The Orchestra Goes on Strike

     There’s something about book burnings that will always wrench the heart, will always make a statement, will always draw attention: something about the artistry being defaced, being under-appreciated in that brutal way, that even those most out of touch with art are able to recognize. The pages wilt to soot, and he who watches  suddenly realizes why art was created, when the void the destroyed art leaves gapes wide and empty. When nearby orchestras, most notably the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Orchestras, went on strike beginning this past September, it called attention to the epidemic of art, specifically classical music, going unappreciated in our society. After agreeing in past years to multiple wage, pension and work condition cuts, a call for an additional 15 percent pay cut was where the musicians drew the line. Performances were cancelled, protests began and finally people began to notice, and change inched closer to reality.

     The Philadelphia Orchestra’s strike resolved fairly quickly, as musicians wanted to avoid causing any harm to the institution, in agreement to a three-year contract with a two-percent raise in the first year, followed by two-and-a-half percent in the second and third years. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has not yet found a compromise the union and the management can agree upon. However, amidst this thick tension for musicians in Pittsburgh, something rather stunning and unexpected has occurred. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is striking to make a long-overdue statement about their well-deserved and worked-for respect, acknowledgment and livelihood as musicians, yet these musicians play on. All of their performances have been cancelled through Nov. 18, but sections of the orchestra are volunteering, playing for local events and at different churches. There is a message here much more meaningful than mere money being communicated through these decisions. If musicians are willing to go unpaid for a period of a strike, yet continue to perform their music outside of the company for free, this brings to light not only the injustice of unfair compensation, but also a lack of respect from management for the music itself that is being created.

     In the same way that culture, history and art dissipate alongside the smoke from burning pages, so too  the culture, history and art of classical music is being lost in the under-appreciation and miscommunication that has been made clear from these recent events. Musicians have within themselves an unexplainable reverence for the music they create, and that adoration becomes evident when a listening bystander is moved by the music. Music is an art that has the power to instill change, and whether the artist is a church’s organist or the Philadelphia Orchestra violinist, these artists deserve to be respected and compensated in accordance with the grueling work he or she contributes to making this world a more lovely and musical place.

     “Those who were musicians…stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night” (1 Chronicles 9:33, NIV).

     Sources: The New York Times, Pittsburgh City Paper, Washington Post

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