An uneasy calm, hanging like pendulous clumps of wet Spanish moss draped in a craggy live oak tree by some lonely country road, devoid of lane markings and an adequate shoulder, hovers over the city of Sarasota this evening, following a chaotic day that began with violins, but ended with violence.
The much beloved Sarasota Orchestra, reeling from the economic downturn, proposed severe cost-cutting measures, including the request to cut the musicians' salaries, which range from $30,000 to $50,000, by 8% and having the wind section purchase their own reeds.
The musicians, who are represented by the American Federation of Musicians Gulf Coast Local 427-721, filed unfair labor practices against the Sarasota Orchestra, charging that they "failed and refused to bargain in good faith."
The Orchestra, caught off guard by this drastic measure, in turn, locked out the musicians and it was on. Charges, counter-charges, off-key verbal stylings and interpretations, insults, both sotto voce and molto forte, and the inevitable spitballs ("We were just emptying out our fluegelhorns....") were hurled to and fro.
Said Chesterfield Castrato, Esq., legal counsel for the Orchestra, "Look, these people work only 34 weeks out of the year and get a full benefit package. Sounds like pretty sweet music to me. It's not like we're asking them to march in parades and do half-time shows. If they don't like our terms, they should try their luck playing for quarters down on Main Street somewhere and see how far they get."
"Since we have obligations to the paying public," he continued, "the Sarasota Orchestra has arranged to hire replacement musicians, who will continue the fine musical tradition of the Orchestra."
Upon learning of this latest development, the musician's union sprang into action. Said union organizer Ostinato "The Leg Breaker" Tessitura, "Who the hell do these guys think they're fooling with here? I done my apprenticeship with the likes of Jimmy Hoffa, Jock Yablonsky and Tony Boyle. What, do they think I just fell off some non-teamster-driven turnip truck? Let's kick some ass!"
This morning, a confrontation erupted in front of the Van Wezel Concert Hall between union goons and non-union goons. The goons representing the Orchestra wielded lead pipes hidden in newspapers, blackjacks and switchblades, waded into the picketing musicians' goons, who were at a decided disadvantage, armed only with clarinets, piccolos and a triangle. The pitched battle raged for nearly an hour, with artist pitted against management and hired thug against hired thug. It was goon against goon.
Order was restored only when conductor Leif Bjaland leaped atop the burned out shell of an overturned SUV, standing alone there in the morning sun as it reflected jauntily off the lavender-hued walls of the Van Wezel, standing ever so majestically, like a matador who stares down danger and death with his steely, flinty gaze, literally compelling the warriors to stop in their tracks. Then, silently, he raised his baton, calling the bloodied factions to attention.
And, with that, the curtain came down on an ugly chapter in the ongoing dissonance between between musicians and the Orchestra. Will there be a repeat performance on the morrow? According to musicians union rep Tessitura, "Hell, yeah, we'll be back. This ain't over by a long shot. And tomorrow, we're bringing the friggin' tubas......"
Replacement musicians, hired by the Sarasota Orchestra, rehearse at a secure, undisclosed location somewhere on Longboat Key. Mrs. Chong's All-Korean Polka Maniacs will kick off the Orchestra's season next Friday evening with a black-tie event.