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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I'm leaving the symphony


By Kirby Nunez

The Honolulu Symphony is being dismantled, and I don't think the public is aware of the magnitude of this loss. Musicians are leaving. I'm one of them.

I'll leave it to others to point out how much the symphony management's actions have harmed fundraising and trust in our organization, but they now are justifying an extreme and impractical reduction by belittling my profession.

A blatant example of this is their statement that one of the main reasons for bankruptcy is the expectation "that the Society is an employment agency or welfare department responsible for the entire financial well-being of its part-time employees".

Since they have made a direct attack on the value of my chosen field, I'd like to share what it takes to be a member of the Honolulu Symphony. My story is fairly typical of a Honolulu Symphony musician.

I have studied music since childhood, and trained with one of the best bassists in the world. I have a university degree in music performance, and many years of training after that. A massive amount of practice time over many years was necessary to attain and keep the skill needed to play with a professional orchestra of this level.

I provide more than $100,000 worth of equipment to the Honolulu Symphony. Almost all of that value is in my 225-year-old English bass. Seven years of monthly payments remain.

I auditioned in New York, and moved to Hawai'i to play with the Honolulu Symphony as part of the core of full-time players. I made my living from that job.

For management to say that job giving someone like me the opportunity to perform for a reasonable wage amounts to welfare demonstrates a catastrophic ignorance and disdain for the institution. They are supposed to be caretakers and protectors.

Unfortunately, everything the symphony managers have said indicates that their idea of a resurrected symphony will be so reduced that I can't even consider it. Their plan for next year requires that my share of health insurance premiums would be higher than my salary. I would have to pay to play with the Honolulu Symphony.

This, of course, is not sustainable for a career musician.

I didn't want to leave. The only way that I can maintain my skills and continue in my profession is to relocate to the Mainland for freelance opportunities that are far superior to the vision shown by symphony management.

Serving as the principal bassist of the Honolulu Symphony has been the greatest privilege of my life. I gave you the best I had. All I can do now is offer a fond and grateful aloha to my home of 21 years.

Kirby Nunez was principal bassist of the Honolulu Symphony. He now lives in Denton, Texas. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.