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March 23, 2009


Your article made me gain a lot of and support here.

Some who are following this thread may be wondering what any of this has to do with the topic heading Why we need unions. We readily accept that unions must be a balancing force against management, which is an easy pitch with conductors such as Michael Christie. But a fair and relevant union should have the courage and strength of conviction to rein in its own members.

Members of the NY Philharmonic or Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who also play in the Colorado Music Festival, would be the first to cry foul if a similar summer festival set up shop in their town. This unprofessional, anti-union practice of damaging other markets for no gain or purpose has become quite acceptable in the AFM.

Ethan, I appreciate your comments, but it's becoming impossible for myself or others who live and work in the metro-Denver market to defend CMF. Based on analysis of two years ago, the cost of living in Boulder is in fact higher than in three of the five Burroughs of NY City. Local musicians mostly avoid CMF because they simply can't afford to take the job - they're not on vacation.

The CMF is a very strange and very expensive ensemble. Recent news that CMF is now one of three Colorado orchestras to receive Federal Economic Stimulus funding makes this whole equation even more bizarre than it already is.

Pete Vriesenga

As a member of the Denver Musicians Association (local 20-623), I understand a lot of the concerns about the Colorado Music Festival. For full disclosure, I am both a member of the orchestra and the personnel manager.

I have no first hand knowledge of the situation in Phoenix. It does seem interesting to me that the EEOC and the NLRB are getting involved when it is a unionized orchestra. As a union member, and a believer in strong unions, if there is a problem I'd like to see the union represent the musicians’ concerns.

Pete, let me say that your quote of $45 per service is incorrect. For section players it is $55. But I'd like to point out a few things about the information you are posting. First, we do provide housing for our musicians and have almost doubled that budget in my 7 years here. This is a direct result of conversations with the musicians where they have pointed out that accommodations are their largest concern.

When I first moved to Boulder I had heard that Boulder had a higher cost of living that NY City. That’s just not true. None of the online “cost of living calculators” bear that out, nor do any of the personal witnesses that I know. You can rent a two bedroom apartment in Boulder for $1000 a month. What does that get you in NYC?

The low scale that we have at the festival was in place long before Michael Christie was involved. He began work here one year before me. In my time here, we have increased pay about 60% for the section players, 35% between 2004 and 2008 alone. That's at a time when many orchestras across the country have been cutting pay and services, and that's if they stay in business. For this season, when other local orchestras, including ones with which I perform, have been cutting whole concert sets and asking the musicians for wage concessions, we have maintained the length of our season and our pay scale.

I'd like to further point out that before my time, when the orchestra did go through a difficult financial period, the board cut some violin positions in order to balance the budget. A few years later, Michael Christie personally paid for two violin positions to be added back into the budget out of his own pocket. Michael is not perfect, I could complain about various (mostly insignificant) aspects of working with him, but I have never seen him do anything to harm the musicians or the music at the festival. He has fought for us to increase pay, increase services and add musicians. He has also helped us make our personnel decisions more timely and transparent.

To Michael Allen's comment about the disdain for local musicians - we have gone out of our way to make sure that local musicians who apply for our festival get a chance to play an audition. Currently, there are five Colorado residents playing in the orchestra - the third most represented state behind New York (6), and Florida (9). I understand that there is a myth that we don't hire local musicians but that's just not true, and it’s not supported by the numbers above. Because of the myth we don't get as many applicants from Colorado as one might expect. We can't give a job to someone who doesn't apply. Anyone who applies is given the same hearing, regardless of where they are from.

As I mentioned above, I am a union member and I believe that our union is very important. I hope that you will think twice before posting mis-information and local myths about an organization before checking their accuracy. Pete (and Mike), I am always open to a discussion about any of these issues. We have talked through many of them in the past, as I believe you have with our Executive Director, and I am happy to do so again. The musician pay scale will continue to be one of our top priorities as directed in the board-approved Strategic Plan.

Thank you,
Ethan Hecht

Damn blog posting - it is a blunt tool and does not convey sarcasm very well.

The CMF and Michael Christie are rather sore subjects around here. The CMF through its various agents has expressed public disdain for the local musician pool. Never mind that there are many who live and work here that have distinguished national reputations as professional musicians.

Perfect setup? Maybe for those who come to Colorado for those 6 weeks of paid vacation.

Sorry if I gave the impression of condoning it. I meant it rather sarcastically.

Perfect setup? Maybe for those who come to Colorado for those 6 weeks of paid vacation. However, the policies and practices of the CMF are damaging to the local music economy in many ways.

Just on the surface, these are AFM musicians playing for well below the prevailing local scale. The fine musicians of the CMF undermine all efforts to improve local conditions with every breath and bow stroke.

What is happening in Phoenix is no surprise. Michael Christie fully buys into the time honored fallacy that an expert is someone (young) from out of town with a briefcase. In fact, he is the poster boy.

"These musicians are there to get away from the grind of their regular orchestra jobs while taking their vacation-pay weeks, earning a paltry sum on the side and mostly for the wonderful Colorado air and scenery."

It's worse than that. About 10 years ago I tried to organize CMF by forming a negotiation committee. To a person, members of the committee admitted they didn't want pay increases because they routinely file for unemployment when their home orchestra season closes. Additional $$ would only disqualify them. Their only concern expressed to me was their want for better accommodations.

Among a long list of funding sources, the Colorado Music Festival receives government funding from the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District, the Colorado Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and ... State Unemployment Compensation.

You should all be congratulated for your significant financial support, ensuring necessary funding so that Michael Christie's orchestra is given a nice summer vacation.

Some of these musicians come from notable orchestras, which strokes the maestro's ego with assumptions that they come largely because of him.

These musicians are there to get away from the grind of their regular orchestra jobs while taking their vacation-pay weeks, earning a paltry sum on the side and mostly for the wonderful Colorado air and scenery. Michael Christie is the one fly in the ointment that would otherwise be a perfect setup.

Thank you Robert. This is the most significant post I've seen in years.

Phoenix Symphony music director Michael Christie is also music director of the Colorado Music Festival, a five-week summer getaway for musicians from around the country. They play 4 rehearsals and 2 concerts per week for about $45/service in Boulder, CO, which has a higher cost of living than New York City.

Some of these musicians come from notable orchestras, which strokes the maestro's ego with assumptions that they come largely because of him. They are pioneers in the art of "playing for exposure," and should accept recognition and due credit for the man and director that Michael Christie has become.

In Solidarity w/ Members in Phoenix,

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