On Strike

I’m on strike. I don’t belong to the Musicians Union anymore. Since Covid-19 slammed us in 2020 I have been fully retired from performing or teaching the flute. Even so, I consider myself to be on strike.

It’s been an ongoing annoyance to me when the name of a performing musician is not credited. I cheer when I see a televised opera production or broadcast concert that lists the instrumentalists’ names, and not only those of the conductor and the production staff. I have written letters to the editor when the name of a reviewed musician has been omitted, or credit has been given to the wrong performer. Open the program! And herein lies the problem.

I bought a partial subscription to the Tucson Symphony’s Classic series this season, now that we are slowly returning to in-person concerts. While my husband and I enjoyed the four concerts, the programs did not contain the names of the harpists, the extra musicians, or the substitute musicians. This practice began while I was still playing with the TSO. I was never a contracted player but I was a regular substitute and first-call substitute for most of those 30-plus years. My name would be listed because the program was printed for each concert, with an accurate listing of performers. I was paid at the same rate as the contracted players. I was doing the same work, after all!

One of the ways symphony orchestras appear to have decided they could save money was by printing programs at the beginning of the season and with more than one concert per program. The list contains only the names of contracted orchestra members.

Appeal to the union, right? That does no good if one is a substitute musician. Even though Arizona is a right-to-work state, I spent several years as a dues-paying union member because I wanted to support my fellow musicians. However, there was absolutely no benefit to me. If you are curious, there is pertinent information in these two linked articles.  

Appeal to my colleagues? I tried. One orchestra committee member told me point-blank that they had more important issues to address.

To be clear, I never was anything close to a “scab.” I was frequently called in to substitute and, quite frankly, cover the asses of colleagues who wanted to take a better gig, had a conflict with other work or felt they weren’t quite up to the task of performing certain repertoire.

I loved my work, but I’m old enough and wise enough now to love myself more. We won’t be spending our money or our time on many future Tucson Symphony concerts until credit is given where credit is due. While it may not make any difference within the organization, it will make a difference to me. Consider me an audience member, on strike.

Sand Rocks

If I heard “The Strawberry Roan” one more time I thought I might pull a hank of hair out of my own head. I absent-mindedly picked at the yellow crust of dried milk fat adhering to the spout of the beige Tupperware pitcher, stood up, and sighed. Teddi had told me that I didn’t need to put the milk back in the fridge since it was fresh, but I had wondered. She’d said they would have more tomorrow.

Milly was down for her afternoon nap, clean and sweet in a fresh cloth diaper. I’d gotten skilled at diapering a baby, and prided myself at never sticking them. I’d keep my fingers between their soft warm bellies and the diaper. If anyone got stuck it would be me. The diaper pins with the colorful plastic animals on the ends amused me. Milly’s had little yellow ducks on them.

“Hey, Skeeter! Are there any other songs that you like?” I asked, keeping my tone friendly, but cringing as he gently placed the needle on the 78 rpm disc that was spinning on the small, portable turntable. He was crouched over the record player in the middle of the living room on a spotted hide. His blond hair spilled over his brow and he tugged at the tooled leather belt holding up his slightly too large jeans. I plopped down on the pine log couch.  “Nah,” he said. “I like this one.” “What’s on the other side?” I asked, hoping to at least hear something else. “It’s not any good.” Skeeter looked up at me, concerned. “I like this song.” “Do you want to play a game or something?” I threw out one last gambit. I didn’t much like playing cards or board games, but even those appealed to me more than that strawberry roan. “Nah. I like listening to this.” I gave in, mostly. “I’m going to read my book. Do you mind taking your record player into your room?” I felt a little guilty asking. He reluctantly got up and glared at me over his shoulder, his little record player balanced against his belly, the power cord dragging. His bedroom was just off the living room. Asking him to close the door might be pushing things too far. After helping him plug the record player into an outlet in his room, I returned to the couch and opened to my bookmark in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The strawberry roan started bucking, again.

Before I could get engrossed enough in my story to tune out the renegade bronc, I heard the kitchen door bang against the wooden frame and boots heavy with spurs clank across the floor. “Hey!” Ron called from the kitchen. I got up to see what was going on. I hadn’t expected anyone at the ranch house. Teddi had told me that she would be back at 3:00. “Hi,” I greeted Ron, “how are things going?” Ron poured himself a glass of milk and then placed the pitcher in the fridge. “I’m just stopping in for a minute to grab a bite to eat.” Ron pulled Wonder Bread and some kind of meat and mayo from the fridge. “I need to head back out. We’re still riding fences.” “Oh, okay. And sorry. Teddi told me it was okay to leave the milk out.” I felt the need to apologize. “That’s okay, she don’t like her milk cold, but I do.” Ron smiled, picked up his hastily made sandwich in his wind-roughed hand, and opened the screen door with the other. “Thanks for watching the kids.” He held the screen door open with his foot as he grabbed his Stetson off the coat rack near the door and adjusted it on his head. “You are welcome,” I replied, a little envious, entertained by the more inviting thought of helping mend the fence line instead of listening to “The Strawberry Roan,” again.

Teddi arrived home promptly at 3, cheerily greeted me, opened the fridge door and put the milk pitcher back on the kitchen table, told Skeeter, who was still listening to “The Strawberry Roan,” to watch his sister for half an hour, gave me a handful of folded dollar bills and said, “Okay, let’s go. I’ll take you home.” I got in on the passenger side of the mustard-colored Chevy. “So how are you liking your new truck?” I asked as Teddi pressed down the accelerator and bounced us over a series of potholes. “I like it fine, but the color reminds me of calf scours. I would have preferred another color, but this was what they had. At least it’s a new truck.” Teddy zoomed over another series of bumps and I clutched at my collarbone. “Oh, does that hurt?” she asked. I replied, “Just a little. It’s almost healed.” I minimized the pain, but it did hurt less than it had. The raw ends of bone no longer grated against each other and were on the mend. “Eh, I just like to take the bumps fast, get over them quicker. I think you bounce less when you go faster, anyways.” “Maybe,” I said, gazing out the window as we whizzed past the sand rocks, blasted by the sun and wind, caressed and curved, pale yellow ochre against the clear blue sky. I thought of sick calves.