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Home » Orchestra News » Orchestra Members Gather Virtually for 2021 ROPA Conference

Orchestra Members Gather Virtually for 2021 ROPA Conference


Earlier this spring it became apparent that the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) conference would be held virtually for a second year. We considered the impact of the COVID crisis on our orchestras and the resulting financial hits our musicians and locals had taken, as well as the hesitancy of many of our members to travel this summer. The online conference again allowed a broader range of orchestra members and local leadership to participate with over 200 people registered to attend the sessions.

On Monday, July 27, ROPA President Mike Smith (Local 30-73/St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN) welcomed all to the virtual conference. The conference was dedicated to the memory of former AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Negotiator Chris Durham, who passed away in August 2020.

AFM President Ray Hair then addressed the conference, reflecting on the music industry’s creativity in finding ways to maintain relationships with our audiences despite the complete shutdown of the industry. He commented that this is the most critical period in the modern history of the AFM. He celebrated the election of two Democratic senators in Georgia, which made it possible to shore up the multi-employer pension funds.

Afa Dworkin, president and artistic director of the Sphinx Organization, and Titus Underwood (Local 257/Nashville Symphony) led a discussion on efforts to come up with concrete ways for our orchestras to meet our equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) goals. Their remarks focused on the importance of diversifying the musical canon, musicians, and board rooms, in order to achieve artistic excellence.

Monday’s session concluded with reports from musician representatives from the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. Dennis Fick and Campbell MacDonald (Local 58/Fort Wayne Philharmonic) and Ann Rule (Local 154/Colorado Springs Philharmonic), along with Local 154 President Sarah Wilson, gave a run-down on their orchestras’ long-running struggles with contract negotiations. Both also described actions the orchestras have staged to raise audience awareness of their plights.

Tuesday’s session included a report from the ROPA EDI work group, formed after the 2020 conference. Committee chair Casey Bozell (Local 99/Portland Opera) gave an update on the work of the committee up to this point. Arts and injury prevention advocate Janet Horvath gave a presentation on how to methodically work back into full-time playing.

Wednesday’s sessions included AFM Diversity, Legislative, and Political Director Alfonso Pollard. His address covered a wide range of legislative actions and successes over the past year. The top AFM focus has been with organizing to strengthen labor’s standing in the community and to help revive an industry devastated by COVID. AFM Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX) highlighted the committee’s recent work in creating nationwide standards for institutions seeking to emphasize implementation of EDI in their organizations. Financial expert and member of Local 70-558 (Omaha, NE) Bob Zagozda introduced attendees to the intricacies of financial documents required for the negotiation process, discussing how to find relevant information on documents, such as IRS forms 990, audited financials, budgets, and balance sheets.

On Thursday, AFM SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick opened the SSD presentation by acknowledging the collective trauma experienced by musicians during the pandemic. She said the industry is coming back, and audiences are eager to return to the concert hall. She also celebrated the positive signs coming from Washington, D.C., with recent appointments at the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board.

AFM Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark gave an in-depth presentation on recent Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) COVID-19 side letters. AFM Negotiator Todd Jelen discussed organizing, especially the importance of campaigns to raise community awareness. He recommended that musicians regularly refresh their organizing skills. Skolnick then spoke at length about safety protocols necessary for a safe return to the concert hall, for both performers and audiences. She addressed the topic of vaccine mandates and the permissibility to require them based upon settled law.

Attorney Liza Hirsch Medina continued the discussion about vaccine mandates and took questions from the delegates on that and other topics. The conference also heard from representatives from fellow player conferences: International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians Chair Meredith Snow, Theater Musicians Association President Tony D’Amico, Recording Musicians Association President Marc Sazer, and Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians President Robert Fraser.

Following the election of officers, the 2021-22 ROPA Executive Board will include President Mike Smith (Local 30-73/Minnesota Opera Orchestra), Vice President Amanda Swain (Local 65-699/Houston Ballet and Grand Opera orchestras), Secretary Karen Sandene (Locals 70-558 and 463/Omaha and Lincoln symphonies), Treasurer Matthew Oshida (Locals 6, 12, 47, and 80/Huntsville Symphony), delegate at large to the AFM Convention Naomi Bensdorf Frisch (Local 10-208/Illinois Philharmonic), and members at-large Casey Bozell (Local 99/Portland Opera Orchestra), Lisa Davis (Local 579/Mississippi Symphony), Christian Green (Local 625/Ann Arbor Symphony), Sharon Jones (Local 10-208/Elgin Symphony), Brandon LePage (Locals 5, 103, 166, 542/Flint Symphony and Wisconsin Chamber orchestras), Beverly Setzer (Local 76-493/Symphony Tacoma), Cory Tiffin (Locals 10-208, 369 and 6/Las Vegas Philharmonic), and Steve Wade (Local 400/Hartford Symphony). We thank outgoing members at large Kendra Hawley (Local 655/Palm Beach Opera Orchestra) and Katie Shields (Local 586/Arizona Opera Orchestra) for their service to ROPA.

We look forward to seeing everyone in-person (really!) in 2022, in Orange County, California.

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