Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Picks Itself Up Out of the Dust
Surrounded, bleeding heavily from multiple wounds, taking shots from management, media, local union, labor board, and even each other, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra had a rough few months last season. This short progress report on the SLSO’s recovery is as much a testament to the seemingly boundless optimism and good will of the musicians of this orchestra as it is to the first aid efforts of its medic/musicians council. And the report is: the wounds are healing, but the remaining bullets are being counted.
Part of this season’s healing was in the form of two so-called “administrative services”. These were mandatory, scheduled, on-stage events, without instruments, where the orchestra and administrative staff and even Board members sat in groups at round, pencil-and-paper covered tables filling the stage, while facilitator Paul Boulian walked us through communication exercises designed to “move us forward.” Although that may sound hideous to someone on the outside (as well as a number of us on the inside), these collectively run Administrative Services were actually rather interesting and strangely helpful events. The biggest plus was probably in the mixing of orchestra, staff and board members (although curmudgeons like myself did tend to clump together). The services were made possible by the existence of nearly three dozen services in the SLSO schedule that were unused due to cutbacks of concerts and staff. (As the orchestra shrinks in its day-to-day musical operations, it leaves more time for meetings). These administrative services will continue in the coming season, even as our unused service count diminishes under the onslaught of a new, high-energy music director.
The Musicians Council (the SLSO’s large orchestra committee/artistic committee/SW A T team) spent much of its efforts this year on the relationship with St. Louis Local 2-197, which is undoubtedly at an all-time low. After our application to the AFM Orchestra Services Program, ICSOM and the AFM leapt into the saddle and rode into town. With the ICSOM marshals posse keeping the peace, the judges of the International Executive Board (IEB), under the direction of Head Judge Tom Lee, passed a compromise sentence (thanks in no small part to Brad Buckley, Council chair) of bringing in Bill Moriarity (past president of Local 802) to act as “Symphonic Representative” in our dealings with the officers and board of Local 2-197. Bill’s wonderful experience, wisdom, and level headedness have already proven themselves invaluable. His relocation to St. Louis (his old hometown) couldn’t have come at a better time for us all. Head Judge Tom Lee, and IEB Judge Joe Parente even rode into town armed with pizza, to talk to the orchestra, along with Local 2-197 President Vicki Smolik, Bill Moriarity, and the Orchestra Council, all present for a nice group hug.
As far as the future is concerned, the SLSO is in pretty good shape financially, with a large endowment and a management which always has its eye on the bottom line. (We are, surprisingly, finally replacing our 35-year old chairs, which were beginning to collapse under our large Missouri bottoms). The latest dismal CBA expires in September 2008. The nine-year wage freeze/cut is wearing thin on this ordinarily friendly group of folks. Retirees are showing more of a tendency to slink quietly away into the brush without plaques and parties. Young eager fighters are joining the Musicians Council. There may be other ricochets from the last gun battle that we haven’t heard zing by our ears. Stay tuned for future episodes.
This is an update to the cover story, “High Noon at the Not-So-OK Corral,” from the June 2005 issue of Senza Sordino. Chris Woehr is the ICSOM delegate of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.