The 4th Of July Celebration In Colorado Springs Will Be Missing A Familiar Sound: Its Philharmonic

Courtesy Tomasz Stasiuk
People sit and watch fireworks in Colorado Springs in 2013.

Updated: 1:05 p.m., 6/14/2021

As more cultural events return across the state this summer, there’s an unmistakable absence in the lineup of concerts, art shows and drive-in screenings. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic is still absent from the summer schedule as a labor dispute has kept musicians away from performing. That includes at the city’s annual 4th of July festivities, what they are calling Symphony on Your Porch during the pandemic, which is the socially distanced set-up of the city’s previous gatherings at a park.

This year, when it comes time for the fireworks show, viewers can tune in to a number of radio stations in the area to hear the holiday’s patriotic fanfare. But just whose music will be broadcast remains to be decided. The musicians from the Colorado Springs Philharmonic say it won’t be theirs. 

Jeremy Van Hoy, bass trombonist and member of the musicians union, said the musicians were offered a one-time payment to license the recording of a previous 4th of July concert for broadcast this 4th of July. 

“We considered that offer and, very publicly, declined it with a press release,” he said. “The reason we declined it is because the American Federation of Musicians, a union, has placed the Philharmonic on the International Unfair List, meaning that no union musician can work for the orchestra.” 

Instead, Van Hoy had hoped turning down the offer would mean a chance for musicians to return to the table with the Philharmonic’s management to reach a settlement and to get the musicians back to work. 

“If we can do that, then there'll be no problem around recordings being used in such a way — exactly what we did last year,” Van Hoy said.

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic was set to co-present this year’s event with the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation, a nonprofit that was formed to help move the U.S. Olympic Committee from New York to Colorado in the late 1970s. In a press release statement from late May, Philharmonic President and CEO Nathan Newbrough said, “The Colorado Springs Philharmonic has been a part of this exciting celebration for 48 years and is pleased that the tradition continues for the broader community.” 

The Colorado Springs Sports Corporation says it is trying to find other music for this year’s event in an attempt to keep with the traditionally symphonic tone of the fireworks show, but that they have no further details yet on just what music will be played during the event.

Both sides expressed disappointment that they haven't reached an agreement. Newbrough said the company’s decision to end its contract with the musicians last fall was made out of concern for the Philharmonic’s future. “We're always mindful that we have a responsibility to maintain the Philharmonic for the long-term, not just for today,” he said. “We can't ignore the fact that we've lost two and a half million dollars in expected ticket sales in the pandemic, but that was not the reason for the cancellation.”

Newbrough said the Philharmonic “made a generous offer and, unfortunately, the union rejected it.” Van Hoy said the musicians want their contract back in force.

Last month, the sides entered arbitration to try to settle their labor dispute. A decision on the cancellation of the contract is expected to arrive in late July or early August. Van Hoy said an earlier federal mediation between the sides failed after management canceled the last session, but Newbrough disputed this account, saying management is still willing to go through the process of mediation.

“We love the musicians, we have an artistic relationship with them and we have a professional employer relationship with them. Sometimes, that employer relationship takes all of the breath out of the room, but the artistic relationship is still there,” said Newbrough. “The musicians want to get back on the stage, we want to see them there. The audiences want to see them there. What we need is for cooler heads to prevail right now and for everyone to come back to the table in the spirit of deal making.”

Van Hoy said the musicians have been out of work for over a year and unpaid for about 10 months. He said he wants to get everyone back to work without sacrificing their future wages. Despite the setbacks, he hopes the dispute will be settled in time for the fall concert season.

“Everything else is reopening right now,” Van Hoy said. “The pandemic is clearly ending. Orchestras and concerts are getting back to work and presenting live music again. And we feel like we should be a part of that good feeling because the demand is obviously there, but we're missing this opportunity right now.”