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The bad old days

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
SC Public Radio

In the bad old days of symphony orchestras in this country, music directors were absolute dictators, and orchestra musicians had few protections. If a music director woke up in a bad mood and decided to fire an orchestra musician on the spot, he could… never mind that it might instantly deprive that musician of his livelihood. And some of the most famous conductors, unfortunately, were egotistical tyrants who inspired as much fear as admiration in the members of their orchestras. 

It wasn’t until the 1960s, with a stronger national musicians’ union and decent collective bargaining agreements that professional orchestra players could begin to count on reasonable job security and salaries and working conditions appropriate to their extraordinary skills. And by the way, it’s worth emphasizing that the musical results with orchestras that are treated fairly and decently by their managements and music directors are every bit as good, if not better, than they were in the bad old days. Tyranny, in music, is unnecessary.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.