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Home » Officer Columns » Fostering a Broader Understanding of Shared Priorities as Musicians and Members

Fostering a Broader Understanding of Shared Priorities as Musicians and Members

  -  AFM International President

August is player conference season, and it was quite a month. In July, I had the opportunity to meet with the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) in Atlanta as AFM president-elect. My first official appearance as president came in Montreal, Canada, when I visited with the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (Organisation des Musiciens d’Orchestre Symphonique du Canada). That was followed by the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) Conference and finally the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Conference, which were both held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It was a pleasure to meet everyone and to welcome new faces to the player conferences. These conferences are integral to the AFM’s ability to communicate with the various groups that they represent. More importantly, they give all of us the opportunity to talk with the musicians that work in the various sectors. These conferences serve the AFM as a direct conduit of necessary observations, collective bargaining reports, and other issues pertinent to the work of musicians.

Most notably for me is information about our audiences. We are all eager to emerge from the pandemic and there are positive signs that we are on that trajectory; however, we are not there yet. Our audiences are coming back at a slower pace than we hoped. This, along with reports of arduous negotiations, organizations with difficult financial positions, and some managements that are too willing to use the pandemic as a way to lower the wages of musicians, represent the ongoing challenges we face as we slowly put COVID-19 behind us.

The Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Touring Theatrical Musicals agreement expired at the end of August. I am busy working with Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director George Fiddler to prepare for these important negotiations. We will begin with a caucus of union officers, TMA, and rank-and-file representatives the first week of September.

As I write this, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are still on strike. We are working hard to support both guilds because we can only prevail if we work together. The AFM is next in bargaining with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) in the fall. We are in full swing in preparation for these negotiations. I am confident our Fair Share for Musicians campaign will serve as the vehicle to get our message out and unite all of us in the fight for a fair and equitable contract.

As I begin my term, I am again reminded of the connection we have as musicians. No matter what industry or sector we perform in, we are all musicians, and we need to stick together. A key goal of my presidency will be to foster a broader understanding among all AFM members of the underlying kinship that binds us together as musicians, artists, and professionals.

Like all of you, I became a musician, first and foremost, because of my love for music and I then gravitated to the idea of making it my profession. During my career, I have encountered thousands of musicians in virtually every area of our profession. I’ve been struck both by the wide variations in the skills, knowledge, and experience required in each musical genre and the underlying connection among all musicians.

We are sometimes focused on the aspects of our own careers that distinguish and separate us. While it is undeniable that successful musical artists in one musical field might not be able to function effectively in other areas, I believe that as different as the music we perform may be, there is an underlying characteristic that unifies us as artists and professionals. This is what makes us strong as a union.

Our representative structure is the most important reason for having one union for all musicians. This is accomplished through the union’s negotiation and administration of an array of collective bargaining agreements that are specifically tailored to the needs and standards of the musicians (and work) those CBAs cover.

This amalgam of specific agreements for such different artistic and industrial models would not be possible, let alone effective, if it were not for the committee system. Those who serve on committees or player conferences are the lifeblood of our union. This system blends the combination of the power and scope of a large union of all professional musicians with the participation in collective bargaining by specific members and their appointed or elected representatives. Committees provide the experience, knowledge, and priorities of those working in each orchestra, field, and industry. The result is a synthesis of unity and autonomy for all musicians.

In our busy and diverse professional lives, it is easy to lose sight of our common bonds and interests as musicians. I take office in the hope that we can build ever-growing awareness among all AFM members of the basic needs, interests, and commonality that can unite all musicians who strive to live and work as artists and professionals.

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