Tag Archives: Inclusion


Symphonic Organizing, Solidarity and Inclusion

Rochelle Skolnick

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

Welcome to the symphonic focus issue of the International Musician for 2019! This issue shines a spotlight on the musicians of the Boise Philharmonic—our newest AFM orchestra—and the successful organizing drive that will give them a meaningful voice and a new level of professionalism in their workplace. The musicians of the Newfoundland Symphony, motivated by similar concerns, have also joined together with the AFM and, as Richard Sandals (associate director, SSD Canada) reports, will be working under their first-ever true collective agreement during the 2019-2020 season. What happened in Boise and Newfoundland is inspirational. It is also emblematic of the AFM’s renewed commitment to organizing and demonstrates our capacity to support musicians who choose to stand together in pursuit of greater dignity in their workplaces.

One of the great challenges we face as unionists in the symphonic sector is developing and maintaining solidarity within our orchestras. Solidarity—or unity of purpose based on shared needs and interests—doesn’t just materialize, and it doesn’t spontaneously regenerate itself. Rather, it must be mindfully cultivated through one-on-one interactions and nurtured with liberal doses of empathy. There is no shortcut to solidarity. We can’t make common cause with our colleagues when we don’t know their concerns and they don’t know ours. In the absence of genuine knowledge about the people with whom we share the stage, we may be reduced to relying on unhelpful stereotypes or assumptions that not only fail to support solidarity, but actively undermine it.

Each orchestra has a unique sound and culture of musicianship that is the product of decades of work together. I am vividly reminded of that every time I hear an orchestra perform: The Philadelphia Orchestra does not sound like the New York Philharmonic, which does not sound like the Chicago Symphony, which does not sound like the LA Philharmonic … and on and on …

When a musician is hired into an orchestra, we expect s/he will honor that musical culture by fitting in and playing in a way that carries on those venerable musical traditions. But as orchestras become more diverse, it is important to consider whether embedded within our institutional cultures are obstacles to full participation in the extra-musical life of the collective by musicians whose backgrounds may be quite different from those of their colleagues. And it is even more important to consider the multitude of qualities these diverse musicians bring to our institutions and how their engagement can strengthen and invigorate the collective.

I am sometimes asked why the union is involved in the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. After all, shouldn’t our focus be on bargaining and enforcing our CBAs with employers and not on the composition of our bargaining units or how well musicians get along with each other? That view misunderstands collective action and the mechanisms by which we attain success in bargaining and contract enforcement. As others write so well in this issue, success in bargaining depends entirely on solidarity and organization, which depends, in turn, on communication, understanding, and shared purpose among all members of a bargaining unit. If we aren’t engaging some, the strength of the entire collective suffers.

A well-organized orchestra is one in which every musician has a voice and knows s/he is a valued member of the collective. Many orchestras fall short of this arguably utopian vision. I would venture to guess that in every one of our orchestras there are individuals or groups of musicians who do not participate in committee work, do not attend meetings, and, in states where the law allows it, are not even members of the AFM. If we are to build solidarity, we must ask ourselves—and them—why these musicians have chosen not to get involved.

Where this lack of participation occurs along the fault lines of race, gender, national origin, or some other clearly identifiable characteristic of the non-participating musician, the question takes on a special urgency. It is facile to dismiss lack of participation as an expression of a given individual’s “culture,” and doing so places the onus entirely on the “other” musician to assimilate. True solidarity requires us to dig deeper and locate the common ground that undoubtedly exists among musicians, regardless of cultural differences.

As musicians, we know how to listen to each other with keen attention in rehearsal and performance. These are skills we have honed through ear training, ensemble playing, and years of practice. When we bring a similar focus to our conversations with colleagues, we set the stage to advance both inclusion and solidarity.

The SphinxConnect Phenomenon: Leading with Intellect to Advance the Value of Inclusion

by Alfonso Pollard, AFM Legislative-Political Director and Diversity Director

For the past 20 years, the Sphinx Organization has played a quintessential role in moving the US, and in some instances the global cultural community, toward a more enlightened future that exudes cultural inclusion. The moral and philosophical underpinning of the artistic institution’s work proves that the payoff of inclusion far outweighs the “poison pill” of cultural exclusion. The achievements of this organization’s leadership, grounded in strong musical and philosophical reinforcement, prove to supporters and funders alike that diversity brightens the latent moral groundwork upon which classical performance can grow.

It’s clear the Sphinx Organization’s influence goes far beyond community values and the classical artist of color’s need for mere involvement. The SphinxConnect conference, held in Detroit, Michigan, in early February, brought together musicians, industry leaders, educators, funders, diversity advocates, and more.

In his opening remarks, Sphinx founder and director Aaron Dworkin took the more than 500 registered SphinxConnect participants through the matrix that formed the basis for his initial journey in founding the organization. Combining his philosophical framework with his multicultural background, he saw that his pathway to success, and the pathway for hundreds of other young minority artists, didn’t lay solely in the thirst for recognition of their abilities to perform successfully. He saw the need to shine a light into a dark tunnel fraught with twists and turns. In doing so, he knew there were likely obstructions, not yet evident, which he would confront in the unexplored passage into an uncertain future.

Recognized as an international speaker and social entrepreneur, Dworkin has now significantly, if not fully, executed his journey. He continues to rely on his faith that well-trained young artists, regardless of background, when given the right tools and motivation, can perpetually hold their own. By surrounding himself with strong, forceful advocates of his project and people trained to exact his high standards, Dworkin is able help committed young performers and institutions lift the talents and human spirit of young artists of all socio-economic backgrounds.

AFM representatives at the SphinxConnect conference included (L to R): AFM Legislative-Political and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard, Diversity Committee Member and Local 5 (Detroit, MI) Secretary-Treasurer Susan Barna Ayoub, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) President Paul Austin, Symphonic Services Division Director Rochelle Skolnick, AFM IEB Member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi, and ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow.

With this philosophical foundation driving Dworkin’s efforts, the 2018 annual SphinxConnect gathering was clearly designed to give participants a measure of confidence in their performing and networking ability, as well as to act as a forum to express their inner most concerns about successfully navigating the symphony world. Dworkin lays out a tangible philosophical and artistic path toward a life-changing journey.

I represented the AFM at SphinxConnect, along with Director of Symphonic Services Rochelle Skolnick, ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow, ICSOM President Paul Austin, AFM IEB Member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi, and AFM Diversity Committee Member and Local 5 (Detroit, MI) Secretary-Treasurer Susan Barna Ayoub. Skolnick also served as a panelist. There were many AFM members in attendance. The workshops and panels set the stage for enhanced skill building in performance and teaching, developing a clear artistic vision, building careers around adventuresome instrumental platforms, defining a musician’s mission in the community, understanding politics and policy in the arts, and entrepreneurship. The presentations reflected how artists should hold themselves accountable in the dynamic and constantly changing music environment. Last, but not least, participants learned the value of networking, and when necessary, how to speak truth to power.

From the 2018 attendance record, it was obvious that the Sphinx “phenomenon” has a steadfast following. Its participants look forward to attending every year. The event makes a profound statement about inclusion and the need to move the ball forward on symphonic career opportunities. From the point of view of this director, AFM 2018 SphinxConnect participants and representatives, and members of the AFM Diversity Committee, our organization is set to bring vital resources and advice to help make a positive difference.

Organizing for Inclusion: Thinking Differently

by Keith D. Nelson, Local 369 Secretary-Treasurer and Member of the AFM Diversity Committee

In 1980, I proudly joined AFM Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV). At that time, every hotel and casino that had a showroom contracted union musicians. The majority of casino and cabaret lounges, private bars, clubs, and restaurants that featured music employed union musicians. You really couldn’t be a professional musician in Las Vegas without being a member of the AFM.

As a sophomore at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the opportunity to join the union presented itself when I was hired as a relief bass player for the Folies Bergère show at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. Back in the 1980s, shows ran seven days a week with three shows on Sundays! College music training had equipped me with sight reading abilities, and a “take-care-of-business” approach (i.e., show up on-time and do the job you are asked to do). Education, coupled with youthful energy and a concept for multiple music styles, multiplied my one relief night at the Tropicana into three to four nights with the Lou Elias Relief Orchestra for additional shows.

As a 20–year-old with primary interests in building monster skills and making money, I didn’t fully understand the necessity for the musicians union or the vital benefits it would soon provide me—prenegotiated television contracts, prenegotiated recording contracts, union representation, employer pension contributions and associated vesting requirements, and employer paid health insurance. I never considered that one day my career would be directly affected by AFM contracts, labor rights, and reuse/royalty payments. Soon I would learn the importance of these benefits and protections.

In a blink of an eye, I was 30 years old with concerns for the aforementioned. To my surprise and elation, the AFM had structures and support systems that had been working on my behalf—royalty and reuse payments and a pension! Left to my own devices, this would not have been the outcome.

Thanks to the AFM, I enjoy much security and peace of mind in a profession that has faithfully served me and my family well. Equally important, I have a financial future and a secure music career to look forward to.

Choosing music as a career and having my dreams supported by various AFM contracts has been key to making a living as a musician. Today, thanks to my appointment to the AFM Diversity Committee by AFM President Ray Hair, I have the opportunity to promote the positive aspects of our union and hopefully represent its openness to accept all musicians, inviting them to enjoy the benefits of AFM membership.

The Diversity Committee’s goal, passion, and commitment are to expand an already inclusive environment for all aspiring musicians throughout the AFM. My hope is that minorities will, at the minimum, populate the AFM in proportion to their American population percentage. For example, Hispanics make up 17% of the population, so our goal is to have at least 17% Hispanic AFM membership; Blacks make up 13% of the American population, so our goal is to see Blacks make up 13% of the AFM membership.

Ethnic background is not the only focus of the Diversity Committee. We are also striving for wider participation of musicians from all music genres. We are interested in creating an inclusive, united environment for musicians. In addition to classical music and other popular genres, we welcome those who specialize in Polynesian, Arabic, African, Asian, alternative, Jamaican, gospel, contemporary Christian, hip hop, and more. We want musicians from all backgrounds, beats, hooks, and rhythms to know they are welcome and encourage them to make their local chapter of the AFM their home.

The existence of a Diversity Committee is evidence that the AFM is committed to reaching out to musicians of diverse backgrounds. Implementing our desires and goals at the local level is a challenge we all face. The committee asks challenging questions such as: how do we create meaningful relationships with musicians that don’t generally think of the AFM as an association that will benefit them? Asking the question is only the first step. Of course, the patent reply is “you have to organize,” which is true!

One alternative is to think and operate differently in organizing. For example, here in Las Vegas, our executive board is grappling with the challenge of engaging millennials—a beautiful and unique group. Millennials aren’t beating our door down to be a part of our local due to no fault of their own. Admittedly, we don’t exactly speak the same language. So we are actively pursuing them. We identified a 24-year-young musician with great leadership potential and consistently invite her to our board meetings. As an observer, when she chooses to comment, we recognize her, give her the floor, and take notes!

We are inviting nonmembers to our Local 369 functions as observers, and if music is being performed, we are creating an opportunity for them to perform as well! If all are wanted, then all must be welcome to observe our operations and conversations.

Another example is gospel and contemporary Christian musicians. Almost every community has them. They are easy enough to engage, but our local isn’t heavily populated with them. We need them to teach us how to attract their participation. We need to create relationships with any groups of performing musicians that have a presence in our communities, but lack representation in our locals.

As 2018 gets underway, please challenge yourself to invite new musicians to your union functions. Share the International Musician magazine with a nonmember and follow up with a conversation about whatever they highlight. By accepting the above challenges you are thinking and operating differently in how we organize!

Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for working with your local to encourage union membership.

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.