Hazardous Work

Two young musicians with the Eugene (Oregon) Symphony – Kjersten J. Oquist, 36, and Angela Svendsen, 31 – were killed on February 11 of this year in a car crash caused by a driver heading down the freeway in the wrong direction as the women drove home after a rehearsal. Kelly Gronli, 28, was in the back seat and suffered minor injuries. All three played with the Eugene Symphony and worked on a free-lance basis with the Oregon Ballet and the Portland Opera orchestras.

Theophanis Dymiotis, 41, a violinist, composer and music professor died in a car crash on March 12, as he returned from Wilmington late at night after a performance with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. The driver of a northbound car crossed the center line, attempting to pass a tractor-trailer, and the resulting collision killed Mr. Dymiotis.

Drew McManus, author of many books on orchestra management and music, and blogger par excellenc, weighs in eloquently on the subject. Make sure to visit his blog at (www.artsjournal.com/adaptistration/archives/2007/03/another_driving.html)

“Although this could simply be terrible timing, these two fatal accidents may indicate a disturbing trend in the world of low to mid-budget size orchestras…the musicians died while traveling more than 70 miles one way to earn money as an orchestra musician…Most musicians in this business refer to such jobs as ‘Driving for Dollars”‘or performing in ‘Freeway Philharmonics.’ Nevertheless, it looks as if the quantity of musicians and the distance they are willing to travel for these organizations is on the rise…Perhaps it is also time to begin considering whether or not the personal safety for musicians who are required to travel long distances in order to cobble together a living wage is something ensembles need to acknowledge.”

I posted my comments on Drew’s blog a couple of days ago:

“Drew, Last Sunday my wife and I drove from Miami – where we live – to Boca Raton, FL, for dinner with friends. We took I-95 North, and, on a weekend mid-afternoon, what should have taken one hour took two going, over two coming back after 11 PM, as they were doing work on I-95.

“Going through all of that made me think of how often former members of the now-defunct Florida Philharmonic had to do put up with this so as to make a living. Their orchestra – a tri-county one – came to be nicknamed ‘The I-95 Philharmonic.’ Yet, travel they did, and continue to do now, as the finest of our players ‘gig’ all over South Florida to eke out a living. “

“The old Philharmonic Board, like most arts boards in this area, was completely clueless, and looked out neither for the institution they allowed to die nor for the artists who served it so long and so well, including its Music Director. Sadly, the Eugene and Delaware tragedies could occur again. The same goes for free-lance actors and other professional theatre artists in South Florida who must be willing to travel hundreds of miles each week to make Equity minimum in most, if not all, of our regional theatres.”


I can’t get the subject off my mind as I think about so many friends in theatre who would think nothing of driving one hour or more one way (make that two hours round trip or more) five or six times a week during the rehearsal period, as many during the run of the play, to work at their chosen profession.

While some people may cynically object with the observation that many folks, other than performers, also drive long distances to work, I maintain that the average actor or musician consumes a higher level of adrenalin during a rehearsal or performance than, for example, the average office worker. Simply put, an actor or musician is damned tired after work, be it a show, a concert, or a rehearsal.

Compound that with another fact of life: your average musician or actor plays, rehearses, and performs in the evening, often at the end of a long day of teaching or working in a “regular” job. He or she then goes to a theatre or concert venue to make art happen with his fiddle, his horn, or his body and soul. And, to get to that privileged moment, that artist will have spent many, many years and dollars preparing for it.

I call that hazardous work.


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