The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 08, 2021 1:00 am

Harmonic convergence

End to Phil's standoff essential to cultural enrichment

Chuck Surack

As a lifelong music lover and business owner in Fort Wayne, I welcomed the honor of being asked to lead the Fort Wayne Philharmonic as board chair a few years ago.

It reminded me of that day in 1969 as a middle schooler when I began my relationship with the orchestra as a volunteer usher. Since then, my relationship with music developed into a passion I never could have imagined. And a constant in all those years has been my love for the Philharmonic.

With service as board chair came musical highlights, such as listening to the artistry of our orchestra with the legendary Renée Fleming; experiencing the groundbreaking regionwide collaboration Violins of Hope; and seeing the Philharmonic break new ground with projects such as Bach in the Barn.

Service to lead and sustain an organization has highlights. It also poses many challenges, particularly in difficult times. I and other board members understand and accept the challenges because anything that is worthwhile is worth fighting for.

We need to do more and give more than ever before to save our beloved Philharmonic.

Orchestra musicians, staff and board members are faced with an existential challenge stemming from the effects of the pandemic wreaking havoc all over the world. In addition, our local musicians' union has charged the Philharmonic with unfair labor practices and placed the organization on the American Federation of Musicians' unfair play list.

These charges are a blight not only to the Philharmonic, but to our community. The board believes strongly that the Philharmonic has done nothing wrong in working to save the future of the organization and urges the union to stop stalling tactics and return to the negotiating table so a fair contract can be reached, and music returned to our region.

One thing is certain in these challenging times: Changes in the arts and cultural institutions must be made to reimagine and sustain a healthy future. Orchestras in Nashville, Tennessee, and New York City recently reached musician contract agreements that help ensure the companies can resume performances and be financially sustained longer term.

We are asking the union to collaborate with us to respond to the rapidly changing marketplace so the orchestra can emerge healthy and responsive to both the short- and long-term needs of the organization.

Our city and region deserve quality arts and performances. We are committed to work cooperatively with musicians to restore first-class orchestra performances as we work to recover from COVID-19's effects.

Priorities include living within our means, ensuring the Philharmonic's long-term future and serving our communities. We can only do that if the orchestra and union agree to talk with us.

To the orchestra and union, please come back and talk with us. The board knows it is time to face down some really hard challenges, working together at the negotiating table. As in any relationship, only when we talk and communicate can we solve problems.

I believe in the promise of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and am humbled by the opportunity to lead it through arguably the toughest period in its 76-year history. There is nothing the board and I want more than to see live performances by the Philharmonic back on stage, and our musicians back at work and canvassing the region so their great music can be heard throughout our communities again.

We remain optimistic that a new contract can be reached in the new year and that the Philharmonic will continue its mission of bringing great music to residents in northeast Indiana.

Chuck Sur-ack is founder and CEO of Sweetwater and chair of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

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