Arts & Culture

Wichita Symphony performers accept cut in wages

The 84 musicians who make up the Wichita Symphony Orchestra voted recently to accept a 20 percent wage cut for the coming season, a move necessary to keep the orchestra viable in tough economic times, those involved with the decision say.

The musicians, who all work part time, accepted the condition as part of a new contract approved last weekend.

"It's been a very difficult economy for the last 10 years, and in addition, there have been a variety of changes in how people attend performing arts functions," said Kurt Harper, the secretary of the board of directors that oversees the symphony. "The current recession has been more difficult than anyone imagined going in and has led us to a very difficult time, both for the musicians and the organization as a whole."

Single-ticket sales were good last season, Harper said, crediting the popularity of new conductor Daniel Hege. But other revenue streams, including the season ticket sales, endowment fund, corporate underwriting and annual fund drive, each suffered.

Harper was unable to say how much each area was down.

Nancy Woodruff, a violinist in the symphony who's the chairwoman of the orchestra committee that serves as a liaison between musicians and symphony management, said that the musicians seemed to understand why the cut was necessary.

The musicians are paid per service, which means they earn money at every rehearsal and every performance they participate in. Depending on how much they play, an average symphony member who's not a "principal" player might make about $7,000 a year before the 20 percent cut.

The cut is tougher in light that many of the performers are teachers at Wichita State University or in public schools and have faced salary cuts in their primary jobs as well, Woodruff said.

Symphony members voluntarily agreed to a 10 percent pay reduction two years ago, then a 4 percent reduction last year.

"I think the feeling of the musicians is that we understand that we're a part of a bigger picture, but it still doesn't lessen the pain of making your mortgage payment or personal finances," Woodruff said. "We've tried really hard to not have the morale overall be affected because we're still really excited about the music and Dan Hege. We'd follow him anywhere to play."

The symphony's new season starts Sept. 24 with a pops concert featuring trumpeter Chris Botti. The season runs through April.

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