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Home » Orchestra News » ROPA 2024: 40 Years Stronger Together


ROPA 2024: 40 Years Stronger Together

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by Steve Wade, ROPA President and Member Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT)

In an article recently published in The Leading Tone, I wrote about a documentary called The Freeway Philharmonic, made in 2008 by Tal Skloot and Steven Baigel and broadcast on KQED in San Francisco. The film is an hour long, and modest in comparison to vastly bigger projects like Tár and Maestro, but there is something very engaging and human about it. It captures the experiences of six freelance musicians as they piece together their careers in the Bay Area of San Francisco.

Another documentary has appeared of late that is a set of personal stories like many that I have heard over the years as a Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) musician. The Last Repair Shop is a heartwarming and heartbreaking look at the lives of four people who followed the paths that life gave them. They eventually find themselves repairing instruments for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Co-directed by Ben Proudfoot and composer Kris Bowers, this elegant and understated movie won a well-deserved Oscar this year for its presenter, the Los Angeles Times.

The film rang a lot of bells. I often wonder how an odd little kid like me ended up in a symphony orchestra and serving as a ROPA president. More importantly, the movie shows us the ripple effects we have on each other’s lives. This idea is more important than ever for us to remember as musicians in our union and members of our communities. You never know what kind of a difference you might make for the people around you.

ROPA comes to the Bay Area this summer for its 40th anniversary. Our conference will take place from July 30 to August 1 at the Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco, California. All elected delegates should plan to attend this special event. Links for conference information, registration, and rooms are available at www.ropaweb.org. The Symphonic Services Division (SSD) of the AFM will hold its annual Negotiation Workshop on July 29 at the same site. We sincerely thank the leadership of AFM Local 6 (San Francisco, CA) for hosting this historic conference. (Incidentally, Local 6 President Kale Cummings appears briefly in The Freeway Philharmonic.)

ROPA was founded at a symposium in Columbus, Ohio, in 1984. That’s why we had our 40th conference last year, while this is our 40th anniversary. There were 13 representatives at that first meeting, and our charter membership included 26 orchestras.

Our past presidents include:
1984–1988      Nathan Kahn, Nashville Symphony Orchestra
1988–1990      Rosemary Estes, Florida Philharmonic
1990–1994      Diane Merrill, Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra
1994–1999      Andrew Brandt, Shreveport Symphony Orchestra
1999–2001      Ann Drinan, Hartford Symphony Orchestra
2001–2006      Barbara Zmich, Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra
2006–2007      Tom Fetherston, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra
2007–2014      Carla Lehmeier-Tatum, New Mexico Philharmonic
2014–2022      Mike Smith, Minnesota Opera Orchestra
2022–present Steve Wade, Hartford Symphony Orchestra

The New York Times recently noted that “[s]ports attendance and orchestra ticket sales are above 2019 levels, while demand for pop concerts (led by Taylor Swift) is at a record high.” However, Shain Shapiro, executive director of the Center for Music Ecosystems and author of This Must Be the Place: How Music Can Make Your City Better, recently wrote in Forbes magazine: “… music is not a traditional financial product. Unlike a building, you can’t see it and unlike an FTSE security, it rarely fluctuates due to company practices or fiscal events. It is more like a farm. If each individual music copyright is a seed planted in a large field, how the seed is nurtured, its relationship to the environment around it—some elements that can be controlled and others that can’t—all impact its ability to flower, grow, fruit, and be sustainable. In order to build sustainable, year-on-year revenues that deliver a yield and protect the farm, the most cost-effective strategy is continued maintenance.”

For this reason, ROPA applauds the leadership of the AFM for its determined efforts in the last couple of years to protect our wages and working conditions and adapt to the changing landscape of our industry across the bargaining table. The issues are big and the stakes are high. The new Integrated Media Agreement is a real victory, as is the tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Perhaps of more significance is the support of these efforts across unions. The AFM, SAG-AFTRA, Writers Guild of America, IATSE, and Teamsters have all stepped up and worked together. ROPA’s Media Committee is led by former ROPA President Smith, and we have a seat at an important table.

One of the many benefits to our member orchestras is the Conductor Evaluation Bank. I am happy to report that the bank has been thriving since we simplified the process by going online. The very first online survey was conducted November 2019 by the Ann Arbor Symphony. From then until now, 180 evaluations have been set up. Just since our conference last July, 56 evaluations have been completed. These numbers mean that the bank is indeed a powerful, useful tool. We encourage our delegates and member orchestra musicians to make sure their management knows that it is available to them. The bank is managed beautifully by ROPA Board Member-at-Large Lisa Davis of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra.

Formed in 2020 and formally recognized by resolution in 2021, the ROPA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Workgroup seeks to address the critical ideals of equity, diversity, and inclusion in ROPA orchestras. Under the founding direction of Casey Bozell of Local 99 (Portland, OR) (Portland Opera Orchestra and Oregon Ballet Theater), the group gained membership and has regularly convened over Zoom to exchange thoughts, ideas, and experiences. It is now led by Alana Wiesing of Local 33 (Tucson, AZ) (Tucson Symphony Orchestra). Wiesing also serves on the ROPA Board as delegate-at-large to the AFM Convention. Last year, the workgroup made language adjustments in our conductor evaluation forms and considered survey questions that might work well as data gathering tools in a variety of settings. Next on the agenda is a look at audition and tenure processes in ROPA orchestras.

In January, I attended the SphinxConnect Conference in Detroit as part of an AFM team led by SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick. We attended many discussions on industry issues and joined the musicians participating in the Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions (SOPA) for an important panel discussion. The SOPA Excerpt Competition provides Black and Latinx orchestral musicians the unique opportunity to audition for a panel representing several orchestras seeking to identify musicians for invitation to auditions, pre-advancement at auditions, and/or placement on substitute player lists. The goal of this initiative is job placement for Black and Latinx musicians in American orchestras.

In addition, we attended the Orchestrate Inclusion workshop led by Caen Thomason-Redus of the League of American Orchestras prior to the Sphinx event. Our team, along with Skolnick and me, included Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer and AFM Diversity Committee Chair Beth Zare, Local 802 (New York City) member Jessica Phillips (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), ICSOM Chair and Local 104 (Salt Lake City, UT) member Keith Carrick (Utah Symphony); and Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) member Nicole Jordan (Philadelphia Orchestra).

The ROPA Board looks forward to an interesting and exciting 2024. I wonder what stories from our 41st year will end up in documentaries as we work to better the welfare and artistic well-being of our fellow musicians and the communities in which we live. Perhaps there are Oscars in our future!







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