Response to SAS Letter to Donors

Updated: Jan 3

The December 16 letter from the Symphony Society is excerpted in italics inside quotation marks. My translations are between the quoted sections.

“Dear Supporter,

We are facing a pivotal moment in the history of the San Antonio Symphony. As you are likely aware, emergency funding has seemed to ‘save the symphony many times over the past several decades. Yet each time those generous gifts were never enough to keep the cycle from repeating. We have struggled countless times, over these same decades, simply to make payroll, putting every employee, and the organization itself, at very real risk of financial collapse.”

We have struggled because we have refused over and over again to hold the endowment drive that is long overdue, and because we have never been willing to invest the money in an adequately staffed professional development department.

“This pandemic has forced us to face the hard reality that we can no longer afford to live on the edge of collapse – always accepting the short-term rescue rather than the long-term solution. We realize it is up to us, right now, to break the cycle of budgeting beyond our means and to make the difficult yet essential decision to truly save the Symphony for the long term.”

This pandemic is the golden opportunity served up on a silver platter that we have been waiting for for years. This is our chance to implement the A/B orchestra structure long desired by local union busters and small-minded people who have deep pockets for sports teams and buildings but not for the artists who inspire our citizens and educate our children.

“The current implemented musician contract is based on an average 20-hour week for 24 weeks out of the year.”

The musicians’ contract for this season called for a 31 week season. We, the board and management, are the guilty parties who implemented a 24 week truncated season.

To claim that the musicians work 20 hours a week is a lie. It is a lie of such magnitude as to shock the conscience. It is equivalent to claiming that a professor who is teaching three classes in a semester is only working for the nine hours that those classes are actually meeting each week. Or that ministers are only working for the one hour a week that they are in the pulpit. The musicians are responsible for many hours of preparation outside of rehearsal time, and our board and management know this. They are bald-faced liars to put this in their letter.

Let me repeat. This is a shameless, self-serving, destructive lie.

”For core musicians, this includes 90 days of fully paid sick leave, a pension, and healthcare. Previous seasons’ contracts were also for an average of a 20 hour week for a limited number of weeks.”

Sick leave, a pension, and healthcare, are not virtues. They are reasonable expectations of any employed person. And they have been wrongfully withheld from 40% of the orchestra.

”As in previous contracts, the current contract maintains a 12 week advance notice of the musicians’ schedule with the Symphony, so each individual musician can plan their schedules well in advance.”

Please give our board and management a round of applause for being compelled to brag about the barest shred of decent behavior on their part, which they were compelled to do by the terms of our collective bargaining agreement.

Granted, this proposal puts forth a smaller core orchestra,”

Other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln? (And notice, not one hint of compassion or pain over 26 highly trained professional musicians losing their full-time jobs and benefits.)

“but it will be a strong core”

It will be a nonexistent core since there is neither a moral, an artistic, nor a financial reason for the musicians to remain.

“and most important, a core we can financially sustain to deliver a beautiful concert experience for our community.”

Who is going to perform these beautiful concerts?

“We are also not set on the implemented contract. We must continue negotiating to resolve the current strike and return your concerts to you.”

The evidence suggests otherwise.

“In November, we offered to enter into binding arbitration with a mutually agreed upon neutral arbitrator. The arbitrator would settle our contract by focusing on the characteristics of the San Antonio Symphony, employee conditions, and comparative standards at other workplaces in our industry. The Musicians' Union has rejected this proposal as well as rejected our requests to involve a mediator to assist in our negotiations.”

We neglect to mention that we fraudulently requested these negotiations in violation of a clause which specifically tied a contract reopener to the uncertainties of the pandemic. It is abundantly clear that our request to change the terms of the contract has nothing to do with the pandemic. We are also not mentioning that we had agreed on a budget of less than $5 million in advance of the negotiations, a figure that would absolutely require draconian cuts on the part of the musicians, which is the most egregious of bad faith bargaining. This ludicrously low budget figure that we agreed on in advance defies all logic when even in a bad year we have historically raised at least $6 million.

Given the fraudulent basis for the negotiations and the dishonest and artificially low budget we came prepared with, our insinuation that the musicians are at fault for not responding positively to the suggestion of either mediation or arbitration is the very definition of shamelessness and gaslighting.

“We are committed to fulfilling our mission to serve our community through performances of great music.”

The evidence strongly suggests otherwise.

“We know the musicians share this same commitment.”

The musicians’ commitment to serving our community through performances of great music does not extend to accepting an unlimited level of abuse.

“Our joint mission is not possible, however, without financial viability.”

One might ask why so many other cities of similar size seem to be able to support orchestras at a budget many times that of the SAS.

“The cyclical funding crisis at the Symphony could be compared to a home built on a flood plain and rebuilt over and over again after each flood. Eventually insurers stop offering coverage. Perhaps a family member offers to rebuild it again once or twice. Soon that money is gone as well because future flooding is predictable. Eventually, the home must be built on solid ground. The pandemic was a flood the likes of which none of us has seen before. Our precarious financial history means we cannot rebuild in the same way as we did in the past - we must now move to solid fiscal ground.”

(With thanks to Principal Percussion/Assistant Principal Timpani Riely Francis for this bit of interpretation): Only great foresight and investment prevented downtown San Antonio from being abandoned as a flood zone. The Riverwalk and flood bypass were built with a view to preserving downtown for the future. It was an investment of funds up front with an immeasurable benefit extending into the foreseeable future. The same should be done for the Symphony.

“We know when the Symphony successfully establishes a discipline of living within its means, community confidence will increase.”

We have been told by some very powerful people that once we break the musicians and impose this ridiculous smaller orchestra, they will reward us with donations.

“With a stable budget design, we will be able to provide more live music and engagement throughout our community. We will be able to work more regularly with partner performing arts and community organizations. We will once again attract the leadership and institutional donors and underwriters who will be with us for the long-term because they see the Symphony as a worthy investment. With financial stability, the Symphony will grow and provide further value to our community.”

This is also not worth translating because there won’t be a symphony. The vast majority of the musicians will leave and it will be impossible to attract musicians of comparable artistry for such little money and such disloyal leadership.

“We appreciate the care and concern Symphony fans have expressed regarding the Symphony and your musicians. Your voices reinforce our commitment to save this organization.”

We’re not listening to the many voices who are telling us we are wrong.

“We have incredibly talented musicians who deserve stability they can count on and where this piece of their livelihood is not repeatedly put in peril.”

THIS PIECE OF THEIR LIVELIHOOD -- Everybody please pay attention to this statement. This is making a virtue of the fact that the San Antonio Symphony’s long history of pay cuts has forced the musicians who moved here for full-time jobs to go out on their own to subsidize themselves, their families, and the Symphony Society of San Antonio.

Not to mention that once again they fail to acknowledge the cost to 26 of their incredibly talented musicians who would have no financial stability at all under their outrageous terms.

“It is important, especially now, to be sustainable, by providing a valuable and valued orchestra – one that our audiences, donors, community, and musicians can be proud of today and tomorrow.”

Word salad.

“Will it be painful? It already is. Must we take these steps now, despite the short-term pain? Without doubt.”

The self-justification and the utter lack of concern for the musicians is mind-boggling.

”San Antonio has a Symphony worth saving and a generous community who cares.”

This is the single true statement in this entire heinous, destructive, gaslighting letter.

We hope you will join us in doing so by continuing to be generous in your support and attendance once your Symphony retakes the stage.”

If it isn’t 72 full-time musicians, it isn’t your Symphony.

“We envision a future with a Symphony that is fiscally healthy, creatively robust, and has the confidence of its community and its funders. When that confidence returns, we will no longer talk about ‘saving the symphony.’ We’ll be talking about how we can grow and offer more access, education, and enrichment for our city.”

If we had any vision at all, we would have long since established an aggressive and ambitious endowment drive and a greatly expanded fundraising effort, reaching out to the many large corporations and generous individuals in our city whom we have never bothered to approach.


Elected Members of the Symphony Board”

We elected ourselves, and we answer only to ourselves.

-Mary Ellen Goree

Orchestra Committee Chair

Principal 2nd Violin

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