profile, thus pay is higher.

Edited: January 16, 2020, 8:55 PM · Sure. If you're counting the H1-B farms as an "average" new-college-grad IT job, the pay will be decently professional but not six figures on graduation. Or if you're thinking about the technician jobs of people getting degrees from DeVry or other for-profit diploma mills. Or if a kid insists in staying in Iowa where he grew up and gets a tech support job in a call center.

That's not the situation of anyone realistically thinking about the opportunity cost of becoming a professional violinist vs entering an IT career, though. My husband's company starts new grads (DC area) well over $100k; that's a competitive salary locally. Amazon, in Seattle, a pretty good benchmark for pay there (Amazon is in fact known to be stingy) pays an entry-level new grad $100k+. In Silicon Valley, for Google and other major tech companies, $120k+ for new grads. Even in Omaha, a new grad taking a job at the Google data centers in nearby Council Bluffs (Iowa) makes $90k+ (and Warren Buffett's companies in that area hire tech people at a competitive pay level to that).

Edited: January 16, 2020, 11:55 PM · Since I'm following this discussion, I got the feeling that 100.000 USD per year are next to nothing.
To add some context as a MD in Austria, one of the richest countries in the world.
As a MD in Austria, beginner wages in the public sector do include health insurance and other social benefits, but range far, far, far below 100.000 - before taxes which are considerably high (in fact, what's left netto after taxes and fees is 50% of my income at maximum), rather 50.000 or slightly higher. Even now after almost 20 years in, as a highly trained specialist and senior consultant responsible for a ward of 30 beds, 8 residents, an outpatient clinic and whatnot, and being on call moreless 7/24, I'm only scratching this figure.

More than 50% of my income derives from other sources - which ad on top of the 50hrs+ per week I'm spending in hospital. Not complaining, but 100.000 in the public sector (what a subsidized symphony orchestra definitely is) is considerably a good salary, and whether 20 or 30k as a fix part of your income will be acceptable depends totally on the invested time.

January 17, 2020, 2:11 AM · One thing to be aware of: in the US, maybe half of an orchestra’s revenue will be earned through ticket sales. We don’t have the state subsidies that are considered normal in Europe, so need to get private donations (or, for the largest groups, get investment income from endowments that are funded with private donations.)
January 17, 2020, 2:14 AM · Nuuska: $100k is well above median income nationally, although less so in the major metropolitan areas. Still, we are talking about the very top of the iceberg in terms of salaries performing positions. Go one or two tiers down and you get a very different picture.
Edited: January 17, 2020, 2:32 AM · Jeffrey - I don't know about the average but in my own recent experience you can walk into a concert by one of the "top five" London Orchestras in the Royal Festival Hall with a soloist of international standing and pay as little as £10. The simple economic conclusion is that in the London area we are oversupplied, but of course that isn't necessarily the case in the regions
Edited: January 17, 2020, 3:37 AM · Speaking of pay, I once come across an article:

https://adaptistration.com/2018/05/25/top-tier-musician-compensation-2018/

Are those number and trend look realistic? I know that these are more like top-end of the pay scale, but sadly no one publish how little an entry a musician playing full time in an orchestra can get.

And also,

If there is any nice people who can apply for this job, please come back and share how much it pays :)

https://www.indeed.co.uk/viewjob?jk=abc9dc60d74abd4b&tk=1dupdme039218800&from=serp&vjs=3

The upside is, well, there is an opening.

(EDIT: add the job link)

January 17, 2020, 4:12 AM · @Sivirit,

£54 186 basic in years 1 to 9, plus a few other benefits.

January 17, 2020, 4:35 AM · Nice work if you can get it! In recent years the BBCSO has probably been on a par with the LSO in terms of performance excellence, and I gather the atmosphere is better. The only downside would be the commuting.
January 17, 2020, 5:06 AM · Back in th 70's, my teacher was worried about the UK joining the (then) European Common Market as we would be flooded with excellent European musicians. It never happened, as the pay is so poor!


Edited: January 17, 2020, 8:26 AM · Some good information in the link below, which suggests that the starting wages offered by Lydia's husband's company in the DC area is are not representative nationally. Note that the DC area is very expensive.

Note that the average salaries quoted in the link are for all experience levels.

https://appliedcomputing.wisconsin.edu/about-applied-computing/applied-computing-salary/

There is another perfectly fine way to live comfortably as a musician or a college professor, but nobody talks about it because it's apparently politically incorrect, although I can't imagine why. And that alternative is to marry someone who brings home the bacon. My salary is below the national average for my position and experience, but I don't have a stay-at-home wife running the household, and I don't work 70+ hours a week advancing my career -- but that's the family model for most of my better-paid colleagues. (Hence the old chestnut: "Every professor needs a wife.") But that's a model that my wife and I didn't want. She would have been miserable as a homemaker. Thus, from the outset, we've had the two incomes, and it has worked out pretty darned well for us. Marriage can be an eminently practical institution -- if you allow it to be.

Also, where you live matters. My friends "back east" in places like DC, Philadelphia, Boston, etc., pay twice what I pay for a whole lot of budget-critical expenses including housing, transportation (because they have to live much farther from work to find affordable housing), day care for their kids, and violin lessons. Items that cost about the same are food and clothing. I don't think I would easily trade my job and my wife's job for equivalent jobs in the DC area that paid twice as much. I like to be able to walk to my office in 25 minutes, to the supermarket in 10 minutes, and to the elementary school in 5 minutes -- all from a basic 3-bedroom ranch house on half an acre of flat land.

January 17, 2020, 6:48 AM · Paul makes an excellent point re location, and also about double income families. The BBCSO want a number 3 to earn mid £50k in London;the RLPO want a number 4 first fiddle for £40k(ish). One could live quite comfortably on 40k in one of the regional/northern cities (though admittedly one wouldn't be rich). 57k in London would not go as far relatively speaking.
Edited: January 17, 2020, 8:21 AM · US IT salaries are very high, and you could argue there is an opportunity cost to doing nearly ANYTHING but IT at the elite level in the US (including medical practice, since an entry-level primary care physician at an HMO will make only a modest amount above the starting salaries Lydia quotes for fresh college grads in IT, and they've spent at least seven years out of college not earning anything, and likely obtaining debt).
January 17, 2020, 8:00 AM · It is worth noting that not only musicians are underpaid in the UK. University professors are in the same situation at least compared to their colleagues on the continent.
Edited: January 17, 2020, 8:24 AM · Great point by Paul about the differences in costs of living by location.

There are also differences in starting salary by school and backgrounds.

This link reports the median income by university and field of study (the sample is limited to students who received federal financial aid and colleges who reported their data):

https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/

The median first-year earnings for computer science bachelor’s graduates of the University of Iowa were about $51K, compared to $102K from UCLA and $92K from Johns Hopkins University (greater DC area).

Median first-year earnings for a bachelor's in music were $23,600 from the University of Southern California and $19,000 from University of Rochester (Eastman). This says nothing about whether they were employed by an orchestra, however.

January 17, 2020, 8:32 AM · $24250 for a family of four is the poverty threshold in the US.
Edited: January 17, 2020, 10:32 AM · Both musicians and fiddlemakers have chosen a very difficult, challenging, and economically dangerous "row to hoe".

Hopefully, all have done enough research to be aware of this, prior to parking their shoes under the bed.

Edited: January 17, 2020, 9:12 AM · "Are those number and trend look realistic? I know that these are more like top-end of the pay scale, but sadly no one publish how little an entry a musician playing full time in an orchestra can get."

Bottom range for a full-time orchestra job in the U.S. is in the neighborhood of $35K for a section position (titled players are paid about 15% - 30% more depending on the orchestra, and typical concertmaster pay is double). Some of these jobs are in lower cost-of-living cities like mine, but even here virtually everyone does at least some teaching and gigging on the side. Some of us with children in college do quite a bit.

I should note that I am talking about section pay in full-time professional orchestras, that is, orchestras with a roster of about 60 - 90 musicians on staff all of whom are considered full time. Regional orchestras with a full-time core of about 25 - 40 musicians are in a different category and I have no idea about the range of salaries for the core players in those orchestras.

For context, median household income in the U.S. is about $60K.

I'd also like to cast another vote for the dual-income household when one spouse is a musician.

January 17, 2020, 9:10 AM · @David Burgess, you're absolutely right, but did you really have no Plan B?
January 17, 2020, 9:26 AM · If anyone's interested, these are the orchestral musician rates of pay in the UK agreed by the Musicians' Union. I don't know how many orchestras have many musicians on full-time contracts rather than paying day-rates...

https://www.musiciansunion.org.uk/Files/Rates/Orchestral-Rates/ABO-MU-Agreement

January 17, 2020, 9:32 AM · Paul, I have always had various "plan B's".

My major indiscretion has been that I have allowed myself to get sucked into both the low-level and high-level fiddle worlds, and haven't sorted it all out yet.

Edited: January 17, 2020, 9:43 AM · While we're discussing the salary range we are ignoring the fact that making a career out of playing music is a "Vocation" in the strictest sense of the word is what the religious mean when they say: "Calling." To be "called" is to have the sense that this is something that you cannot avoid, dance around, ignore,... it is something deep inside you that you must do or you will never be satisfied.

People who follow callings rarely get rich. Yes, there are some who are paid well but they are the exception, not the norm. Frankly, only a very small number of the "called" ever become famous or wealthy. There is an anecdote that once Itzak Pearlman admitted that, push-come-to-shove, he would play for free - to which his agent responded: "Shut up already!"

Yes there are people making scads of cash in a number of professions and more than a few of them aren't exactly happy with the path they are on but, of course, money smooths out the pathways - even if you spend a lot of it on divorce lawyers and therapists.

In the final analysis it all depends on how you define success. If you spell it with dollar signs, don't become a professional musician.

Edited: January 17, 2020, 10:34 AM · My wife makes scads of cash (?) in the automotive business, and that's how I can afford to be a fiddlemaker. LOL

If she could have afforded to be a musician, which has always been her first love, she would have done that decades ago.

January 17, 2020, 10:05 AM · As is mentioned: Lydia's numbers are skewed in favor of metropolitan area salaries, where the cost of living is considerably higher than other areas of the country. Living on $100k in NYC is different than living on $100k a year in Phoenix or Portland, ME. And the workloads/working hours for those big companies are not standard 9-5pm hours.

I agree with George's post about the vocational calling and "getting rich" - musician, visual artist, athlete, etc.

January 17, 2020, 10:18 AM · @Chris Keating

Can I ask how to read the rate on section 2a? Are these hourly rate? So if the concert is 3hr long, and there is one rehearsal before it of another 3hr. What will the category 1 Tutti player get in 2020? Is it £132.00 * 6 = £792.00?

Or, the rehearsal is not paid?

January 17, 2020, 11:38 AM · Some of the top US orchestras pay very very well, and that is in part how they attract some of the top talent from all over the world during auditions.
Edited: January 17, 2020, 12:17 PM · David, understood!

There's another way entirely, it's called "FIRE". Financial independence, retire early.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIRE_movement

Get a 5-year masters in finance, go to wall street, make tons of money, live in a VW bus, eat rice and beans, buy all your leisure-time clothes at Goodwill, and retire at 40. Then, pick up your violin and practice 10 hours a day until you gain admission to conservatoire, and off you go!

Honestly, I think what George Wells said has way more to do with why people want to play with the NY or LA Phil. It's because of the prestige and pure artistic enjoyment of playing with that kind of an elite group. Yes they pay better than the rest, but if they paid 30% less, I bet they'd still have as many applicants for their section jobs. Maybe not as many applicants for CM.

Edited: January 17, 2020, 2:37 PM · Where do movie studio orchestras come in the scheme of things, bearing in mind that this is a type of playing where your sight reading presumably has to be at the 110% level at performance speed with zero mistakes?, or so I've been told.
Edited: January 17, 2020, 4:41 PM · Yeah, but Paul, even at a 30% wage discount, NY, LA, Chicago, SF or whoever major symphony orchestra would be paying a significantly higher salary than all the other major full-time orchestras, plus their generous tenure policies.

In terms of pure artistic enjoyment, my feeling is most of the people capable of winning those major auditions would prefer to be touring solo violinists, or at least that seems to be what major conservatories train them for.

Which does raise an interesting question: why do teachers and conservatory professors put so much emphasis on the really hard solo stuff over the ability to be a strong orchestra player?

To finally answer the OP's question, in general it is more valuable to teach than to play in an orchestra. The people for whom this is not true are few and far between.

January 17, 2020, 4:53 PM · Trevor, movie studio orchestras are gigs filled with freelancers.
January 17, 2020, 5:10 PM · Question for you guys: where on the profesional-community orchestra spectrum would you put an orchestra that pays all chairs a small amount per rehearsal/performance, with the principals being paid more?
January 17, 2020, 5:29 PM · There’s a difference between a “per-service” orchestra that pays by the rehearsal or performance, and a full-time salaried orchestra, or even a smaller orchestra that pays a salary to a full-time core and then pays per service to the extras who fill out the orchestra for their subscription concerts. Per-service orchestras typically do not play many concerts in a season and rank very low on the professional orchestra spectrum.
Edited: January 17, 2020, 5:55 PM · Thank you Mary Ellen for your explanation of the movie studio orchestra situation. I was a little puzzled, but freelancing makes sense in that context.

My cello teacher, when he came out of the armed forces at the end of WW2, was offered the post of principal cellist in the BBCSO - one of the star posts in the British music firmament. He turned it down, to everyone's surprise, and explained many years later that after six or seven years of regimentation in military bands and orchestras freelancing was the only way to go.

As a result of this decision he was a very successful freelancer for the rest of his life - deputising as cellist or violist in visiting pro orchestras, freelancing in the BBC Concert Orchestra and others, the occasional concerto or solo recital, teaching stringed instruments for the LEA, private teaching (he was one of the best in the region, even if he didn't approve of the ABRSM grading system), conducting the county youth orchestra for decades which had a big influence on the musical education of hundreds of young people, running his own trad jazz band (clarinet) and his own dance band (sax), and being local secretary of the MU which meant he knew everyone and vice versa. One of the most influential musicians at any level that I have known personally.

One thing he did for his private pupils was once a year to go up to one of the big auction houses in London and bring back two or three cellos he had selected and bought at auction. He had the knowledge and experience to recognise quality instruments which weren't attracting much attention, so were bought by him for very modest sums and, after checking out the setups, were passed on to pupils for no more than what he paid at auction. This was how, in the mid-50s, I got my 19th c French cello for £15(!) which gave me excellent service until a few years ago when I passed it on to my daughter in Belgium. She needed a good cello, and I had recently given up my orchestral cello playing in preference for the violin.

January 17, 2020, 5:53 PM · Helen, there is a difference between union-scale per-service and not. Union scale per service locally is $75 or more for a service (rehearsal or performance). But there are "pro" orchestras, who, for the sake of saying all players are paid professionals, where it's $15.
Edited: January 17, 2020, 7:41 PM · $75 per service? That seems very low. Do the freeway phils in your area pay at the union floor? I mean, if I were offered $75 to play with RSO, that would be a one-hour drive for me (each way) and the service is going to be, what, a two-hour affair? And I'd have to wear a tux?? I would just stay in Blacksburg and play another jazz gig. Most of the decent venues are paying at least $100 per person for a three-hour gig with two 15-minute breaks. I have given up entirely on "paid" gigs that are below scale -- it would have to be some kind of very special exposure opportunity. I generally won't drive to Roanoke for a guarantee of less than $150, which means I don't play very many gigs there.
January 17, 2020, 8:04 PM · Well, you don't wear a tux for rehearsals... and most per service orchestras also pay a union-negotiated per mile rate for commuting distance. In any case, playing in orchestras pays less than teaching for most freelancers, but many seem to do it because it boosts demand for their services as a teacher.
January 17, 2020, 8:05 PM · Paul: Yes. And quite a few do not have a union CBA and do not pay union scale minimum.
Edited: January 18, 2020, 1:31 AM · In response to Helen's question, and to go with Lydia's comment:

About ten players in my community orchestra also play in another orchestra that pays all its players a small amount (I think in the $20-30 per service range with principals paid more). That orchestra claims to be professional but is essentially a community orchestra that pays a small honorarium. Most of its members have non-music main careers, and from my experience playing chamber music with members of that orchestra, its average playing standard seems to be a notch below ours even though all of its players are paid and most of ours are unpaid. If an orchestra pays that little, freelancers aren't going to find it worth their time, and its composition is not going to be very different from a serious community orchestra.

January 17, 2020, 10:08 PM · I'm from the UK and living in USA. You need to earn a lot more here to pay for the extortionate health insurance!!!
Edited: January 18, 2020, 12:45 AM · My takeaway from all the discussions so far is that, except at the very top of the food chain ( that is, 52-week orchestras and so on), it is impossible to live the middle class life by performing alone. And that is true for graduates of many top conservatories.
January 18, 2020, 12:04 AM · My mariachi pays me $60/ hour, more than any of my orchestra jobs. The suit is special ordered, and I do have to sing and memorize everything.
My mental dividing line between fully professional and semi-pro/per-service/ "freeway philharmonic", is that the fully pro. orch. pays enough to be the primary source of income for the family. It will be unionized, pay benefits, and have a very competitive audition.
Edited: January 18, 2020, 1:35 AM · In Hollywood, the movie soundtrack musicians are essentially full time musicians. I wouldn’t really consider them ‘per service’ freelance musicians in terms of pay. Many of these outstanding musicians play in the 20th Century Fox Orchestra, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and other such groups. I know a few violinists there making $500,000 a year just in royalties, for appearing on numerous top soundtracks. It’s a great job! You go there, make a recording, get paid for the session, and then get royalties on top of that. Ever wonder how actors survive without actually working for 5 years between films? Royalties are a nice passive income stream.

Also the London Symphony Orchestra does a bit of movie soundtrack work. I’m not sure what their pay scale is in relation to the Hollywood studio musicians for this type of work.

January 18, 2020, 2:21 AM · Nate - in the unlikely event that any LSO members are reading this they'll be choking over their breakfast coffee. I guess orchestral musicians have never been in it for love of the music so it warms my heart to know a violist who plays sub-principal for the BBCSO, moonlights for the LSO and is also a great enthusiast for obscure chamber music
Edited: January 18, 2020, 7:49 AM · I never said the movie studio orchestra musicians weren’t full-time musicians, but they are freelancers. There is no set orchestra with a CBA and a roster. And of course they can make a lot of money. That is not the dividing line between freelancers and contract players. There are plenty of full-time freelancers in New York whose income exceeds my salary by quite a large margin.

I think the confusion is between the terms “per-service” and “full-time,” which are not referring to the same thing at all. “Per service” refers to how one is paid, as opposed to a salary per week. “Full time” refers to the amount one works. It is quite possible to be a full-time musician without having a salary.

January 18, 2020, 8:50 AM · I guess I might have been unnecessarily biased all along. I was thinking "full time" meant the same as "salaried" but of course that's not true.

I think what Nate is saying is that there are folks who have earned enough of a reputation as session violinists that they don't need to wait by the phone -- even though they may technically be freelancers, they know that if one of the big studios is recording a sound track, they're going to get that call, and they have an idea how much work that will be from month to month, so it's a reasonably stable source of income. I'll also bet that folks in that category are exceptionally good musicians -- LA Phil quality with maybe some additional skills like superior sight-reading and what-not.

Edited: January 18, 2020, 9:12 AM · I've got mixed feelings about these groups that pay $20-30 per service. Since I play a lot of gigs in a semi-rural area, I've seen quite a range of pay scales and pay-distribution formulas. I have a day job. I don't need anyone to pay me $20 per rehearsal. But as soon as they start paying, people who need that money will be showing up. And then I feel like a wretch accepting $20 that will disappear into the sofa cushions, whereas if I got paid nothing and some other player got $40, that would make more of a difference to them. You can't just give it to them (I've tried) because nobody wants to feel like a charity case. What to do? Maybe those orchestras could say, "Show us your Federal 1040. Pay here is need-based." Or you could say, "We only pay AFM members and they get scale." Or they could say, "We're paying everyone the same, but if $20 means absolutely nothing to you, please consider donating it back," but I'll bet very few actually will.
January 18, 2020, 9:37 AM · Some collective bargaining agreements forbid soliciting contributions from musicians. For the obvious reason-- if there are 40 flutists who can do the gig, you don't want to be putting financial pressure on the one whom you decide to hire.

But you can always give voluntarily (and anonymously). Not to the players, but to the orchestra. They do accept donations, right?

January 18, 2020, 10:14 AM · "But as soon as they start paying, people who need that money will be showing up. "

I haven't found that to be the case. In most areas, the number of skilled string players is actually quite limited--there aren't so many around that low fees will suddenly draw them. Especially outside of large urban areas.
And in lower-level orchestras, most people play simply because they want to. I'll be this applies to 80% of the "paid" orchestras out there, the ones you never hear about or knew existed.

Fun fact: I've known conductors who advocated for player pay--even if minuscule-- only because they could then describe their orchestra as "professional."

January 18, 2020, 11:48 AM · I agree with Scott.

But I do know professionals -- especially non-string-players -- who show up for the trivial gig money simply because there isn't enough higher-paying work and working, even after gas money, is still a slight net positive income for the evening.

January 18, 2020, 12:59 PM · “essentially a community orchestra that pays a small honorarium.“
This sounds like the orchestra in question. Thanks all!
January 18, 2020, 2:04 PM · I am honestly shocked to learn that “professional” orchestras would pay $ 15 per rehearsal/performance!

Edited: January 18, 2020, 3:37 PM · In response to two unrelated comments by Paul Deck:

"Or they could say, 'We're paying everyone the same, but if $20 means absolutely nothing to you, please consider donating it back,' but I'll bet very few actually will."

Actually, a fair number do and are even net donors.


"I think what Nate is saying is that there are folks who have earned enough of a reputation as session violinists that they don't need to wait by the phone -- even though they may technically be freelancers, they know that if one of the big studios is recording a sound track, they're going to get that call, and they have an idea how much work that will be from month to month, so it's a reasonably stable source of income."

I took lessons for a few months from a violist of that type fairly recently (stopped because I was never able to work out a regular lesson schedule). She lives in Sacramento and flies to LA to record a film soundtrack or two every month. I would guess the per-service pay barely covers the cost of travel and accommodations, but she is enough in demand that she can be picky about studio recording gigs and only play the ones that have a good chance of generating substantial residuals.

January 18, 2020, 6:18 PM · “Or you could say, "We only pay AFM members.”

I believe it is a violation for a member of the AFM to play a gig alongside of people who are not being paid, and it is definitely a violation to accept a gig for less than scale.

This is not to say that such things don’t occur, although I don’t know anyone who will work for less than scale. Certainly not for anything as abysmal as $20 a rehearsal.

January 18, 2020, 10:16 PM · Yes -- these kinds of things are the whole point of unionizing.
Edited: January 18, 2020, 10:24 PM · It is perfectly fine for AFM members to accept gigs as "ringers". Some community orchestras in this area (i.e. regular players are unpaid) will pay ringers, often for hard-to-find instruments -- my orchestra often ends up playing harpists, for instance, and sometimes instruments that aren't normally found in an orchestra (we needed a banjo player for a work, for example). We usually pay union scale to ringers (indeed, above scale in many cases).

I think locally the AFM is silent about AFM members playing in non-union pro orchestras, but gets tetchy when touring pop stars (and touring musicals, etc., i.e. entities that have the budget to pay scale) come to town, hire players for a band, and don't pay union scale.

January 19, 2020, 1:14 PM · $20 per rehearsal is not even minimum wage in many states. I wonder if California's freelancer law will affect some of these orchestras.

Edited: January 19, 2020, 1:57 PM · I've done reasonable rate per service (>$100) work as well as worked pro bono. I once played free in a pit orchestra for a local theater group because I liked the musical. I'll occasionally play with my quartet at fundraising events we support free of charge as well.

$20 per service/hour is actually kind of insulting, and I would turn that work down on principle. Especially if there was an admission being charged.

January 20, 2020, 12:25 AM · If it is not thrown out by a judge, Cal. AB 5 will have a big, negative effect on orchestras that are less than fully-professional, and on a lot of other professions where people usually work self-employed, freelance, starting right now.
I remember from my L.A. days working as a "ringer" in community orchestras that used funds from an AFM account derived from recording studio work. I don't know if that program is still in effect.
Yes, $20/ 3 hour rehearsal is less than minimum wage. Orchestra managers should not have that on the books. It would better if they paid $30+ for some rehearsals and request that they "volunteer" other rehearsals.
Edited: January 20, 2020, 1:37 AM · Most community orchestras I've encountered don't have 3 hour rehearsals. Again, my sense is that the $15-30 per service orchestras aren't really professional orchestras in any sense; the one I know of has similar personnel to a typical auditioned community orchestra. Exactly zero of the names I recognize in that orchestra make more than a small fraction of their income from music. (Also, I don't know the exact per-service rate or rehearsal length; there's a good chance it's set up to pay minimum wage or very close to it.)
January 20, 2020, 7:58 AM · A good big orchestra is about 100 people.
You say 90 000$/year is good enough.
So orchestra must earn 9 000 000$/ year.
Plus tax, plus other expenses etc. Min 10mln$.

500 guest per performance in a big city.
If the orchestra plays every day, the tickets has to be: 50-60$.

If orchestra plays once a week, 350-450$.

The other option is a sponsorship. From the big companies, big productions, or the state...

January 20, 2020, 11:53 AM · Not the state!!! That would be socialism.
Edited: January 20, 2020, 2:57 PM · An orchestra with a $10M budget is not going to have 90 staff musicians making $90K, not even close. Our budget is around $8M and we have 72 staff musicians making less than half that (at least for the section players), for a season of 30 weeks. Typical concertmaster pay is at least double section pay, and other titled players also get premium pay above scale. Orchestras also have a great deal of expenses beyond staff musicians' salaries--administrative staff, for one; also library expenses, hall costs, marketing, benefits, not to mention the highly paid music director plus at least one assistant conductor.

I don't think there's an orchestra in the world whose ticket sales cover expenses. For U.S. orchestras, earned income might cover 30% - 50% of the orchestra's budget, depending on the orchestra. The balance is covered by grants, donations, endowment income, etc.

Edited: January 20, 2020, 3:33 PM · In the UK there simply isn't a "culture" of major cultural donors such as you have in the US. The major one today is probably Jonathan Moulds who supports the LSO and also loans out his Strads to top players including Nicola Benedetti.
Edited: January 21, 2020, 10:14 AM · The “culture” of private donations in the US is driven by the tax code. People in general respond to incentives.
January 21, 2020, 1:34 PM · I don't know about that. There are many causes to donate to--people generally donate to classical music because they want to support it. Tax write-offs may be part of it, but I think it's not the prime motivator.
January 21, 2020, 6:25 PM · Interesting...
So, from Mary Ellen's answer, I understood that 90k$ per year is not enough for a concertmaster? Or section leaders? How much do they make? And a conductor?
The other thing: the music buildings. The big orchestra should own one, if it is a good orchestra with long history, and regular performances. The orchestra has to have a home. Otherwise, it is a big gig.
Library costs... yes, we should add it.
Administrative staff is actually were included in those 100 people. Do they get more than 90k$?

How many performances per year do you have? Why so little?
We are talking about alternatives to earn only from orchestra play...

Typical working day is 8 hours. That includes personal preparation time, rehearsals, dress-up time, and performances. 100 performances per year is quite realistic, so to say.

(10mln$+library)/(100*500) is above 200$/ticket.
Is your professional orchestra good enough, that people are willing to pay 250-300$ to listen to you? )))

My post was to explain, why 90k is not realistic without severe outside support.
Or it is if you can sell tickets )))

Edited: January 21, 2020, 6:46 PM · K Ch, you're basing this on an audience size of 500. That's a tiny audience for a professional orchestra in any city of substantial size. 2,000-3,000 is more typical, so you can divide your ticket price by 5, give or take some.

In my mid-size US city, the local professional orchestra, at the worst of its financial struggles, averaged about 1,200 per concert. The average has rebounded to just under 2,000. In fact, there are three elite community orchestras in the area that average more than 500 tickets sold per concert at prices around $30 a ticket.

Edited: January 21, 2020, 10:29 PM · 1. Concertmaster pay is relative to section player pay. In an orchestra where section players make $80K, I would expect the concertmaster to be paid close to $200K. This can vary based on the concertmaster and the orchestra. The biggest names get the biggest checks. In my orchestra, section pay is just under $40K, so double that for a reasonable concertmaster salary. (I actually have no idea how much our concertmaster is paid.)

2. Some orchestras own their own halls, some do not. Mine doesn't. We play about 75% of our concerts in our city's performing arts venue, but we are tenants, not owners. It's still a salaried full-time orchestra, not a big gig.

3. Library costs are a lot.

4. An orchestra of 90 musicians requires a larger staff than you are thinking. And yes, in many cases their salaries are significant. Good administrators are worth their weight in gold and the CEO is going to be one of the highest paid employees (along with the music director and the concertmaster).

5. We have a thirty week season because that is what our annual budget will support. When I joined the SAS in 1988, we had a 39 week season which roughly coincided with the school year. After years of ongoing financial difficulties, our board declared bankruptcy in 2003 and the 03-04 season was dark. When we returned to the stage in fall 2004, it was to a 26 week season. We've worked hard to get back to 30 weeks. I hope that we can continue to add weeks to get back to where we were.

6. Not all concerts are ticketed. We play many student concerts that have a very low cost per student to attend. These concerts are heavily subsidized by grants.

7. We're a very good orchestra, but nobody has ever claimed that any professional orchestra pays its way through ticket sales. That is not a thing. As explained above, earned income most often accounts for only 40% - 50% of an orchestra's budget. The rest comes from donations, grants, endowment income, etc. So OF COURSE any professional orchestra needs a lot of outside support. That is not up for debate.

Edited: January 21, 2020, 10:52 PM · When the standard deduction was increased, my wife and I did not change our basic annual charitable-giving platform, but we stopped itemizing. That's not to say we were necessarily donating enough to be itemizing on that basis alone, but we don't have a mortgage. So Uncle Sam is contributing less to our donations, and the result is that we have less to put into our local economy, but we never considered scaling back because of the change in the tax incentive. One nice thing about not itemizing any more is that you don't need to ask for a receipt when you drop off reusable goods at Goodwill or the YMCA, because you know that doing so is pointless. Having said that, we don't donate to the Roanoke Symphony. There is a lot of poverty in our area and we feel compelled to direct our charitable-giving budget toward that.
Edited: January 21, 2020, 11:10 PM · I don't see charitable giving to mitigate poverty and charitable giving to the arts as an either/or. The one feeds bodies, the other, souls.

A professional orchestra, or even semi-professional orchestra, brings value to its community. In addition to performing great art music on stage, the members of the orchestra teach private music lessons to children in the community, teach at local universities, provide music for weddings, funerals, and worship services, and often volunteer their time in both music-based and non-music community outreach. And the orchestra itself can play a large part in K-12 education. My orchestra plays student concerts for over 50,000 students a year, many of whom attend Title I (high-poverty) schools.

A professional orchestra is also a major contributor to the local economy. Downtown restaurants, bars, and parking garages benefit from symphony concerts. When corporations are looking to relocate, they look at quality-of-life indexes, and the existence of a local professional orchestra is a big contributor to quality of life.

Everyone who lives in a city with a professional orchestra benefits from that orchestra's existence whether they go to concerts or never set foot in the hall. Those who have sufficient disposal income to make a donation to their local professional orchestra should consider doing so. It is an opportunity to give some tangible support back to an organization that serves an important role for all. I would think anyone who understands the value of music performed at the highest level would be eager to give something back.

And you can still donate to Habitat for Humanity (I do), or Heifer (I do), or the local Food Bank (I do).


January 21, 2020, 11:13 PM · A useful paper on whether professional orchestras make any profits through ticket sales. At first glance I think it's pretty much what Mary Ellen said.

Orchestra Facts: 2006-2014, A Study of Orchestra Finances and Operations, Commissioned by the League of American Orchestras

https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/Research-Art-Works-League.pdf

Edited: January 21, 2020, 11:15 PM · As US orchestras are tax-exempt entities, their Form 990 tax filings are publicly available on sites like this one:

https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/

These filings should provide a breakdown of the orchestra's reported revenues and expenses, as well as the salaries for their highest paid employees who earned over $100,000.


January 22, 2020, 4:27 AM · Frieda, Thanks for the link. This is interesting.

I am looking at San Francisco Symphony for example. In 2017, they bring in $76m (million), within that $29m from contribution and grant and $31m from program (should be ticket sale).

Then, their expenditure that year is $82m, of which $33m is salary and wages. Going further in this $33m, $2m is fundraising expanse, $2.4m is management and general expense, so I suppose the remaining $29m is for the players. Then, there are another $5m goes into pension and $5m for benefit. There are number of expense running the orchestra. Advertisement took $1m, office expense took close to $1m, occupancy (space rental?) was $700k. It does cost quite a lot.

If we goes to say Seattle Symphony Orchestra, ticket sales, contribution, wages bill goes down by about half. Advertisement, office expense stays the same though.

Edited: January 22, 2020, 9:54 AM · Mary Ellen, you make good points. Our feeling is that we're spending a lot on the local music profession as it is, by hiring private teachers for our kids and the like. Is that a cop-out? Well maybe. But in the end, when it comes to charitable giving, once you decide how much you can budget, then the pie chart reflects a zero-sum game. We look at organizations like the local women's shelter, and we see a situation where a few hundred dollars makes a different in people's basic health and safety. At the same time, I'm definitely not faulting anyone who would squeeze some of that out in favor of supporting the local orchestra. There are emotional factors too. Take Habitat for Humanity for instance. Normally we would not donate to a cause that reflects any sort of religious affiliation, but we just have so much admiration for Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter that we can't exclude Habitat from our list, even though it's such a huge organization that our measly few hundred dollars isn't really making a dent. But maybe individual impact is the wrong way to be thinking about it. Who knows. Likewise we have a special place in our hearts for a small, local charity that helps families through the financially challenging holiday season, whose leader donated an organ to one of our best friends. I have endless opportunities to donate to the university where I work, but I always think, "I donated $20 last week when I bought a few tools for my lab and didn't bother to process a reimbursement," or "I contribute to the university by working there for much less pay than I would have earned in the private sector." Generally speaking, do people who play in orchestras and who are counting on their orchestra income to help make ends meet -- do they donate back to the orchestra (more than the minimal amount needed to have one's name printed in the program)?
Edited: January 22, 2020, 2:57 PM · I am already donating a significant amount of money to the orchestra by virtue of being willing to work for an insultingly low salary. And in fact when we first came back after the bankruptcy, all of the musicians were listed in the program as major donors due to the size of the pay cut we had accepted. Collectively, the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony are one of the biggest donors— Every time we agree to renegotiate our contract for a lower wage, that is a donation from us to our orchestra.

I will never forget one of my negotiating experiences during which the board representative in the room said that he was not willing to ask the members of the board to pony up $10,000 each because some of the board members were “not wealthy.” At that point I pointed out that the pay cut we were being asked to absorb to “Save the symphony“ worked out to about $10,000 for me, and I asked him if he thought that it was appropriate to ask the Goree family for a $10,000 donation.

I do, in fact, make small donations to the symphony when appropriate as a memorial in the case of a death. but it has nothing to do with getting my name in the program book.

January 22, 2020, 1:45 PM · Sounds like we're on the same general wavelength then.
January 22, 2020, 1:56 PM · This morning, I spent hours reading 990 filings for our local orchestras (community and below-ROPA-level freeway philharmonics) on ProPublica, as part of some research I'm doing as a board member of my community orchestra. It's pretty fascinating. If you're interested in how an orchestra gains and spends money, it's worth trawling through.
Edited: January 22, 2020, 4:47 PM · "Sounds like we're on the same general wavelength then."

I don't get that as the takeaway at all. If I were on your wavelength, I would refuse on principle to donate to a university on the grounds that I was already taking a private (off-campus) class from a current faculty member, and that my charitable donations were limited to programs aimed at poverty.

In actuality I have donated a fair amount of money to universities.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with your point of view. Your money, your priorities, your choice. It just isn't mine. And thankfully for my job, it isn't necessarily shared by our donors in San Antonio either.

I would not have moved to San Antonio without the Symphony, nor would any of my colleagues possibly excepting one long-time musician who grew up here. Certainly the city's cultural life--which surely we can agree is important?--would be greatly impoverished without the SAS, its satellite organizations, and the profound contribution to music education represented by its musicians. Without our donors, the SAS could not carry on. Without the SAS, many musicians would leave town.

Would your children's music teachers be local to you if it weren't for the Roanoke Symphony? Would other students' music teachers? How much of your city's cultural life is directly or indirectly tied to musicians who would go elsewhere without the work they get from the Roanoke Symphony?

January 22, 2020, 8:38 PM · I seem to have offended you. I didn't mean to do that. I apologize.
Edited: January 22, 2020, 9:53 PM · Not offended and no apology necessary though I do appreciate the kind thought. I'm just very surprised and trying to work out some cognitive dissonance.

It did feel a little personal in that I believe strongly in the value and importance of a professional orchestra's mission and I have made significant personal sacrifices to remain a part of the SAS (see Lydia's "opportunity cost" comments; I have a math degree and could likely have done much better financially in other fields). I am grateful to those who share my belief in the value of a local professional orchestra and who donate accordingly. Without these generous donors and some well-funded foundations, I would not have the opportunity to continue in what I believe to be my life's calling, even at the painfully reduced salary of the past 17 years.

San Antonio is a high-poverty city and believe me, I have heard arguments such as yours before, as explanations for why people don't give money to the SAS. It's been my experience though that it's very rarely a clear-cut either/or decision as if making that one extra donation is going to mean missing a mortgage payment. Nobody wants to be taking food away from poor children, including me, but that one extra donation is more likely to mean perhaps two or three fewer meals out for the giver. And I deeply, deeply believe that all people--young, old, sick, healthy, rich, poor, citizen or not--require food for their souls as well as for their bodies.

Editing to add a little more context to my answer to your question of whether I donate to my own orchestra: A couple of years ago I came across my contract from my first year in the SAS, 1988-89. If you take the salary from that contract and convert it into 2018 dollars with an inflation multiplier, I was paid $5500 MORE my first year in the SAS when I was a section player with no seniority than I was being paid (or am currently being paid; my salary has been flat for a few years) in 2018 as principal 2nd violin with 30 years seniority. THAT is my gift to the SAS, mine and my colleagues'. And why are we still on stage and able to provide music to our community including some of its poorest members? Because my colleagues and I have made the decision, time and time and time and time again, to sacrifice our personal financial gain for the sake of keeping the SAS on stage, always with the hope that better times were awaiting us, never with the certainty, and as of today still never with a fulfillment of that hope.

And what else have I given to the SAS? What the SAS does not require of me in time and energy is now largely given over to private lessons and gigs so that my family does not suffer from the decades (I am not exaggerating) of pay cuts. Simply put, my colleagues and I have been heavily subsidizing our primary employer for years by going out on our own to make up the difference between what orchestras of our caliber are more typically paid and what we are actually receiving. If more of the good citizens of San Antonio (all of whom benefit from our presence) could understand how much their participation in their community asset would matter, we the musicians could return much more of our focus to our primary employment.

January 23, 2020, 2:13 AM · Is there a ballpark figure for what a soloist could earn? I read on a website somewhere ( May have been Wikipedia) that Hilary Hahns estimated net worth was 6 million. ( which is a lot of money to me)
I wen to the tennis today, and read that Roger Federer's career prizemoney is $ 114 million ( endorsements will be on top.)
Given that they both will have given large chunks of their life to reach the top of their chosen field, it still seems disproportionate .
January 23, 2020, 8:09 AM · It will always be disproportionate. The highest-paid player on the San Antonio Spurs is guaranteed $28M. That's for *this season.*

One could argue that it is even harder, or less likely, to get a job playing on an NBA team than it is to get a job in a full-time professional orchestra, which is true. One could also argue that athletes generally have far fewer years than musicians in which they can earn their top salaries or win prize money, which is also true. Still, it is disproportionate. That's the nature of a marketplace.

January 23, 2020, 10:22 AM · Vengerov reportedly charges $40k per concert, and was playing 100 - 130 concerts per year prior to his injury. That'd be somewhere in the vicinity of $4m - $5.2m a year, and he is reputed to have been the highest paid solo violinist. I don't know if concert engagement fees typically also have travel-and-expenses covered; I suspect maybe not, so the fees represent gross pay not net income.

That would probably make Vengerov'x net worth far higher than Hahn's, though.

The concertmasters at Chicago, LA, San Francisco and Cleveland all make over $500k/year, and they are salaried with benefits, and get to stay at home for the most part. Honestly, I think that's likely a better deal financially, especially since they can still teach and take some other engagements.

January 23, 2020, 10:33 AM · I know what you mean about salary. With adjustment for inflation, my salary is lower than it was when I started in 1995 as an assistant professor. That's why I said I thought our reasoning was along similar lines. (In my case, I will admit that my salary has flat-lined largely because I am not a research star.) As I said earlier, I don't usually donate to my university because I feel that already "contribute" by working there for much less than I could earn in the private sector. What's more, I have even converted some of my grant-based summer salary into stipends for undergrads to work in my lab over the summer.

As for RSO, it's a good orchestra, but Roanoke is an hour away, so we don't go to the symphony that often. They play one or two concerts per year here in Blacksburg and I try to go to those. We're going to see them in February because our daughter wants to see their principal cellist performing (I think she is playing Lalo). All of that probably seems pretty lame as for why we don't donate. It's not that we don't support music -- but there are other local musical organizations that we do support, such as Musica Viva of Southwestern Virginia, Renaissance Music Academy of Virginia (where I have my lessons), and if there is a "donations only" type of chamber concert in the area (usually there are one or two per year at least), then I always put in more than what I would have paid if they were charging a local competitive fee for tickets. (Why more? Because I look in the basket and I see singles in there. Better than coins I guess.) I also accompany the RMA Violin and Cello group performances, which includes about 8 hours (total) of rehearsal, and I do not charge any fee; also I help the organization with some computer stuff, for example I wrote out some chamber orchestra parts in Musescore, I created a cloud folder of violin-group music, etc.

Edited: January 23, 2020, 12:41 PM · I agree our lives are richer because of our local professional musicians and we should support them in anyway we could.

I am however less convinced that we are somehow donating money to our employer when we are not compensated at the level *WE* think we deserve.

When junior colleagues in my institution complain they are not being compensated at the level of the private sector, my response would be that(1) they should produce a specific offer from the private sector for THEM; and (2) i know of no private sector job that comes with tenure (which amounts to a life time appointment) and faculty governance.

January 23, 2020, 12:46 PM · I agree with David in that regard, although the situation with troubled arts organizations like the SAS is a bit different, in that the musicians are essentially being asked to shoulder the financial issues that the board and the institution are responsible for.

All jobs have trade-offs, and most of us do not make what our professions could pay in optimal circumstances. Working in industry research, I am being paid a fraction of what I would be in a comparable job at an IT vendor or in a financial services firm, but I work from home, get to spend time with my family, and have plenty of flexibility to pursue my musical interests. And I like the people and the job (which is about as close to tenured as private-sector jobs get) and the company. I do acutely remember the years when the executives took home fat bonuses while the rank-and-file employees suffered as a result of poor executive management, though.

January 23, 2020, 2:57 PM · No one does classical violins to get rich. Some can get rich, but one is never expected to get rich when starting to go down this path. It's my personal opinion that a classical musician, much like a linguist working to save a nearly extinct language, or a cultural heritage conservationist, at least deserve some sort of recognition for their sacrifice and contribution, especially if their capabilities allow them to earn more working in a different field.

On a different point, executives are generally paid high no matter how struggling their organisations are. They have at least some power to decide their own salary after all, and they can sometimes have inflated visions of self-importance.

Edited: January 23, 2020, 3:18 PM · Lydia - there are a handful of soloists who have actually exceeded the $100,000/concert benchmark, and in some arenas (Porsche sponsored events or a celebrity engagement) earn far more than that.

There are those top tier orchestras that have instituted a max which they will pay soloists (presumably to stay solvent, or allow for private sponsorship for the soloists)...and then there are those A-/B+ orchestras that will pay top dollar, matching a soloist's bid.

I've never seen HH's contract (nor expect to), but the rate you've quoted for Vengerov's fee is very middle of the pack for a "superstar". I know a soloist decidedly not on the first tier who wanted 60k per show on a multi-city tour with a top orchestra who received just that (plus five diamond accommodations and travel).

Edited: January 23, 2020, 4:32 PM · I am not talking about considering as a donation the difference between what I think I am worth and what I am actually paid. I am talking about money that was actually promised to me, that I signed a contract for, and that then I agreed not to accept in order to keep the organization afloat.

If I sign a contract for a modest salary and then mid season I am “asked” to agree to continue doing exactly the same amount of work but for a lesser amount of money, the difference between what I signed the contract for and what I am eventually paid is indeed a donation. When you multiply that difference by 72 musicians, suddenly the musicians have become Donor no. 1.

If there were some way that I could magically get every dollar that I ever once signed a contract for and then was not paid (and there are at least three arts organizations that have done this to me), I would have a full semester’s worth of tuition, room and board for my daughter at Indiana with enough left over for books and music.

Editing to clarify the SAS has not asked us to give back a percentage of our salary in several years; we have achieved some stability.

January 23, 2020, 8:07 PM · Andrew, that's interesting. The FT article from which I drew that information stated that Vengerov's fee was significantly higher than that of other instrumental soloists at the time. (The NYT, back in the 1990s, quoted a fee of $45k+ for Perlman, suggesting that either soloist fees have declined or the FT was misinformed.)
January 23, 2020, 8:29 PM · Mary Ellen, yes that's a different situation. I did get absolutely everything the university was contractually obligated to give me. And I agree with David about about tenure. (But I did have an offer from the private sector in the past, so I do know what the difference is -- for me.) Not to belabor the subject more than is necessary, but I think I contribute sufficiently to the university in other ways.
Edited: January 23, 2020, 9:25 PM · Mary Ellen, what you described is not unique in classical music. During the subprime crisis(2008-2009), my university instituted the so called "furlough" in which all administrators took a 15% pay cut and all tenured/tenure track faculty took a 10% paycut (while our workload remained unchanged) so that we can carry on with our mission. It was either that or the university would go dark. There was no money.

I know how it feels--it was quite unpleasant.

Edited: January 24, 2020, 8:19 AM · David at our place it was not as severe but the university is now "officially" closed between X-mas and New Year, and the staff are compelled to use their paid leave during this period, so it's kind of a "soft furlough." It's important to understand that a state university's budget is enormous -- nothing like a regional orchestra. Private donations certainly can help by providing "greener" money that is not tied down by red tape, so that Departments can do some things that are hard to fund in other ways, like student travel to conferences (almost the only way to fund that is with a grant -- when I have been "between grants" I have helped my students finance their conference trips out of my wallet). But anyone who proposes that private donations will compete with state allocations, or Federal research grants, or tuition-and-fees, is totally nuts. Once in a way there will be a donation of several million from a high roller who wants to get his name onto a new building, and believe me, those gifts are very warmly appreciated. But I often wonder if the same donations would be better spent lobbying the legislature to increase state allocations. Right now the state legislatures are wringing their hands over annual tuition increases when they should be considering the role they play in offsetting them. You can call me a socialist if you wish, but it's just really simple that very wealthy people should pay more tax. Even with my income -- which I've mentioned is not stunning -- plus my wife's income -- which is comparable to mine -- we should definitely be paying more income tax at both the Federal and state level.
Edited: January 26, 2020, 5:47 AM · There is a large difference in scale between England and America. The English writer, Martin Amis, in his collection of essays on America entitled "The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America", wrote that "America is more a world than a country: you could as well write a book about people, or about life". In this world, big business runs supreme in fields as diverse as technology, music, health care, and higher education. In fact a New Englander and former President, Calvin Coolidge, once remarked that the business of America was business. I suppose if that's still true, then Donald Trump himself must be its personification!

To conclude, some multi-national corporations, Google and IBM for example, might consider starting their own professional orchestras and employ folks that have a diverse skill set in music and technology. Perhaps this model could then be replicated in the mother country - and perhaps then some parity could be reached in compensation.

Edited: January 26, 2020, 1:20 PM · IBM has sponsored community music throughout its history: https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/music/music_CH1.html

Google currently sponsors its own community orchestra in Silicon Valley.

There is no business justification for employing people with dual skills.

Edited: January 26, 2020, 1:25 PM · Similarly, a friend of mine in the Seattle area plays in a community orchestra that was called the Microsoft Orchestra and composed exclusively of Microsoft employees until five years ago. It is no longer affiliated with Microsoft, but Microsoft employees are still a slight majority of the musicians.
January 26, 2020, 1:41 PM · Raymond wrote, "The business of America was business. I suppose if that's still true, then Donald Trump himself must be its personification!"

I'm sure Trump likes to think so. I would prefer that the "personification of American business" be someone who came by his or her (alleged) wealth more honestly and who has been bankrupt less frequently.

In terms of "company orchestras," in many localities there is often a dominant company (or a few companies) whose donations to the orchestra likely exceed all others. But not necessarily. I just looked up the Plano Symphony to see if they acknowledged support from Frito-Lay (which has its HQ there), but they don't.

January 26, 2020, 4:40 PM · Interesting data on the biggest arts donors: https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2012/02/chronicle-philanthropy-top-arts-donors.html
January 26, 2020, 7:02 PM · No. 1 on the list is a woman. How about that.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha YVN Model 3
Yamaha YVN Model 3

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

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

Tomplay
Tomplay

Aria International Summer Academy

Meadowmount School of Music

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe