Copeland: Face-to-face meeting saved Delaware Symphony Orchestra

After months of negotiations, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and the union representing its musicians have finally found some middle ground, as both sides agree to a tentative three-year contract.

Delaware Symphony board chair Tatiana Copeland and local musicians’ union spokesman Glenn Finnan met face-to-face last Wednesday, ending what had turned into an 8-month impasse. 

“Truthfully, Glenn and I saved the future of the symphony with having this one-on-one meeting,” Copeland said. 

New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon arranged the meeting. Gordon stepped in when he said Copeland indicated, “she was ready to walk.”

“All I did was try to get the leader of the musician union to meet her and the two of them, after talking, found out they like each other, they have a lot in common and the two of them worked out a settlement.”

The main sticking point hampering negotiations, Copeland says, revolved around the number of set appearances throughout the year.

“The board on priniciple wanted no guaranteed services… Glen Finnan pretty much looked me in the eye on the meeting and said, ‘If we don’t have some guaranteed services, we’re not signing this contract.'”

Services, in this case, are rehearsals or performances. Consequently, the DSO agreed to a sliding scale over the course of the three-year agreement, with 10 services scheduled in year one, going up to 20 in year three.

Long overdue

“I regret that it wasn’t done earlier, but I’m very glad it happened, finally,” Copeland said, pointing out the lack of a contract held hostage any fundraising and booking of venues.

“Once it’s signed, sealed and delivered, which I hope to be in the next two weeks, [then] you can go flat all out for fundraising and probably, as importantly, flat all out getting the venues and organizing the repertoire,” Copeland said. 

All involved parties met inside Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams’ office. Gordon says it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the city and county can’t afford to lose the DSO or the Grand Opera House, the orchestra’s unofficial home.   

“Well the Delaware Symphony and the Grand Opera House, which relies on the Delaware Symphony, are very important mainstays to the arts,” Gordon said. “When you’re competing nationally for corporations, and companies and start-up companies to come here, the arts are very important.”

“When cities start to lose the arts, that’s when cities get in real trouble,” Williams said, adding he and the county executive promised to allocate about $50,000 apiece from their respective budgets as one-time grants.

During the meeting, Williams also said he would personally work to raise money for the DSO, in addition to asking for money from the state.

“I have asked the General Assembly for some funding to assist with this and also that myself and county exec Gordon would do some black-tie events for them.”

Promise of money

Whether Williams, Gordon and the state can deliver, remains to be seen. 

“That is the key question in all this. Are we going to get the support, both monetary and with the audience? I hope the answer is yes,” Copeland said.

The DSO is rebounding after a tough year. Broke, the orchestra initially suspended its upcoming orchestral season last May, before announcing a modified, abbreviated performance schedule.

“People took us for granted,” Copeland said. “Everybody always said, ‘Oh yeah, isn’t it great to have a symphony, isn’t it great to have a museum,’ but it means you have to support it both with your presence and with money.”

A longtime champion of the arts, Copeland will remain the DSO’s board chair for now, but hopes to find a replacement in a year.

Meantime, the agreement hammered out between Copeland and Finnan still needs approval from the musicians and the DSO board. Copeland says the board will vote during its next scheduled meeting June 12. 

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