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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.

Unpaid Brazilian Musicians Protest in Rio

Amidst the financial crisis in Brazil, the artists of the Brazilian Symphonic Orchestra and ballet of the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theater, have not been paid their salaries since February. In May, they took to the streets to protest by giving a free concert in the plaza in front of the Municipal Theater. They handed out fliers denouncing “the complete disorganization, chaos, and financial misery caused by the continuous nonpayment of salaries.” Aside from creating awareness they asked for donations of non-perishable food items for colleagues going through very hard times.

“We’ve come to the point where some artists haven’t enough money to come to work. Many are in debt and are asking for loans to buy food,” says Pedro Olivero, president of the Municipal Theater Employees Union.


The Accidentals: Learning from the Challenges of Life on the Road

The first time then-teenagers Katie Larson and Savannah Buist, both members of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI) jammed together in 2011 they knew they had something special. The next five years were a blur of learning, creativity, and performing. They’ve graduated with the inaugural singer-songwriter major at Interlochen Arts Academy high school, produced three albums, and toured the country.

“Neither of us had any idea that we would be getting into music professionally,” says Larson. The cellist met Buist, a violinist, when they both volunteered for Alternative Styles for Strings Club at their Traverse City, Michigan, public high school.

What made the connection magic was how they immediately fed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Larson came from a classical background. “I was very uncomfortable improvising and doing anything like that. Savannah was playing in her family’s folk band, singing harmonies, and doing solos,” says Larson.

Buist picks up the story, “I had only played violin until I met Katie and realized she was a multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter. I hadn’t really tried those things. She came over to my house to rehearse for this homework assignment, and instead of rehearsing classical music for our orchestra program, we ended up playing the White Stripes. We were pretty much a band from that night.”

The Accidentals captures all of their many influences. “We kind of open up a discussion of genre whenever we talk about our band,” says Larson. “Music is going to a more genre-less platform. We incorporate elements of classical, folk, pop, jazz, rock, and gypsy jazz, along with singer-songwriter. We usually classify ourselves as indy folk rock, but we are just a couple of musical geeks who play a lot of instruments and as many styles as we can.”

The music is infectious and upbeat, and has earned them plenty of early recognition: Billboard’s Top Seven Breakout Artists SXSW 2015; Winner of Summerfest WI, Emerging Artists Series US Cellular Stage 2015; VinylMag.com’s Top Ten Artists to Watch at SXSW 2016; Huffington Post’s Sweet Sixteen Bands of 2016; and Yahoo Music Top Ten Bands to Watch 2017.

“The first time we went to SXSW was in 2015 and when we got home my phone blew up!” says Buist. “We made Billboard Magazine as one of the top seven breakout bands. I didn’t believe it; I thought a friend of mine had Photoshopped our names. It was kind of a mind-blowing experience to have somebody actually see us play a show and walk away thinking we had something.”

“There are so many bands invited down there and so much oversaturation of music. We were afraid we wouldn’t get any recognition,” she says. “We feel so unbelievably lucky that people are excited about what we are doing.”

Since launching their career, The Accidentals have had a crash course in the music business. “We are trying to run everything from the road and a lot of things fall through at the last minute, turning us into professional troubleshooters finding a way to make things work,” says Larson.

One of the things The Accidentals did get right was joining the AFM early in their career. “We joined the AFM when we entered into our first recording deal. It was 2013 and we were still teenagers at the time. We really appreciated joining because it showed us what kind of rights we had as musicians. We feel extremely supported by the people in the AFM,” says Larson. “It did really make us feel empowered. I think all musicians appreciate that.”

The Accidentals officially moved from duo to trio after about two years, adding multi-instrumentalist Michael Dause of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) to the band in 2014. They discovered the freedom of having a full-time rhythm section by accident at northern Michigan’s Blissfest in 2012 when a friend hopped up on stage and began drumming along.

“It blew our minds,” says Buist. “One of us had always covered the rhythm instrument; when we had a drummer it opened up a huge world of opportunity for Katie and I to start improvising. We met Michael at Blissfest about a year later. He was playing a solo set [on guitar] and when we found out he was also a drummer we asked if he’d like to audition with us.”

Dause’s first gig with the band was on vehicle-free Makinac Island, so he couldn’t bring a drum kit. “He brought just a little cajon with him and we played the set together. He knew all of the songs because he’d been a fan of the band. It was really a perfect fit and Michael has been with us ever since,” says Buist.

The Accidentals have been busy over the past few months putting finishing touches on their new album, Odyssey, scheduled for release in August. It will include 12 original songs and possibly a bonus track. The first single, “KW,” was released in March at SXSW 2017.

The album’s theme is about moving beyond their fears. “We are going to take 2017 as the year of no fear … not the absence of fear, but in spite of it. It’s really powerful to acknowledge where you are vulnerable and keep moving into the new year despite fear and vulnerability. Every song details a specific problem that we see and a way we come together to solve it—a journey of sorts,” says Larson. “The message manifested itself after we had written and recorded the songs.”

Both Larson and Buist consider themselves to be “introverted” songwriters and each writes songs independently. “Songwriting is kind of an intimate process for us,” says Larson. “We write the chord progressions, have the song worked out, take it to the group, and generally the three of us will work up an arrangement for how we conquer the song live.”

Only about one song per release is written together, explains Buist. Each tackles the songwriting process differently, again feeding off each other’s strengths. Buist is much stronger on writing lyrics, while Larson’s focus is more on melody.

After graduating from Interlochen Arts Academy, Larson and Buist weighed their options. Larson was offered a Presidential Scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music, but when a production deal was offered at the same time, they chose the latter.

“College will always be there for us on the back burner,” says Buist, though she says she wouldn’t necessarily study music. “We are running our business and it has been really interesting learning from the real life application of that. I might go for something that I haven’t tried before if I were going to go to school.”

“I totally agree,” says Larson. “I think the great thing about choosing to tour right after high school is that, when I was in high school, I wasn’t exactly sure what direction I wanted to take. I was also very shy. Being thrown in all these situations helped me break out of my shell and realize all of these new interests I may want to pursue later.”

For the past few years, The Accidentals have been on tour pretty much non-stop, and so far, aside from missing their families, they love the experience.

“Savannah and I are overachievers. We are amazed when we overcome challenges and the road is full of constant crises so there is always something fun to learn,” says Larson.

“All three of us are looking forward to having the new album out just because of the personal achievement. We’ve had an exciting two or three years since we graduated high school and we’ve really learned a lot about the industry,” says Larson.

“A lot can happen in the future and so we are just trying to balance it all,” says Buist. “We’ve got a lot of people who care about us and are helping us get through it one step at time. I think we’ve learned to ask for what we need, and to remember, in the grand scale of the universe this is just a tiny spec. We’ve learned to put our problems into perspective, understand how lucky we are, and keep moving forward.”

“We try to keep short-term and long-term goals for ourselves and the band,” says Larson. “We are on a wild ride and every once in a while it’s nice to have little things to check off your bucket list.”

A Meditation for Nobodies and Old Mares

by Madelyn Roberts, AFM Diversity Committee Member and Member AFM Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ)

On a recent drive from Phoenix to Albuquerque in my faithful steed, my Subaru Forester, “The Sofa Killer,” I had a seven-hour opportunity to reflect on a February meeting of the AFM’s Diversity Committee. Established in 2002, and encouraged to build upon the work already accomplished in its predecessor, the AFM Diversity Council, this year-round committee works to encourage and develop communication and understanding among all musicians. The committee’s ultimate goal is to develop an effective coalition of musicians from all walks of life, ethnicities, and musical genres, built upon mutual respect for the intrinsic value of the many roles we musicians play within the fabric of our human culture. In our numbers there is great strength, if we only martial it to make the lives of all musicians better, healthier, and more secure—more solid.

Playing classical music as a violinist in orchestras, and performing folk music, rock and roll, western swing, country, funk, and jazz on guitar, I have seen most of this country. I have seen most of the attitudes musicians display toward other musicians, whether friends, colleagues, or unknown nobodies. Consequently, as a member of the Diversity Committee since its inception, I have observed from a perhaps unique frame of reference, how we humans relate to each other. For instance, I have seen how others react to me when I am a “nobody.” Quite often, the response is a perfunctory and soon forgotten acknowledgment of my existence. I have also seen how they react when they find out that I am a “somebody”… at least in their eyes … because I am related to a famous and iconic “somebody.” In those circumstances, some of the same folks suddenly find me interesting, fascinating, clever, and now, somehow worthy of their time. Why?

If you, like me, have gone through the process of losing weight to the point of radically changing your appearance, you already know that some of those individuals to whom you were a “nobody” now treat you with a new level of respect, deference, and civility. You are a new “somebody.” Interesting, but I see these shifts in attitude to be disingenuous.

One time, when I was on the road with my band, someone approached the bandstand during a break and asked my co-leader husband, “Hey, my first cousin is (insert name of famous country star), so can I get up on stage during the break and play her guitar?” The “her” was me. When he was directed to ask me that question, I explained to the gentleman, “Yes, you can play the guitar if you just give me $3,000 to hold in case something happens to it, then give me the keys to your car so I can quickly drive down to the Circle K, buy a six-pack of beer, and slam it down before I have to go back on stage.”

He stared at me, bewildered, as if he’d never seen a space alien before. Those same people who see me and think, “Oh, a middle-class housewife can’t play guitar!” are happily perplexed when I go onstage and give them an exciting and satisfying performance.

I’m almost really old now, and I still like to go onstage and tear it up and make those people dance. True, I still am 15 in my head, but that is all to the good. I’m still silly enough to believe that a broad coalition of musicians can exist and make the world a better place. The people on your AFM Diversity Committee have always been, and continue to be, dreamers of the same ilk. We believe such partnerships within our AFM can change our world with solidarity and a fundamental ability to trust each other. 

By the way, The Sofa Killer told me an interesting story on our way back home from Albuquerque. (Or, at least I think she told me. Perhaps it was too many hours of driving, and being in my own head.) She said, “Did you know the old story about herds of wild horses being led by their stallion is not true?” I said, “Well, how about My Friend Flicka and all those Saturday morning westerns?” She said, “Not true. The herd is always led by an old woman horse, a mare. The stallion trails the herd to make sure none of the other male horses can get close to his women.” I was shocked. “Then, what is the stallion always doing on television, running full tilt at the head of the pack with his mane and tail streaming gloriously in the wind?” Sofa Killer said, quite simply, “Just showing off.”

2017 AFM member Grammy winners

Congratulations to the 2017 AFM member Grammy Winners

Congratulations to the 2017 AFM member Grammy winners from signatory recordings listed here. The benefits of recording under the AFM Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA) are compelling. Musicians receive at least the standard wages for sound recordings, which include pension fund contributions and health and welfare fund contributions. Properly filed report forms are submitted to the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund (SPF), which secures participation in proceeds from that fund for each of the next five years. Further, if the recording is licensed for use in other areas (motion pictures, theatrical motion pictures, commercial announcements, etc.) the AFM will bill for the appropriate “new use” payments on behalf of the musicians involved.

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, Willie Nelson of Local 433 (Austin, TX) [Legacy Recordings]

Best Country Duo/Group Performance:  “Jolene,” Pentatonix, including Kevin Olusola of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)
and featuring Dolly Parton of Local 257
(Nashville, TN) [RCA Records]

Best Improvised Jazz Solo:
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” track
from Country for Old Men, John Scofield
of Local 802 (New York City) [Impulse!]

Best Jazz Instrumental Album: Country for Old Men, John Scofield [Impulse!]

Best American Roots Performance: “House of Mercy,” track from Undercurrent,
Sarah Jarosz of Local 257 [Sugar Hill Records]

Best American Roots Song: “Kid Sister,” track from Kid Sister, Vince Gill and Time Jumpers of Local 257 [Rounder Records]

Best Americana Album: This Is Where I Live, William Bell of Local 148-462
(Atlanta, GA) [Stax]

Best Folk Album: Undercurrent, Sarah Jarosz of Local 257 [Sugar Hill Records]

Best Musical Theater Album:
The Color Purple [Broadway Records]

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 47
(Los Angeles, CA) [Walt Disney Records]

Best Historical Album: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series, Vol.12 (Collector’s Edition), Bob Dylan of Local 802 [Columbia/Legacy]

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical:
Greg Kurstin of Local 47

Best Orchestral Performance:
Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow
—Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 and 9
, Boston
Symphony Orchestra of Local 9-535,
conducted by Andris Nelsons

Best Opera Recording: The Ghosts of Versailles, John Corigliano & William M. Hoffman, Los Angeles Opera Orchestra of Local 47 and Los Angeles Opera Chorus, conducted by James Conlon.

Best Classical Compendium: Michael Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle, Nashville
Symphony of Local 257, conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero

Best Contemporary Classical Composition: Michael Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway;
American Gothic; Once Upon A Castle
, Nashville Symphony of Local 257,
conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero


Malware and Ransomware Protection Tips

by Walter Lopez, AFM Information Systems Manager

It is becoming more common for businesses to be affected by malware and ransomware, and musicians are not immune. Recently, several orchestras have experienced data breaches of employee databases. Malware is any software intended to damage or disable a computer or other software programs. Ransomware is a type of malware that stops you from using your PC by holding your PC or files for “ransom.” Following are a few tips from Microsoft to help you avoid becoming a ransomware or malware victim.

What does ransomware do?

There are different types of ransomware. However, all of them will prevent you from using your computer normally, and they will all ask you to do something (pay a “ransom”) to remedy the situation. They can target any user—home computers, endpoints to enterprise networks, or servers used by anyone from a small company to a government agency. Well-known cases include: Los Angeles Valley College, which paid $28,000 in bitcoin ransom; Carleton University in Ontario, which paid about $39,000 in bitcoin ransom, and San Francisco’s light rail transit system, which was able to restore its system without paying.

Specifically, ransomware can prevent you from accessing Windows, encrypt your files so that you cannot use them, and can stop certain applications (like web browsers) from running on your system. The hackers behind the ransomware may demand you pay money or complete a survey. However, there is no guarantee that after you’ve paid your ransom you will regain full access. 

How does ransomware get on a PC?

Ransomware and other malware can arrive through your email. Malware authors often use tricks to try to convince you to download malicious files. This can be an email with a file attached that tells you it is a receipt, refund, or an invoice. When you open the attachment, you install malware on your PC.

Sometimes a malicious email is easy to spot—it may have bad spelling and grammar, or come from an email address you’ve never seen before. However, these emails can also look like they came from someone you know. Some malware hacks into email accounts and sends malicious spam to the contacts it finds.

To help avoid becoming a victim of email fraud and malware, follow these tips:

  • If you aren’t sure who sent you the email or something doesn’t look quite right, don’t open it.
  • If an email says you have to update your details, don’t click on the link in the email.
  • Don’t open an attachment to an email that you aren’t expecting, or that was sent by someone you don’t know.
  • Never give out personal information in an email, no matter how legitimate the source may seem.

Malware worms can spread by infecting removable drives such as USB flash drives or external hard drives. The malware may be automatically installed when you connect the infected drive to your PC. Some worms can also spread by infecting computers that are connected on a network.

To avoid this type of infection:

  • Run a security scan of your removable devices.
  • Disable the autorun function.

Some malware is installed along with programs that you download. This includes software from third-party websites or files shared through peer-to-peer networks. Some programs will also install other unwanted software such as tool bars or programs that display extra ads as you browse the web. Usually you can opt-out and not install these extra applications by unticking a box during the installation.

Programs used to generate software keys (keygens) often install malware at the same time. Microsoft security software finds malware on more than half of PCs with keygens installed.

  • To avoid installing malware or unwanted software:
  • Always download software from the official vendor’s website.
  • Make sure you read exactly what you are installing—don’t just click OK.
  • In many cases, Malware uses known software vulnerabilities to infect your PC through hacked or compromised webpages. A vulnerability is like a hole in your software that can allow malware to access your PC. These vulnerabilities are fixed by the company that created the software and are sent as updates to be installed. This is why it’s extremely important to keep all your software up-to-date, and remove software you don’t use.

For more information visit the website: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/security/portal/mmpc/default.aspx.

Unity Audio Rock MKIIs

Unity Audio Rock MKIIs and Super Rocks

Unity Audio Rock MKIIs and Super Rocks are two active monitors for critical near field listening that are trusted by some of the world’s best artists. Musicians, producers, and engineers use Rocks as the new studio reference. Fifty percent of the world’s top 10 selling albums in 2015 used Unity Audio Monitors to craft their sound. Sealed enclosures provide tonal accuracy and balance with low coloration. Ribbon drivers have an unusually even HF characteristic that is smooth and clean, providing great accuracy and detailed imaging. With custom amps designed by Esoteric Audio Research these monitors translate well and will give you a reference monitor you can trust. Check the websites for more details.


The Chicago Hamilton Pit: Musical Variety and Technical Focus

The Chicago Hamilton band, all members of Local 10-208 (L to R): Felton Offard (guitar), Rick Snyder (keyboard 2/assistant conductor), Tahirah Whittington (cello), Colin Welford (music director, conductor, keyboard 1), Roberta Freier (violin 2), Tom Mendel (bass), Heather Boehm (viola/violin), Tom Hipskind (drums), Chuck Bontrager (concert master/violin 1), and Jim Widlowski (percussion).

The Chicago Hamilton band, all members of Local 10-208 (L to R): Felton Offard (guitar), Rick Snyder (keyboard 2/assistant conductor), Tahirah Whittington (cello), Colin Welford (music director, conductor, keyboard 1), Roberta Freier (violin 2), Tom Mendel (bass), Heather Boehm (viola/violin), Tom Hipskind (drums), Chuck Bontrager (concert master/violin 1),
and Jim Widlowski (percussion).

Hamilton Chicago opened October 19, while the Broadway show continues its unprecedented success in New York City. Playing a show like Hamilton, likely to enjoy a long run, is a dream come true for its Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) musicians. These musicians all share a love for playing the wide variety of genres—from rap to classical—that composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and arranger Alex Lacamoire have written into the show. The demanding nature of Hamilton, in terms of stamina and timing, keeps musicians on their toes.

International Musician asked the pit—the six-piece rhythm section of Colin Welford (music director, conductor, keyboard1), Rick Snyder (keyboard 2/assistant conductor), Felton Offard (guitar), Tom Mendel (bass), Tom Hipskind (drums), and Jim Widlowski (percussion), plus string quartet of Chuck Bontrager (concert master/violin 1), Roberta Freier (violin 2), Heather Boehm (viola/violin), and Tahirah Whittington (cello)—to talk about their experiences so far.

Leading the Pit


Music Director/Conductor Colin Welford

“It feels so nice going in with confidence,” says Music Director and Conductor Colin Welford, referring to the Broadway show’s success. “You can see that in the cast. We know it’s going to sell very well for a good while. It gives you a feeling
of empowerment.”

“The parts are well written so there is breathing room, listening room; it’s varied. Also, the actors keep it fresh. It’s not going to be cookie cutter by any means. That keeps it alive for us,” he adds.

“The most important thing is for the conductor to bring people in together. There’s quite a lot of that, ” says Welford, explaining his role. “It looks complicated on paper, but it’s really about the conductor listening to the stage and making a decision when to place the chord. It looks fuzzy on paper, but makes for a natural performance. The show isn’t directed to the minuscule detail—first it’s acted, second it’s rhythmic.”

Welford had worked with Assistant Conductor Rick Snyder in both Wicked and The Lion King. “I’d been with The Lion King for about seven and a half years, waiting for an opportunity to go home, but I needed a hit,” says Snyder. When he heard about Welford doing Hamilton Chicago he saw his opportunity.

Assistant Conductor Rick Snyder

Assistant Conductor Rick Snyder

Snyder was immediately drawn to the music. “When I heard the show—reading the book at the same time—I thought it was an outstanding adaptation. I didn’t know how I would react to the rap, but it’s really smart. Plus, there’s also a whole lot of late ’70s and ’80s pop music underneath, and that’s what I was weaned on,” he says.

Both conductor/keyboardists say that the fact that the show is extremely verbal means that actors and musicians must be keenly focused. “It’s a challenge for the actors as they’ve got to shape the phrases and communicate [through singing] as in normal conversation, so that the offset of the rhythm doesn’t throw the ear in such a way that the listener gets confused,” says Welford.

Driving Rhythm

Tom Mendel

Tom Mendel

Bassist Tom Mendel plays four instruments in the show. “I’m playing acoustic bass, five-string electric, four-string hollow body for a ‘Paul McCartney’ kind of sound, and keyboard bass, which is pretty unusual. There’s one tune where I’m playing gliss on the five-string bass, and then on the next downbeat, keyboard bass,” he says.

“Alex’s arrangements are very specific and rewarding. He understands the instruments he’s writing for,” he adds. “There is so much nuance in the part, yet still room for putting individual ‘feel’ into it. I really want to honor his arrangements and Lin’s amazing songs. It demands complete concentration for both acts—an hour and 15 minutes each.”


Jim Widlowski

“When Hamilton was at the Public Theatre, everyone would ask, ‘Is it really that good?’ Yes, it is!” says guitarist Felton Offard, explaining what drew him to the show. “Alex Lacamoire’s orchestration calls on each instrument to create colors that put us in a certain time and place. The diversity was what I loved so much. It goes from classical string quartet to all out rock and roll—sometimes in the same song.”

“I’ve never played a through-composed show before—one that doesn’t have any time to rest. This show is a beast for every chair. The electric guitar has 131 patch changes,” he says. “There’s an articulation mark for almost every note.”

Tom Hipskind

Tom Hipskind

For drummer Tom Hipskind, it was the special kinship he felt playing the Miranda/Lacamoire show In the Heights that made him want to play Hamilton. He wasn’t disappointed.

“The lyrics are so catchy and well written,” he says, pointing to the “sheer constancy” of the show. “Most shows have their moments of ebb and flow, but Hamilton has a relentless drive from beginning to end that is reflected in every aspect: music, choreography, lighting. To be part of that, much less to be driving that freight train as the drummer, is quite the rush! Rhythmic demands are what I live for as a drummer, and when I have an amazing part like this to play, it comes naturally and feeds me creatively!”

The Strings


(L to R) The strings (front) Roberta Freier and Chuck Bontrager (back) Heather Boehm, and Tahirah Whittington.

Chuck Bontrager, concertmaster and violin 1, says that words cannot express how fortunate and grateful he feels to be part of Hamilton. “Ever since I started college, nonclassical styles have been as important to me as Beethoven and Shostakovich. In Hamilton, I get to use my Mozart chops, help with rock riffs, carry ballads, and play Motown-like pad and lead lines,” he says.

Bontrager says it’s the most stylistically diverse and challenging show for bowed strings that he’s seen. “There are many sections throughout the show where parts of the string quartet carry the groove. That’s very unusual and brave writing. I think it will prove to be some of the most important and influential string writing in any arena in the past several decades.”

Violinist Roberta Freier says that style, rhythm, and intonation are the most challenging aspects of playing Hamilton. “Other shows I’ve played are more ‘symphonic’ in nature. Your notes can ring and the rhythms are less complex. In Hamilton, pizzicatos are dampened and most notes are very short,” she explains, adding that it was the idea of combining old and new genres that drew her to the show.

“I’m a classically-trained musician who grew up having an affinity for R&B, hip-hop, classical, and soul,” says cellist Tahirah Whittington. “Having the opportunity to perform in Hamilton is living the dream. The way in which Hamilton mashes up different time periods and idioms is mirrored in the score. It’s the ultimate collaboration of time, text, and music.”

“The cello plays many different roles in the show,” she says. Whittington plays solo, rhythm section, bass voice of the string quartet, tenor voice of the string quartet, as a duo with other instruments, plus is the rhythmic drive in songs like “We Know.” “The music never stops for ‘in the clear’ dialogue,” she adds.

“I don’t know if this is a one-off show,” concludes Welford. “It really requires very good timing and I think that’s definitely something we’ll see more of in the future, whether it’s hip-hop or rap. But it’s important to note that, though we talk about the show as rap or hip-hop, it’s still solidly based in musical theatre with so many styles on stage and so many roots. It’s not this weird, bizarre thing. It’s smart, with homage to a lot of musical theatre traditions as well.”

Fort Worth Musicians on Strike!

For the last few years, I’ve taken great pleasure in announcing at each AFM and symphonic player conference that there currently are no ongoing symphony orchestra strikes or lockouts within the AFM. Unfortunately that is no longer the case. On Thursday, September 8, 2016, the Dallas-Ft. Worth Professional Musicians’ Association, Local 72-147, sent out a press release stating: “Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Call Strike.” This came after management made a last, best, and final offer and indicated they would be implementing it Monday, September 12.

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AFM 100th Convention

AFM 100th Convention Highlights

AFM 100th ConventionDuring June, the historic AFM 100th Convention took place at the Westgate Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. From pre-convention regional meetings to the swearing in of officers on the final day, the proceedings ran smoothly and were a true demonstration of solidarity.

Among the many guest speakers this year were: SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator David White; AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund Executive Director Dennis Dreith; Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle; Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) Trustee Dan Beck; General Secretary International Federation of Musicians (FIM) Benoit Machuel; and Executive Director Film Musicians Secondary Market Fund Administrator Kim Roberts Hedgpeth.

The various conference and association representatives—Theater Musicians Association (TMA) President Tom Mendel, Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) President Robert Fraser, Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President Marc Sazer, and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Bruce Ridge—addressed the delegates.

Among the topics discussed by delegates were recommendations and resolutions for proposed changes to AFM Bylaws to help the AFM better serve the needs of modern musicians. A total of 13 specially focused committees of delegates and AFM staff met to discuss and debate focused topics, concerns, and resolutions relating to law, finance, credentials, measures and benefits, organization and legislation, International Musician, public relations, TEMPO, small locals, election, good & welfare, diversity, and organizing.

Other convention highlights included reports from AFM staff. Director of Organizing & Education/Assistant to the President Paul Frank detailed recent and current organizing campaigns in Seattle, Fort Worth, and Washington, DC. A beautiful memorial service, held on the second day, honored AFM members and staff who have passed away since the last AFM Convention in 2013.

For the most part, “team unity,” led by AFM President Ray Hair remained intact after elections. However, Vince Trombetta stepped down as an International Executive Board member and John Acosta was added. Also, AFM Secretary-Treasurer Sam Folio will be replaced by current AFM Symphonic Services Division Director Jay Blumenthal.

As of August 1, the AFM International Executive Board will consist of President Ray Hair, Vice President Bruce Fife, Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, and Secretary-Treasurer Blumenthal, plus board members Acosta (Local 47 president), Dave Pomeroy (Local 257 President), Tina Morrison (Local 105 vice president), Tino Gagliardi (Local 802 President), and Joe Parente (Local 77 President).

Look for detailed Convention coverage in the August International Musician.