At the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the show has been stopped since early October.
The musicians at the DSO have been on strike against the orchestra’s management for 18 weeks now. So far, more than 40 percent of the orchestra’s performances this season have been cancelled due to the strike.
For several years, Oakland University’s Music, Theatre and Dance program has employed DSO musicians as faculty for their music students. Additionally, this past fall, a new partnership was announced between OU and the DSO that aimed to give students a more comprehensive music education through advanced lessons and events.
As the strike continues, music students and faculty alike have expressed concern over the ongoing battle between the DSO musicians and the management.
Freshman music education major Josh Bobek said his first year as a college musician has been affected by the strike in a number of ways, including being unable to attend a number of performances by the DSO due to their cancellation.
While Bobek is unhappy with the strike situation as a whole, he said that he understands the importance of the musicians’ fight.
“I am obviously upset over the strike; however, I side with the musicians in their argument rather than the DSO management,” Bobek said. “The musicians have agreed several times to meet halfway between the DSO’s pay wants and the musicians’ pay wants, however the management is persistent on the amount they want to pay the musicians.”
Bobek said that he has hopes that the strike will come to a resolution soon so that the quality of the DSO may be preserved.
“I’m not necessarily nervous about losing the orchestra as a whole, however I feel as though quite a few of the talented musicians may decide to leave if this strike continues much longer,” Bobek said. “Most musicians want this strike to end as soon as possible. We want to be able to return to Orchestra Hall in Detroit and listen to the world-class music expected from the DSO.”
Greg Cunningham, an associate professor of music at OU and the conductor of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, said that although the strike has no easy answer, he hopes to see a solution soon.
“It’s a complicated issue,” he said. “I don’t know what the final solution is, but I hope that the loss of the orchestra is something that can be avoided.”
DSO board members recently voted to present the musicians with a new proposal on February 4, however no details have been released as to what the proposal will entail.
A hot topic of discussion during the negotiations has been the monetary differences between the requests of the musicians and the proposals from the management. The most recent proposal in January suggested a $32 million budget over the course of 40 months, as compared to the $36 million budget over 36 months suggested by former governor Jennifer Granholm and Senator Carl Levin.
Corbin Wagner, a DSO musician who plays French horn and also teaches at Oakland University, said the money is not the largest of the issues, however.
“The whole purpose behind the strike is for the musicians to preserve the quality of the orchestra,” Wagner said. “Money is minor in comparison.
Wagner and Cunningham both said that student musicians at OU are impacted by the ongoing strike, however both also acknowledged that the faculty has done as much as possible to ensure the students receive the same quality of music education.
“I believe that the music department has felt very little impact, except that there are no great performances for the students to attend in Detroit,” Wagner said. “Students often don’t fully grasp the depth of contract negotiations, but they do notice the angst, the distraction, the discomforts that their teacher may inadvertently expose.”
Cunningham said the students have expressed concern for the ramifications of the strike in the future, as have many professional musicians.
“Our music students here are like any serious musician concerned about the long term effect on musicians,” Cunningham said. “They have been sharing a similar view most of the people that I know have. It’s not only the individual musicians who are amazing artists, but the cultural identity of instrumental music in this area is so affixed to the DSO.”
“We have to have a rich community in which to live, or else it’s just not that great of a place,” Cunningham said. “We have to have a major metropolitan orchestra. It’s an asset few cities have and it’s worth fighting for, worth guarding.”
Cunningham also said the cost of running an organization like the DSO should not change the way people consider it.
“What the organization costs to run doesn’t make it less valuable,” Cunningham said. “I want professional sports, I want a strong visual arts community, musical art, dramatic art; I want all of it for our community. That’s the community where I want to live. It makes it a better place.”