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Home » ROPA » ROPA Looks Forward to 40th Conference

ROPA Looks Forward to 40th Conference


by Steve Wade, Regional Orchestra Players’ Association President 

The year 2023 offers several interesting and important anniversaries. We are all aware, for instance, that this year is the 150th anniversary of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birth. But did you know that 2023 is the 250th year since the Boston Tea Party? Did you know that it has been 50 years since the first call on a handheld mobile phone? It is now 25 years since the ending of Seinfeld and the beginning of Google. What could that mean? In our world, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) turned 60 last year, and the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) is rapidly approaching the 40th anniversary of its founding. 

There was another important milestone celebrated earlier this year. The Sphinx Organization is now 25 years old. The SphinxConnect 2023 Impact conference was held at the Renaissance Center Marriott in Detroit, Michigan, January 26-29. Five AFM leaders were in attendance: Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick; AFM Diversity Committee Member and Local 7 (Orange County, CA) President Edmund Velasco, host of the 2022 ROPA conference; Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi; ICSOM President Paul Austin; and me, as ROPA President. 

The conference has stayed true to form, with its succession of panel discussions punctuated by masterclasses with visiting artists and concluding with the finals of its concerto competition in Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. There were 26 panels over the course of three days, most of which were made up of a moderator and three guests. Topics included: “Artist-Centric Philanthropy,” “Show Me the Money,” “Keeping Up with Composers,” “Bringing the Past Center Stage,” “Ending the Musical Chairs,” and “You’re Hired: Now What?”  

Masterclasses were given by Jennifer Koh of Local 802, Patrice Jackson, Juan-Miguel Hernandez of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ), Zuill Bailey, and Joseph Conyers of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA). The concluding concert featured three finalists. The first prize winner of the 2023 Sphinx Competition senior division was violinist Njioma Chinyere Grevious of Local 802, accompanied beautifully by the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, led by Kalena Bovell. 

Our AFM group was invited to meet with participants in two of Sphinx’s newer programs: Leaders in Excellence, Arts & Diversity (LEAD), a two-year, full scholarship leadership program that was started in 2019, and the Sphinx Orchestral Partnership Auditions (SOPA), first held in 2021. The discussion was a fascinating one, given the wide range of ages and life experiences gathered at Sphinx. Alongside our AFM leadership were kids from the audition excerpt competitions, arts administrators, educators from different institutions, fellows from a couple of different programs, and facilitators from a variety of specializations. The occasion proved to be a great chance for all of us to meet and really see each other. 

Several ROPA orchestras have faced challenging negotiations lately. The New Mexico Philharmonic, Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and one of ROPA’s newest members, Springfield Symphony Orchestra, are all involved in complex and protracted talks with their managements.  

There are some success stories, however. Minnesota Opera Orchestra is on its way to a resolution after a tough battle, and Fort Wayne Philharmonic recently agreed to a settlement. They, along with AFM SSD Negotiator Todd Jelen and all the players of the Philharmonic, gave us a masterclass in organizing. Bravi tutti! 

Along with the Springfield Symphony, ROPA welcomes the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, our 96th and 97th member orchestras. That’s a lot of growth since that first meeting of representatives from 13 orchestras and seven locals, not so many years ago. 

We are all hoping for some good luck for our ROPA colleagues in California. The weather events there over the past months have been dramatic, to say the least. There are no fewer than 12 ROPA orchestras in the state, including Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera, Santa Rosa Symphony, Pasadena Symphony, Marin Symphony, Fresno Philharmonic, Monterey Symphony, New West Symphony, Long Beach Symphony, Santa Barbara Symphony, Oakland Symphony, California Symphony, and Symphony San Jose. 

The ROPA Executive Board held its annual mid-year meeting January 15-16 in Chicago, Illinois. The full minutes of the meeting are available in the mid-winter edition of our newsletter, The Leading Tone, which was released March 14. The agenda covered a wide range of topics, including conference planning. The 2023 ROPA Conference takes place at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, July 25-27. AFM SSD will hold its annual Negotiation Workshop just ahead of the conference on Monday, July 24. For delegates and other attendees, the deadline for hotel registration at the conference rate is July 2. Visit the ROPA website ( and click on “reserve your room.”  

ROPA was founded at its first conference, a symposium held in Columbus, Ohio, in September 1984. While 2023 is our 39th complete year, the 2023 conference is our 40th. When you consider this milestone, along with the others noted here, you suddenly realize that you’re seeing a generation of change—a generation of coming together to make a difference. 

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