Charlotte Symphony’s new contract for musicians increases pay, expands diversity

·3 min read
The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors and the American Federation of Musicians, Local 342 negotiating committee, representing the musicians for Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, ratified a new two-year contract on Thursday. (Chris Lee/File photo)

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra musicians will see pay increases over the next two years and an effort to expand diversity under a new two-year contract.

The contract — effective Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, 2024 — includes a 5% pay increase over the next two years and seeks to broaden applicant diversity as the Charlotte Symphony recovers from the pandemic, the orchestra said in a news release Thursday.

“There is much in the new deal to support our musicians and to allow them to focus on performing,” CSO President and CEO David Fisk said in a statement.

The contract was negotiated by the orchestra’s board of directors and American Federation of Musicians, Local 342, the largest musicians’ union in the world. The current five-year contract ends Aug. 31, Fisk told The Charlotte Observer.

He said the contract is shorter because the “funding picture is unclear,” as the orchestra awaits decisions by the city of Charlotte’s new Arts and Culture Advisory Board. But, he said the reason the symphony is able to sign the new contract is thanks to the underlying stability of the city’s new board, which receives a mix of city and private funding.

Founded 90 years ago, the Charlotte Symphony is the oldest continually operating symphony orchestra in the Carolinas.

CSO pay raises and diversity

Under the new contract, musicians will receive 2.5% raises each year.

That increases starting salary for a section musician by about $2,000 from $42,000 to $44,500 in the first year, Fisk said. And the length of the season will be extended by one week, to 38 weeks.

“There is more demand in Charlotte for our services than we can usually meet, so I’m very pleased we were able to raise the overall compensation,” Fisk told The Charlotte Observer.

Along with pay increase for all 62 full-time musicians over the two-year term, the new contract seeks to broaden the applicant base for auditions. There will be no pre-screening of resumes and an automatic advancement beyond the first round of applicants who participate in The Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions, based in Detroit.

“By not eliminating people at the initial stages removes one potential disqualifier of talented players,” Fisk said.

The Sphinx allows Black and Latinx orchestral musicians to audition for a panel representing dozens of orchestras for placement opportunities, according to the social justice organization’s website.

The Sphinx has become known to be a leader in attracting musicians of color into the classical music field, Fisk said.

The group has extended its work to hiring for orchestras to make it as accessible as possible, including scholarship programs for traveling to auditions and identifying excellent musicians of color with a database eligible for auditions.

Fisk, as well as Bob Rydel, chairman of the orchestra negotiations committee, said the new contract aligns with Charlotte Symphony’s Strategic Plan to be a “more innovative, united and diverse organization that reflects the community in which we live and work.”

Charlotte Symphony Contract highlights

These are the key points in the new agreement:

5% increase in salary for all full-time musicians over the two-year term.

Expansion of the season by one week (increasing working weeks from 37 to 38) to bring more music to the community and provide a more stable work environment for musicians.

Increased remuneration for performances related to education and community engagement.

Allowance for a broader applicant base for auditions — no pre-screening of resumes and automatic advancement of applicants coming through The Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions.

Guaranteed payments for electronic media uses that will be used for more wide-scale distribution of virtual performances, including to schools.

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