Symphony’s woes could be felt by musicians

Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 10:05pm

The Nashville Symphony Orchestra is headed either to financial restructuring or bankruptcy court after announcing last week that it would not renew a letter of credit that had been supporting around $100 million in debt. What happens next may largely depend on how generous bank lenders are feeling after the symphony essentially decided to default, leaving them with the hefty bag.

How the move will affect the symphony’s 85 orchestra musicians is also uncertain, but precedent would suggest they might be bracing for impact.

In June 1988, after suspending operations earlier in the year due to financial struggles, the symphony filed for bankruptcy after five months of negotiations with the orchestra’s musicians failed to produce an agreement that would mitigate some of its money troubles. That step came three years after a brief musicians’ strike over contract negotiations.

In 2006, the symphony opened its grand concert hall, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, built by way of $102 million in bonds. That’s the debt the symphony will be defaulting on unless it can strike a deal with lenders. The symphony also suffered millions in losses as a result of the May 2010 flood, one factor, among others, that symphony board Chairman Ed Goodrich and President Alan Valentine were sure to note in their recent letter announcing the decision to patrons.

Elsewhere in the country, where symphony orchestras are faring no better, musicians’ pay and benefits have typically been on the chopping block. In Louisville, where the symphony orchestra has struggled financially for years, musicians have been asked for concessions in pay and benefits, among other things, as a means of making up for significant budget shortfalls. San Francisco Symphony musicians are currently striking over contract negotiations, after that organization has consistently operated at a deficit. Symphony musicians in Indianapolis returned to the stage in October after agreeing to a pay cut, and similar scenarios can be found in Seattle, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Representatives with the Nashville Musicians Association, the local musicians union that includes orchestra members, declined to comment because they said the situation is “still developing.” The union is set to begin contract negotiations with symphony management this summer.

It would not be surprising for givebacks — that is, salary or benefit concessions from the musicians — to come up during those discussions. But orchestra members here have less to give than their counterparts in other cities. Nashville’s orchestra members receive a minimum salary of $60,000 per year, a substantially smaller amount than players in cities like San Francisco, where orchestra members earn an average of $165,000 per year.

22 Comments on this post:

By: Jughead on 3/22/13 at 9:29

Yet, rap music makes gazillions. Americans are idiots.

By: jthordsen on 3/22/13 at 10:01

Rap is not music.

By: courier37027 on 3/22/13 at 10:31

Wait one minute. We were told that when the Titans and Predators came to toen all our downtown and financial woes would be solved. Heck we were promised more money for schools. Nashville Symphony I suggest you check with Bredesen, Purcel, Dean and the businesses who got behind all this downtown revitalization. They owe you money or an apology.

By: courier37027 on 3/22/13 at 10:31

Wait one minute. We were told that when the Titans and Predators came to toen all our downtown and financial woes would be solved. Heck we were promised more money for schools. Nashville Symphony I suggest you check with Bredesen, Purcel, Dean and the businesses who got behind all this downtown revitalization. They owe you money or an apology.

By: JeffF on 3/22/13 at 2:42

Rap does not spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marble clad, ornate buildings with sophisticated moving floor and wall systems on expensive downtown real estate. If anyone is stupid it the music genre that does that and considers spending huge amounts of additional money for musicians who are judged for blending in with others in a large group.

Hate all you want on the entertainment choices of the masses, but at least those art forms find a way of paying their own way. Symphonies appear to be a make work program for people who would normally go broke with their niche college degree choices.

By: Ask01 on 3/23/13 at 5:23

courier37207, I would add that Mayor Dean's new convention center, if he and the forty thieves on our Metro Council did not lie to the citizens, should produce more revenue than the city can spend.

That income, along with the wealth generated by our two top shelf sports teams should be more than sufficient to help out the starving musicians.

Better yet, they, the musicians, could get real jobs to cover the shortfall.

By: Badbob on 3/24/13 at 6:15

I used to be offered some good deals on tickets. However, when they got into trouble, they stopped offering the deals. My bet is that they end up with unfilled seats where they could have sold them to people like me for some kind of deal.

Then, too, every concert has music that has stood the test of time, and a significant amount of discordant new crap that is worse than most rap. If they want to mix in some new stuff, start with good music from Pink Floyd, the Beatles, or any number of proven modern songwriters... as if Nashville has none.

One other thing... imagine building a music venue where you need 200 microphones to get the sound out? The acoustics at TPAC are so much better than the Schermerhorn. Then, too, what if you bought expensive box seats and could only see 2/3'rds of the orchestra. The Schermerhorn is pretty, but I'm sorry, it is not a very good venue.

By: slzy on 3/24/13 at 5:44

Who stands to make money on this deal? It is hard to believe so many people made miscalculations. Rap may not be music but it warned not to play yourself. Some body has been played here.

By: joe41 on 3/24/13 at 10:14

I thought that the Schermerhorn was build with funds subscribed by patrons and not by a bond issue. What happened to all of the people who wanted the Music Hall to be built?


By: Loner on 3/25/13 at 5:16

Building a highfalutin music palace on a flood plain was idiotic, to begin with; especially in a city with little or no taste or appreciation for classical music....the sweetheart contractors who were in on the mega-rip-off are the only winners folks were hosed, once are extremely gullible... you never seem to learn anything from your previous will certainly be hosed again.....lousy educational systems produce gullible voter bases....TN is a prime example of that.

By: Rasputin72 on 3/25/13 at 7:14

LONER........I hardly think building the music palace on a 500 year flood plain is any more ridiculous than a 46,000 dollar a year person like you commenting on financial mistakes.

By: Loner on 3/25/13 at 7:42

A five hundred year flood plain?

Not according to Bill Carey, a local historian, educator and author:

There was a time, for instance, when many of the low-lying areas of downtown Nashville had nicknames such as “Black Bottom” and “Trimble Bottom.” In spite of what many people thought, these nicknames originally weren’t meant to put down the people who lived in those areas – they simply referred to the tendency of these places to occasionally flood. Black Bottom, I am certain, originally got that nickname because it flooded so often that the dirt there was very fertile.

So why did cities like Nashville start to build “big ticket” items such as a stadium, arena and symphony hall in these low lying areas? In short, government officials and city planners didn’t think we would ever have a flood of this magnitude again because they thought we had “tamed” the river.

Read more here:

By: E.V. on 3/25/13 at 7:44

Jeff, rap artists are notorious for blowing their money on shiney "bling" like jewelry, clothes, sex, teeth, drugs and "Excalades" with big gold-plated wheels.

By: Loner on 3/25/13 at 7:49

Rasp, my commenting on financial issues is analogous to your commenting on anything connected with music....admit it, Rasp, you thought that a schermerhorn was some sort of vintage brass instrument, didn't you?

By: E.V. on 3/25/13 at 7:50

We now have a president and a ruling class in Washington who "hate" the wealthy. I put in quotes because that's what they tell the duped masses (see comments about Rap above), while they do everything they can to secure their places in the wealthy elite of the government's power brokers (Read "Reckless Endangerment" by NYT writer Gretchen Morgensen). The leftists in the music industry everywhere chime right in about the "greedy rich". Well folks! Who do you think helped this concert hall get built? Yeppers, the rich... the richest family in TN; Who do you think go to the concerts, but have had to cut back because of their rising taxes and assaults on their businesses? Yeppers... you getting the picture?

By: Loner on 3/25/13 at 7:55

E.V. = Extra Venomous?

By: Rasputin72 on 3/25/13 at 8:08

LONER..........I considered Schermerhorn an acquaintance of mine. When you refer to flooding I must assume that you are referring to the pre TVA era. Your research should have included that the primary objectives were electrfication and flood control.

Obviously, you remember "you can check out but you can never leave" I guess this applies to you as well?

By: Rasputin72 on 3/25/13 at 8:15

EV.........LONER at 46,000 a year is not interested in anything other than class envy and the destruction of Israels influence on the USA. The power of the dollar has alluded him his entire life.

I do consider him a good but often misguided soul.

By: Loner on 3/25/13 at 8:58

The classically-trained orchestra musicians will be forced to shift to the blues genre...I suggest that members of the orchestra start busking on the sidewalks of make their point....they are starving-artists, so to speak...they should play the role, on the streets of Nashville, TN.

By: Loner on 3/25/13 at 9:01

Suggested signage for the Schermerhorn Buskers:


By: Loner on 3/25/13 at 9:02

That's my advice...take it..or leave it...I gotta run.

By: boyzmom on 3/26/13 at 7:57

Forgive my outrage, but $60K is a MINIMUM salary in the Nashville Symphony? It takes a teacher in MNPS 15 years of experience AND a Master's degree PLUS an additional thirty hours of graduate level to earn that much money. I don't see how our musicians can complain about salary, given that they can teach and do numerous other things to supplement their income and STILL work fewer hours than do your child's teachers.