He lives vicariously these days through his daughter Hailey, who grew up in the Birmingham area and is now studying violin at the Royal College of Music in London.
Willington tells me that while losing his hearing is sad, his real anguish is the long and seemingly unsolvable Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike. Not because he misses the music. Nor does he have any business or professional relationship with the DSO.
But he thinks that if Michigan manages to destroy its world-class symphony, it will have a huge, negative long-term economic impact on our ability to prosper.
“When Detroit Medical Center or Henry Ford goes hunting for the best and brightest surgeons, what are those candidates looking for in their decision-making process?”
“When they try to sell their spouse and kids on moving to Detroit, how do they sell the relocation to themselves and their family,” he asks. “Could the existence and proximity of world-class attractions,” like the Symphony, be a factor in their decisions?
Well, of course it might. Unfortunately the problem isn’t easy to solve. The management of the DSO maintains the money just isn’t there. They’ve insisted the musicians have to take a staggering pay cut of thirty percent. That would reduce their base salary from a little over a hundred thousand dollars a year to the mid-seventies. The musicians said no, and walked out. Now, it’s hard to accuse the artists of being greedy. They say they are willing to take a twenty-five percent pay cut, which would be hard enough for most families.
But they won’t go any lower than that. Since the strike began, everyone from Senator Carl Levin to Jennifer Granholm has attempted to solve it, so far without success. The musicians have stuck together and have been playing concerts on their own.
The big fear, however, is that the best of them may soon drift off and be snared by job offers from other cities. Willington says he is frustrated that nobody seems to understand what a potential loss this would be for our state, or how hard a top-notch symphony would be to put together again if this one is destroyed. He argues that even those who couldn’t care less about music would suffer. Let’s say the area loses a top-notch heart surgeon because we lack cultural amenities.
The economics of the arts are not something this commentator is an expert on. But here’s something I do know. The Detroit baseball player Magglio Ordonez just took a massive pay cut.
He will now make only ten million dollars a year. That is equivalent to the salaries of a hundred DSO musicians before their pay cut took effect. True, most people might be more inclined to go to a ball game than a symphony.
But is one baseball player worth more than the entire orchestra? A man named Raymond Greene wrote a letter saying, “What I fail to comprehend is why a few of the multimillionaires who reside in the area are not coming forward to rescue this great institution.” That’s a question I’d like to ask, myself.