Tag Archives: diversity


Detroit and Diversity—Working Toward Balanced Membership Involvement

by Susan Barna Ayoub Secretary-Treasurer Local 5 (Detroit, MI) and AFM Diversity Committee Member

It must qualify as some sort of pun that this article outlines the general state of inclusion and diversity today as a “mixed bag.”

Historically, Detroit musicians never had segregated white and black locals—a practice that was fairly common in large US cities until the 1960s when these locals merged. Often the members of the former black locals lost their treasuries and identity for the lack of a political champion and simply left the union. Local 5 (Detroit, MI) was fortunate to have no structural segregation; from the outset, we attempted to be musicians first, without other qualifiers.

It is worth noting that Detroit was one of the last “stops” on the Underground Railroad, allowing slaves to escape to Canada. Tours are regularly held at Detroit’s Second Baptist Church and First Congregational Church. Today, a number of Local 5 members point to these congregations with pride, calling them home.

In the October 2017 International Musician, both AFM Symphonic Services Director Rochelle Skolnick and ROPA Secretary Karen Sandene reported on the support shown by the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) in furthering the cause of diversity and inclusion. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) has an African-American fellowship position for musicians who might otherwise find opportunities scarce.

Former fellow Joshua Jones says, “The program was what I needed to further my education in the field of orchestral performance. While school helps you grow as a student, the transition one must go through to become a professional is not really facilitated unless you are working in the field. Being a part of the DSO for that period of time was very influential in my personal transition from student to professional, and the people involved guided me through it every step of the way.”

Today, Local 5’s progress is undeniable. In addition to the full-time officers, the board comprises a globe-trotting former member of Mahavishnu Orchestra, also recognized as a Motown musician; a former member of DSO; a freelance drummer and teacher; a former music director for Anita Baker, Martha Reeves, and Etta James; theater musicians; a former member of Stan Kenton’s band; and a freelance oboist who works in cyber security for one of the Detroit “Big Three” automakers. It is fantastic to have that range of experience in our leadership. The other good news is that two women were recently elected—a first for us.

Looking ahead, we hope to achieve greater balanced involvement, especially from the young members and from sectors in our union’s cultural base that have rarely led our local. Indeed, at least 150 different languages are spoken in Detroit area homes—many of which are represented in our membership.

I’ve given you some of the “good stuff,” but let’s be clear: It has been 50 years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. There is palpable progress in the revitalization of Detroit’s metropolitan area that has brought about the beginning of a true expansion of neighborhood integration into the central city and suburbs. Still, the historical reality of this local musicians’ union is that it exists in an area that was torn apart by riots. It continues to have the reputation of being the most racially polarized metropolitan area in the US today.

At the beginning of 2018, we are sorely in need of an expanded appreciation for all of us. The fight for LGBT rights has scored substantial victories in the past 20 years; however, there is no federal antidiscrimination law, leaving some people without protection. Racism has reared its ugly head in a more open way than I can remember since my teen years in the 1960s. The 21st century chapter of the feminist movement is quickly gaining momentum. Hitting close to home for me: since 9/11, Americans of Middle Eastern descent (such as my husband, also a Local 5 member) have had to learn what it means to be FWL (flying while Lebanese), an expansion of the unfortunate but true DWB (driving while black) acronym.

Simply put: as a country, we are in danger of normalizing disrespect and suspicion of “the other” (political and otherwise), shrinking from the concept of nonviolent protest, and losing our free press. If we do not want to lose our rights and our ethics, we need to stand together as union brothers and sisters. We must protect the principles of humanity that we have all fought to obtain. It is the most powerful way to build trust. We cannot work together if we don’t value one another’s welfare.

It is my honor, as Detroit’s Secretary-Treasurer, to work on behalf of the entire membership of the AFM on its Diversity Committee.

ROPA Conference

ROPA Delegates Discuss Diversity and Organizing in Phoenix

Karen Sandeneby Karen Sandene, ROPA Secretary and Member of Locals 70-558 (Omaha, NE) and 463 (Lincoln, NE)

During the first week of August, delegates representing orchestras from all corners of the nation convened in Phoenix, Arizona, for the 33rd Annual Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) Conference, hosted by Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) and Arizona Opera Orchestra, with activities centered at the Westin Downtown Phoenix Hotel. ROPA’s annual conference is one of the most important benefits of ROPA membership. Information gleaned the conference assists with negotiating, organizing, and understanding the current state of the orchestral world.

Central themes highlighted throughout this year’s conference were diversity and inclusiveness in the symphonic world. Several excellent guest speakers offered their perspectives over several days. Local 699 (Houston, TX) President Lovie Smith-Wright gave the AFM Diversity Committee report. Phoenix Symphony Principal Clarinet Alex Laing of Local 586 offered a detailed description of plans for recognizing the diversity in our locals and in orchestras. As part of his report, AFM Legislative-Political Director and Director
of Diversity Alfonso Pollard shared information about musicians from minority groups who hold positions in symphony orchestras. On the final day, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Trombonist Weston Sprott of Local 802 (New York City) presented “Actionable Strategies to Make Your Orchestra More Diverse and Inclusive.”

ROPA Conference

ROPA Board Members include (L to R): Steve Wade, Maya Stone, Mary Anne Lemoine, Lisa Davis, ROPA Treasurer Donna Loomis, ROPA Vice President Dave Shelton, ROPA President Mike Smith, Sean Diller, ROPA Secretary Karen Sandene, Amanda Swain, Naomi Bensdorf Frisch, Taylor Brown, Katie Shields, Nancy Nelson. Not pictured: Marika Fischer Hoyt.

Informative Sessions

The opening session featured addresses by Local 586 President Jerry Donato, Arizona Opera General Director Joe Specter, and Arizona Commission for the Arts Communications Director Steve Wilcox. Donato reported that union membership in the area is up, despite the fact Arizona is a “right to work” state. He shared recruiting techniques Local 586 implements. Specter highlighted several of the opera company’s successful projects. Wilcox reinforced the common knowledge that arts and culture radiate throughout the economy. The final presentation of this first morning was a well-received presentation on hearing protection with Heather Malyuk, AuD, of Sensaphonics.

Delegates spent much of the first day in valuable small group discussions with their members-at-large, sharing information with orchestras of similar budget sizes. Wrapping up official business for the first day, new delegates received training from ROPA officers and members of the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD).

On the second day, ROPA warmly welcomed representatives from our fellow AFM Conferences—Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) President Robert Fraser, Theater Musicians Association President (TMA) Tony D’Amico, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President Marc Sazer, and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Meredith Snow—highlighting their yearlong activities. AFM President Ray Hair led a panel discussion that provided important clarity on the status of the AFM Pension Fund. A large number of resolutions were approved, including the addition of an eighth member-at-large to serve our delegates, which acknowledges that ROPA is a growing organization.

AFM SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick and Negotiator Todd Jelen led the delegates through a lively role-playing activity, “Internal Orchestral Organizing.” The day’s final presentation was by ROPA’s good friend and former AFM Negotiator Nathan Kahn, who shared his wealth of knowledge on negotiations. That evening, conference attendees traveled to the home of the Arizona Opera for a dinner hosted by Local 586.

Along with the diversity sessions mentioned earlier, the final day of conference included remarks by SSD staff. Throughout the conference, AFM SSD staff, including Skolnick, Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark, Chief Field Negotiator Chris Durham, Negotiators Jelen and Jane Owen, and Contract Administrator Laurence Hofmann, provided valuable knowledge and support to our delegates. We thanked them for their service to the orchestral world. We also welcomed ICSOM Attorney Kevin Case who discussed the topic of bullying in the orchestral world.

Officer Elections

Following the election of officers, the 2017-2018 ROPA Executive Board will include President Mike Smith (Minnesota Opera Orchestra, Local 30-73), Vice President Dave Shelton (Lexington Philharmonic, Local 554-635), Secretary Karen Sandene (Omaha Symphony Orchestra and Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra, Locals 70-558 and 463), Treasurer Donna Loomis (El Paso Symphony Orchestra, Local 466), Delegate-at-Large to the AFM Convention Naomi Bensdorf Frisch (Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Locals 166 and 10-208), and Members-at-Large Taylor Brown (Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, Local 80), Lisa Davis (Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Local 579), Sean Diller (Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Local 232-278), Marika Fisher Hoyt (Madison Symphony Orchestra, Local 166), Katie Shields (Arizona Opera Orchestra, Local 586), Maya Stone (Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, Locals 80 and 257), and Steve Wade (Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Local 400).

And finally, we offer our sincere appreciation to the 2017 conference hosts, the musicians of the Arizona Opera Orchestra, Local 586 members and President Jerry Donato, and numerous hard-working local volunteers. We would also like to thank Conference Coordinator Linda Boivin of Local 618
(Albuquerque, NM) and ROPA Delegate Katie Shields for their outstanding work assisting the ROPA Board in presenting a well-run conference.

We look forward to our 2018 34th Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion: More than Buzzwords for Symphony Orchestras’ Future

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

Diversity and Inclusion

My first year as Director of the Symphonic Services Division (SSD) has been jam-packed with satisfying work—the kind of work that engages the mind and nourishes the soul every single day. Together with the rest of the fabulous staff of SSD, I spend every day providing support to thousands of musicians who make their living performing in US and Canadian symphony orchestras and to the local unions of which those musicians are an integral part.

I’ve especially treasured the opportunities I’ve had over the past year to get out of the office and visit with musicians and others who care about them and the future of symphony orchestras. I’ve spent time in 21 cities and attended 11 different conferences, speaking or presenting in connection with all but one of those. With the AFM conference season at a pause until the start of 2018, this is a moment to reflect on those conferences and some of the trends in symphonic work and labor relations they brought to the fore.

It does not require extraordinary powers of analysis to conclude that this year’s leading symphonic thought trend has been diversity and inclusion. It was, in some form or another, a focal point of all three symphonic player conferences Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the annual League of American Orchestras (LAO) conference. Some may be tempted to write off this push as merely a sop to political correctness or a cynical attempt on the part of orchestra managers to access previously untapped funding. I think that would be a mistake.

Symphony orchestras have long struggled with “relevance”: finding ways to establish their value when they are often perceived as museums presenting musical relics to an aging and ever-diminishing elite. The industry has cycled through a number of ventures aimed at counteracting this misperception. Among other things, orchestras have changed repertoire to include more of whatever is deemed popular at the moment; taken performances to venues beyond the traditional concert hall (think simulcasts and community engagement services); and incorporated visual effects (think Jumbotron images and films projected with live accompaniment).

While these efforts have perhaps moved the needle on public perception, genuine relevance isn’t about pandering to the lowest common denominator or luring unsuspecting patrons into the concert hall through the latest marketing scheme.

For orchestras to have genuine relevance to their communities, each must bring authenticity to the task, finding ways to connect with both traditional audiences and individuals who have yet to experience the wonder of the symphony orchestra. Each of our orchestras is situated within a geographic community that has its own unique history, demographics, and needs for enrichment of the soul. A one-size-fits-all plan to connect with community will only go so far, given the unique attributes of the communities we serve. Achieving genuine relevance to a given community is much harder and more complicated work.

But this is where I take a measure of hope from the ongoing focus on diversity and inclusion. I believe the most important building blocks for orchestras to attain genuine relevance are deep knowledge of community, deep knowledge of the art form, and overflowing passion for the art that compels us to share it with anyone who will pause to listen. I also believe that the voices of orchestra musicians must be part of the conversation about establishing genuine relevance.

Orchestra musicians (and often managers and board members) certainly know our art form and (cynicism aside) we share a passion for that art. In many respects, we know our communities well. But I believe we can and must do better on that score. Part of doing so, in my mind, involves finding ways for our symphonic institutions, both onstage and off, to more closely reflect the communities they serve. If we succeed in that venture, I believe we will also place our institutions in a far better position to actually connect with their communities in ways that will nurture and sustain both community and orchestra.

In remarks I made at the opening of the LAO’s diversity forum in June, I observed that unionized workplaces are one of the few segments of our society where workers of every description are guaranteed equal pay for equal work. I also noted that closing the gender gap in symphony orchestras is directly traceable to the institution of screened auditions, which were a product of collective bargaining. But we still have much work to do.

The number of women concertmasters, like this month’s cover artist, Nurit Bar-Josef, still trails the ratio of women to men in orchestras.  And the racial makeup of our orchestras looks little like our increasingly diverse society. The union movement has always been a social justice movement. We, as union musicians, can join together in support of diversity and inclusion in our symphonic workplaces. I believe that doing so is not only the right thing to do—it is integral to the vitality of our art and our symphonic institutions.

bennie keys

My Musical Roots in the AFM

by Bennie Keys, AFM Diversity Committee Member and Vice President of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI)

bennie keysI am happy to write this article on behalf of the AFM Diversity Committee. I have been an AFM member since 1989. I feel proud to be a member of this organization. I was exposed to unionism early in life. My father was a proud member for more than 50 years. This is why I am so passionate about being a member. He made it very clear that the union was the best thing to belong to as a working musician. He and his friends were served well by the union. As black people, it was one of the first organizations that helped minorities achieve equality in the workplace.

Even as a child in 1960s, I understood the difficult circumstances we faced as a family. He would always say to me, “You should get a union contract with anyone who hires you; even if your mother wants to hire you, make sure you have a contract for your protection.” These words have proved to be solid time after time when I hired bands.

Now, let’s get down to some important things for everyone to learn. I have been a local officer and board member for more than 20 years. So, I want give some insight to younger people and anyone who might benefit from this information. When I first ran for office, I was mentored by an older member who took me under his wing to help me have a stronger voice for musicians. He felt that I could represent everyone.

Let me make this perfectly clear, I see every member as important. It is my goal to represent them and to give them the best service the union can offer. I have had the opportunity to serve the minority community in the Ann Arbor local and as a Diversity Committee member. Working with the minority community, especially young people, and promoting progress in the music business is often complicated.

I urge anyone who wants to help make a difference to go to local meetings and possibly run for office, if they feel inclined to do so. Then, you will be in a position to move the agenda forward for all of us. When I first began to serve on the local board, I had no idea what to do. At the time, people gave me a lot of opinions about the leadership. That made me overreact when getting my point across. This I found was not necessary. Everyone helped me and welcomed me with open arms. I have found that same love throughout the country.

I believe that the key to the union’s success, as AFM President Ray Hair often says, is unity. Members of the Diversity Committee are working toward solutions to improve and strengthen the bridge for all musicians to reach their potential in music, no matter the genre.

I want to thank Alfonso Pollard for sharing his column and Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright for this opportunity to share with all of you. In solidarity.

Diversity and Inclusion in Our Orchestras

by Meredith Snow, ICSOM Chair and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

A flourishing cultural life, to which people of every race, ethnicity, gender, and class are invited and can see themselves reflected, is essential to our democracy. The creative expression of our differing stories enables us to better understand our commonality. If our orchestras are to remain relevant in a changing society, we must begin to reflect that diversity both on stage and behind the scenes.

While the gender gap has closed significantly since the 1990s, with women holding 46% to 49% of orchestra positions, the proportion of African Americans (1.8%) and Hispanic/Latinos (2.5%), has remained extremely low and largely unchanged since 1978, according to data collected by the League of American Orchestras. In contrast, there has been a large proportional increase in Asian/Pacific Islander musicians from 5.3% in 2002 to 9.1% in 2014.

It is worth noting that ethnic diversity in smaller budget orchestras is nearly twice that of the larger orchestras ($2.1 million and up). Conversely, large budget orchestras are twice as likely to hire African American or Hispanic/Latino conductors than small budget orchestras. Despite a few recent high profile appointments of women conductors, the gender ratio has remained unchanged since 2006 (10 men to one woman). Additionally, women are twice as likely to be found in conducting positions of lesser status and salary than the higher visibility position of music director.

Backstage, diversity on orchestra boards has remained virtually unchanged from 2010 to 2014, with nonwhite members at just under 8%. In contrast, a national survey by BoardSource found that nonwhite members of nonprofit boards across the US had increased from 16% in 2010 to 20% in 2014. On a positive note, orchestra boards are moving toward gender parity. Currently, around 58% of orchestra board members are male and 42% are female.

We can and must do better at diversifying our orchestras on stage, in the boardroom, and within staff, management, donors, and audience. I recently attended the League of American Orchestras (LAO) conference in Detroit with ICSOM council Kevin Case of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), Secretary Laura Ross of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), Members-at-Large Paul Austin of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI) and Dan Sweeley of Local 92 (Buffalo, NY), and AFM SSD Director
Rochelle Skolnick.

Since 2011, LAO has begun to reprioritize diversity and inclusion, beginning with a self-assessment of how our industry has fared since the first fellowship programs in the early 1970s. While some 40% of fellows have won positions in other orchestras through the audition process, the programs themselves have had a difficult history within our orchestras. Additionally, the fellowship programs’ focus on access and opportunity for just a few individuals does not change the systemic problems of racial discrimination within our organizations. For an in-depth look at the history of orchestra fellowships read the LAO publication Forty Years of Fellowships: A Study of Orchestras Efforts to Include African American and Latino Musicians, by Nick Rabkin and Monica Hairston O’Connell.

In conjunction with numerous arts organizations, including Sphinx, Gateways Music Festival, New World Symphony, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra, LAO has identified a number of additional strategies to promote racial equity: board and staff diversity, community and family resources that provide support for young musicians, the music education “pipeline” from childhood education through college and graduate studies, developing a national network of mentors, and financial support for minority musicians on the audition circuit. There are a number of programs already up and running in our ICSOM orchestras, from El Sistema style education programs to in-house fellowships.

The final hurdle to orchestral citizenship is still the audition process. Since the early 1990s we have used screened auditions to prevent bias from influencing the outcome—musical excellence is the single and only criteria. But have we then, through this narrow process, also hired the very best advocates and artist citizens for our industry? Do our orchestral musicians also need to be effective communicators who can engage with our communities both on and off stage? How might we expand our thinking about the audition process to reflect these qualities and the changing demographics of our society?

Transformation does not come easily to bureaucracies. The same structures that protect against risk, constrain change. While musical excellence will always be the definitive standard of our audition process, is that enough for this 21st century paradigm? There are no easy answers but we need to begin addressing the questions. The discussion starts with us.

Protect the NEA

AFM Education and the Diversity “Buzz”

by John Michael Smith, President Regional Orchestra Player Association

I recently participated in a presentation by the AFM to the first year fellows of the New World Symphony (NWS) in Miami. This presentation included talks by AFM Symphonic Services Division Director and Special Counsel Rochelle Skolnick, Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Deborah Newmark, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians Chair Meredith Snow, myself as ROPA President, and Local 655 (Miami, FL) President Jay Bertolet and Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Apana. 

This presentation was basically a Musicians Union 101 for the musicians of NWS. These musicians each have a fellowship for up to three years of study and performance in a more-or-less post-graduate training orchestra program, honing their skills to win a job in a major symphony orchestra. Our goal was to introduce them to the thought that they will be counted on to be future active AFM members, orchestra committee members, and leaders in the orchestras they will play in.   

We responded to many excellent questions during our two-hour presentation. While at NWS, they will spend most of their energy self-focused on winning a job and being the best players they can be. But when they get a job and join an orchestra, that self-focus will hopefully turn to being part of the group and functioning as a group member, supporting colleagues, and working for fair wages and working conditions for all.

It’s Never Been More
Important to Be Proactive

I encourage all our AFM members to work with our locals to develop education programs to present to our schools and students. It’s never been more important to be proactive in sharing with our young musicians what it means to be union. What they are hearing and reading about unions is often inaccurate and misunderstood. We have to be the ones to carry our message to them.

I am so supportive of the plans by the AFM to provide local officer training, as part of the regional conferences of locals. Often, new officers in our locals do not have the opportunity to be mentored or trained in the various responsibilities and duties that are involved in local leadership. This should be a huge asset to strengthening our local leaders’ skills and knowledge!

Diversity in Our Orchestras

In the past year or two, a frequent buzz in the League of American Orchestras has been about diversity in our orchestras. In Jesse Rosen’s January 25 speech to the Association of British Orchestras Annual Conference, he quotes findings from the League’s 2016 report, Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field.

The gender gap of instrumental musicians has changed noticeably since 1978. It began narrowing significantly in the early 1990s, and the percentage of women musicians in orchestras has climbed to 46%-49% of the total musician pool in the two decades since. Most attribute this improvement to the advent of screened auditions. 

In ethnic diversity, there has been a large proportional increase in musicians of Asian backgrounds, growing from 5.3% in 2002 to 9.1% in 2014. However, the proportion of African American and Hispanic/Latino musicians has remained extremely low and largely unchanged, less than 2.5% and 1.8% respectively.

There is also a significant difference between larger budget orchestras ($2.1 million and up) and smaller budget orchestras. The percentage of African American and Hispanic/Latino musicians in smaller budget orchestras is double the percentage of those musicians employed by larger budget orchestras. This seems to be the two ethnic groups that the League is focusing on.

Diversity on Orchestra Boards

In his presentation, Rosen also touched on orchestra board ethnicity. Since 2010, orchestra board members described as nonwhite have been just under 8%, including African American at 3%-4% and Hispanic/Latino at 1%-2%. (Note the closeness of the orchestra musician percentages to orchestra board percentages.)  By comparison, a national survey by BoardSource, the association devoted to nonprofit boards, found representation of nonwhites on nonprofit boards across the US had increased from 16% in 2010 to 20% in 2014.

Our orchestra boards are well behind other nonprofits in this respect. In his presentation, Rosen doesn’t even touch on the ethnicity of orchestra administrative staffs. The Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity report lists nonwhite orchestra staff at around 14%, including 5%-7% African American and 3%-5% Hispanic/Latino employees.

The primary action taken by our orchestras over the past 40 years has been the creation and implementation of fellowship programs for promising young African American and Hispanic/Latino orchestral musicians, supporting their transition from formal education into careers in professional orchestras. These fellowships have been a visible and enduring strategy intended to change the ethnic composition of the musicians appearing on orchestra stages.

Rosen commented that it has been difficult to assess the impact of these fellowship programs on the relative small gains that have been seen in African American and Hispanic/Latino representation in the orchestral musician community. And, there is no evidence that those orchestras that have offered fellowship programs are more diverse than those that have not.

There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in this area. It certainly seems the fellowships are barely making a dent in terms of creating more diversity. It will take a major shift in education and community engagement, and a deep look at our core beliefs about why we have orchestras and the part they play in the life and culture of every community we serve, as well as an examination of the music we play.

Attempts have been made to add to the diversity on stage and in the pit. But there very much needs to be an assertive push to greater diversity in orchestra boards and administrative staff, so that all facets of our orchestras are more reflective of our communities and society, as well as our shared ideas, music, and perspectives of who we are.

musical theatre

Today’s Theatre: Diversity in Form and Function

michael-manleyby Michael Manley, AFM Director Touring/Theatre/Booking Division and Assistant to the President

Welcome to the 2016 International Musician Touring and Theatre issue. With New York City’s theatre scene already heavily covered in the press, this annual issue looks at what’s happening outside Broadway. This year we focus on the groundbreaking musical Hamilton as it debuts in Chicago, and examine the future of musical theatre, theatre music, and theatre musicians.

The two words that I feel best describe the changes I’ve noticed in musical theatre are curiosity and diversity. Composers and performers are curious about different musical genres, styles, and eras, and performing artists are diverse in their skill set—even reaching beyond musical performance to other performing arts disciplines.

But curiosity and diversity are not the hallmarks of traditional instrumental music study, which involves focused specialization on narrow goals. “You play the trombone? Great—are you a jazz or classical player? You can’t be both.” That was the chorus of our teachers for generations. And we zeroed in on singular definitions: we identified as an orchestral clarinetist, a lead show trumpet player, a baroque cellist.

While this focus is necessary to achieve the highest level of technical mastery, it is not always sufficient to succeed in the musical theatre world of today. Musicians are being asked to play more instruments, be fluent in an array of musical styles, and adapt to ever-evolving technology. In some cases, they are even being asked to—very literally—take the stage, blurring the line between actor and musician. These “actor-musicians” possess an array of skills that has them playing musical instruments, singing, dancing, and acting, often all at once. You can check out some of our talented AFM actor-musicians touring with Cabaret or Into the Woods this coming season, and in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway.

If there is one show that represents the revolutionary change in American musicals, it is Hamilton. A musical melting-pot that freely draws on rap, hip-hop, rock, R&B, and even classical music, it requires the talented musicians of the Broadway and Chicago productions to not only understand all these styles, but have a passion for and mastery of them.

No one better exemplifies this spirit of curiosity and diversity than Hamilton Orchestrator and Musical Supervisor Alex Lacamoire, who I had a chance to interview as he launched the show’s second production in Chicago. In the Upbeat section, we also cover the view “from the pit” with Chicago Hamilton musicians and Music Director Colin Welford of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). Veteran actor-musician Katrina Yaukey of Local 802 (New York City) shares her unique career path and story, as she debuts Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway.

In the world of musical theatre, “or” is being replaced by “and” when it comes to musicians. For our trombonist torn between classical and jazz, “You can’t be both” has given way to “You need to be both.” And even this may only be the first step on the curious, diverse learning path—incorporating an array of musical styles and skills both inside and outside of music—which are needed to succeed as a musical theatre musician in 2016 and beyond.

Join the conversation online, through our “AFM on the Road” Facebook group.

2016 Diversity Committee Report to the 100th AFM Convention

by Lovie Smith-Wright, President of Local 65-699 and Diversity Committee Chair

Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) member Ashleigh Gordon (center) receives the Charles Walton Diversity Advocate Award from Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright.

Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) member Ashleigh Gordon (center) receives the Charles Walton Diversity Advocate Award from Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright.

The Diversity Committee had a full agenda at the 100th AFM Convention. Following is a summary of the committee’s activities.

As a follow-up from our 2013 convention, the first presentation of the Diversity Committee at the 100th AFM Convention was the Women’s Caucus, Monday evening, June 20. There were 28 delegates and guests present.  The caucus lasted approximately 75 minutes.

Topics of discussion included interest in seeing a permanent subcommittee of the Diversity Committee to represent women. It would be tasked to come together in support of the union’s agenda on organizing, legislative-political work, and job actions. There was a desire to have a women’s caucus meet more often than every three years. It was noted that, since 2019 will be the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, perhaps a part of that AFM Convention might focus on womens’ contributions to the labor movement and society in general. Our gratitude goes out to Diversity Committee Member and Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer Beth Zare for organizing and chairing the meeting.

The next order of convention business for the Diversity Committee was the presentation of the 2016 Diversity Awards on Tuesday, June 21. The two awardees selected by a non-AFM committee of labor leaders were:

Ashleigh Gordon, recipient of the Charles Walton Diversity Advocate Award. Gordon is a member of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA). Congratulations to Gordon, Local 9-535 Pat President Hollenbeck, and members of the local.

Christian Vegh received the Charles McDaniel Youth Award. Vegh is a member of the AFM Local 566 (Windsor, ON). Congratulations to Vegh, Local 566 President Christopher Borshuk, and members of the local.

The committee met later to watch a Diversity Awards video produced by Assistant to the President and Director of AFM Freelance & Membership Development Paul Sharpe during the 2010 Convention. It includes statements from members of the 2010 Diversity Committee that provide insight for the newest members of the Diversity Committee. It also outlined the committee’s progress in an effort to create a bridge to where the AFM needs to go.

Local 566 (Windsor, ON) member Christian Vegh (right) receives the Charles McDaniel Youth Award from Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright, while AFM Legislative-Political and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard (left) looks on.

Local 566 (Windsor, ON) member Christian Vegh (right) receives the Charles McDaniel Youth Award from Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright, while AFM Legislative-Political and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard (left) looks on.

Committee members expressed their desire to organize around important issues that will further the advancement of the Federation. In an effort to create a contemporary roadmap, each committee member was asked to express what was important to them concerning diversity, so that we would have all concerns and issues on the table for presentation to the development subcommittee and to the AFM International Executive Board.

The Diversity Committee was very active in the 100th AFM Convention. Of special note is that the group, not only met as a committee, but several members of the Diversity Committee also served on the Law, Finance, Organization & Legislation, and Small Locals committees.

I was appointed earlier this year by AFM President Ray Hair to serve on the 2017 Planning Committee for the AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference, sponsored by the Civil, Human, and Women’s Rights Division of the AFL-CIO. I was also elected as an alternate delegate to the AFL-CIO Convention.

A Development Committee was created as a subcommittee of the Diversity Committee. It is made up of the AFM Director of Diversity plus two members from each of the following: the original Diversity Council; the 2003 Diversity Committee, which became the first standing committee of the AFM; and the newest members since the 2013 AFM Convention.

The Development Committee will plan how to work and implement the ideas and concerns that have been discussed. Its focus will be on engaging musicians of color in all AFM jurisdictions.  They will use the Diversity mission statement and position papers as guides so that the Diversity Committee remembers why it was created.

Diversity Committee

Diversity Committee

Members of the AFM Diversity Committee are: Director of Diversity Alfonso Pollard; Chair, Local 65-699 President Lovie Smith-Wright; Local 105 (Spokane, WA) Vice President Tina Morrison; Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) member Madelyn Roberts; Local 802 (New York City) member Miho Matsuno; Local 5 (Detroit, MI) Secretary-Treasurer Susan Barna Ayoub; Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer Beth Zare; Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) President John Acosta; Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV) Secretary-Treasurer Keith Nelson; Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) President “Deacon” John Moore; Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI) member Bennie Keys; Local 424 (Richmond, CA) Secretary Mike Sasaki; and Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) member Otis Ducker.