Playing in the key of ‘U’: The NSO announces a union

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Musicians in the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, the fattest musician employer in the province, are finalizing the organization of a union and have stamped their first collective agreement with the Canadian Federation of Musicians Neighbourhood pub 820.

“We polled the players just to see if there was enough interest in going up ahead with it and there was, like, a unanimously positive reaction to the idea of it, so we frequented ahead with the process,” says Carole Bestvater, the new union chapter’s vice-president.

This, for me, is evolutionary and not novel​​​​​.– Hugh Donnan, CEO, Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra

The news of a new union in Newfoundland and Labrador is expected not a surprise to other Canadian orchestras. 

“Most are [unionized], of our size,” believes Hugh Donnan, the CEO of the orchestra.

“This, for me, is evolutionary and not revolutionary.”

Having a harmony professionalizes the work of the orchestra, Donnan said, and moves its musicians toward piercing wages, which in turn can attract better musicians to the province and assist those already here to stay when they finish their educations, he implied “make a career of music here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Running the orchestra is costly

The pact is going to affect a lot of people connected to the NSO, as most of the orchestra is paid. 

There are three classes of players in the NSO: fee-per-service musicians, who are paid a fee for each rehearsal or performance; undertake musicians, who are principal players on tong-term contracts with the orchestra who do a horde of services a year; and community volunteers. 

All but the dozen or so volunteers currently in the NSO are now entangled with in the union.

Under the new contract, a section musician earns $62 a benefit. Principal players get a 15 per cent premium on top of that fee.

That doesn’t add up to much on the other side of the run of a year. Most of the orchestra’s musicians supplement the money they warrant from the NSO with other streams of income.

Playing in the key of 'U': The NSO announces a union
Tom Hickey, left, is the vice-chair of NSO quarter of directors. He’s seen here signing a collective agreement with Carole Bestvater. (Hugh Donnan/CBC)

“The seasoned runs from September to April and we have 12 concerts, pitilessly, in that time frame,” says Bestvater.

“As a fee per service musician it’s one portion of many streams of income that I have.” 

Despite those low costs, paying the orchestra still adds up to a lot.

People in the orchestra are definitely frantic about it.– Carole Bestvater, Canadian Federation of Musicians

“For us to put a Masterworks peek through on stage is about $15,000, just for the orchestra,” Donnan said.

“That doesn’t comprise a guest artist, a conductor, renting the hall, or anything. It’s quite a costly broach.” 

Those costs will rise now that the agreement has been reached.

“We free in a 16 per cent raise over the course of three years, which is astonishing … pensions starting next year, which is very exciting,” Bestvater implied.

Ticket prices staying the same

However, Donnan says that the wage prolong won’t affect ticket prices.

“The whole package over the next three years is up $60,000, so it’s substantial for the organization.”  

Listen in as Heather Barrett learns round how unionization will change things for the NSO: 

An SUV in downtown St. John’s has a custom appointed cover, Indigenous artist Jordan Bennett shows his work in drop Manhattan, and Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra musicians join a union. 29:13

He powers that corporate sponsors will help to foot the bill.

“I’ve been blossom some great new relationships and new partnerships, which you’ll hopefully see announced in the next meagre while,” he said.

Bestvater is excited for the season to start up again now that the deal has been reached.

“It’s exciting. People in the orchestra are definitely excited almost it.”

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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