Tag Archives: anniversary

Opera Inspired by Little Rock Nine

Sixty years to the day after nine African-American teenagers integrated Little Rock High School protected by the 101st Airborne Division, the eight surviving former students, President Bill Clinton, and other dignitaries gathered at Central High School. After a day of commemorations and sharing memories, an announcement was made that the story of the Little Rock Nine is being turned into an opera by composer Tania León, a member of Local 802 (New York City), and librettist Thulani Davis.

León told The New York Times that hearing their stories was invaluable. “It’s important to see them,” she says. “To hear their syntax, to feel their personalities.” Born and raised in Cuba, since coming to New York City in 1967, León has become an important figure in American music.

Elvis Live in Concert

Elvis Live In Concert Celebrates the Career of Elvis with a Live Symphony Orchestra

August 16 was the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. To commemorate this event, Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises sponsored Elvis Live in Concert, a tour of Elvis performing with a live 46-member studio orchestra. The show stripped the background music from videos and films in which Elvis appeared and replaced it with live orchestrations. Requiring precision timing, the music was synchronized to recorded videos of Elvis performances projected on a large screen above the orchestra. The effect was striking and awe-inspiring. It felt like Elvis was actually performing live onstage.

British conductor and arranger Robin Smith debuted Elvis Live in Concert in the United Kingdom in the fall 2016 and it toured throughout Europe and Australia. The show proved so successful that Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises wanted to duplicate the event here in the US. The plan was to tour throughout August in large arena-style venues, honoring Elvis’s memory with concerts featuring a live orchestra. Many audience members had never seen the real Elvis in concert. The tour came “home” to Memphis, Tennessee, August 16 for a special show honoring Elvis’s passing.

Graceland turned to Memphis Symphony Orchestra musician Greg Luscombe of Locals 71 (Memphis, TN) and 10-208 (Chicago, IL) to assemble the highly skilled professional musicians required to make the music come to life. Most of the musicians were members of the Memphis Symphony, but some were selected because of expertise in performing Elvis’s music.

“It was especially amazing working with some of the most talented musicians from Memphis,” says Andre Acevedo of Locals 777 (Biloxi, MS) and 301 (Pekin, IL), who played sax for the show. “The rhythm section and the drums were particularly impressive. Because the music came from live Elvis performances, the drum set had to follow along with click that didn’t have a consistent tempo. James Sexton did it well and made the music feel smooth and groove. Jim Spake [of Local 71] on the solo tenor saxophone, played the opening ‘If I Can Dream’ with such a classic tenor saxophone sound. It was perfect for this genre, which makes sense as he is something of a Memphis legend. Finally, I loved the string section as a whole. The string arrangements were gorgeous and helped glorify Elvis’s voice.” 

Elvis Live in Concert

Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises sponsored Elvis Live in Concert, a tour of Elvis performing with a live 46-member studio orchestra.

The results were remarkable. The musicians didn’t just precisely perform the written scores, they were genuinely passionate about their performances. The enthusiasm of the musicians was clearly transmitted to the loyal Elvis fans attending the joyful events.

“The show was beautiful and the audience reaction was something I will always remember,” says Acevedo. “The audience reacted as if Elvis was really there! I watched couples cry and dance together, and I watched older women scream like they were 16 years old again. Each show ended with thunderous applause, showing so much appreciation for Elvis and our ensemble backing him up.”

The AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division (TTBD) assisted Luscombe in achieving a union agreement that offered the musicians competitive wages and benefits, plus carefully planned travel conditions. The tour moved from Connecticut to Florida, stopping at more than a dozen venues along the way. “As contractor, my first job was to establish appropriate pay, per diem, travel, and accommodations that fit the budget of Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises, while doing the right thing for the musicians,” says Luscombe. “I found it extremely helpful that all of the basic items you need in a touring contract are well established by the AFM TTBD, based on years of experience and negotiations. The fact that the AFM agreement was good for the musicians as well as for Graceland (c/o Elvis Presley Enterprises) contributed to the overall good morale among the musicians and everyone that was involved with the tour.”  

Negotiating for a short-running tour isn’t always easy. Aside from proper compensation for the musicians involved, the contract must also take into account their travel concerns. The sizes and economics of the large venues where the show played meant the musicians were provided wage scales commensurate with top dollar pop acts.

Elvis Live in Concert

The Elvis Live In Concert show orchestra featured many musicians from Local 71 (Memphis, TN).

“Of course, the long bus rides and other inconveniences of touring are not always fun, but when musicians feel they have a fair deal, plus good accommodations and meals waiting for them, it can translate into highly energized performances,” adds Luscombe. “It was obvious that the audience sensed the good vibe from the musicians throughout the tour.” 

“Because the tour was on a union contract, we could count on the production adhering to a set daily schedule. That meant a lot to us since we were working on such a tightly booked tour. Receiving a reasonable salary with payments for pension, doubling, and overtime made all the difference. In a ‘right to work’ state environment it can be tough to negotiate these issues on a contract,” says woodwind player Gary Topper of Local 71 (Memphis,TN).

The overwhelming success of this tour reaffirmed the concept that working closely with an employer to realize a fair agreement for both parties leads to highly professional results that both the employer and musicians can be proud of.

Elvis Live in Concert

The sizes and economics of the large venues where Elvis Live In Concert played meant the AFM musicians were provided wage scales commensurate with top dollar pop acts.

“All in all, this tour was so much fun and I had a wonderful time playing beautiful music,” says Acevedo. “I am very glad that Greg Luscombe worked things out to make it an AFM tour. I would hope the demand for this show continues as I would really love to do it all again!”

Colored Musicians Club

Gala Commemorates 100th Anniversary

AFM Local 92 (Buffalo, NY) was formed with the 1969 merger of Local 43 The Musicians’ Protective Association of Buffalo (chartered in 1897) and Local 533 The Colored Musicians Association (chartered in 1917). The Colored Musicians Club of Buffalo was formed as a social club offshoot of Local 533 some years after the founding of the local. The club, located at 145 Broadway in Buffalo, has its own jazz museum with a mission to promote and preserve the history and knowledge of African-Americans and jazz music in Buffalo.

On April 15, 2017, the Colored Musicians Club hosted a Centennial Grand Gala at the historic Hotel Lafayette celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Local 533. At the gala, AFM Local 92 President Jim Pace presented the original 1917 Local 533 charter to Colored Musicians Club President George Scott as a gift from Local 92.

“Local 92 had possession of the original Local 533 AFM charter for almost 50 years, ever since the merger of Locals 43 and 533 in 1969. The Board of the Buffalo Musicians’ Association felt the 100th anniversary of the founding of Local 533 was the perfect time to present the original Local 533 charter to the Colored Musicians Club as a gift for display in their museum,” says Pace.

“Through strength and determination, Local 533 successfully fought discrimination in the musical community, business, and in its openness to all races in both the union and in its social club. The Colored Musicians Club and the Colored Musicians Club Jazz Museum are dedicated to promote and encourage research and preservation of the history of jazz music in Buffalo, as well as to expose and educate our youth to their musical heritage,” says Scott. “It was an honor to have Local 92 there to join us in celebration. Although Local 533 was formed because of segregation, the friendship over the years helped to merge 43 and 533 into what now stands as one of the best locals in the City of Buffalo, Local 92.”

Canadian Orchestra

Canadian Orchestras Celebrate Our Country’s 150th Anniversary

by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and Member of Local 247 (Victoria, BC)

2017 marks Canada’s sesquicentennial (there’s a good word for you logophiles and Scrabble players). Orchestras across the country will be celebrating our rich musical heritage. Perhaps the largest-scale project is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Canada Mosaic. Funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage, it is described on their website: “A pan-Canadian Signature Initiative of Canada 150, includes the creation of new works by Canadian composers, a celebration of Canadian legacy works and artists, digital resources for all ages, and orchestral collaborations across the country.”

Although the project is managed from Toronto, it involves more than 40 different Canadian orchestras in projects ranging from commissions (both large- and small-scale, including more than 38 short fanfares for the 150 celebrations, dubbed “sesquies”) to tributes to great Canadian artists of the past. There will also be a large educational component to the project, involving a number of web-based resources such as streams and listening guides. You can learn all about the project at canadamosaic.tso.ca.

As of press time, two of our orchestras will be hitting the world stage in 2017: the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is planning a tour in both Europe and Israel, which will include concerts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Prague, Vienna, Regensburg, and Essen. For the first time in its 36-year history, the Montreal-based Orchestre Métropolitain will tour six cities in Europe—Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Dortmund, Cologne, Hamburg, and Paris—under music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Speaking of Montreal, that city celebrates its 375th anniversary in 2017, and will host the fourth International Orchestra Conference of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) 11-14 May. There will be a dedicated article about this in an upcoming issue of the International Musician, but you’ll want to save these dates now. This will be an opportunity for AFM members to meet and learn from musicians from all over the world. So if you’re an orchestral musician, see if you can free your schedule to attend this event.

Finally, Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) will be holding its annual conference in the national capital region, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Gatineau, 14-18 August. As always, all musicians from our member orchestras are welcome to attend, so save these dates now.

If you are interested in following the orchestral scene in Canada, OCSM compiles a news digest every two weeks or so, that can be accessed through our website/social media pages (ocsm-omosc.org). This digest not only includes news items from Canadian orchestras, it includes links to press items from around the musical world that are of interest to all orchestral musicians.

Ground Zero, Subzero—Looking Back at 9/11

Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote as President of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX) for our local newsletter 14 years ago—three weeks after the 9/11 disaster.

My travel to New York City to attend the October 3 opening of the AFM’s Pamphlet B negotiations had assumed an entirely different demeanor in the aftermath of the 9/11  attack.

The plane from DFW to La Guardia, a Boeing 757, was only 25% full. During the usual pre-takeoff announcements, the flight attendant stated: “failure to comply with crew member instructions is a federal crime.” I had never heard that before. I wondered if the plane had a sky marshal, and if so, where that marshal might be.

Three hours later, as the plane descended toward the city, we flew over the southeast corner of Manhattan and on over Long Island. After recognizing the familiar outlines of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, I looked to find Ground Zero from among the infinite jungle of skyscrapers as did everyone else. We could not see it.

On the ground, at La Guardia, customer density mirrored that of DFW, it was amazingly slow.

I was one of only two passengers on the airport bus from La Guardia to the Port Authority terminal. Before the bus entered the Midtown Tunnel, we slowed for the “checkpoint” but avoided the long line of cars being searched. We proceeded on, arriving at 42nd Street after a short 15-minute ride from the airport. It was definitely not the city I remembered.

I had clear and vivid memories of the city, and particularly the Times Square and Midtown Manhattan areas from the numerous trips I had made over the years as an AFM officer. I remember the energy and the dynamic of the town. On my way from the hotel to Local 802 (New York City) that afternoon, I could feel the change in vibe.

There was an overwhelming sense of sadness. Walking past FDNY Ladder Company Number 54, located at 48th Street and 8th Avenue, a block away from Local 802, I was struck cold by the array of flower arrangements, cards, signs, photos, and other memorials left by a grieving public in memory of the 14 union firefighters from that firehouse alone who had given their lives to save the thousands who escaped the Twin Towers disaster.

The executive board of Local 72-147 had convened the night before, on October 1, and resolved to donate $1,000 to Local 802’s relief fund to help members adversely affected by the tragedy. I met with the Local 802 board that afternoon and presented the donation.

Broadway theater musicians, in concert with union actors and stagehands, had voluntarily reduced their salaries by 25% in order to keep the houses from going dark. The reductions would last for four weeks. Two shows—Blast and Rocky Horror Picture Show—had closed.

“We were massacred,” said one musician, referring to the September 11 attack. I was beginning to understand the depth of the anger and depression that gripped the city, but it was not until I saw the remnants of the carnage itself that I was able to approach any sense or comprehension of the horror of it.

Local 5 (Detroit, MI) President Gordon Stump and I decided to try to visit Ground Zero on Wednesday, October 3, after the conclusion of the opening day of negotiations. “Take us as far as you can to Ground Zero,” I told the cab driver. We proceeded south a good long way until I could see what would be the first checkpoint that marked the 12-block perimeter.

Thick with US Marshals, State Police, and NYPD officers, the checkpoint stopped all traffic, letting through only residents, property owners, or employees. Gordon and I walked into a world that resembled an episode of The Outer Limits.

No traffic, no noise, very little pedestrian activity, people wearing masks to help them breathe, others with breathing apparatus hanging around their necks, who had obviously been working near the site.

It was an eerie scene. After we walked another six blocks or so, we came upon another series of checkpoints across which we could not pass. From there, we stood in silence and looked down the final four blocks to Ground Zero.

None of the photos or TV images could impart the graphic horror of the destruction that lay there in that place. The debris mound was several stories tall, from which the large cranes were removing smoldering rubble. The charred hull of one of the towers stood as a backdrop to the thousands of tons of wreckage. There, as we stood frozen and speechless, President Bush’s motorcade exited from a side street and sped away.

We had been there about 15 minutes when I noticed that I had begun to cough. Gordon’s eyes were burning. The air was a mix of smoke and dust, with a noticeable odor of concrete.

On the A train back to Times Square, I could overhear the residents talking with each other in snippets about the tragedy—discussions about friends who were still missing, what they had done, and where they had been to help. People were doing what they could to deal with their personal losses. You could see in their eyes the look of folks who had been forever changed. You could also see and feel their spirit and determination to rise above the sorrow.

That spirit and determination of the people of New York City is what I brought back from the opening meetings of our Pamphlet B negotiations, which will continue for quite some time. The employers have informed us that technology has recently become available that can almost perfectly replicate the sounds of an accompanying pit orchestra for the production of theatrical musicals. The Broadway League suggested that the technology would be used to break any impasse in the negotiations.

“We don’t need you,” said the League employers, referring to our attempts to blunt their efforts to impose reduced orchestrations with fewer musicians in major markets. Their attitude was more than cold. More like subzero.

Those employers, like the board of directors of The Dallas Opera, shamelessly used the events of September 11 to adopt a conservative economic stance toward professional musicians who bring such joy into the world, and at a time when the public needs it the most.

“We are all here because music has brought us here,” I told the employers on the third day of the Pamphlet B sessions, “and music is about man’s inhumanity to man. You have a responsibility to protect the livelihood of those of us who create it,” I said.

There are lessons to be learned from the resilient human spirit we see today in New York City, and that exists everywhere in this great country. “Triumph over tragedy” and “victory in the face of adversity” have been recurrent themes since the first caveman whittled a song flute from the carcass of a dead antelope.

Our music contains that spirit. It is what saves us.

Despite such coldness, we will find that spirit, as we always do, as we confront the producers and employers in New York City and here at home in Dallas-Fort Worth.