In 2016, The Lancaster Symphony Orchestra argued in a legal hearing that its musicians—members of the Greater Lancaster Federation of Musicians, AFM #294, AFL-CIO—were independent contractors and thus could not form a union.
The appellate court did not agree, finding that orchestra musicians do not, as a rule, operate independently, but must work under significant control by the orchestra and the conductor. The principal trombonist, for example, “testified that the conductor determines when musicians come in, as well as their volume and pitch. Asked whether musicians could ‘use their independent discretion to play louder, if they thought it sounded better,’ the trombonist responded ‘only initially’ but ‘not after’ the conductor directs otherwise.”
In this case, record evidence demonstrates that the Lancaster Orchestra regulates virtually all aspects of the musicians’ performance. It controls their posture, including prohibiting them from crossing their legs, and requires them to remain attentive throughout the performance. Musicians must confine conversations during rehearsals to matters concerning the rehearsal, and they may not talk at all during tuning or when the conductor is on the podium. Musicians must warm up quietly and never interfere with the concentration of others. And when the conductor signals for the orchestra to acknowledge applause, the musicians must stand immediately, turn to face the audience, and smile.
Even more significant, the Lancaster Orchestra’s conductor exercises virtually dictatorial authority over the manner in which the musicians play….Illustrating the extent of the conductor’s control, the principal trombonist testified that the conductor’s role is not simply to keep time while the musicians follow the music but rather to mold the performance into the conductor’s personal interpretation of the score.
The court also cited several eminent conductors in its ruling in favor of the union.