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Home » Recent News » ROPA Update and Hopes for an In-Person Conference in 2021

ROPA Update and Hopes for an In-Person Conference in 2021

  -  Regional Orchestra Players’ Association President and Member of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN)

To prepare for writing this article in International Musician, I looked back at my report in last year’s April issue of IM, which annually features the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) and the symphonic AFM player conferences. At the time I wrote that article, we were a little over a week into the national pandemic work stoppage for our musicians, orchestras, and organizations. It’s interesting to see how quickly we responded to the sudden halt to our live performances, plans, and schedules for our seasons and upcoming work. Orchestra managements were just beginning to make decisions regarding work, pay, benefits, and work rules, with some orchestras invoking force majeure and cancellation clauses in their collective bargaining agreements. For Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) musicians, this also meant work alteration or stoppage in other areas, as most of our musicians have other avenues of employment that were also catastrophically affected by COVID.

I can’t say enough about how thankful and impressed I was, and still am, with the response of our SSD staff: Director Rochelle Skolnick and Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark. They jumped in immediately in dealing with so many questions and issues which came up daily. I know their email boxes must have been constantly overflowing with details to be worked out, and the beginning of many, many side letter agreements to our CBAs and symphonic media agreements. Thanks also to the rest of the SSD staff: Negotiator/Educator/ Organizer Todd Jelen, Negotiator Jane Owen, and Contract Administrator Laurence Hofmann; all doing much extra duty and working from home with the flurry of work stoppage and constant changes. ROPA, the other player conferences, and the AFM cannot thank you enough for efforts in what you had to deal with.

Since the COVID pandemic, the Player Conferences Council (PCC) has continued to have regular Zoom meetings. The symphonic PCC members (ICSOM, OCSM, and ROPA) have also continued to meet regularly with SSD staff, both US and Canadian, to discuss the current events and issues facing us. Our communication has never been more frequent and fruitful. As a result of these regular meetings, an increased sense of unity and purpose has grown.

This unity became reality in the recent political action efforts around the AFM-EP Fund and the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021, which was included in the giant American Rescue Plan. The player conference leaders joined AFM Legislative, Political, and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard, Michael Manley and Alex Tindal Wiesendanger of the Organizing Division, Communications Director Antoinette Follett, and others in a campaign to contact by email and Zoom phone bank our AFM members who are constituents of Democratic US House of Representatives members and US Senators to contact their legislators to vote in favor of the rescue plan. And as I am writing today, the American Rescue Plan has become reality, passing all legislatures and heading for President Biden’s signature. We are stronger together!

With the killing of George Floyd and others and resultant racial unrest and awareness in our communities over the past months, ROPA has taken an active role in addressing and changing our symphonic organizations’ systemic racism and notion of white supremacy. ROPA has formed an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusiveness Workgroup made up of ROPA musicians that will focus on awareness, education, and activism for racial and cultural diversity, and on becoming a resource in these areas for our orchestras.

ROPA was involved in the discussion and creation of the recent National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS) Recommended Audition and Tenure Guidelines. This document was a collaborative project of the Sphinx Organization, the League of American Orchestras, the New World Symphony, and the AFM (ICSOM and ROPA player conferences). The committee that worked on this document was made up of musicians, orchestra managers, and conductors. Its purpose is to offer some guidelines for creating greater diversity and inclusion at all levels of our orchestra organizations, particularly in the areas of auditions and tenure.

ROPA is tentatively scheduled to hold its 38th annual conference July 27-29 at the Hilton Costa Mesa Hotel in Orange County, California. This is the same location that we planned for last year’s conference, which became virtual because of the pandemic. The ROPA Executive Board will be monitoring where we are with COVID and will make a decision in the coming months as to whether we can safely hold an in-person conference this summer, or if we will again be virtual. We had about 300 registrations for last summer’s conference, and with nearly 200 in attendance for many of our presentations. Being virtual does open things up for more people to attend! We know we can do a successful virtual conference, but we would sure like to see everyone in person.

Get your vaccinations, wear your mask, wash your hands—strength, patience, good thoughts, and prayers for us all. Keep Calm and Carry On!

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