Get Along With the Musicians and the Money Will Follow. Behind a Symphony Gift

In a move suggesting that mid-sized symphonies can thrive during precarious times, the Kansas City Symphony received a $2.7 million donation from the remainder of the David T. Beals III Trust to endow the assistant conductor position.

You read that right. The symphony received a hefty donation to endow the assistant conductor position.

Of course, the symphony reminds us that the newly named David T. Beals III Assistant Conductor plays an important and influential role at the symphony, leading all pops, family, holiday and special concerts each season.

But the gift is nonetheless pretty impressive.

For an answer about how the symphony pulled it off, let's first step back and contextualize the gift by understanding some of the challenges facing mid-sized symphonies across the U.S.

Last year, we called attention to a piece from Michigan public radio which posited that, on the heels of high-profile labor disputes at the Grand Rapids Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, symphonies will need to get creative and find new sources of funding to adequately pay their musicians in order to survive.

Fortunately, the Kansas City Symphony was able to reach an agreement with its musicians without the kind of drama that plagued its fellow Midwest brethren.

Back in late May, the musicians of the Kansas City Symphony voted to ratify a four-year contract that will give them a 19.7 percent increase in wages over four years, as well as greater benefits in healthcare and long-term disability insurance. The agreement was reached in eight meetings with, incredibly enough, no attorneys present. 

According to Brian Rood, third/utility trumpet player and chairman of the negotiating committee, the raise was needed to keep the symphony on an even playing field. "We were losing too many talented musicians to other orchestras," he said, "and while we will not be able to keep them from going to Chicago and Boston and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, maybe we could do more with salary and working conditions to keep them from going to Utah, Oregon, Nashville, or even Cincinnati."

Of course, other musicians could make an equally compelling argument in their home cities. So why did the players find a sympathetic audience (pun intended) in management? Turns out the answer is a structural one—and one that other symphonies should take to heart. Four musicians are on the symphony's board of directors, with two musicians on the finance committee. 

We mention this backstory only to underscore a principal (and obvious) rule of philanthropy: Donors like stability. Would the David T. Beals III Trust have awarded the aforementioned $2.7 million if the symphony was locked in the throes of a nasty labor dispute? Possibly. But does the risk/reward calculus appear more palatable knowing that management and musicians are simpatico?

We'd venture to say "of course."

Which brings us to David T. Beals III. In 1982, the David Beals Charitable Trust, for which Bank of America, N.A. serves as the trustee, was established to further the development of charitable purposes in the public's interest. Mr. Beals' wishes were to distribute the remainder of his trust 10 years after the passing of his wife, Jeanne McCray Beals.

In late 2015, it awarded a $250,000 grant to Union Station Kansas City, Inc., which operates as a nonprofit organization dedicated to science education, celebration of community, and preservation of history.

In fact, it's been a good few months of Midwest symphony orchestras.

Back in June, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) received $2.9 million from the estate of Dr. Clyde and Helen Wu to support music education programs through the Wu Family Academy for Learning & Engagement. Check out our take on this gift here.