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Get Baltimore symphony off the endangered list

An orchestra comprised of BSO musicians as well as Washington, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh musicians perform at the Baltimore Basilica to raise donations for My Sister's Place and to raise support for the BSO musicians who are protesting proposed cuts to their schedule. (Christina Tkacik, Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore has a long reputation for music. Jazz notables who were born in or lived in Baltimore include such greats as Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway and his sister Blanche (reportedly the first female leader of a jazz band), Ruby Glover, the wonderful Ethel Ennis (deceased just this month) and her brother Andy Ennis, to name only a few.

On the classical side, we have the Peabody Conservatory, a plethora of small ensembles, concert and opera groups and then the ultimate — the world class Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. But sadly, now the BSO is on the endangered list (“Wanted: Maryland millionaires to keep the BSO world-class,” Feb. 1).

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Baltimore’s musical standing is immeasurably strengthened by the BSO, but the orchestra is threatened by a heart condition — proposal from the board that strikes at the heart of the orchestra, its musicians. What amounts to a 20 percent reduction in pay for the musicians is proposed by the board. If we understand correctly, these are musicians who may already be receiving less than competition orchestras pay who are now being paid only at the level they were a number of years ago.

The board cites losses but offers no insight into such issues as efforts to cut non-musician costs, such as administrative expenses, costly board or member benefits and plant operations, including heat, light and air conditioning.

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To add insult to injury, the board appears to have no interest in hearing thoughts from its long-term supporters. Our frustration with their deafness to any thoughts other than their own caused us to withhold the annual contribution we have made for nearly 40 years, pending a resolution of contract negotiations that we can support. We have also resigned our “governing membership” status after many, many years and will likely reconsider the legacy to the BSO in our wills.

The damage of the board’s proposal goes beyond the musical reputation of our city. Worse yet, when Baltimore is in a time of crisis, we can ill-afford for a major cultural institution to be gutted. The BSO board must do better for the musicians and our city.

Elizabeth and Leonard Homer, Baltimore

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