Tag Archives: Local 802

Scott Robinson

Creating New Life in the Lab

Frankenstein’s monster lurks in the corner of the lab, seven feet tall, looming over the lab equipment. Except, in this case, the “monster” is a rare contrabass saxophone. And the “lab” is a music studio—aka, ScienSonic—belonging to jazz saxophonist Scott Robinson of Local 802 (New York City).

Robinson says he found the gigantic sax in Italy: “I was on tour with Paquito D’Rivera, trolling antique shops on our downtime. And there it was. I knew I had to have it.” However, there are only 16 of these instruments in existence—and the owner of the antique shop didn’t want to sell it. “It took two years of effort, with the help of other Italian antique dealers. I finally pried it out of his shop and had it brought over to me in New York.”

The massive instrument shares space in Robinson’s studio with many other rare instruments, including an ophicleide, similar to a tuba and used by 19th-century composers like Hector Berlioz. “Most of what I have comes from flea markets and junk shops,” says Robinson. Asked what he does with all these collected contraptions, he is quick to counter. “I’m not a collector, I’m a musician,” he says.

Saxophonist Scott Robinson of Local 802 (New York City) collects rare and unusual instruments. In his ScienSonic Laboratories, he produces an eclectic array of music. (Photo: Maria Traversa)

“As a composer and arranger, these sounds and their possibilities are things I can use.” In other words, they are lab equipment, to be mixed with other sounds. “Rarified,” Robinson clarifies. “Treated so they can produce an effect.” He does all his own maintenance, and the search for new sounds never stops. “It’s a lifelong love affair with sound. They’re like religious artifacts.”

These instruments, and more standard ones, have been an indispensable part of Robinson’s career, which has encompassed touring, live shows, and more than 275 recordings, including 20 under his leadership. Four have been Grammy winners. Collaborations have included musicians like David Bowie, Buck Clayton, and Maria Schneider, whose orchestra is busily planning its first post-COVID tour—with Robinson along, of course.

Robinson has also received four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2001 was named a Jazz Ambassador by the US State Department, undertaking a tour of West Africa. “Jazz is really an American art form, but there’s a lot of common ground. We had some great jam sessions.” In turn, the music of West Africa influenced his own art. “Jazz is a very hungry music and will take inspiration from any source. That’s what makes it so hard to define. I came back from Africa with my head and heart very full.”

These past months the lab has kept Robinson occupied, working on music most days till 4 a.m. “It’s a separate soundproofed building behind the house, and it’s a temple where I can make as much noise as I want,” he says. “Without it, life this past year would have been much more challenging.”

ScienSonic has been a decades-long endeavor. In tandem, Robinson has created a website that presents a complete experience for his visitors. The lab is filled with all manner of projects since live music hasn’t been happening. Lately, that includes video editing, and continuing work on a one-man improvised symphony, which Robinson predicts will be a 15-year project. “Two years into it, I have four minutes of music,” he laughs. “It’s me playing everything, sometimes one note at a time. Each sound is created specifically for that moment in the piece and layered in.”

Trained at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Robinson joined the AFM while still in college. He has been a Local 802 member for decades, since moving to New York. “The union has gotten me paid in situations where people have been unethical—more than once,” he says. “There’s also a bigger picture: the work that the union has done in Washington on the legislative front, such as getting on planes with instruments. For those of us who tour, that’s huge.”

When he meets musicians that don’t want to join, he feels it’s important to convince them that AFM membership pays for itself many times over. By way of illustration, Robinson recounts something that happened a few years ago: “My wife was watching a prime-time TV show. Suddenly there was my music, and we realized it was me on tenor sax. The track had been taken from an album I recorded in Prague. I got no money for it because it wasn’t under union contract.” His most recent album, recorded with his Scott Robinson Quartet in 2019, was also done for an independent label. “I asked them to file it with the union, and they agreed,” he says. “Sometimes you just have to ask, and get it done.” That album, Tenormore, went on to win Best New Release of 2019 in a JazzTimes readers’ poll.

For more on the world of Scott Robinson, visit his website at www.sciensonic.net. To watch a YouTube video exploration of his one-man improvised symphony project, visit bit.ly/3x3K3O7.

Met and Dallas Symphony Orchestra Hold Joint Benefit Concerts

Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) organized a unique collaboration, inviting musicians of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to join the DSO on stage for concerts April 30 and May 1.

The Met musicians, represented by Local 802 (New York City), have not performed together in over a year, since the COVID-19 shutdowns, and have gone nearly that entire time without pay. Only in March of this year did they begin to receive paychecks, returning to the bargaining table in exchange for temporary pay of up to $1,543 per week.

DSO Music Director Fabio Luisi was principal conductor at the Met from 2010 to 2017, and invited his former colleagues to Dallas to perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in two benefit concerts. Funds raised will support both the Met Orchestra Musicians’ Fund and the Dallas-Ft. Worth Musicians COVID-19 Relief Fund. DSO musicians are represented by Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX).

Between 40 and 50 of the Met’s musicians were expected to travel for the performances. “We cannot overstate the impact this unprecedented collaboration will have on our members, both financially and artistically, after this long year of cultural famine,” says Brad Gemeinhardt of Local 802 (New York City), a horn player for the Met and chair of the orchestra committee.

Blanchard Caverns Fantasy (for Euphonium, Tuba, and Piano)

Named for a three-tiered cave system owned by the US Forest Service, this fantasy musically explores the wonders of this “living” cave. Flavored with jazz harmonies and intricate counterpoint, the piece by T.O. Sterrett of Local 802 (New York City) brings you the shimmer, wonder, and majesty of this grand work of Nature.

Blanchard Caverns Fantasy (for Euphonium, Tuba, and Piano) by T.O. Sterrett, Cimarron Music Press, www.cimarronmusic.com.

Elaine Douvas

Getting Off the Ground Through Music—And Staying There

Elaine Douvas fell in love with classical music as a first grader in ballet class. The “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” by Tchaikovsky made her spirit soar, and by age seven she knew she wanted to be a professional musician. She started on piano, changed to violin, and in sixth grade decided to switch to a band instrument so she could play in the school band with her friends. She endured a summer of French horn, which did not suit her, and ultimately found the oboe. “I think I chose the oboe because it was rare and I thought I’d have more opportunities—and that kind of turned out to be true,” she says. “I am so lucky I found the instrument that works for me.”

To say the oboe worked for her is an understatement. Douvas, a member of Local 802 (New York City), is an institution in the oboe world, having served as Principal Oboe of the Metropolitan Opera since 1977 and oboe instructor at The Juilliard School since 1982. She teaches in multiple schools, conservatories, seminars, and festivals across the globe and is considered one of the most influential music teachers in the US. This teaching, and the importance of education and the influence of educators on young musicians, has always been imperative to Douvas.

The “turning point” in her life was attending three years of high school at Interlochen Arts Academy. “I was only in college (at the Cleveland Institute of Music) for three years after Interlochen, and I was still heavily drawing on that high school repertoire and experience to start my first job in the Atlanta Symphony when I was 21,” she says. “I was inspired by the example set by my teachers who put so much energy and devotion into their work—it was astonishing. It truly is a sacred trust, and I hope I have inspired many students to carry on after me too. We really want the next generation to surpass us and take the standard higher than we ever imagined.”

To that end, Douvas has been full of ideas—and taking action—on making the best of the pandemic as an educator. Like so many of her colleagues in the classical music world, Douvas has been getting through the pandemic by teaching online. “I devote so much of my time to try to be sure the students aren’t becoming discouraged, that they can get through this stretch and keep pursuing their dreams,” she says. “I spend a lot of time brainstorming projects that they can do to have goals, but also to make money.”

For example, she has given several of her recent graduates ideas such as starting a “Warm-up Support Group” for those who find it hard to make themselves play every day (and charging a modest subscription fee); other students have connected by starting a Listening Study Group on a “piece of the week”: a show and tell of recorded interpretations each student has discovered and plays for the class. Several of her students have started reed-making intensives for online instruction using close-up cameras and sound tests on the reed alone.

Currently, Douvas is working to start a summer festival for woodwinds as part of the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in California and raising funds so that the festival can be free for participants.

While Douvas loves teaching, she considers her work in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to be her true profession. The current state of the Metropolitan Opera and recent events occurring from decisions made by the Opera Board have been difficult for her and all her colleagues to endure, she says. Met musicians were furloughed early last year and have not been paid since April 1, 2020—one of very few full-time orchestras in North America receiving no pay at all during the pandemic. On top of that, Met officials have been in a labor dispute with backstage workers, and on New Year’s Eve 2021 the Met hired non-Met (and therefore non-union) musicians to play its virtual NYE Gala. “These things are all very painful,” Douvas said. “I’m really proud to be part of such a great orchestra … and the players are going to hold tenaciously to all the conditions that are needed to preserve artistic integrity and our stature as a world-class ensemble.”

Douvas has been an AFM member since 1972—for 49 years—and is not only a proud member, but also discusses the benefits of the union to young musicians in a career development class she teaches at Juilliard. “Because of the union, so many orchestras have been able to negotiate a living wage and longer season, and we would be nowhere in this profession if it weren’t for the opportunity to band together and bargain as a unit,” she says. “I’m happy to contribute my union dues on whatever work I do so that the union can provide services to musicians who need it. Nowadays, I’m one of them. I’m so glad we have skillful union representatives to help us in our negotiations and our legal matters.”

Despite the pandemic and the current labor issues confronting the Met Opera, Douvas is eager to get back to playing. One of the four woodwinds in an orchestra, the oboe often is used by composers to express emotional moments in a piece. “Woodwinds all have very soloistic parts; they are heard individually,” she says. “I don’t think it’s going too far to say they are sort of the crown jewels of an orchestra; they are the ones that are heard the most.” Douvas says the oboe is an instrument perfectly suited for her because of her preference for playing long, expressive lines—rather than the more acrobatic parts for other wind instruments like flute and clarinet.

She likens her playing to another personal passion: figure skating. Douvas skated for a while as a child but gave it up in order to focus her time on practicing her musical instruments. She always regretted quitting, she says, and during the Metropolitan Opera strike of 1980, when she suddenly had a lot of free time on her hands, she took it back up. “I skated fanatically for [the next] two years,” she says, practicing four to five days a week, getting up at 5:30 a.m. to practice before going to rehearsal at the Met each day. “It was kind of crazy, but I was trying to bring back the days when music was so fun, and I tried to pretend skating was my work.” She realized she could not keep up that pace, so she pulled it back and has been skating more recreationally ever since.

The juxtaposition of skating and music, however, has been with her ever since. “A lot of my imagery in interpreting music comes from the wish to be a skater or a ballerina,” she says. “Playing the oboe, you can still get off the ground; you can still create sweep and line, and things that are high and things that are low. I see in my mind’s eye skating choreography, or ballet choreography, in a lot of the things that I work on. And there’s just nothing more important to me than getting off the ground and staying off the ground.”

The same goes for when she is a listener at a concert, and she hears music that is so uplifting that it creates a magical, almost out-of-body experience. “If I can manage to do that now and then, that’s what I’m trying for: to transport people, to feel weightless and uplifted.”

Freelance Percussionist Chihiro Shibayama Says Community is Key to Success

As an Asian woman, freelance percussionist Chihiro Shibayama of Local 802 (New York City) feels a certain sense of responsibility working in a male-dominated field. “I am definitely aware of my status,” says Shibayama, citing a recent statistic of how few female drummers hold Broadway chairs in theater pits.

“To be fair,” she adds, “that’s proportional. There were very few female percussionists when I was in school.” Shibayama believes young female musicians need to see “cool” female role models achieving success on predominantly male instruments. “I often get called to do interviews or provide content for that reason,” she says. Recent features include Local 802’s Allegro for women’s month in March 2020, where Shibayama was one of eight profiled female percussionists who work on Broadway.

It was a long and interesting road up to that point. When Shibayama, a native of Yokohama, Japan, first arrived in the US in 2001 to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy, she was 16 and didn’t speak a word of English. “My mother randomly found Interlochen because she had fallen in love with the Eastman Wind Ensemble when they toured Japan. She connected the dots and figured that if I went to Interlochen, I could find my way to Eastman and play in the wind ensemble.”

Interlochen presented multiple challenges, and not just culturally. “I had never played in an orchestra and didn’t even know how to hold cymbals in an orchestral setting,” she recalls. “Also, I had no idea what a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was. And I was suspicious of Jell-O.”

Shibayama says her survival came through the assistance of others. “I made friends, and they took care of me. My written English was useful thanks to Japanese English education. So I learned visually.” After graduating from Interlochen with a performance award in 2003, she earned both her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees—ultimately not from Eastman, but from The Juilliard School in 2007 and 2009. From there, Shibayama has built a multifaceted career ranging from Broadway pit work to orchestral percussion, with a big focus on contemporary music—and even an appearance as an extra on TV’s Mozart in the Jungle. She also maintains a busy side hustle as a freelance music librarian, which she began back in her Juilliard days. She is currently a librarian for Alarm Will Sound, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and The New York Pops.

The type of personality required to hop on a plane at 16 and travel by yourself to a strange country has served Shibayama well in her career—but she is quick to stress that she has not done it all on her own. “I always got help from someone,” she says. “Every gig, every great opportunity, came about because someone gave me a chance. It made it possible to keep going as a freelancer.” Now, she says, and especially in a pandemic, it’s important to pay that help forward. “The sense of community is so important.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down New York’s theaters, Shibayama was subbing on West Side Story. “At first I struggled with no music,” she says. “I felt my self-worth was gone. Freelancers are always involved in chasing the next cool thing to do. But then I realized that just because there was no music, didn’t mean I wasn’t still a musician.” Shibayama got her first-ever day job, in customer service using her bilingual skills. “It was great experience, not least because I could pay my bills.” Of equal importance, the security afforded her more mind space to create. “I made some YouTube videos, teaching and playing, and collaborations with friends. I also taught myself how to record and edit videos using professional software like Adobe Premiere Pro.”

That job ended in November of last year, and Shibayama is still looking for another. But with extra time on her hands, she has kept on creating. “My biggest project is a weekly newsletter/blog called Positive Percussionist. It actually feeds into a larger process, since I had been wanting to transition more of my work online. Even in the best of times, just waiting for the next gig is not a reliable way to improve your situation or income.” The focus on her online presence has heightened the importance of teaching, another community-building activity. “Teaching also makes me a better player,” she adds.

Again, it all comes back to the importance of community, which is the underlying drive in Shibayama’s belief in a strong union presence. She joined the AFM in 2010 with her first big union gig, playing for the Radio City Music Spectacular. “After graduation from Juilliard in 2009, I had a tough year trying to sort out visas, a constant problem until you get a green card.” She had been collecting programs to build a case, while trying to save up money for immigration lawyers. “The Radio City gig allowed me to earn a real salary, and my working conditions were protected.”

This first union experience led to deeper involvement when Shibayama took part in actual unionizing activity with DCINY (Distinguished Concerts International New York), a commercial organization that solicits choirs from around the country to perform in Carnegie Hall. “They hired high-level freelancers and put together an orchestra. I was one of the core members who put together their first union contract.” Through this, Shibayama says she learned that the union wasn’t just the people in the Local 802 office on 48th Street.

“The union is us, the musicians. When we want to change something, we have to do it, and the local will help us. And younger musicians need to know that when they join, they’re supporting the whole musical community.”


Chihiro Shibayama endorses Pearl / Adams Percussion

Percussion Equipment:

  • Pearl / Philharmonic Snare Drums (6-Ply Maple 14″ x 5″, 13″ x 4″, Pancake 13″ x 2.5″)
  • Freer Percussion / Assortment of snare drumsticks
  • Dragonfly Percussion / Assortment of gong beaters and fiberglass glockenspiel mallets
  • JG Percussion / Joseph Pereira Signature Series timpani mallets


  • Pearl / EM 1 malletSTATION
  • Audio-Technica / AT4040 Large-Diaphragm Studio Condenser Mic
  • TASCAM / US-16×08 USB Audio Interface


  • Sibelius
  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Logic Pro
  • Ableton Live

Akua Dixon

Composing the flavor of her cultural heritage

Jazz cellist and composer Akua Dixon has been playing music professionally for nearly 50 years, with world-class musicians at venues around the globe. One thing she has learned—and one thing she believes—is that you are what you hear. “The music I compose is a product of all my elements. It has elements of jazz, but it also has elements of just being raised in America,” she says. “Jazz has so many subgenres that I say to myself, ‘What really is jazz?’ … Even though I studied European classical music, when I compose, the flavor of my cultural heritage comes out in my compositions.”

But that cultural flavor did not blossom right away. It took years of playing professionally before she realized she was missing an important ingredient.

Dixon, a member of Local 802 (New York City) since 1977, was raised in a musical house—her parents loved music, her mother played piano, her sister played violin. She was nurtured on jazz and the gospel music of her church. She started playing cello in fourth grade, and by junior high school she was in the borough orchestra and the city-wide string orchestra and was already playing freelance gigs.

Akua and her older sister Gayle (also a member of Local 802 until she passed away in 2008) formed a string quartet and played restaurants, weddings, and church gigs. By age 18, Akua was playing in the pit at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, earning money for college at the Manhattan School of Music. She remembers playing 23 shows in one week—and backing an array of music icons such as Barry White, Dionne Warwick, and James Brown. “That was just fantastic. James used to rent the theater and book his own stuff; lines were around the block because he had hit after hit after hit,” Dixon recalls. “Getting to play with James Brown, I had to play to match his phrasing … and he’s very demanding. He was very gentle and very nice … but he still wanted it poppin’.”

While studying classical music at the Manhattan School, Dixon was freelancing constantly throughout New York City and the surrounding area, playing Latin, blues, and jazz. So her musical education occurred between the poles of classical instruction in the classroom and practical training in clubs and theater pits. The Manhattan School did not offer any courses in jazz at that time, she says, so her learning in that genre was self-taught until she met jazz master Yusef Lateef, started talking to him and reading his book on blues. She then took jazz lessons with Reggie Workman at The New Muse in Brooklyn and studied with renowned cellist Benar Heifetz.

Photo Credit: Chuck Stewart

As a professional, Dixon freelanced a lot, worked often with her sister in string quartets, worked in Broadway pits, and toured with the Max Roach Double Quartet, among a long list of gigs. “We were usually the only African-Americans [in the ensemble], and in a lot of cases on these jobs, it wasn’t easy. But my father said when I went to school and I felt I wasn’t being treated properly for those same reasons, he said, ‘You’re only going there for the education.’ And I just kept plodding through; you have to do what you have to do just to learn,” she says. “And when I got these jobs, that’s what I had to do: did the job and kept moving on.”

Luckily for Dixon, she is not only a cellist, but also a composer, arranger, copyist, and vocalist, so she was never dependent on just one person or just one job, she says. “I wound up always being on a musical trail that gave me music not only as a passion but also as a vocation that, at the same time, gave me the ability to live and support myself.”

Dixon ultimately found a home in the Symphony of the New World, one of the first racially integrated orchestras in the US, and it was there that she found the missing ingredient to her ultimate composing flavor. While performing in a concert with Duke Ellington, Dixon realized she knew less about the music of her own culture than of European music. “I decided I wanted to balance that,” she says. “I started immersing myself in jazz and spirituals and became determined to learn the secrets of improvising.”

Since then, Dixon has not only blazed a path of success as both a classical and jazz cellist, but also as a composer, conductor, and educator. She has played, written for, and collaborated with numerous jazz greats; formed the groundbreaking ensemble Quartette Indigo; notated and conducted a ballet; and composed an opera. One of the highlights of her career occurred during this time, when she fulfilled her childhood dream of working with Aretha Franklin.

“It was at the Nassau Coliseum. The string section was only familiar with European classical music. My sister and I were the only two that knew the improvisational aspect of African-American music. There’re inflections in the rhythm of the music and freedoms that she couldn’t have, couldn’t do, because of the limitations of the knowledge of the string section—this is my opinion. So, I had a passion. I said to myself, ‘Boy, I would do anything to work with Aretha Franklin. I would even write the parts for free and pick the string players.’ And that dream did get to come true.”

Dixon wrote the string arrangement for the 1998 song “A Rose is Still a Rose,” played on the recording, and performed it live with Aretha on The Late Show with David Letterman and in several other venues. “So as a kid, dreaming of playing with her, and then actually getting the opportunity to play with her, it was major for me,” she says. “And when I talk about string sections like this, if I hadn’t had the opportunity to study at the Apollo, and learn that music, and have to play it that many times in a row week in and out, I wouldn’t have gotten to know it as well as I do; it’s a different situation than playing in a European classical ensemble.”

Dixon has also dedicated years of her life to music education. She has worked as a Musical Ambassador to New York City for Carnegie Hall Education and performing for their Neighborhood Concert Series as well as Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz in the Schools tours. She also developed the Hip Hop Blues Project and composed an original work for string students in New York and New Jersey to perform each year. Dixon says she loves teaching music, especially in inner-city schools, where the children of color get to see a successful musician who actually looks like them. “They don’t see themselves in orchestras and in other industry areas today as much as they should. It’s exciting for them to see somebody that looks like me and accomplish what I’m accomplishing,” she says.

But these accomplishments did not come easy. Being a woman, and Black, and playing something as unusual as jazz cello held a lot of challenges for Dixon. “The liberties people take against women in this business are a trip,” she says wryly. “I’ve been paid less because I’m a woman, been asked to play for no salary, had my name left off the program—many times—and had my name left off the recordings I did. And it wasn’t even thought about.”

“But I had a good lesson from [jazz singer] Betty Carter: Don’t take no crap,” Dixon adds with a laugh. “She didn’t say that, but we all know she didn’t take any.”

One of the most common questions Dixon receives from her female students, she says, is how to be a successful working mom. Dixon was working steady gigs on Broadway when she started a family. She decided to take a break from full-time music and focus on raising her kids—and also do more writing and creating, which got “bottled up” by playing the same music night after night on Broadway. “If you truly want children, it’s an experience unlike any other and, to me, was worth what some would call
professional sacrifices,” she says. “As a working mother, you will have to make serious choices about your time. You will not have any time to waste. Focus on your ultimate goal and what you need to do to accomplish that for your children and your career.”

Things have changed a lot for female and Black musicians since she came up in the 1960s and 70s, and Dixon gives a lot of credit for that to her union, which she joined when she worked at the Apollo Theater. One of the most important protections from the AFM is in pay scales, she says. “I’m glad [the Apollo] was a union gig because I always got paid, there was a security there, whereas a lot of times when you do clubs you might not get paid. Even if you’ve worked for some record companies and did recordings, I learned early on that after the record is recorded, if they don’t pay you, they don’t have to pay you. So I became very insistent on being paid up front.”

“Working in a union environment lets me know I’m worthy of a certain treatment and salary for my wares,” she continues. “There’s no reason I should work for free. I went to college; I paid tuition; and the people I work with have the same credentials. And we don’t work for that. But some people don’t think musicians should get an equal wage because there are a lot of people who do it for fun and do it for free.”

Since COVID hit, Dixon has, like everyone else, significantly reduced her performing hours, doing only occasional recording. But that does not mean she has been idle. She has been playing more piano (the first instrument she learned) and also started playing the tamboura—an Indian drone instrument that she has owned for a while but not played. “It’s very meditational and calming, and I think I needed that,” she says. She also spent a good part of every day in writing, whether it is notation, writing commissioned string quartet parts, or doing the final notations on her opera, The Opera of Marie Laveau, which she finished composing about two years ago.

Dixon says that after nearly 50 years in the union, looking back she sees how much she has depended on the AFM throughout her career. “I’ve seen a lot of progress since the 1970s when the change started,” she says. “You had a group of people band together to form the Symphony of the New World, which had a lot of African-American players in it and as part of the foundation of the orchestra’s board. To go through the legal system to try to change the hiring practices at places like the New York Philharmonic, and having an organization like Local 802 to march with you and be with you was a wonderful thing.”

She says that recent events and changing beliefs have made it a good time to revisit these changes in the music industry. “I think that’s where the world is in general right now, trying to make a more balanced place where all of us can live and work together.”


Kate Foss

Boston Musician Kate Foss Lays Down the Foundation on Tuba and Bass

Aside from sharing the same clef, you’d think the tuba and the upright bass couldn’t be any more different. You’d be wrong. According to Kate Foss of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) and Local 802 (New York City), both allow her to do what she does best: lay down the foundation of an ensemble. The choice to play both bass and tuba was natural for Foss, who grew up in a musical family in the suburbs of Milwaukee.


“As a kid, I was fascinated with large machines like locomotives and construction equipment,” she recalls. “So it’s not really a surprise that I was immediately attracted to the bass. It’s the largest string instrument, and you can feel the sound inside you.” And with the tuba, it didn’t hurt that Foss’s grandmother played one in high school. Foss adds that she’s not sure if playing in the low register shaped her personality, or the other way around—but she still gets the most musical satisfaction out of being the supporting voice in a group.

While Foss has carved out an impressively varied freelance career around Greater Boston covering a wide range from symphony and opera orchestras to musical theater, it’s worth noting that music wasn’t actually her first choice: Foss has an undergrad degree in physics. “Toward the end of my physics degree, I did a summer at the Pacific Music Festival, and quickly realized my passion was such that I needed to switch,” she says. Foss searched for grad schools that would accept students without a music undergrad, winding up at New England Conservatory. “While there, I started freelancing in Boston—and that was that.”

Over her years in Boston, Foss has racked up an impressive list of work in orchestras, recordings, and musical theater. Her theater credits alone include 48 shows on which she has played upright and electric bass, and/or tuba. Foss doesn’t claim to have a favorite genre. “It doesn’t matter what I’m playing. A bass line is a bass line,” she says. “The tuba has largely the same function in the orchestra as the bass. Beats one and three, lots of whole notes,” she adds with a laugh. “Obviously, the mechanics are different. With tuba, you have to start the note a second before you think you should. Prep the breath, set the embouchure, etc. Bass is immediate, the second you start moving the bow.”

Foss also thrives on the variety of a freelancer’s life. “If I had to do one genre, I’d get bored. Ballet is marches and dance numbers, and then it’s something else entirely in opera or musical theater to hear a singer who really knows what they’re doing and is in total control.” Having a vocal background certainly helps with her appreciation: Foss’s tuba-playing grandmother got a degree in voice and passed that love on to her own children and grandchildren. Foss has fond memories of singing Bach chorales around the piano with her family. (In that vein, Foss’s CV includes nearly two dozen BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or in English, Bach Works Catalog) numbers identifying the Bach choral works she has participated in.) 

Like nearly all freelancers everywhere, Foss’s music work is mostly on hiatus at the moment thanks to COVID-19. She also admits somewhat sheepishly that her practicing has fallen to a minimum since the pandemic shut things down. “Forcing musicians to be solitary is like isolating a duck—there’s nobody to quack with,” she quips. But she also agrees with the assessment that switching off from music for a while is perfectly okay. “I’ve been hustling with gigs since 2003, and had been thinking of taking a break. So the coronavirus forced me to take an extensive one. It’s about learning to trust yourself that you won’t forget anything. It will come back to you,” she says.

Meantime, Foss has been focusing on other things. Aside from a busy day job, she took up cross stitch, and has become heavily involved with fostering homeless cats and kittens through the Quincy, Massachusetts, animal shelter. Her work with the AFM has remained a constant, both pre- and mid-pandemic. She serves on the executive board of Local 9-535, and has been reading up on the history of unions to help her understand what happened to musician wages over the last 50 years. “The importance of the union should be part of music education,” she says. “Young musicians need an understanding of how the music world has gotten where it is today, and what they can do about it. There are reasons why you have contracts, and why you need to advocate for yourself. Nobody will pay you unless you collectively bargain for it. I wish I had had that knowledge sooner.”

Several years back, Foss participated in unionizing a theater she worked at, and says it was a fantastic experience. From there, it was a natural progression to greater union involvement. She praises her local’s response to the pandemic, particularly its involvement in the New England Musicians Relief Fund, which has been working to alleviate financial distress for some 2,000 freelance musicians that make their living playing music in the region. “The more I get into board duties, the more there is to learn about the AFM and the music business,” she muses. “Like a typical musician, I like to complain—but it’s great to learn how to do something about it.”

Info on the New England Musicians Relief Fund can be found online at www.nemrf.org/our-mission.



■ Electric basses: twin “Peavey Cirrus 5” bass guitars, 5-string thru-necks (long scale), walnut—I bought two and had one converted to fretless

■ Strings: round-wound

■ Tuba: BB♭ Yamaha 4-valve

Orchestra/Opera/BWV/Ballet Gigs

■ Bass: 1999 Joel Mentec 4-string upright bass with C-extension (Mentec is a French maker)

■ Bow: Seifert German-style bow, c. 1980

■ Bow: Horst Schicker French-style bow

Pit/Musical Theatre/Any Cramped or Non-Temperature-Controlled Space

■ Bass: 1939 Kay “Chubby Jackson” 5-string bass, model S-51 (low B is where it’s at if the sound system can handle it)

■ Bow: Seifert German-style bow, c. 1980

■ Amp: Gallien Krueger, MB115

Metropolitan Opera Outsources, Uses Non-AFM Musicians

Failing to pay its own musicians since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Metropolitan Opera has hired non-Metropolitan Opera musician ensembles for Met produced events and fundraisers. Most recently, the Met hired European string musicians for a New Year’s Eve gala streamed from Germany.

“All of these fundraising events can—and should—be done safely right here in New York with members of the Met orchestra,” says Local 802 (New York City) President Adam Krauthamer. “The deepest offense any artistic institution can make is the choice to attack its own artists. Put simply, Met General Manager Peter Gelb has created a cultural bait-and-switch: The audience sees a fundraiser produced by the Metropolitan Opera and naturally thinks that members of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra are the performing musicians, yet the reality is that the Met musicians are at home, unpaid and exploited.”

In a statement, the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera wrote, “There is no reason why these gala events need to take place in Europe. There are star singers on American soil too … and we can work together to showcase the Met, while helping each other in the process.”

The Governing Board of The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) also issued a statement, saying, “In abandoning his own musicians and hiring non-Met musicians for virtual fundraising events, Gelb is abandoning his responsibility to his employees and deceiving the patrons and donors who believe they are supporting the continuing artistry of the Metropolitan Opera.”

The Metropolitan Opera is the only top-tier ensemble in the US that has provided no compensation to its musicians since the pandemic began. Gelb has stated that the future of the company depends on cutting expenses until audiences have fully returned; however, no constructive dialogue has taken place with musicians regarding long-term solutions.

Additionally, in December, Met management locked out the company’s stagehands and threatened to hire outside shops to construct sets.

12 Great Flute Encores

Flutist Bill Giannone, of Local 802 (New York City), has selected 12 well-known classical melodies and arranged them for solo flute with piano accompaniment in his new collection, 12 Great Flute Encores. Selections include Bach’s famous “Air on the G String” and the “Badinerie” from the Orchestral Suite No. 2, Debussy’s “Reverie” and the “Girl with the Flaxen Hair,” as well as Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” among others. Giannone has taken these pieces and scored them for the flute’s range, along with thoughtful dynamic and phrase markings.

12 Great Flute Encores, selected and edited  by William Giannone, Rosebud Music Publishing, www.RosebudMusicPublishing.com.