Risk of cultural void as funding cuts threaten the future of British orchestras

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According to new research by the UK Musicians’ Union, 44% of the nation’s orchestral musicians say they do not earn enough to live on. The organisation represents over 30,000 musicians and is calling on the public to support orchestral musicians as decades of funding cuts jeopardise their jobs.

Two thirds of veteran musicians with up to 30 years’ experience have considered alternative careers and the figures also paint a bleak picture for musicians entering the profession, fuelling concerns the pipeline of new talent will be stifled.

£80,000 for training

Musicians typically invest around £80,000 in their training including tuition fees and student loans. Those in full-time employment earn around £21,000 after qualifying, but cuts have led to a lack of availability of full-time roles. 43% of musicians with five years or less in the industry have taken on unpaid work in the last 12 months to gain experience, compared to almost one in five (17%) of those with 11-20 years.

The new figures have prompted the Musicians’ Union to launch a campaign to highlight the value of orchestral musicians to UK society. The Musician Behind the Moment campaign features four inspiring musicians whose stories remind people of the moments in their lives in which orchestral players have played a huge part.

Earnings have not kept pace with inflation

Horace Trubridge, General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said:

‘Funding cuts mean orchestras present less of a viable career option for many professional musicians than they once did. In real terms, musicians’ earnings have not kept pace with inflation or the general standard of living. This is putting the UK’s orchestras under serious threat of a skills gap or even closure, which would leave a huge cultural void in the UK.

‘Orchestras need the support of the UK public if they are to survive. That’s why we’ve launched the Musician Behind the Moment campaign. We want people to see the true breadth of work our world-class orchestras do, appreciate the contribution of orchestral musicians, and back their local orchestra.’

The Musician Behind The Moment campaign features four orchestral players talking about their most poignant moments working with orchestras, that go above and beyond what the public may expect.

The impact of orchestral outreach

Michael Kidd is one of the musicians featured in the campaign. He plays French horn with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Michael played at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, receiving a piece of wedding cake from Prince Charles as a thank you gift. However, he cites his work in a local retirement home as part of an orchestra outreach programme as one of the stand-out moments of his career.

Talking about the impact of this work on the elderly people who benefit, he said: ‘One resident put it to us that she comes in feeling miserable and goes out feeling happy. It’s not just art for art’s sake.’

Almost all orchestras (97%) are involved in community outreach programmes with schools, hospitals and care homes. Plugging gaps in sectors that have suffered their own budget cuts, over half of UK orchestras work specifically in healthcare. Around 65% work with people living with dementia, 38% work in hospitals or hospices and 34% work in mental health settings. In 2016, UK orchestras reached almost 900,000 children and young people via performances and education sessions.

Trubridge continued:

‘These are challenging times for many sectors, but the contribution orchestral musicians make to both UK culture and communities can’t be taken for granted. We hope members of the public will become supporters of the Musicians’ Union and help us in our fight to increase funding for the arts.’

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