SPCO musicians played in Rice Park to gather support for their labor dispute. Photo by Jim Gehrz
At a noon rally in downtown St. Paul on Tuesday, musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra sought to gain attention for their side of a dispute with management over pay, artistic control and other contractual details.
About eight musicians attended the lunchtime rally, with signs saying "Keep the Beat Alive" and "We Want to Play." They performed Bach’s “Air on a G String” and Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” among other familiar classical works.
Hanging over the rally, dubbed “Don’t Stop the Music,” was the possibility that management could lock out out the musicians, who have been playing while negotiating since their current contract expired. That would put them in the unhappy company of the Minnesota Orchestra, which has been locked out for two weeks.
"The music has already stopped in Minneapolis -- maybe it will hit home if it stops here," said Carole Mason Smith, an SPCO musician and chair of the players' negotiating committee.
In brief, management wants to cut the musicians' current average minimum salaries by 33 percent, from $78,000 to $62,500. The musicians' latest of four counter-offers, made Monday, was to continue "playing and talking," at a reduced rate of $70,000, as negotiations continue. Management declined the offer.
SPCO’s management has asked the musicians to respond to its most recent proposal by midnight tonight. Last week, it said that the organization "cannot continue to operate under the terms of the expired contract."
Turnout for the rally was sparser than the musicians would have liked, said spokesman Robb Leer, because "ironically, many of them are rehearsing right now” as fill-ins with the Minnesota Orchestra, which is holding a concert Thursday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center, on what would have been the start of their season if they weren’t locked out. That concert will mark the first time that the 110-year-old Minnesota Orchestra has held an opening-night gala without the participation of management.
In Rice Park, bystanders on their lunch breaks applauded the small band of musicians after each piece. Jim McRae, a research scientist for the University of Minnesota, said that the proposed salary reduction “seems like quite a cut. The Twin Cities should have first-class orchestras, and any money raised should go first to the musicians.”
Mason-Smith said that salary cuts aren’t the musicians’ only concern.
“They also want to reduce the number of players,” she said. “We can’t give artistic control to people with no background in the arts, or we’ll turn into a regional orchestra.”
SPCO management must provide the musicians with notice if it intends to proceed with a lockout, said orchestra spokeswoman Jessica Etten.
SPCO musicians' website: www.musiciansspco.org
SPCO website: www.thespco.org