Wednesday, December 2, 2009 , Updated 5:38 p.m., December 2, 2009
UPDATED: Dispute between Dallas-Fort Worth musicians union and Texas Ballet Theater deepens
Picketing at Winspear Opera House is helping make musicians' cause more visible.
DALLAS The release on Wednesday of what is basically a year-old statement from the Texas Ballet Theater reveals that protests by the Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association are finally beginning to make a dent.
The musicians' union began protesting last year, when the TBT first decided to use taped music rather than a live orchestra to provide the soundtrack for its performances.
At key spots surrounding the Winspear's entrance, musicians held signs such as, "Enjoy the tape!"
For attendees, it was hard not to be affected by their warnings, especially at the opening of the Nutcracker, when there's a musical prelude. It calls for the audience to just sit and stare at a curtain while an orchestra ostensibly "plays." Sitting and listening to a tape doesn't exactly feel like the world-class arts experience the Winspear hopes to convey.
The TBT claims that taped music will save them more than $650,000 for the 2009–2010 season. Aside from the loss of income suffered by local musicians, what rankles the musicians even further, says union president Ray Hair, is that it comes on the heels of a series of financial improprieties involving unusual loans and six-figure salaries.
"They say they’re going to save $650,000 by eliminating live music -- that's the same amount their board members collected prior to their financial problems being made public," Hair says. "The ballet company has recouped that money by kicking musicians out of the orchestra pit. Here the Winspear has opened, and this is the debut of its resident dance company, and they're debuting with ballet karaoke?
"We want to bring it to the attention of the public because we think that both the AT&T Center and the ballet company are hoping no one will notice and no one will care."
The TBT makes claims that the union disagrees with, including that musicians are getting paid regardless of whether their services are being used. Hair calls this "a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts."
"Would you like to talk to musicians who are not working because of this?" he asks. "The ballet company contracts with the managements of the Fort Worth Symphony and the Dallas Opera. The ballet company was under contract with both of those organizations to use those orchestras. But the union has an agreement with the opera company and the Fort Worth Symphony. The Fort Worth Symphony and the Opera company had to fulfill their contracts. They hurt both managements, they hung them out to dry. But because a lot of the regulars opt out, there are many substitute musicians and extras and part-time musicians who are also used, who all lost out. There are hundreds of jobs right now that have been lost by members of the Opera orchestra. They’re not being paid, because the AT&T Center is allowing it to happen."
Hair rattles off the TBT's season -- the performances in the spring of Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty -- "it's all canned," he says.
UPDATE: Texas Ballet Theater managing director Margo McCann called to share her thoughts and clarify the position of the company.
They hadn't responded previously to the picketing in Fort Worth because they wanted to avoid a he-said-she-said debate in the press. But with the protests at the Winspear, they've become concerned that people will be misinformed.
"It's extremely disappointing for our dancers to know their fellow artists are protesting them when they really need their support," McCann says. "We hope that people understand that everybody's having a tough time right now and no one wants to make cuts.
"First and foremost, we're a ballet company. Our first responsibility is to put beautiful dancers on stage. We've gone through an extremely difficult financial time and we must be responsible with the money we spend. We don't prefer taped music, but it's the responsible thing to do."
Marketing director Gene Almy, who joined the TBT in January, says that the organization is trying to move forward from the "missteps" taken by the prior regime.
"We're trying to restore our organization to financial stability and put musicians back in the pit -- we're all striving for that," he says.
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