Right on cue, a string quartet and a brass ensemble played Wagner and about 200 striking musicians, singers, dancers and stage directors of the Metropolitan Opera began picketing Lincoln Center yesterday.

The artists marched to protest what they regard as a management lockout.

As the musicians played the "pilgrims' March" from Wagner's "Tannhauser," Seymour Walkschal, a violinist with the Met for 19 years, said, "We're not Teamsters. We don't know how to strike. We're not very good at this. We're artists and they treat us like maintenance (workers)."

The strike was called by the opera's Musicians Union and the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represent the opera's chorus, soloists, ballet dancers and stage directors.

Both unions have been without a contract since July 31. The last rehearsal for the fall season was Friday.

A key issue is a union demand for four days of performing each week rather than five Management contends that a shortened performance schedule would increase costs because it would have to hire more musicians.

"We don't get any self-respect," said violinist Magdalena Golczewski. "There's hardly a chance to eat between rehearsals and performances."

Orchestra clarinetist Ben Armato, who has been with the opera for 27 years, said, "If I want to retire in three years, I'd get $4,000. If I were in the Boston Symphony I'd get $14,000."

Musicians union chairman Sandor Balint said the pickets would continue until negotiations resume. Negotiations with the Met broke off Sunday.

Met spokesman Joanna Fiedler said, "We're ready to negotiate at any time, as we have been all along. If the union requests a meeting, we would certainly be in favor of it."