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Chicago: The deafening silence of the Beethoven Festival musicians
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Chicago: The deafening silence of the Beethoven Festival musicians

By on June 24, 2014

I was recently hired to play a daylong ensemble engagement. In my reply, I gladly accepted, and asked what the compensation would be, since the initial email had not included that information. The contractor, an admired mentor with whom I have a frank rapport, told me the number, but also offered that I might want to refrain from such questions in the future. Asking about pay, he suggested, could make me look like money was all I cared about. In his mind, I’d violated a norm. It was almost as if he were surprised I didn’t trust him. And sure enough, when I arrived at the gig—which was well-paid—the check was on my music stand.

When it comes to money and music, it seems we aren’t in agreement about what the norms are. How much is enough? What questions are we allowed to ask? And what do we do when the check never comes? That discomfort has reared its head in a particularly dramatic way this month in Chicago. The Beethoven Festival recently announced its fourth annual event, happening this September. But for local musicians, the announcement was stunning: the festival has not yet finished paying the people who played for them last year. I personally am owed in the neighborhood of $1,000. This is, of course, the complete opposite of having the check on your music stand when you arrive.

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