Symphony Nova Scotia strike would affect Dal program

Part-time profs from Symphony Nova Scotia demand higher salary

Jennifer Bain
Jennifer Bain, the chair of the music department at Dalhousie University, is concerned about the future of the department. (Photo: Jessamyn Griffin)

A strike by Symphony Nova Scotia musicians could hurt Dalhousie University’s music department.

Jennifer Bain, the chair of the music department at Dalhousie University, says that if the symphony refuses them a salary increase the musicians may move elsewhere to find employment.

“In the long term, yes, that would be a concern,” she says via email. “In the short term, the teaching faculty from the Symphony would continue with their instructional duties at Dalhousie, but they might have to take up other jobs to stay afloat and that could certainly have an impact on us. And, of course, they would be under a tremendous amount of stress, which would naturally have an effect on our students and our other faculty.”

On Jan. 17, the 37 symphony musicians, represented by Local 571 of the American Federation of Musicians, were given the right to strike after both parties were unable to reach an agreement on the musicians’ request for a pay increase. Eighty per cent of the musicians showed their discontent with the symphony by voting in favour of a strike.

“Their pay is just atrocious. It’s such a low salary considering their level of education, training and experience,” she says.

Symphony members are unhappy with their meager salary of $28,156 a year – with no annual raise – which has led to a drawn-out contract negotiation since March 2012. The musicians hope to bump up their base salary to $30,000.

Student concerns

Shannon Lauriston — a second-year French horn player for Dalhousie and the youth orchestra — is worried about her future in music without the guidance of the symphony.
“The Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra really depends on the mentorship of the professional orchestra and all of the Dalhousie students depend on the mentorship of their professors and if the professors aren’t here, we don’t have a music program,” she says.  “You can’t expect the musicians to stay here [in Halifax] when they aren’t getting paid enough.”

Along with providing their services to Dalhousie, the symphony’s musicians provide a variety of community programs — from school workshops to family concerts.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the symphony,” says Bain. “It’s critically important that the public knows this isn’t just about our department, but all of the things they bring to the region.”

Karen Langille, first violinist, sits in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium at Dalhousie University.
Karen Langille, first violinist, sits in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium at Dalhousie University. (Photo: Katelynn Gough)


On Jan. 14, after 11 hours of deliberation, the symphony made the musicians an offer, which they will be voting on via mail-in ballots. The results have not yet been revealed to the public.

Karen Langille, players’ spokesperson and first violinist, has been with the symphony for 27 years.

She says the musicians have been fighting for a salary increase since they formed in 1983. Some musicians rely on Employment Insurance to help make ends meet. Other members, including Langille, relocate during the off season to find work.

“Most of us are hunting for other employment for that time. Many people teach, many people just save during the year and then they have the occasional gig,” she says. “I play violin so I am more likely to get a bit more work in the summer than someone who plays French horn for example.”

Langille says the money for the raise could come from the interest of an endowment fund created by the symphony five years ago.

“Within the next two years – we have been told at the Annual General Meeting – that amount will go up to as much as $360,000-$380,000 a year,” she says. “These are astounding numbers and what they say to me is that there is new money coming very soon into the operating budget and the musicians deserve a fair share of that money.”

Erika Beatty, chief executive officer at Symphony Nova Scotia, says distributing the money wouldn’t be that easy. The endowment fund is “restricted” and the interest is allocated towards production.

Symphony musicians integral to music department

If this issue cannot be resolved, Bain is unsure of the fate of the music department without the guidance of the symphony.

“We couldn’t function without Symphony Nova Scotia being here [at Dalhousie]. Having the symphony here means we have an excellent orchestra with first-rate players,” says Bain. “We rely on having them as a resource to teach our students.”

Listen to a Nova Scotia Symphony performance