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Defying the Silence: A Chronicle of Resilience that Saved the World-Renowned Minnesota Orchestra

ISBN: 9781634895958
Binding: Paperback
Author: Julie Ayer
Pages: 276
Trim: 5.5 x 8.5 inches
Published: 05/23/2023

In this extraordinary example of how to unionize in the arts, this labor history book reveals how some of the world's finest musicians went from sitting in the Minnesota Orchestra to standing in the picket line . . . and how their city rallied around them.

"A story of incredible musician solidarity as well as community resistance and collaboration." -Jonathan Eisenberg, Minnesota Orchestral Association board member

The lockout that began on October 1, 2012, became the longest and most infamous work stoppage in American orchestral labor history.

Like many strikes, the ominous signals of anti-unionism preceded it. Hiring slowdowns. Notes that the orchestra needed to "slim down" and "change the business model." Shifts in attitude toward the musicians themselves.

What came to pass was a struggle for the very identity of an orchestra that had been at the heart of the Minnesota arts scene since it was founded in 1903. But the musicians didn't feel despair-they felt defiance. And Twin Cities music lovers were ready to defend the orchestra alongside them.

A powerful depiction of a defining moment in Minnesota music, Defying the Silence shares how the Minnesota Orchestra went from a sixteen-month struggle to winning hard-fought contract negotiations-and even winner of Gramophone 2021 Orchestra of the Year.

With thirty-six years as a violinist in the Minnesota Orchestra, Julie Ayer is the perfect voice to chronicle this powerful book about Minnesota history. She pairs firsthand accounts from personal connections with meticulous research and an intimate understanding of the institution itself.

In this inspiring story of resiliency and community, discover:

  • the importance of activism in preserving the dignity of the arts.
  • a unique slice of art and music history.
  • applicable lessons in labor law, career paths in music, and orchestra management.
  • a triumphant view of the value of community in the arts.

Defying the Silence is the perfect gift for professional musicians and performers, music students and teachers, and anyone fascinated with inspiring events in Minnesota history.
In the face of adversity, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra did what they do best-they defied the silence and brought the music back.

"Essential reading for students of American Orchestral labor history." -Mark Volpe president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1997 - 2021).

"Julie Ayer puts the spotlight on the Minnesota Orchestra, the lockout, the negotiations, the power plays-but, most importantly, the struggles imposed on our most musically talented."  -Arne H. Carlson, governor of Minnesota (1991 - 1999)


Julie Ayer is a professional violinist, arts advocate, historian, and author. A passionate lifelong musician, she spent her thirty-six-year professional career in the Minnesota Orchestra, including their ground-breaking tour to Cuba in 2015. Julie also was a member of the Houston Symphony, Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, and Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Throughout her career, Ayer was involved in many orchestra committees, including labor negotiations. Today, Ayer is a member of Classica Chamber Players and plays regularly in the Twin Cities. She has presented workshops and spoken to a variety of groups, including labor lawyers, music students, and colleagues.

Julie has a master's degree in music and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her first book, More Than Meets the Ear: How Symphony Musicians Made Labor History, was reviewed in publications including the Boston Globe, Star Tribune, and International Musician.

"Defying the Silence is essential reading for students of American Orchestral labor history. It vividly depicts the internal dynamics within an orchestra that resemble those of an extended family. Such a family dynamic, even with pockets of dysfunctionality, warrants further study as a paradigm of an effective ecosystem–especially in a world where various social norms have been fractured." - Mark Volpe, president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1997 – 2021)

"Although the arts play a major role in defining our quality of life, we are reducing our commitment to it in both public education and civic support. Julie Ayer puts the spotlight on the Minnesota Orchestra, the lockout, the negotiations, the power plays–but, most importantly, the struggles imposed on our most musically talented. Is this book a 'must read?' Yes, if you care about enriching your community." - Arne H. Carlson, governor of Minnesota (1991 – 1999)

"The prolonged lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra was a profoundly disturbing event in Minnesota and US cultural history. Julie Ayer has, for the first time, assembled and carefully documented the complete story of this event. To be sure, it is a maddening story of how a small group of people nearly drove one of America's top orchestras directly off a cliff. But it is also a story of incredible musician solidarity as well as community resistance and collaboration. These combined efforts both rescued the orchestra from the dust bin and reassembled it as a stronger, more resilient organization. As Ayer notes, the Minnesota Orchestra was able to meet the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic in a unique and award-winning way. It is now well-poised for a strong future serving its community with the outstanding music it both needs and deserves." - Jonathan Eisenberg, Minnesota Orchestral Association board member, former vice chair of Save Our Symphony Minnesota, and retired attorney

"Defying the Silence is the seminal template of labor action in the symphonic industry. Julie Ayer has crafted a detailed in-the-trenches history of the dedication of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians to save their orchestra from an ill-conceived plan that valued business structure over artistic excellence. Facing certain financial hardship as they were locked out of their performance home, the musicians unanimously rejected steps destined to damage the orchestra's international reputation, and they designed a model of survival that garnered nationwide support and awakened the priorities of the community." - Brad Eggen, president of the Local 30-73 Twin Cities Musicians Union