The labor dispute between the Richardson Symphony Orchestra and its musicians may be getting ugly, but the Richardson Symphony Debutantes are as lovely and graceful as ever – and they are caught in the middle, waiting for a resolution to the conflict and an assurance that the season will come off as planned.

Debs and their male counterparts, the Honor Guard, are high school students who support the RSO by serving as greeters and ushers at their performances at the Eisemann Center. They also contribute their time and talent to local projects, fundraisers and educational programs, including “heart of RISD” events like the City of Richardson Christmas Parade and Santa’s Village Workshop.

The RSO has been plagued with financial problems for years and depends heavily on contributions from businesses and individuals to keep them afloat. When the economy weakened and donations went from a flow to a trickle, the RSO opted not to renew its contract with the musicians’ union. The union countered by placing the RSO on the American Federation of Musicians’ unfair list July 1, and on July 12 the RSO filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The RSO has five performances scheduled for the 2010-11 season beginning October 2 and the Debs and Honor Guard are making plans for their year of service – all while holding their breath.

“The Richardson Symphony draws the community together and plays an important role in the lives of many people, including mine,” said Abbey Smith, who graduated from LHHS in the spring and hopes the Symphony, the Debs and the Honor Guard will continue for years to come. “I had a chance to meet students from across Richardson, develop leadership skills through service projects, and learn about the symphony. It was a great experience.”

Meagan Collier, another former Deb, agrees. “Debs taught us how to create fun projects that benefit the community. One of my Deb friends from another high school is now in my sorority at OU and we plan service projects together using the skills we learned as Debs.” Meagan also credits the time management tools she learned as a Deb for helping her handle being an OU cheerleader, sorority member and successful student at a major university.

Meanwhile, students still active in the program wait. The NLRB is expected to rule on the matter in September, and until they do musicians who play for a symphony on the unfair list can face hefty fines. It may not be the music these young people have on their iPods, but they say the sounds of the symphony will be especially sweet to their ears this year.