MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Orchestra and its musicians both have tough decision to make. The orchestra says it’s in a tough financial spot, after a nearly $3 million deficit in 2011, and laying off 20 percent of administrators. The musicians say they have to be paid at a top notch level in order to retain the top-notch talent.

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Lynn Dwyer from New London emailed WCCO the following:

“I’m an educator with a Master’s degree in 1986, 1 1/2 years post graduate work, and 23 years’ experience in the school, and I earn LESS THAN HALF of their current $135,000 salary.”

She asked this good question: Why do the orchestras make what they do?

The Orchestra’s management put the average salary at $135,000.

“I was shocked when I first learned how much they make,” said one woman.

“That’s shocking? One of the best orchestras I’ve heard in the world,” said a fan of the Orchestra.

The musicians say the average minimum salary for orchestra players is $109,304.

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Ellen Smith, a French horn player who joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 1993, says they earn every penny.

“They are basically the best musicians in the United States,” Smith said. “When I was negotiating my position I called the third horn in the New York Philharmonic. Third horn in Boston Symphony. Third horn in Cleveland Orchestra. That’s how I determined an industry standard for my position,” she said.

According to the group of musicians, the Minnesota Orchestra’s average base salary is eighth in the country.

Chicago’s Orchestra is at the top of the list, at $144,040, followed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco – both over $140,000.

The New York Philharmonic starts at $135,980, while the Cleveland Orchestra starts at $120,120.

“Our musicians are so good, when the news came out this morning [that they were locked out], one of them got a call from the Boston Symphony,” said Smith.

The debate caused a symphony of comments on Facebook and Twitter. Mike Miller wrote: “How many world class cellists are they? You pay for quality.”

But M. Jones wrote, “I should have continued playing the trumpet. Who knew? Even $80,000 is a great salary.”

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“We have over 200 concerts a year. Generally speaking we’ll have three or four a week, sometimes we’ll have more than that,” Smith said.

Jason DeRusha