Orchestra Salaries

Drew McManus at Adaptistration.com is publishing his annual Orchestra Compensation Report this week. Over the next few days, Drew will be posting salaries for Executive Directors, Music Directors, Concertmasters, and core musicians from a large number of U.S. orchestras.

In the U.S., non-profit organizations like symphony orchestras file tax forms that are made available to the public. By using guidestar.org, it’s possible to look up your favourite orchestra and get information on the highest-paid employees – usually the Music Director, Concertmaster, and Executive Director / CEO. Fortunately for us lazy folks, Drew does all the leg work by gathering up this information and publishing it in a number of handy charts.

Even after ten years in the business, I’m still astounded by the amounts of money that are involved in the big (and not-so-big) U.S. orchestras. For example, the average salary of the top ten Executive Directors in 2005-2006 was almost $529,000. Sure, it’s an incredibly demanding job to run a major orchestra, but that still seems like a lot of money to pay someone running a non-profit.

There are some surprises on the list. For example, the ED of the Colorado Symphony received $282,000 while his counterpart at the Dallas Symphony earned a more modest $265,000, despite the fact that the Dallas Symphony’s operating budget is more than twice as big. Even a mid-size orchestra like the Fort Worth Symphony pays its top executive a salary in excess of $270,000.

The picture is quite different in Canada. Although you can’t find salary information for employees of Canadian orchestras, I can assure you the salaries aren’t in the same league. Don’t get me wrong – it’s possible to earn a very decent living running an orchestra in this country, but you’re certainly not going to get rich doing it.

I sometimes find the wage gap between base musicians and the top executives a little disturbing. When I was talking to a headhunter for an orchestra in Southern Ontario last year, one of the concerns I had was the job paid about five times more than the base salary for musicians. That’s a pretty huge gap, and part of me wondered whether I’d feel any guilt about the obvious discrepancy. (Dear potential future employer who has found this post: I no longer bear any such concerns).

If you think it’s only the suits who are making a lot of money in U.S. orchestras, don’t worry. In the next few days, Drew will post salary details for Music Directors and Concertmasters. Let the griping begin…

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One thought on “Orchestra Salaries

  1. So far, two of the orchestras mentioned in the above post have visited my site. Gotta love those search engines.

    One of those visitors also clicked on the Adult Content tab. You really should be more careful about the kinds of pages you view from a work computer – you never know who’s looking over your shoulder…

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