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Home » Orchestra News » ROPA Conference Revels in the Face-to-Face

ROPA Conference Revels in the Face-to-Face


by Steve Wade, ROPA President, Hartford Symphony and Member of Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT) and Karen Sandene, ROPA Secretary, Omaha Symphony and Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra, and Member of Locals 70-558 (Omaha, NE) and 463 (Lincoln, NE)

The 2022 Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) Conference was held in Orange County, California, July 26-28. This event was our first live, in-person conference in three years. Virtual conferences served ROPA well during the pandemic, but the value of face-to-face interactions between delegates and guests was apparent from the moment we started to arrive at the hotel.

(L-R) Outgoing ROPA President Mike Smith of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis/Minnesota Opera Orchestra) Naomi Bensdorf Frisch of Local 10-208 (Chicago/Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra)and Delegate-at-Large to the AFM Convention Delegate, with incoming ROPA President Steve Wade (Local 400/Hartford Symphony).

AFM Local 7 (Orange County, CA) President Edmund Velasco, Secretary Tammy Noreyko, and a great group of volunteers from Locals 7 and 353 (Long Beach, CA) gave us a wonderful experience in Costa Mesa. About 60% of our delegates were able to attend in person, which represents an excellent turnout, given the circumstances at the time. Air fares had spiked, and there had been a couple of spreader events in the summer conference scene.

Naturally, we had safety protocols in place. Our delegates and presenters carefully followed them, showing the kind of care and consideration for each other that has become a hallmark of ROPA. A couple of positive tests were caught prior to the conference, and those delegates made the difficult decision not to come for everyone’s safety. As far as we know, there were only two positive COVID tests among delegates post conference. 

The conference was remarkable and featured a number of important sessions. The highlight of the conference was mock negotiations role play, led by AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick. Delegates were divided into teams and assigned roles on either a musician negotiating committee or management committee. The lively discussions that ensued during the exercise helped delegates formulate arguments for their negotiating positions and recognize potential obstacles that management might put in the way of a progressive agreement.

Many of our member orchestras are currently negotiating. Circumstances vary wildly, from good news stories, like Harrisburg and Toledo, to nightmare scenarios, like Colorado Springs, and everything in between. SSD remains a superb and valued resource for our member orchestras. ROPA would like to thank AFM Symphonic Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark, Contract Administrator/Communications and Data Coordinator Lawrence Hofmann, Negotiators Todd Jelen, Jane Owen, and Adam DeSorgo, as well as Legislative and Political Director Alfonso Pollard for being generous with their time and welcoming to our delegates.

Local 33 (Tucson, AZ) member Alana Wiesing, principal timpanist with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, reported on ROPA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Workgroup. Formed in 2020 and formally recognized by resolution in 2021, this committee has developed a clear and concise mission statement. Near term goals include compiling resources and posting them on the ROPA website, and developing a workgroup membership that includes at least one player from every ROPA orchestra. There are currently 19 musicians on the committee. Any player in any ROPA orchestra can participate. They don’t have to be a delegate or board member. It is a great way to get rank and file players involved in orchestra working conditions and policy making.

The warning bells sounded by Theater Musicians Association (TMA) President Heather Boehm, member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), about KeyComp cannot be ignored. ROPA represents musicians in 23 different pit orchestras. Technology being used to replace live musicians in the pit endangers the livelihood of thousands of players in all locals of the AFM. We all need to be vigilant and draw a line to protect the livelihoods of our colleagues where they are threatened.

Other presenters at the conference included AFM President Ray Hair, California State Senator Josh Newman, and our friends from the other player conferences: International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Meredith Snow, Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM-OMOSC) President Robert Fraser, and Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President Marc Sazer.

Eight resolutions were passed by the delegates at the conference, including a resolution in memoriam of AFM Electronic Media Services Director Pat Varriale; a resolution urging the orchestral community to act to protect the rights of women in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision by the United States Supreme Court; a resolution responding to the call to action from the Black Orchestral Network; a resolution in support of the musicians of the former San Antonio Symphony; and a resolution thanking outgoing ROPA President Mike Smith of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis/Minnesota Opera Orchestra) for his long and valued service.

Elections were held for several open positions on the ROPA Executive Board. The board now includes President Steve Wade (Local 400/Hartford Symphony); Vice President Amanda Swain (Local 65-699/Houston Ballet and Grand Opera orchestras); Secretary Karen Sandene (Locals 70-558 and 463/Omaha Symphony and Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra); Treasurer Rick Basehore (Locals 40-543, 45, 161-710, 269/Annapolis Symphony Orchestra); Naomi Bensdorf Frisch (Local 10-208/Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra), Delegate-at-Large to the AFM Convention and Members-at-Large Lisa Davis (Local 579/Mississippi Symphony Orchestra), Marjorie Goldberg (Locals 77, 161-710, 269/Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra), Sharon Jones (Local 10-208/Elgin Symphony Orchestra), Richard Kelly (Local 9-535/Portland Symphony Orchestra), Brandon LePage (Locals 5, 103, 166, 542/Flint Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra), Ann Rule (Local 154/Colorado Springs Philharmonic), Beverly Setzer (Local 76-493/Symphony Tacoma), and Cory Tiffin (Local 6, 12, 369/ Las Vegas Philharmonic).

The 2023 ROPA Conference will be held in Atlanta, sponsored jointly by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra and the Atlanta Opera Orchestra.

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