More than 200 people assembled on the Allen County Courthouse plaza Saturday afternoon, May 1, to support musicians of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra.

The American Federation of Musicians local representing the musicians, who have not performed with the Phil since the beginning of the pandemic, is trying to negotiate a new contract.

In a Facebook post for May Day Rally to Restore Music, organizers said, “We also were thrilled to be supported by the many musicians and AFM local officers who traveled from Detroit, Dayton, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville.”

Representatives of Hoosier Heartland Area labor federation and several unions joined the rally.

The crowd listened to a brass quintet made up of Philharmonic musicians play “Strike Up the Band,” several marches, “Back Home Again in Indiana” and a rousing version of “Solidarity Forever” to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” led by vocal percussionist Eric Schweikert.

They also heard from five speakers before featured speaker Ray Hair, international president of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, addressed the rally and laid the blame for the Phil’s present situation on the shoulders of its manager and its board chairman.

“The Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra is an asset, not a liability to this community,” said Hair. “The management claims the budget needs to be reduced in order to meet expenses, yet it nearly doubled the manager’s salary not long ago to $188,000.”

“It’s not a budget problem,” he continued, “because the organization has $26 million in its bank account and that should be enough to operate successfully for many years. Offering less work for less money is not a fair bargain.”

He closed by asking the crowd to “fight with us to save this crown jewel of the community.”

Campbell McDonald, chair of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Players Association, served as master of ceremonies for the event. McDonald said each of the union’s proposals has been flatly turned down by management. “We’re concerned that the current offer establishing a 28-week season and reduced wages will be extended into the future,” he said.

He added that “now is not the time to rob the community of music. ... We’re simply seeking a fair deal that will work for the musicians and the community.”

McDonald said negotiations will resume Monday, May 10.

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