Struggle and Activism, 1950-1962

The Christian Science church held services on Wednesday between our morning and afternoon rehearsals. They had lots of flowers onstage and I was setting up my instruments before the afternoon rehearsal and was leaving the stage when Reiner appeared near the stage exit. Not knowing anything else to say I asked, “Nice of them to have flowers for us, isn’t it, Dr. Reiner?” He replied, “Dot is for your funeral.”

As told to the author by retired CSO contrabassoonist Richard (Dick) Lottridge

The labor movement that swept America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had left symphony musicians behind. By the end of World War II, most orchestra players belonged to the American Federation of Musicians, but the union did not secure for them the pay raises and improved working conditions enjoyed during that period by their counterparts in other professional unions.

The majority of the AFM’s membership during and after the war worked in big bands, popular or commercial settings, recording studios, theaters, and vaudeville. Many union musicians worked as day jobbers for casual employers, accepting the standard wage scale for various types of work for which they were hired without direct union bargaining. These nonsymphonic musicians provided the major source of funding for the AFM, as well as the votes for union officers and initiatives. Union leaders were primarily concerned with the majority of their membership and had little knowledge of or interest in the symphonic musician.

Board presidents and administrators of American symphony orchestras made contract and wage agreements with the local union officials behind closed doors. They would subsequently announce the outcome by saying, “This is your raise, boys,” and expect that the gentlemen (and meager numbers of women) of the orchestra would comply. Dissent or complaints could cost the musician’s job. Such bargaining affected only a small part of the membership of larger union locals — fewer than one hundred in a roster of thousands.

Local union officers were unfamiliar with the working conditions that comprised professional orchestra life. They often listened with considerable sympathy to the pleas of financial hardship the boards and managers put forth. Orchestra musicians saw a gradual erosion of their professional standing.

… the complete text is available in “More Than Meets The Ear