"I went and got the cash value of my life insurance policy," said David Bragunier, tuba player for the National Symphony Orchestra. "I've got enough money from the insurance company to cover bills for one month. I'm a terrible budgeter. We have little or no savings. I don't know what I'm going to do next month. If I stop laughing, I'll start crying.you know the feeling?"
"Look at this city and ask yourself: Where is the money going to come from?" asks Jerry Ross Lyman, a National Symphony board member and senior vice president/general manager of radio station WGMS. "The players - all of whom are well-paid - need to compromise more. There are two elements within the players: a strong group that's trying to work out a compromise and another element that couldn't care less about anything other than their own pocketbooks."
"It was my 85th birthday," said Winnie Cox last Friday at the Kennedy Center, where she had just obtained a refund for her National Symphony concert ticket. "We were going to go to the concert with friends and then have a party afterwards. Now they'll probably be on strike for a long time. By the time they get off strike, I may not be here."
The National Symphony Orchestra strike is in its 19th day. There has as yet been no real movement toward settlement by either the players or the symphony management, and the price so far has been the cancellation of eight local concerts and a sold-out tour of Mexico.
Music director Mstislav Rostropovich, now in Paris, is scheduled to begin conducting five weeks of subscription concerts Tuesday, and the prospective loss of those concerts may provide both sides with a new impetus for settlement. In the meantime NSO officials, players and audiences cope, gripe, and wait each in his own way . . .
On, Tuesday afternoon, a casually attired string quartet set up chairs outside the Kennedy Center across from the statue of Don Duixote. Strolelrs stopped to listen to the informal concert. Tourists took pictures and asked a few questions of the musicians.
"It's strange to think of musicians striking," said a tourist from New Mexico who stopped to talk with the outdoor quartet. "But it's their life. They want more money like anyone else."
The NSO executive committee met Tuesday afternoon and heard a pep talk from honarary vice president Lee Butler, who was on the committee that organized the NSO 47 years ago.
There have been cliffhangers before, Butler told the group. And the NSO has survived.
This was the report of NSO president Austin Kiplinger, who says Butler "raised all our spirits." Kiplinger's needed raising - his installation as president practically coincided with the strike.
Kiplinger thinks it's time for the federal mediator to bring the two parties back together again, since the last session was held Oct. 4. But, he cautions, "even after we get back to serious discussions, it's going to be a matter of days before anything is settled."
Looming over the strike is the general financial condition of the NSO, which is cited as the main reason management can't agree to the players' terms. Those terms include a $60-a-week raise and a contract for three years, not one. The NSO has consistently explored public and private avenues for more money, said Kiplinger. "There has been no deficiency in the management," he said, but the NSO's financial woes are "endemic" to orchestras these days and accentuated by the lack of industry and state funds in Washington.
The "salvation" of the orchestra will be a "combination of funds from endowments, foundations, individuals" and whoever else cares to contribue.
Kiplinger is a Tuesday subscriber to the NSO. Is he making alternate plans for his Tuesdays this fall? No; "I'm planning to go to the concerts."
The striking players, when they are not on the picket line, are doing the little chores of household maintenance and the lazy-day reading that never seem to get done otherwise.
The tuba player putters in his kitchen cooking up lasagna and Chili. A violinist, in a burst of energy, is trimming bushes around his house and cleaning out gutters on his roof.
Another violinist studiously buys vegetables for new vegetarian dishes she plans to try out, having given up meat altogether in an effort to cope financially with the strike.
"You hope nothing goes wrong with the car," says harpist Dotian Carter, "and you do nice inexpensive things and spend time with the kids." She is married to Daniel Carter, an NSO horn player, making them one of two marriages within the ensemble. The children "got a big kick out of picketing" the other night, they report.
Several others are painting their houses and repainting old furniture. Then there are moviegoers, picknickers, music teachers, the temporary secretary, and the bassist who took a one-night engagement with the Richmond Symphony.
For the 15 new musicians recently hired to expand the NSO, the strike has created a strange interruption to Washington careers barely started. "I feel sort of like a fish out of water," said bass player Arti Smith, who arrived from the Minneapolis Orchestra. "I don't like not playing. I came here to play" Smith is making monthly payments on a $6000 bass she just bought, a loan from a bank in Minneapolis, and Visa credit bill.
"I'm renting a room in a house," she said "I feel like I'm sponging off the people I'm living with by not paying for food, but at least I can manage pretty well here."
And the newcomers can't play for anyone else in the meantime - a union rule says they must wait 2 1/2 years before taking a job with any organization other than the NSO.
Some concertgoers wait patiently for the return of the symphony musicians. Others do not. At the Kennedy Center box office, Catherine Johmson handed over the tickets for the canceled Schubert concert last Friday. "Isn't that disgusting," she said. "They're intelligent people. They ought to be able to discuss this intelligently without throwing people's schedules out of whack."
The symphony strike is more frustrating for the people who work in the box office, where refunds are available, than for the audience, according to one employe. "People who have ordered tickets by phone or mail have to be contacted," the employe said. "All we know is we have work to do. We don't like giving out money. We like taking it in.
"People say they just want to know when it's being rescheduled or when they can get their money back. People from out of town want to see the Kennedy Center. When they find out the symphony is on strike they ask what else they can see. We tell them. What else can we do?"
"I had a man walk in today and cancel his subscription," said subscription manager Emmie Johns. "Now don't you think that's unreasonable? He could have hung in with us if he really wanted to. And his wife was on the Women's Committee."
One night Cynthia Kitt, a violinist, was on the picket line when a couple from Seattle went into the concert hall. "I heard them say they had come all the way from Seattle to hear the orchestra," she recalled. "That made me a little sad."
Washington Performing Arts Society boss Patrick Hayes and singer leontyne Price have nominated Arthur Goldberg as the man who might be able to settle the NSO strike. He helped patch up a strike at the Metropolitan Opera when he was secretary of labor in the Kennedy administration.
Goldberg declines the nomination, but he does offer a couple of suggestions: "What's wrong with the secretary of labor or a special representative of the president trying to get the negotiations on track?" The absence of an orchestra in America's capital is comparable to the absence of the Met, he suggests.
Furthermore, if the players want a three-year contracts and management is holding out for one-year contracts, asks Goldberg, why can't they agree on a two-year contract?
"I'm just disappointed," said Marilyn Walz Taylor, a subscription ticket holder. "I have a 3-year-old child, and these concerts are something I do as a break. There's no washing machine going, there's no doorbell to answer, nothing to iron, no little children. It's a complete break from my routine."
Walz often goes to the symphony alone, without husband, child, or friends. She does not even want the time and dates of her subscription published, since well-meaning friends might volunteer to go along with her. "I like (the concerts) because I can be alone. It's a place where I can go and relax."
Another passer-by, Jerold Rouby, director of the state arts agency in Wisconsin, found it "appalling that musicians of this caliber have to lower themselves to going on strike. Basketball players, baseball players receive exorbitant salaries and these people don't. I believe in the arts. I also believe in sports. I guess it's just a matter of supply and demand."
Former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas spotted his friend striking National Symphony violinist Jacqueline Anderson, playing outside the Kennedy Center, kissed her on the cheek, and offered sympathy. "Come over to my house and play," he said, with a grin. "We'll give you a free meal. You can all come. We'll open a soup kitchen."
He shrugged when asked about the strike. "I hate to see the musicians not playing," he said. "I hate to see the management run out of money. I hate to see the Kennedy Center lose money. Life's tough."
At a players' meeting last night, each striker received a $100 strike benefits check - the first money distributed by the union since the strike began. William Foster, a violist and chairman of the players' negotiating committee, says the strike has cost each player at least $1200 so far.
Foster claims the issue is "whether the NSO will be a first-class orchestra." The musicians were willing to fulfill the NSO's obligations in Mexico last week, he says, under a plan in which the musicians' union probably would have signed the contract with the Mexican sponsors. But the NSO management would have been required to release instruments, music and trunks for the journey and would have had to give Rostropovich its blessing to conduct the strikers. The management refused.
Robert Noerr, NSO manager, says he doesn't believe a specific request was ever made for the items in question, though the players did express their desire "to circumvent the contract" between the NSO and the Mexican sponsors. But management felt, he says, that the trip had to be "officially staffed" because "a multitude of problems could arise that would be difficult for the members to handle by themselves and that could reflect on the association (management)."
Meanwhile, NSO managing director Oleg Lobanov revealed yesterday that an entirely different set of negotiations are also underway at the orchestra: for an NSO trip to Japan - in 1980.