The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 23, 2021 1:00 am

Outside interference: Standoff between Philharmonic, musicians best settled without any external assistance

Dr. William Cast

I was lucky to know Gen.Gines Perez when I served in the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson.

He grew up in extreme poverty in southern Spain and immigrated to the United States in his 20s.

He finished at Arizona State University at about age 35, when he entered the Army from ROTC.

He retired as a two-star general.

I learned many things from him, but one – related to the Fort Wayne Philharmonic negotiation – sticks in my mind.

Perez lived in Extremadura, Spain, through the Spanish Civil War. “There were nationalists under (Gen. Francisco) Franco supported by fascists from Italy and Nazis from Germany fighting republicans supported by communists and the International Brigade,” he said, “and nearly a million lives were lost, churches destroyed, and cities bombed. When it was over, Spain was a mess, and then, the outsiders left.

“Never let other people fight their war in your country,” he said.

Fort Wayne Philharmonic musicians are represented by the American Federation of Musicians, an organization for which these negotiations are important, locally of course, but also nationally.

In fact, it was reported that the Fort Wayne Philharmonic is the only full-time philharmonic orchestra in North America to occupy a position on the American Federation of Musicians' International Unfair List.

And the international president, Ray Hair, appeared at a rally here, where he called our city Fort Worth.

Irritating people probably doesn't bother him, but the troubled state of unions does. Unions face the low wages of globalization and the growing threat of automation – digital theft and fewer live performances.

Also, when jobs are lost, dues income tends to be less.

Making a loud noise in Fort Wayne makes sense for marketing the union nationally, even if not for local musicians.

It is on Fort Wayne turf that the union is fighting a hostile war.

The local situation is particularly difficult. Philharmonic finances are complex in detail, but conclusions are simple. Expenses are paid from operating income, donations and investment income from endowment money, and that income has not been sufficient for many years.

Each year, there is a budget shortfall of more than $1 million, and that gap is bridged by bank loans and money taken from the endowment.

Accumulated bank loans have, in the end, been paid from the endowment.

Balancing the budget is a matter of metro-market size, musician pay rate, number of contracted musicians and length of musicians' playing season – now 30 weeks (add three more paid vacation) versus 28 weeks now being discussed.

Forty-four contracted musicians have seasonal jobs with benefits that are unusual for jobs that some would identify, by calendar, as part-time. But, with practice time and outside performances, the profession is very much full time.

Difficulties, however, go beyond finances and contracts.

Fort Wayne is a small city with a tightly knit regional music community developed by lifelong friendships among students and teachers, musicians and board members.

On both sides, painful ambivalence is made far worse by the mean-spirited, adversarial culture of negotiation.

A balanced budget can be reached through local cooperation between musicians and prudent management, and that balance will recognize the cultural value musicians bring to our community, schools and business climate.'

We should give generously to the arts, and we should support our artists. At the same time, we must expect those who are stewards of our endowments to protect donors' contributions for decades to come. I'll submit that these opinions are solely mine.

Just prior to World War II, the Spanish Civil War gave outsiders a chance to try out new weapons, wage war, promote their politics, and ultimately leave the wreckage behind them.

Never let other people fight their war on your turf. True in 1936 and true today. 

Dr. William Cast is a Fort Wayne physician.

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