Orchestra 101: What is a Service?

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One question I have been asked by students fairly often over the years is what is a service? As in, an orchestra pays $XX per service, what does that mean?

With this question I will be starting a series on orchestral playing and what it looks like at the professional level in the United States. My primary guide will be the terms set forth in the master agreements from the years that I performed in the Nashville Symphony, which I believe are typical of those seen in professional orchestras. All too often you will run into situations in non-union gigs and school situations that are far from the rules laid out in a typical orchestral master agreement, and it is important to have a handle on what is actually normal in these situations to know if you are being treated well or not. Some specifics from orchestra to orchestra will vary and in all cases are the results of years of contract negotiations in the general category of working conditions.

As to our present topic, the short definition would be that a service is a 2 ½ hour rehearsal or concert. In Nashville for example,

Services shall be defined as any concert, oratorio or rehearsal performed by two (2) or more Musicians under guaranteed contract to Management…. Except as otherwise permitted, no service shall exceed two and one-half (2 ½) hours from the scheduled starting time, excluding overtime. In any event, the total work day shall be no longer than five and one-half (5 ½) hours, excluding overtime and travel.

Every scenario is spelled out rather clearly in the ten pages found in this section of the master agreement, including breaks (one 15 minute break no later than 90 minutes into the service), the possibility of one three hour dress rehearsal for certain types of concerts (typically used for operas), etc. Also especially note “There shall be three (3) hours guaranteed break between the conclusion of a dress rehearsal and the performance of a concert” and with a few exceptions no service could be scheduled less than twelve hours after the completion of an evening service. The clock starts at the called service time.

Management shall provide an official clock, which shall be placed in full view during all rehearsals, and off-stage right during concerts and other performances…. The Personnel Manager and the Union Steward shall agree on the official time prior to the beginning of the service and the official clock … shall be set by that time.

Another very important aspect of this as well was notice; rosters were to be posted thirty days in advance of the first rehearsal for a concert and were to be finalized 21 days before the first rehearsal. We had three week notice to know exactly our work schedule, which allowed time to plan for travel, child care, other work, etc. And, perhaps most importantly, “The workday shall be limited to two (2) services.”

There are other circumstances related to services that will be covered in future posts in this series, including overtime, overscale, and run-out concerts. Stay tuned.

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