Scrooge and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

posted in: The Arts, Politics | 0

Dear Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and beloved musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra,

     Imagine Dickens’ A Christmas Carol without Tiny Tim, the Fezziwigs’ Christmas party, and Scrooge’s redemption! That’s what the cacellation of all SPCO concerts for November and December feels like. Scrooge has no ghostly visitations that turn his grasping greed into sympathy and generosity. He repents not his harsh treatment of his employees. He sends no huge turkey and trimmings to the Cratchit family on Christmas day. Offers no help to restore Tiny Tim to health. Arrives at the Fezziwig Christmas party with a scowl and threat, turning the party into a dull, lifeless affair. Finally he spends the last dark hours of the year in his cold office counting his winnings.

     In its long history, the musicians of the SPCO have never before experienced such demeaning, intransigent, and potentially destructive treatment from those who “manage” their affairs. The current offer, rightly rejected by the musicians,defines the musicians as hirlings whose services may be terminated at any time, whose compensation is not guaranteed and may be changed by management on a moment’s notice. It threatens that if musicians over 55 do not accept the current retirement incentive by the end of 2012, they may be terminated with significantly smaller severance payment. Moreover, it does not acknowledge that over the last ten years, the musicians have accepted significant reductions in salaries without strife, creating a $2.2 million savings for the organization, and helping it balance its budget in 16 out of the last 17 years..

     For many of us who have learned to love these players for their many seasons of glorious music, such wrenching treatment by the “handlers” is offensive to the core. We believe they deserve far better. And with the hope of fostering this, we offer the following pot pourri of suggestions:

     *   That you, Mr. Mayor, declare a Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Musicians “day or week or month.”

     *  That you press current management to accept independent arbitration of this contract dispute

     *  That you gather a group of supporters and under the city auspices, sponsor one larger or many small musical offerings, for which enthusiastic audiences will pay significantly. All these funds will go to help the musicians survive this period of no salaries, and to encourage them to remain within the organization until a decent contact is reached.

      As a friend who recently retired from corporate America pointed out: applying dictatorial, top-down, demeaning threats to human beings who are, in fact, the body and soul, the “product and equity” of an organization, not only displays the greed and high-handedness of management, but also poses a real threat to the viability of the endeavor itself.

     Mr. Mayor, help us keep our beloved orchestra playing throughout our season of lights and many years beyond.

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