The Well-Tempered Ear

The Madison Symphony Orchestra seeks matching funds as it launches a musicians’ relief fund to reach $355,000 by Nov. 5

October 5, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has announced that a Musicians’ Relief Fund has been established with the goal of securing $355,000 to cover 100% of the orchestra payrolls for the canceled September through December 2020 subscription concerts.

This initiative is in addition to the compensation already provided to its musicians for canceled services from April 2020 to date.

To launch the fund, the MSO Board of Directors has committed current Symphony resources to guarantee 52% of the $355,000 total — $184,000 — and has informed the orchestra that the September and October orchestra payrolls will be paid in full.

MSO is seeking community support to help us raise another $171,000 to assure the orchestra’s compensation for the canceled November and December 2020 subscription concerts. 

All contributions to this effort will directly support the musicians. An Anonymous Donor has launched the appeal with a $50,000 lead gift. The campaign seeks to raise the additional funds by Nov. 5, 2020.

All contributions to the MSO Musicians’ Relief Fund are tax-deductible and will be used for musicians’ compensation.

Donations can be mailed to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, 222 W. Washington Ave., Suite 460, Madison WI, 53703.

An online donation form is found at madisonsymphony.org/relief-gift

To contribute gifts of appreciated stock or to discuss other options, contact Jeff Breisach, Manager of Individual Giving, at jbreisach@madisonsymphony.org.

“The 91 members of the Symphony are a core cultural asset of the greater Madison community,” said MSO Board President Ellsworth Brown (below). “We are committed to doing all we can to assist them through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.”

“While some MSO musicians have other day jobs, many rely heavily on the wages they earn performing with this Symphony, as well as other orchestras and ensembles in the region,” said MSO Executive Director Rick Mackie (below). “The cancellations of services have caused stress and anxiety for our artists.”

The MSO has demonstrated support of its musicians since April of this year, compensating the orchestra for all canceled rehearsals and performances. 

Generous donors, strong financial management and a federal Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Loan enabled the Symphony to pay 100% of the orchestra payrolls for the April and May subscription concerts, the spring youth education programs, HeartStrings®, Madison Opera and Overture Presents engagements, and Concert on the Green.

These unexpected paychecks provided relief to the MSO staff and to our musicians (below, with music director and conductor John DeMain in a photo by Peter Rodgers) were forthcoming with their individual appreciation.

HERE ARE SAMPLES OF THE MUSICIANS OF THE MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA EXPRESSING THEIR GRATITUDE FOR COMPENSATION RELIEF

“I am very grateful that our organization values the health of its musicians and patrons yet also understands the financial difficulty imposed on musicians by being unable to work due to the pandemic. The MSO is a gem of an organization, and if you haven’t heard it enough lately, please let me reiterate my gratitude.” 

“WOW! I am humbled to be a part of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Thank you so much for valuing the musicians and honoring us with payment for cancelled rehearsals and performances. The news made me cry.” 

“As someone who makes a living totally from teaching and playing, this has been an incredibly difficult time. I lost half of my students, because they do not want to study online, and of course, all gigs were cancelled. I am truly grateful to you for making this possible. You have no idea how much this will help not only financially, but mentally as well. THANK YOU!!!


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Classical music: Acclaimed local soprano Sarah Brailey explains why performing artists and presenters need help during the COVID-19 pandemic

March 23, 2020
2 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Sarah Brailey (below) is worried.

And with good reason.

Chances are good that you have seen the local soprano or heard her sing.

She is the artistic director of the Handel Aria Competition, which she herself won in 2015. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Brailey sing the aria “Will the Sun Forget to Streak” from Handel’s oratorio “Solomon,”  with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra under conductor Julian Wachner, in the St. Paul Chapel in New York City.)

Brailey is a co-founder of and participant in the monthly free Just Bach concerts here. In addition, while pursuing graduate studies at the UW-Madison, she is a concert artist with a budding international career. For more about her, including a rave review from The New York Times and sample videos, go to: https://sarahbrailey.com

But right now the Wisconsin native is especially concerned about the lasting impact that the Coronavirus pandemic will have on her own career as well as on the careers of others like her and on the well-being of arts presenters.

Brailey (below, in photo by Miranda Loud) sent The Ear the following essay:

By Sarah Brailey

This is a scary time for everyone, but particularly for anyone who works as an independent contractor.

I am a freelance classical soprano based in Madison. I maintain a very active performing career, traveling all over the globe, and I am also a doctoral student at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, presenting organizations on the east and west coasts started canceling concerts to comply with social distancing recommendations.

I initially thought I was lucky to be living in the middle of the country where our lesser population density might save us. Plus, I am a Teaching Assistant at the UW right now, so I will still be getting my stipend — although teaching virtual voice lessons will be its own special challenge!

But many of my colleagues are not so lucky and are facing bankruptcy. If the government doesn’t include independent contractors in its relief packages, a lot of people are going to be insolvent.

And I myself am not immune. As the seriousness of the situation became clear, all my concerts in the next two months soon disappeared one by one.

While not being able to perform is emotionally devastating, these cancellations are also financially devastating.

There exists a clause in every standard performance contract called “force majeure” (superior force), which is idiomatically referred to as, “an act of God.” This clause excuses a party from not honoring its contractual obligations that becomes impossible or impracticable, due to an event or effect that the parties could not have anticipated or controlled.

This can come in handy for a presenter if there is, say, a blizzard that necessitates the cancellation of a concert. (This happened to me a few seasons ago with the Boston Symphony.) If the presenter will not make any money on ticket sales, they are not then further injured by having to pay the musicians for the canceled concert. (Below, Brailey sings Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with the Colorado Symphony.)

The ramifications of this pandemic are unprecedented. Every freelance musician I know is suddenly out of work. The current conventions put all of the upfront financial burden on the artists. We are paid in one lump sum at the end of a project. We do not get a fee for the countless hours of preparation.

We often book travel and lodging on our own dime, and are not reimbursed until the end of the gig. We pay for our own health insurance, and we cannot file for unemployment because our work is paid via IRS Form 1099 and not W2s. The abrupt work stoppage caused by this pandemic means insolvency – or even bankruptcy — for many artists. (Below, Brailey sings Handel’s “Messiah” at the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City.)

Many institutions — and, unfortunately, many of the bigger players like The Metropolitan Opera — are invoking force majeure without much regard for how their artists are struggling.

My colleague, tenor Zach Finkelstein, is covering this in great detail on his blog The Middle Class Artist, as is Alex Ross, the prize-winning music critic for The New Yorker. Read his piece on force majeure here.

However, there are also thankfully some good stories to tell. The Bach Society of Minnesota reimbursed all my travel expenses and is paying 75 percent of my fee, as is the Lyra Baroque Orchestra.

I am helping Zach keep track of the organizations that are helping their artists in this time of need. (Read about them here. Madison Opera is on the list.)

The arts are not just cultural enrichment; they are an essential part of our economy. In 2017, the industry contributed $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent, to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employed over 5 million workers. We cannot afford to let this industry disappear. I fear that many individual artists and arts organizations will not recover from this. (Below, Brailey sings Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Magnificat” at the Bucknell Bach Festival.)

While we wait out this storm, I implore you to donate to a Madison arts organization. Here is a short list of recommendations along with some national relief funds for artists.

Local Arts Organizations

Madison Bach Musicians

Handel Aria Competition

Madison Early Music Festival

Madison Opera

Madison Youth Choirs

List of National Relief Funds


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