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theatre musicians

Spring into Action: Preserving Musicians’ Work Through Audience Education

by Tony D’Amico, President of the Theatre Musicians Association and Member of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 198-457 (Providence, RI)

Greetings from the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) world headquarters in north central Massachusetts, where the robins have returned, the flowers are blooming, and a faint light can be seen at the end of the pandemic tunnel. The feeling in the air today is quite different from the last time I wrote in these pages, back in the bleakness of November. Effective vaccines have been developed, approved, and are getting into arms at an impressive rate. In the music business, after a dark year of virtually no in-person performances, tentative plans are being announced for the long-awaited return to live music. I am feeling cautiously optimistic when I speak to my colleagues across the Federation.

You are well aware that Broadway and all national musical theater tours abruptly closed down in mid-March of last year. Pamphlet B, the international agreement that covers all AFM sanctioned tours, expired around the same time, March 15, 2020. With no musical productions lighting up Broadway theaters or coming to a town near you, the Broadway League informed us they had no interest in sitting down at the bargaining table to negotiate a successor agreement.

While disappointing, the extra time has allowed TMA, along with Touring, Theatre, Booking Division Director Tino Gagliardi, to come up with the reopening safety protocols that were presented to you in a previous issue of the International Musician. The extra time also allowed us to survey our membership and delve into the issues that we would like to see addressed in the next set of negotiations. AFM President Ray Hair has assembled a terrific negotiating team, and I look forward to sitting down with them soon to improve this contract.

One of the issues that TMA members repeatedly mentioned in our survey was concern over the ever-shrinking size of pit orchestras, and how the use of increasingly sophisticated technology is advancing this trend. We have seen the replacement of musicians by electronic devices for decades.

Pit orchestras are at an inherent disadvantage because they are, for the most part, hidden below stage level or, with ever-growing frequency, in a remote room. The audience doesn’t see that a 25-piece Broadway orchestra has been reduced to a 10-piece band on a traveling tour, thanks to the assistance of computers and virtual orchestras.

There is a new technology on the electronic musician replacement scene that is raising alarm bells within TMA and AFM leadership. It’s called KeyComp, and it is possible you have never heard of it. However, as it may very well change the way musicians are hired and employed in the future, it’s important for theater and non-theater musicians alike to become familiar with this device.

Recently, orchestra numbers were reduced by the use of keyboard “patches.” These sampled sounds allow flexibility of tempo due to being performed live by a keyboardist, but left a lot to be desired in terms of quality. Enter KeyComp­—a machine developed by a German software developer named Christoph Buskies, who has worked at Apple Computer since 2000. Using technology developed by Buskies and recorded input of real acoustic instruments played by musicians, parts are broken down into individual beats, which in turn allow the KeyComp operator to make changes in tempo without altering pitch. The result is a flexible performance, using sounds that are remarkably close to the real acoustic instrument because they are recordings of real acoustic instruments. An entire musical score can be loaded onto KeyComp, and played by a few keyboardists. This is troubling, to say the least.

What can be done? Ever since the 1927 introduction of talkie movies began putting accompaniment pianists out of work, we have tried to stem the march of technology, with varying degrees of success. It is through educating the public that we will be able to prevent the pit musician from going the way of the dodo.

A symphony patron would never allow for a Mahler symphony to be played at Boston Symphony Hall with 20 players and a bunch of machines. That’s ridiculous! We need the theatergoers to stand up and demand the same. We need to continue our message of “Live music is best.” Patrons must realize that they are not getting their money’s worth when they go to an expensive show to hear a score played by anything less than a full orchestra.

I recall doing a run of White Christmas a number of years ago, and the score called for a large orchestra—complete with the luxury of a string section! Overhearing audience comments after the show, I was struck by the one thing that came up over and over again: that orchestra sounded great. Perhaps they didn’t know it, but it was because they were hearing the music the way it was meant to be. That is, performed live, by some of the greatest musicians in the world. It’s a message we can all be passionate about.

AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference

Report on the 2019 AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference: The Fierce Urgency of Now

international diversity awards

by Lovie Smith-Wright, AFM Diversity Committee Chair and Local 65-699 (Houston, TX) President

First, I would like to thank AFM International President Ray Hair for appointing me to serve on the AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference planning committee in the fall of 2016. Thus, we have been instrumental in suggesting AFM musicians to fill spots where live music is needed. This year the Davey Yarborough Quartet, members of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC), provided music for the awards program and reception Sunday evening. Yarborough is the director of Jazz Studies at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

The 2019 MLK Conference was held January 18-21 at the Washington Hilton. I was excited that the Awards Gala & Reception would be held at the National Museum of African American History & Culture. However, in the week before the conference began, we were notified that, due to the government shutdown, the event had to be moved to Sunday evening at the Washington Hilton.

The Friday afternoon opening session began with conference co-chairs Fred Redmond, international vice president (human affairs) for USW, and Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO executive vice president, welcoming delegates to Washington, DC. The theme of the conference was “The fierce urgency of now.” Redmond told us that labor must commit to reclaiming Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of dignity. He reminded us that King’s dream was that all workers and all Americans be treated with dignity. We need to rededicate ourselves to doing the hard work necessary to make that dream a reality.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka gave the keynote address to open the session. In keeping with the theme of the conference, Trumka reminded us of what King called “the fierce urgency of now.” One year before he was killed, King issued a warning that “in this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Trumka said, “This is that time. This is a time to take risks; it is time for us to get uncomfortable, because that is how real progress is made.”

After Trumka’s keynote address, we had a town hall conversation with former Tallahassee Mayor and 2019 Democratic Nominee for Governor of Florida Andrew Gillum. President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Melanie Campbell moderated. Gillum spoke about his gubernatorial race. Following a discussion between Gillum and Campbell, there was a short question and answer period for delegates.

AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference
AFM Diversity Committee Chair and Local 65-699 President Lovie Smith-Wright (left) prepares to take part in the Women’s March on Washington, DC, with granddaughter Morgann Clark.

Friday evening there were several Key Issue Forums: “Women in Leadership: Building on the ‘Year of the Woman,’” “Take Back the Ballot: A Voting Rights Mandate,” and “Mobilizing Rising America: Organizing in the Face of Opposition.” Each of these forums had inspirational featured speakers.

On Saturday morning, we all met at the AFL-CIO building for a Department of Labor Wave Rally and Women’s March on Washington, DC. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Schuler led the list of speakers for the Labor Wave to #StopTheShutDown rally. Then we took to the streets for the Women’s March.

Sunday morning started with an interfaith service. Reverend Darius Brown of the Christ Baptist Church of Delaware delivered the sermon. Following the service, welcome remarks were made by Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), Congressional Black Caucus chair, and the I AM Campaign’s Kenny Diggs (AFSCME). Tefere Gebre delivered the keynote address for the day.

Following the morning session, my husband (Bob Wright, USW) and I took granddaughter Morgann Clark, to two workshops: “Combating Voter Suppression in the Era of James Crow” and “This Is America: Young, Black, and Union.” She raised her hand to speak at the “Young, Black, and Union” workshop, and told us how to reach out to young people. Everyone applauded her comments and encouraged her to continue speaking up for what she believed in. She was thrilled to be a part of the conference.

I attended the awards gala and reception Sunday evening. The Davey Yarborough Quartet opened the gala with a half-hour of music as the delegates made their way to their tables and then performed an hour of dance music after the awards. The following awards were presented: Eyes on the Prize Award to America Postal Workers Union Local 1 President Keith Richardson; Drum Major for Justice Awards to United Food Commercial Workers International Vice President Robin Williams and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson; Justice, Peace and Freedom Award to United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts; Defender of the Dream Award to Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Executive Director Desmond Meade; and At the River I Stand Award in honor of former National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices AFGE Augusta Thomas (1932 -2018).

The conference concluded Monday after the delegates spent the morning doing community service. Sites for community service were Stoddard Baptist Global Care, Deanwood Recreation Center, Kelly Miller Middle School, Ron Brown High School, First Baptist Church of Glenarden, and Veterans on the Rise.

Visibility is going to be our lifeline in getting other unions to recognize who we are. It was a great honor and pleasure to represent the AFM at this conference. Someday, I hope more representatives from the AFM will attend, for it is an eye-opening event that the Diversity Committee and other members of the AFM should experience. This conference reminds me of the importance of the labor movement and how, together, we can make a difference in the lives of all working people.

The Perfect Storm

In the first half of 2019 our New York Office is facing “the perfect storm.” A confluence of Federation events, culminating with our June AFM Convention, will be challenging to say the least.

During February and March we conduct the annual audit and submission of our Labor-Management report to the Department of Labor. While totally normal, this is always a busy time that puts our finance department into overdrive. 

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afm pension fund

Status Report—AFM Pension Fund

If you’ve been following the status of the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF), you know it has been facing severe funding problems since the Great Recession, despite earning relatively good investment returns since then and receiving a significant contribution increase. As detailed more below, however, these have not been enough to “right the ship.” As a result, the trustees are preparing for a critical and declining certification in the spring and an application to the Treasury Department under the 2014 federal law known as “MPRA” for approval to reduce benefits to the extent necessary to remain solvent for the next 30 years.

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jim self

Jim Self: The Tuba Takes Center Stage

jim self

Jim Self of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 7 (Orange County, CA) has performed internationally as a soloist, chamber musician, orchestral tubist, and studio musician for 43 years. He’s recorded on more than 1,500 soundtracks and has performed tuba solos for major films and hundreds of TV shows. His skills as a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, doubling on string and electric bass and bass trombone earned him a reputation as an exceptionally versatile player. At 75, he is principal tuba in four orchestras—the Los Angeles Opera, the Pacific Symphony, the Pasadena Symphony, and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. This month, he will release his 15th CD of original classical scores, titled Flying Circus: Music for Brass Quintet.

Self, who routinely works with union players in Los Angeles, says all his albums have been produced on Limited Pressing Agreements, adding, “It’s the fair and right way to do it; I’ve been a strong union person my whole career.” 

A protégé of the great tubists Harvey Phillips and Tommy Johnson, Self has been part of the movement to elevate the status of the oft-caricatured tuba from its anchor at the back of the band to one of distinction as a solo instrument, front and center. As a young tubist Self entered a small, exclusive world of enthusiasts, who would go on to make big changes for the tuba in the brass world. He says he owes his career to Johnson, his University of Southern California (USC) professor and the first tubist to play solos on film scores. He was inspired by William Becker, trumpeter at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, his first brass professor, and Phillips, who was his teacher in the mid-1960s. Phillips was behind the now worldwide TubaChristmas tradition, in which hundreds of tuba players descend on cities around the globe to play free concerts.

Self grew up in Oil City, Pennsylvania, where he started playing tuba in junior high. He entered Indiana University of Pennsylvania initially to become a band director. In 1965, he joined The US Army Band, where he met Dan Perantoni of Local 301 (Pekin, IL), Chester Schmitz, and Bob Pallansch, all tuba players who would not only go on to have distinguished careers but whose mastery of the tuba would educate listeners and elevate the status of the instrument.

During that time, Self received a master’s degree from Catholic University, and for five years he taught at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In the summers, he began doing coursework with Johnson at USC, working toward his doctorate in musical arts. Eventually, in 1974, Self moved to LA to finish his residency. In the meantime, he was doing gigs, dances, and casuals. “I was making more than I was as a professor,” he says. Only two weeks after relocating, he got a call to sub for Johnson on a TV show. From then on, and throughout the ’70s, he was busy doubling on bass and bass trombone. He says, “It was a period of growth for me.”

In 1976, Self was again called to sub for Johnson on a new film John Williams of Locals 47 and 9-535 (Boston, MA) was scoring for Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As it turned out, his tuba would famously voice the mother ship in the communication sequence with the oboes and contrabassoon. “That one day’s work turned into a huge boost to my career. It helped me work with all kinds of other composers and do more film work.” It also launched a 40-year working relationship with Williams (25 years as principal tuba). He says, “Jerry Goldsmith’s Dennis the Menace was a big score for me tuba solo-wise, as were several other Williams’ films, like Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Jurassic Park, and Hook.

Beyond Oompah

Self says, “Back in the ’50s, [the tuba] was just oompah, a band instrument and almost no one would play it solo. Now, because all these players are coming up and all these great solos are being written, there are composers writing interesting tuba parts in symphonies. The great composers of the 19th century, they might’ve had tuba parts, but they were not solos, ever. Apart from Stravinsky, those kinds of pieces were not written when I was young.” He says, “Later, there were only a couple famous works. Vaughan Williams’ Tuba Concerto in 1954, and then in 1955, Paul Hindemith wrote the Tuba Sonata.”

The renaissance really began, he says, in New York with Bill Bell of the New York Philharmonic and the much-celebrated Harvey Phillips. “There’s the old guard, like Roger Bobo—the famous LA Tuba player who was part of it. In the ’50s and ’60s, they were soloists who got the whole movement going for tuba.” The International Tuba and Euphonium Association (ITEA) originated at McSorley’s in the East Village, where all the tuba players would hang out after concerts. Today’s players in New York City include Marcus Rojas of Local 802 and Ibanda Ruhumbika of the house band Stay Human for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“Roger and Harvey were the leaders of solo literature for a long time. They took things to new levels. And then, of course, every generation after that has just improved upon it. Now, colleges have tuba departments and faculty members,” says Self.

In his position at USC, Self has been active in the crusade to advance tuba in the brass world. He says, “The tuba is as important as the trumpet, the trombone, or the French horn, as far as I’m concerned—especially in the hands of these players that we have all over the world now.”

In short, the tuba is regaining momentum. According to Self, “There are great tuba players in Japan, China, Australia, and all over Europe. Sergio Carolino, from Portugal, is phenomenal and Roland Szentpali, of Budapest.” 

Since the ’70s, Self has been campaigning for tuba players to “reclaim their heritage.” He explains, “There were a lot of tuba players working before the war. Then, the electric bass came along, and amplification, and the tuba just kind of got buried in the popular music world.”

As professor of tuba and chamber music at USC, Self has taught some of the best tubists playing today, including USC professor and Local 47 member Norm Pearson, principal tuba for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and top studio tubist Doug Tornquist of Locals 47 and 7.

“In jazz, the tuba is still coming into its own,” Self says. Great proponents of the tuba in jazz, like Red Callender, Howard Johnson of Local 802, Bob Stewart, and a number of “trad” and street players have made pioneering efforts in showcasing it as a lead instrument. Self has added much to the idiom. “I’m pretty busy as a classical player. As an artist, I’m making jazz records. I’m passionate about improvising and playing tuba so I started making records and all kinds of cool things with jazz and this is how the majority of people outside of Los Angeles know me—as a jazz musician.”

A few years ago, he invented the fluba, a tuba-sized flugelhorn. Self explains that he designed the instrument so the sound would go directly out toward the audience, instead of upward. “I just thought it would be a really fun solo instrument, like a flugelhorn would be for a trumpet player.” Laughing, he says “Somehow when I pick it up, I just sort of pretend I’m Art Farmer or Clark Terry, one of these great players.” 

On Composition

With the TV strike of 1980, work dried up for studio players. Self says, “I went from doing 39 movies in 1979 to six movies in 1980. It didn’t pick up again until 1986.” During that time, he began dabbling in solo work. He had always wanted to be a jazz player, saying, “I had learned to be a good improviser on tuba.” 

“I’ve always felt that the real art in music is composing and improvising. It’s very interesting, I didn’t start composing until I was almost 50 years old. I had this mistaken idea that I had to be Mozart or a genius to write music,” he says. “But I started doing little things and pretty soon I was writing for all my albums and then I started writing chamber music for friends and groups.”

Self says he wants to write music that reaches listeners. “If I write music that’s fun to play, not boring, and not too far out harmonically, audiences like it. A lot of my music has a sort of dance quality to it. It drives my music. The number one thing in my writing is rhythm—complex rhythms, often shifting meters and odd meters.”

He’s composed 65 different pieces of music—for brass, tuba duos, and woodwind and string quintets. His most important work is a 13-minute piece written for the Pacific Symphony, Tour de Force: Episodes for Orchestra, which has been transcribed for wind ensemble and co-premiered by the USC Thornton Wind Ensemble and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Wind Ensemble.

When describing his work, Self uses terms like eclectic and versatile, which extends to his use of instruments. He and Johnson were the first players to introduce the cimbasso in recording sessions. “Now, it seems like half the movies that you play on, you play tuba and cimbasso. It’s a double; it pays more money and a lot of these people like to have this loud, edgy kind of a sound,” he says.

“I love classical music and most studio work for me was classical, but with a commercial bent.” For his last CD, Floating in Winter, he partnered with guitarist John Chiodini of Local 47. Before that, with trombonist Francisco Torres of Local 47, he produced a Latin album titled ¡Yo! “He’s a wonderful trombonist who knows the Afro-Cuban style intimately—and the trombone player and composer for Poncho Sanchez, who as far as I’m concerned, has the greatest American Latin jazz band.”

Self was greatly inspired by the playing of trumpeter and band leader Don Ellis, whose complex stylings he draws on to compose. After decades of studio playing, the odd and shifting meters—unusual time changes that Ellis used—had become second nature to Self and are now a major part of his writing technique. “It made me a better reader. Jazz and jazz harmonies often show up in my music, as do many dance forms.” Self, who has played virtually everything—symphonic, opera, ballet, jazz, and rock n’ roll—likes to create interesting challenges for performers. Naturally, the tuba parts are never simple bass lines or whole notes. In a Jim Self quintet, all parts are equal.

Down to Brass Tacks

jim self
Self playing the fluba he invented for jazz performance.

“When I teach I emphasize learning to use your ears, to play what you hear in your head, to learn melodies, to improvise—and to compose.” He insists that his students learn to compose as well. He says, “I waited 30 years and I don’t want them to fall into that same trap.”

“I’m trying to make [students] more than just tuba players. I’ll let the other teachers teach them the basics: all the literature and orchestral excerpts. When I teach, I focus on training their ears, because tuba players are notoriously bad at that. They’ve come up playing in high school bands. They never get any cool things to play. I try to make them do what it took me 50 years to learn. I do think that improvisation in itself, whether jazz or any kind of improvisation, is a new level for tuba players to reach—and to play well. It’s always been a part of my DNA and I want it to be part of every tuba player’s DNA.”

For the would-be studio musicians in LA, Self says they must be classically trained, but obviously able to play wide-ranging material, including commercially viable music. He says, “Be able to read anything. Be able to  sometimes play changes, improvise, and transpose on sight. Ninety-nine percent of the time you never see solos before you get there. When you’re starting out, at an early age, learn melodies and learn piano.”

Self imparts some practical marketing advice: “Like Harvey Phillips taught me, you’ve got to get out there and ‘politely’ promote yourself. You’ve got to put yourself in situations where you’re heard; you may get the break.”

A Legacy of Work

Self is happy to let the young guys do the studio work these days. “When I was in the studios I was working three jobs a day. It was really just crazy for many years. I have a little more time to commit to composing. I have a nice pension, thanks to the union, and because of that I can afford to make records,” he says.

Admittedly, he says, “I’m a music-holic. I don’t know any other way to live.” Years ago, he bought a Piper Arrow small plane­—and had a tuba painted on the tail. “I used to fly Bill Booth, my buddy who’s a great trombone player [of Local 47], to the Pacific Symphony from time to time, which is 50 miles away.”

Self has cut back on his teaching. “I want the connection with the kids—that’s important to me,” he says. “I sort of planned my career this way a little bit. I wanted to keep my tenured orchestras. I play almost every week in one of those ensembles playing great music in great halls.”

Self and his wife Jamie have endowed multiple scholarships for young players. He says, “I’ve had a successful career and have all I need.” They plan to continue to sponsor scholarships and musical projects. He’s endowed a creative award at the ITEA, as well as a tuba and a brass quintet at his alma mater Indiana University of Pennsylvania and University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he was on the faculty. He’s endowed scholarships at Tennessee Tech University, the University of South Carolina, and Indiana University. “This year, we are setting up one at the University of Kansas and the University of North Texas.” And he adds, “There will be more. I think it’s a way to push things forward.”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Votes to Authorize Strike

On February 13, musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), represented by Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) voted to authorize a strike beginning March 10, if negotiations for a new contract are not complete. Contract talks began 11 months ago, with management seeking concessions in pension benefits, health care, and salary. A major sticking point is management’s desire to eliminate the musicians’ defined benefit pension plan, which has been in place for nearly 50 years, and move to a defined contribution plan.

CSO has run deficits for the past eight fiscal years—but the organization’s financial position has seen improvement, with ticket sales rising by $1.1 million for the 2017-2018 season. Musicians believe that management’s insistence on a concessionary contract is the result of a debt related to the orchestra’s venue.

“Management is trying to squeeze us to pay their bond debt for a rehab of Symphony Center costing more than $100 million,” says CSO principal percussionist Cynthia Yeh of Local 10-208. “We know that when people refer to the CSO they mean the musicians, our maestro, and the music—not the building (completed in 1997), however lovely it is. And it is for this—the music and musicians, the heart of the CSO—that we are willing to strike to protect.”

Baltimore Symphony Musicians Continue to Champion Their Cause

In partnership with Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), Baltimore Symphony Musicians planned to host an event February 27 to build support among politicians and other civic leaders as the musicians continue their fight for a fair contract. Performing works by Beethoven and Mozart, the members of Local 40-543 will be conducted by internationally acclaimed pianist, teacher, and former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Resident Conductor Leon Fleisher, who recently turned 90. This event follows other outreach activities undertaken by the musicians—a brass extravaganza at Baltimore’s Basilica in November, a pop-up concert at Penn Station in December, and the delivery of more than 400 pounds of supplies to a food bank in response to the five-week federal employee furlough.

Although their contract extension expired January 15, the musicians continue to work scheduled rehearsals and concerts. Contract talks are scheduled for March and April. Members of the players’ committee have also been lobbying state and local legislators for increased funding.

AVAM, America’s official national museum for outsider art, is located in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore City. The museum’s director, Rebecca Hoffberger, is showing her strong support for the Baltimore Symphony Musicians by donating the museum’s performance space for the event. She says, “The late Jim Rouse said cities were meant to be gardens, in which to grow beautiful people.” Maintaining the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will help Baltimore and its environs be that garden.


Pilates for Musicians: Great Exercise for Seated Athletes

by Eva Stern, Member of Local 134 (Jamestown, NY) and Violist with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra

When I began playing regularly with symphony orchestras after graduating from school, I was not done learning how to play. (Not that we ever are!) I had the sense that if I became stronger and more graceful, I would improve as a musician. I was already practicing a variety of movement techniques and eventually came upon Pilates. I credit regular practice of Pilates with the maintenance of my own health as a violist. Now I have gone through comprehensive training to become a Pilates teacher. I would like to share what I have learned with other musicians, both students and professionals.

Pilates teacher and violist Eva Stern of Local 134 (Jamestown, NY) works with violist Jocelyn Smith of Locals 123 (Richmond, VA) and 125 (Norfolk) on the Pilates chair.

Joseph Pilates began developing his method of exercise, originally called “Contrology,” around the turn of the 20th century. He moved to New York City from Germany in 1926, where he opened a studio in a building shared with the New York City Ballet. He developed a strong relationship with the dance community, working with prominent dancers, including George Balanchine and dancers from the NYC Ballet. Today, Pilates is a regular part of dance education. There are good reasons to include it in music education as well.

As musicians, we are athletes as well as artists. Students of orchestral instruments must learn how to pace themselves and how to understand efficient movement. For long-time orchestral musicians, the concerns are maintaining fitness, injury prevention, and maintaining technique at a high level. There is also the matter of how to perform highly specific technical and rhythmic actions while seated in a chair—a position that, when maintained for hours at a time, can have a deleterious effect on the body.

Pilates addresses these issues by focusing on the interconnectedness of the body. Two defining principles of Pilates are balanced muscle development and whole body movement. It might not seem intuitive, but proper strength and alignment in the legs or pelvis can work wonders for freeing tightness in the upper body. One of the more surprising things about Pilates is how exercises for one area of the body can bring a dramatic sense of freedom to another. Even more interesting is the delayed effect. Sometimes I experience a release in my neck and shoulders hours or days after a workout.

Musicians often benefit from massage, chiropractic, or other forms of bodywork. Regular practice of Pilates is complementary and can prolong the effects of bodywork between visits. Just as a massage therapist manipulates the muscles and fascia with their hands, the muscles and fascia are moved in an organized way through Pilates. I have seen Pilates help musicians address a variety of important issues: excessive tightness, hypermobility, and pain.

Photo: Jennifer Ilene Photography

Longtime players may notice some aspect of their technique that seems to be degrading; I’ve observed how technique can greatly improve when the body is restored to proper balance. When we’re playing we are focused on the music, and it’s easy for unhelpful movement habits to creep in—sometimes without our noticing. The practice of Pilates helps us to become aware of these habits and reintroduces healthy movement patterns, which can improve our playing and overall well-being. We have equal ability to learn helpful movement habits as we do unhelpful ones and this is good news!

You can learn Pilates privately or in a group setting. I highly recommend taking a few private sessions with a Pilates teacher to first learn proper form management of your own body’s idiosyncrasies. (We all have them!) This will help make any classes or home practice that you do much richer and safer.

Just as each instrument has its own repertoire, Pilates has its own unique repertoire of exercises. These exercises can be done with mat alone, Pilates-specific apparatuses, or small props that can be easily attained for home practice.

I consider my practice of Pilates just as important as the time I spend practicing and listening to music. I look at it as part of a “balanced diet” that makes me a whole musician. Could it be a healthy part of your musical diet as well? Try it and see!

For more information about Pilates for musicians, visit www.evasternmoves.com.

Philadelphia Orchestra Plans New Tour to China

At the end of January, The Philadelphia Orchestra announced plans for its 12th tour to China, in celebration of 40 years of official diplomatic ties between the US and China. In May, the orchestra will travel to Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Shanghai.

“It is always thrilling to return to China, especially during this special anniversary year,” says Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA). “What makes our journeys truly unforgettable are the ways we immerse ourselves in cultural exchange with musicians, young people, and audiences. We look forward to forging ever more meaningful connections between our cultures and communities through the joy and excitement of music.”

furloughed government employees

Union Orchestras Provide Free Tickets and Donate Food for Furloughed Government Employees

furloughed government employees
On January 25, Baltimore Symphony Musicians, Local 40-543 members, delivered 448 pounds of groceries to an emergency food drive at the Manna Food Center in Maryland. The drive was in response to the federal government’s partial shutdown when more than 80,000 Maryland residents went five weeks without a paycheck. The food bank exclusively serves residents of Montgomery County, which is the location of the Strathmore Music Center, the BSO’s second home. Baltimore Symphony Musicians also delivered a cash donation to the Maryland Food Bank. Pictured (L to R) are Baltimore Symphony Musicians Greg Mulligan, Schuyler Jackson, Michael Lisicky, Brian Prechtl, Kevin Smith, and Mary Plaine, secretary-treasurer of Local 40-543.

To help employees facing hardship due to the government shutdown, union orchestras and their members provided free concert tickets to furloughed government employees and their families. Some offered complimentary tickets to various performances at the end of January, while others offered up to five free tickets to employees and their families for late January or February concerts.

Among orchestras that provided such tickets were: Akron Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Erie Philharmonic, The Florida Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Nashville Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Portland Symphony Orchestra, Spokane Symphony, and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, to name a few.

furloughed government employees
Pittsburgh family support center Providence Connections opened its doors to furloughed federal workers. Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony, members of Local 60-471 (Pittsburgh, PA), donated money to the center’s food pantry. Presenting the check to Family Engagement Specialist Justin Brown are (L to R) Lorien Benet Hart and Jennifer Steele.  

Pittsburgh Symphony and Baltimore Symphony musicians  also helped furloughed employees by providing food and money to local food banks. Members of  Local 60-471 (Pittsburgh, PA) gave a check to Providence Connections’ food pantry as well as to Manna Food Center in Maryland in recognition and support of their Baltimore Symphony sisters and brothers. Members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD) delivered 448 pounds of groceries to the Manna Food Center and made a cash donation to the Maryland Food Bank.