Tag Archives: orchestra

Gandolfi, Prior & Oliverio: Orchestral Works

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Gandolfi, Prior & Oliverio: Orchestral Works

Featuring works by three composers who have a special relationship with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Gandolfi, Prior & Oliverio: Orchestral Works is a celebration of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary and the two-decade tenure of its fourth music director, Robert Spano.

The album captures the collaborative nature of Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, who established the Atlanta School to champion the next generation of American composers.

The recording is comprised of studio recordings of Michael Gandolfi’s quadruple concerto Imaginary Numbers, Richard Prior’s lyrical tone poem …of shadow and light… and James Oliverio’s DYNASTY: Double Timpani Concerto, which was commissioned by and written for ASO principal timpanist Mark Yancich, of Local 148-462 (Atlanta, GA) and his brother Paul Yancich, of Local 4 (Cleveland, OH), principal timpanist of the Cleveland Orchestra.

michael lisicky

Oboist Michael Lisicky Builds Bridges Between Baltimore and Its Orchestra

Oboist Michael Lisicky of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD) was schooled in collective action during his first full-time orchestra position with  the Savannah Symphony. “It was the most supportive and organized group of musicians,” he says. “To be part of a union body in a very nonunion town was a great bonding experience. That’s how I came to understand the power of a union and how to work collectively.”

michael lisicky

“We were making just below the poverty line but we had full concert halls and lots of support,” he recalls. “In 1990, we had to prepare for an inevitable work stoppage.”

That’s when Michael Lisicky came up with the idea of creating an orchestra cookbook to raise funds and community awareness. The committee collected recipes from orchestra members, tested them, and printed and marketed the cookbook in just four months. “We put $4,000 in our kitty,” he says.

“We were out for upwards of 13 weeks, and in the end, we were able to get a 30% wage increase, spread over the course of the next three years,” says Lisicky. “Though we were still at a very modest annual salary, it was a big deal. In a small, sleepy, Southern city, union activity was not part of everyday life. We were so organized with concerts and working collectively that, in the long run, we got a settlement that we could be proud of.”

“At Savannah, I learned to be a good colleague; what affected one person, affected everybody; I learned how to stick together,” he says. “I don’t know if I would have been a leader or activist for 30 years without that early, firsthand training.”

Though Savannah was the first time he was part of a union action, his mom had instilled in him a deep respect for labor. “In the Philadelphia area most grocery stores were unionized and my mother would never cross a picket line. That’s when I first learned about solidarity and loyalty,” he says.

Growing up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Lisicky says he was lucky to have attended a public school with a strong music program. “It was the kind of program that insisted on excellence, whether you were thinking of going into music or not,” he says.

He graduated from the New England Conservatory before landing a job in Savannah, where he stayed just two years. In 1990, the strike forced him to look for other work. He won an audition for the Richmond Symphony.

While in Richmond, Lisicky attended his first Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) meeting and was immediately enthralled. “I loved hearing the different stories from all the orchestras; I found it fascinating, so I became a delegate, member at-large, conference host, and finally treasurer,” he explains. “For the next six years the ROPA organization became my family.”

Orchestra in Crisis

Then, when the president of Local 123 (Richmond, VA) had to step down, Lisicky stepped up. “It’s an important role in a ‘right to work’ state where it’s hard to convince people that they should belong to the local,” he says.

Michael  Lisicky recalls a particularly trying time at the local when an anonymous donor who wanted to “breathe new life into the orchestra” offered musicians with a certain number of years of seniority up to three years’ pay to retire. “You can’t retire on three-years’ salary at age 50, but when you are approached with this offer you wonder, ‘If I don’t do this, what is my future?’” explains Lisicky. “We saw this as age discrimination.”

“The buyout was probably my most difficult experience as a leader on an orchestra committee; it was debilitating,” he says. “One third of the orchestra took the buyout. It was a painful decision and there was a lack of transparency. We tried to get the best package we could working with the AFM.”

In 2004, Lisicky joined Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. “I had a great experience learning the industry in Savannah and Richmond, but I love being in a non right to work state and I love being in a full 52-week orchestra playing big, full programs all year long,” he says.

“When I left Richmond it was a breath of fresh air and I felt that I had retired from union and orchestra committee activity. But people get tired, leave, and it’s time for new blood to step up,” he says. “I became an unemployment guru when we had to go through some furloughs, then I got involved in the players committee.”

michael lisicky

“There came a time, a few years ago, where we had to say what Baltimore Symphony’s role in the community was, but we had no clear role. We had done things individually, but collectively we didn’t have a face or a brand,” he says. “I didn’t want to be in the position where I had to defend an orchestra in our community.”

This all came up in April 2015, in the turbulent days following the death of Freddie Gray. “The city kind of shut down and we went through a hard night. Some people had been living with the issues that instigated the unrest, and many of us were just learning about what had been going on for decades,” he says.

“I came up with the idea of getting some colleagues together to sit outside the hall the next day and play some music. The committee supported me and the person in charge of marketing grabbed onto the idea. Lo and behold, I contacted every musician in the orchestra and we gave a nice chamber music performance,” he says. “We had every media outlet in the world coming to watch Baltimore collapse and we put on a performance.”

“It wasn’t a concert; it was about getting the community together and taking a break—a very moving experience. We had all the colors of the rainbow there—a thousand people or so outside the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on a beautiful day at the end of April,” he says. “When it was over, we were still in crisis.”

Meyerhoff was one mile from the heart of the unrest, and some people felt that we should be at the epicenter. “So, the next week we sent a woodwind quintet out to the epicenter just to kind of show we were not afraid to go there,” he says. Noticing the library close by, Lisicky contacted them about doing a concert series the following spring. “Anyone can perform and leave; it doesn’t show any commitment. We want to make a real connection with the community.”

The Work of a Musician

The Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ community outreach, and Lisicky’s commitment to it, grew from there. “I think coming together is a good exercise in collective action. Our goal is to bring Baltimore Symphony Musicians into the best light possible—to have the community know who we are and realize we have a purpose.”

Michael Lisicky is also known for stepping into leadership roles in organizing and pressing others into service. “The standard response is ‘I wouldn’t be good at this,’” he says. “If you don’t want to get involved with the players committee, where the grunt work is, get involved with a subcommittee.”

“I would also encourage people to read their contract and know a little bit about the history,” he says. “There is a reason why we have work rules and certain conditions that are not necessarily applicable from orchestra to orchestra. There are reasons why certain things were put into a contract, not just to protect you, but also the organization. Longtime musicians should educate those who are coming on board.”

“I didn’t realize when I went to school to learn to play the oboe how much non-oboe work there was going to be,” he says. “You want to win that job, then you want to get tenure, then you want that job not just to survive, but to thrive. That takes extra work.”

History Buff

Aside from performing in the symphony and organizing community events, Lisicky is also a published author with a curious focus on  the history of department stores. “Through a crazy obsession I became something of an expert,” he says. “My mother loved these places and I was always intrigued by the history; they have been around for generations and defined communities. I never wanted to be an author, but I liked putting together these projects so we could remember the roles these stores played in these cities. It’s kind of how orchestras are part of their communities.”

He has also researched his orchestra and wrote the book, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: A Century of Sound (2015). “It’s hard writing about your job,” he says. “No one knew in 1916 what it was going to be like in 100 years; when I looked at 2016 I tried to remain optimistic in a challenging environment.”

“For its first 25 years, the Baltimore Symphony was the nation’s only fully-funded public symphony orchestra,” he says. “We were unable to grow because we had only so much funding. We had a revolving door of conductors who thought publicly funded orchestras were the way to go, then when they wanted to increase the quality and they didn’t have the money, they would leave.”

“Back in the 1930s, when they were challenging the line item, the mayor stood up and said that symphony orchestras are just as important to the quality of life as street lights and public toilets,” says Lisicky. “As a civically funded organization, we were cheaper to attend than the Philadelphia orchestra, so we were kind of a working class orchestra. By the 1940s, we became the face of Baltimore, traveling throughout the country and to Carnegie Hall.”

“It wasn’t until 1970, when we had a commitment to quality from Conductor Sergiu Comissiona and Joseph Meyerhoff, head of the board, who decided to invest in the orchestra and grow us from a sleepy little orchestra to one of the nation’s top orchestras,” he recounts. “The organization had two big work stoppages in the 1980s where they wouldn’t have received positive outcomes except for the collective work at the time.”

This summer, Lisicky looks forward to BSO’s August tour to Ireland and the United Kingdom, which includes a stop at the Proms festival. And Lisicky is always looking for the next outreach project. “Sometimes it’s a long-range thing—creatively coming up with an idea or it’s a ‘triage performance’ following an emergency.”

“As long as musicians, boards, management, and communities remain advocates for one another, we’ll have a chance,” he says. “Getting the next board together and looking ahead three, five, 10 years, that’s the challenge.”

In Baltimore, the focus on community engagement that began in 2015 has done much to raise the profile of the orchestra. Lisicky’s advice to other orchestras wanting to up their community outreach game: keep it simple.

“We have a tendency to overthink and that cripples you. Do it for the right reasons, not to just get it down on paper. Challenge yourself; when we take a step outside our comfort zone we can all accomplish things.” He adds, “Have a brand; make yourselves identifiable through social media. As you become identifiable, you develop more contacts in the media who will cover the orchestra in the future.”

orchestra committee

What to Expect If You Are Elected to the Orchestra Committee

by Jane Owen, AFM Symphonic Services Division Negotiator

The best experiences I have as an AFM negotiator are getting to meet and work with the musicians who are part of their organization’s orchestra committee. These orchestra members, elected by their colleagues, take on the responsibilities of representing fellow musicians in the day-to-day business of performing in an orchestra, with all the attention to detail and artistic excellence that job entails. They are resourceful, hard-working, creative, and caring individuals who are often the unsung heroes dealing with the challenges of ongoing contract administration.

The orchestra committee acts as the representative of the AFM and your local in the workplace. For an orchestra that has no union steward, committee members are often the only representatives present when rehearsals and concerts are happening. The committee is part of the union team (consisting of the orchestra committee, the union steward, and local officers) responsible for the administration of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in the workplace. In a typical season, as an orchestra committee member, you can expect to deal with questions about and violations of your CBA, both major and minor. Many of these questions will come to you from the musicians. It is important that every musician in your orchestra knows who the committee members are and how to reach them.

Organizing the orchestra committee is the first step. As soon as the committee is chosen, the chair, secretary, and treasurer should be decided upon among the committee members. All the members of the committee should have a copy of their orchestra’s musicians’ association by-laws, as well as the current CBA, and a roster of all the members of the orchestra who are in the bargaining unit. Familiarize yourselves with the deadlines for dues, which need to be paid to the respective orchestra conferences (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians, or Regional Orchestra Players Association), and strike funds, if applicable. Is the orchestra committee responsible for holding elections for other musician committees—audition committees, peer review committees, players’ conference representatives, or board representatives? If so, what are those deadlines?

Now the real work begins! You may find yourself dealing with day-to-day problems of setup, lighting, temperature, or other working conditions. On the other end of the spectrum, you may be handling more long-term issues of discipline, dismissal proceedings, or harassment in the workplace. Management will also come to the orchestra committee with questions about how to interpret articles of the CBA, items not covered by the CBA, and approval for circumstances that may go against the CBA. Some issues can be handled quickly, on-site by the orchestra committee chair or another committee member, if the chair is not present. Others may require consultation and decisions by the entire committee. It is critical to involve the local in matters concerning discipline or dismissal or where management is asking for a waiver of CBA provisions. These can implicate the union’s duty of fair representation. Questions concerning electronic media will likely require the involvement of, not only the local, but the Federation as well—including a call to AFM Symphonic Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark.

More orchestras are realizing that musician interaction with audience members and members of the community at-large are essential for continuing success for our organizations. Committee members can be helpful in encouraging this interaction through community activities, meet-and-greet opportunities for audience members, social media posts, and newsletters sent to our interested fans.

Where you do not have a separate negotiating committee, preparations for negotiations and the negotiations themselves are the responsibility of the orchestra committee. In the years leading up to a negotiation, the committee should keep record of situations that have arisen during the term of their current CBA, resolutions of those situations, and applicable article numbers. If you have been elected to a committee that will be negotiating, you will likely spend a lot of time doing preparation during the last season of your CBA preceding the negotiation. Surveys of the musicians, research into other CBAs and orchestras, and committee meetings to come up with a union proposal will be necessary. Negotiation committee members will need to be present for negotiation meetings, which can go on for hours, over several days, weeks, or months.

Participation in the orchestra committee and/or negotiating committee is, in short, a serious commitment of time and energy. It is a commitment to your fellow musicians, to your profession, to your local, and to the AFM as a whole. It can be the most annoying, frustrating, time-consuming, and, in the end, the most rewarding, service you do for your fellow musicians.

Connecting with the communities

Orchestra Musicians Connecting with The Communities Beyond the Symphony Halls

Connecting with the communities we serve has never been more important for orchestra musicians. In this article, we explore the activities musicians in several orchestras have undertaken to foster an authentic connection with their communities and to raise their profile as musicians and members of a collective.

Baltimore Symphony Musicians

This month’s cover artist, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) oboist Michael Lisicky has been a leader in BSO musician outreach efforts. Projects from the Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD) members have ranged from “triage” performances, such as the one they gave during the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, to program series at public libraries and local hospitals. They see these activities as providing opportunities to reach new audiences and connect with population that might not attend their concerts.

“Playing at the events Michael has put together over the past three years has been immensely satisfying for so many of us,” says BSO first violinist Greg Mulligan, who is also co-chair of the players committee and ICSOM member-at-large.

“This outreach connects Baltimore Symphony  Musicians directly and intimately with folks in our community,” he says. “Of course, it is also satisfying to perform in unusual places, in unusual ways, and to see the delight and gratitude on faces of people all over our region.”

He advises other musicians to think about who they would like to play music for—patients in hospitals, people at blood drives, schools, libraries, or maybe in response to a traumatic local or national/international event. “Think of these outreach activities as benefitting both your institution as a whole, and the group of musicians that makes up your orchestra.”

Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra Musicians


For Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra musicians, members of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), Giving December is a way to show their gratitude and give back to the community during the busy holiday season. Among the 2017 events were: packing 11,846 meals for those in need; repurposing and gifting flower arrangements previously set to be discarded; and chamber music performances for people with little access to concerts, including Hollywood House senior living facility and Outside the Walls, an organization to support people recently released from incarceration.

“The reaction of the community has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra Violist Melissa Kirk. “Bringing live music to people in an intimate setting is a wonderful experience for all involved. Many of us volunteer and give to charities throughout the year, but we were looking for a way to join together as an orchestral family to show gratitude and give back to the community.”

“We urged our musicians to organize chamber groups to perform for people who normally don’t get to experience the joy of live music,” says Kirk. “Giving December took on a life of its own to include pop-up performances around the city and extending past the month.”

“Community outreach is an excellent way to break down the barrier between audience and performer. The benefits flow in both directions: the community gets to know the musicians and the musicians get to interact with the community in a more personal way,” she says. “We form bonds with each other outside of the workplace, through the shared experience of helping those in need.”

Symphony Musicians of Richmond


Symphony Musicians of Richmond (SMOR), members of Local 123 (Richmond, VA), put on an annual concert to benefit the United Way. Richmond Symphony Principal Bassoon Thomas Schneider says it got started in 2013 when SMOR reached out to the AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison C. B. Sinclair at United Way about partnering on a benefit concert.

“We decided that rather than have a black tie style fundraiser, we wanted to have a community focused event accessible to everyone; we were hoping to reach new audiences in the community. We especially wanted the concert to be accessible to fellow union members in the Richmond area, hoping the concert would help us build new relationships in the labor community,” he explains.

The first concert was a huge success, as was the s’more (SMOR) themed reception after the show. “Over the last five years the concert has continued to develop. The second year we branded the concert as ‘Music Unites.’ We tried charging money for tickets, but found that we got much better attendance and roughly the same revenue with a free concert,” says Schneider.

“Our venue for the concert is in the round; the audience members are all very close to the musicians and the sound. Musicians see the faces of the audience members as we perform. Connecting so profoundly with an audience through our art and helping United Way just feels right and is its own reward,” he says.

United Way is one of the only major charities that actively works with labor. They have also helped us get interviews in the press, explains Schneider. “I believe the concerts have significantly increased community awareness of our musician’s association. We want to build a reputation as good citizens in our community.”

MET Orchestra Musicians

“After some of our public engagement initiatives were scaled back or canceled, we felt that small scale, community-based concerts were the way to go,” says Metropolitan Opera (Met) Orchestra violist Mary Hammann. “I began searching for ways to do this. I was surprised by how quickly things fell into place.” 

MET Orchestra Musicians, members of Local 802 (New York City), ended up establishing their own 501(c)(3) charity focused on community outreach. William Short, Met principal bassoon says, “We felt there were opportunities to become more involved in the community outside of Lincoln Center, to give back to underserved populations, and to expand awareness and appreciation of classical music.”

Among MET Orchestra Musicians projects have been recurring performances at local VA hospitals and facilities, as well as visits to local public schools and libraries. “Communities are both enormously appreciative of these efforts and fascinated by a peek into what musicians actually do. We think that presents an extraordinary opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life and shows that classical music, an authentic experience in an increasingly inauthentic world, is just as relevant as it has ever been,” he says.

The community reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Hammann. “Our audiences are delighted to have such quality music in their libraries and schools. I see that the community is thirsty for this kind of musical sharing. On a personal level, it is heartening to see how powerful music is on this small community scale. I have gotten very positive feedback from audience members who were inspired (in countless ways) by our performance and also by meeting
us afterwards.”

National Arts Centre Orchestra Musicians


In Ottawa, the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra musicians’ FanFair is an annual fundraising project organized by the members of Local 180 (Ottawa, ON). Other NACO outreach includes coaching young musicians, performing at senior residences and hospitals, as well as other fundraising performances.

“FanFair started during a dark time in our history. In October 1989, a rummage sale and silent auction were held to raise funds for an expected labour action,” says Assistant Principal Second Violin Winston Webber. “During the seven-week strike community support was fantastic. We were grateful, so we repeated the event the next Christmas season as a charity fundraiser and it just took off. It’s since raised more than $800,000 for two local charities—the Snowsuit Fund for children and the Ottawa Food Bank.”

“From the beginning, all labour for the FanFair concerts has been donated, including NAC facilities, light and sound systems, management time, publicity, musicians, and stagehands,” adds Webber. “The conductors are orchestra members. Incidental costs are paid from the orchestra musicians’ association operating funds, so 100% of donations go directly to the charities.”

“Community concerts remind us how important music is to people and how it can draw people together,” says Local 180 President and retired NACO second oboe and English horn Francine Schutzman. “FanFair is truly a moving event. In addition to FanFair itself, ‘elves’ from the orchestra go out into the lobby immediately after each performance in December to collect donations for our two charities.”

“One valuable result of FanFair has been the opportunity to get to know our supporters on a very personal level, and to generate new fans,” she adds.

“The NAC Orchestra has 40 educational and outreach programs for young people of all ages, adults, and teachers—it’s a top priority,” says Webber.

“We all know we should do outreach, and it does come back to us in various positive ways, like a higher public profile. But when you see the results on the ground, out in the so-called real world, then it really hits you how important this is to people. Our inspiration is the amazing work the charities do,” he says.

Belinda Whitney

Belinda Whitney: Tapestry of Support Shapes Compelling Career

Belinda Whitney

photo credit: Matt Dine

Violinist Belinda Whitney of Local 802 (New York City) has forged an exciting and diverse career. She’s currently concertmaster and personnel manager for The Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra, concertmaster for the Broadway show My Fair Lady, performs with the Harlem Chamber Players, plus does a wide range of commercial gigs. She credits her success to all the people that believed in her and helped her along the way.

Whitney’s journey in music began at school. “No one is more a product of music in the public schools than I am,” she says, recalling the first time she heard a string quartet in second grade in Philadelphia. Later, she was one of two students from each classroom selected to take violin lessons.

Her remarkably dedicated violin teacher, John Hamilton, invested heavily in his students, traveling to their homes once a week for free, private lessons. “He would give me lessons until I couldn’t concentrate anymore and then he would stay for dinner,” she recalls. It was the only payment he would accept. “He also took us to free concerts, found performance opportunities for us, and he introduced us to a summer camp.” Still teaching and performing, Hamilton is now a member of Local 294 (Lancaster, PA).

Already gigging in college, Whitney joined Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) as a student. “It was very formal. I had an interview and I dressed up and brought my violin. The interviewer asked a lot of questions. I played some scales and a little solo,” she says. “It really drove home the fact that I was becoming part of something. We had pride in what we were doing and I valued that.” However, she had no idea how important her union would be later.

Whitney received a Bachelor of Music from Temple University and a Master of Music from The Juilliard School, where she was a scholarship student of Ivan Galamian. Though her studies were classical, the music she wished to play was more commercial. “I always loved old movies and the sound of old TV show orchestras,” she says. “When I started doing freelance gigs in college, my professor said, ‘Now, don’t you enjoy these gigs too much.’ But, I loved doing commercial work.”

Before graduation, she was already hired to play in Philadelphia that summer for The King and I with Yul Brynner. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m not out of school and I already have a job,’” says Whitney who was 23 at the time. “I loved it. I got to work with a lot of seasoned pros; it was a great introduction.”

“At the time, big stars would go on the road,” she says. Following The King and I, she worked on several other shows—Sugar Babies with Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney and Mame with Angela Lansbury—and other acts that came through Philadelphia and Atlantic City. “I recorded with Sigma Sounds and Philadelphia International Records and did symphonic work as well. I felt like I had it all.”

Belinda Whitney

Photo credit: Kevin Yatarola

Her first full-time symphony position was as associate concertmaster for Savannah Symphony. “They sort of took a chance on me because I had no experience [as concertmaster],” she says. When the former concertmaster left, Whitney became one of the first black concertmasters for a large symphony. “That was a big feather in my cap that led to a lot of other things.”

After a few years, she wanted a change of pace and moved back to Philadelphia. A short time later she had her first gig on Broadway. The concertmaster for City of Angels dropped out just weeks before the show’s opening and John Miller, a Local 802 contractor, hired her. “It was a little odd to start in New York as concertmaster for a Broadway show, but I’d already paid my dues elsewhere,” says Whitney who went on to have a long and rewarding association with Miller. “I feel really lucky for that,” she says.

According to Whitney, one of the most important duties of a Broadway concertmaster is to maintain high standards. Not everyone is cut out for Broadway, she says. “In a symphony, you prepare a different concert every week or so. With a Broadway show, you play the same thing over and over—for years, if you are lucky. Being a concertmaster for a Broadway show is a matter of maintenance: keeping standards up, while keeping the work atmosphere inclusive, light, and pleasant. New York is full of incredibly fantastic musicians and it’s important to foster an atmosphere of respect in the pit.”

“I don’t mind playing the same thing over and over,” she says. “I feel when you play Broadway you are either building up or tearing down. You are either playing your best and thinking ‘tonight I’m going to make my sound a little better’ or just phoning it in, which is tearing down. As a concertmaster, it is my challenge to keep the standards high in the face of repetition.”

Whitney has now served as concertmaster for many Broadway shows. When asked for her personal favorite, she replies, “I could tell you why they are all my favorites. I’ve always loved old musicals. At Lincoln Center, I was concertmaster, as well as in-house contractor, for South Pacific, The King and I (which I did for a second time), and currently My Fair Lady.”

Music Coordinator David Lai of Local 802 first asked her to contract for South Pacific. “I tend to take on challenges,” she says. “He led me through it. It was a big orchestra—30 people—and by the time everyone was allotted five subs, we were talking 180 people. That was a pretty big payroll and a lot of people to get to know.”

That’s when she first realized all the little things her union does behind the scenes to make sure musicians are compensated and treated fairly. “I really can’t imagine navigating the musical freelance business without the union,” she says, describing how she acts as a bridge to the union. “I enjoy people—facilitating work situations and making them run as smoothly and painlessly as possible.”

Today, Whitney is also contractor and personnel director for The Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra, which she’s been involved with from its inception. When she first met with founder and Local 802 member Gary Fagin about his ideas, Whitney discovered they had similar approaches to music. “We both value musicians who are experienced in a variety of styles,” she says. “He said he felt New York freelance musicians are among the most well-rounded musicians in the world today, and have extensive playing experience, at the highest level, in many different styles. This was exactly what he wanted for Knickerbocker.”

Belinda Whitney

photo credit: Cenovia Cummins

Whitney also told him she would not contract an orchestra that didn’t provide fair wages and benefits for its musicians. “We agreed on this from day one,” she says. “We’ve had some unusual requests and Gary always says, ‘We do it the right way or we don’t do it.’ It’s been wonderful to be the bridge between this orchestra, this man who has this fantastic vision, and the union whose priority is getting people the benefits to which they are entitled. These musicians are absolutely valued.”

The Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra is Lower Manhattan’s orchestra, she says. “It started 10 years ago, not long after 9/11, at a time when so many orchestras were folding. It’s been wonderful to be a part of building it and I feel lucky to have done that.”

Whitney thrives in the diverse work of a freelance musician, which for her has also included film scores, records, and working with artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, Luciano Pavarotti, Barbra Streisand, and Stevie Wonder of Local 5 (Detroit, MI). She can also be heard, along with violinist Cenovia Cummins of Local 802, in the recording of the tango introduction to the show Mystery Masterpiece Theatre.

As an old movie buff, Whitney felt particularly blessed when she met Donald O’Connor during an MGM special at Carnegie Hall. “I went to his dressing room and we had a great time talking. At the concert, he spoke about his experiences with MGM. As they dimmed the lights to play a video of his routine ‘Make ’Em Laugh.’ I saw him walking over to me. He says, ‘Now let’s watch,’ and puts his arm around me and we watched it together. I was on stage at Carnegie Hall, watching ‘Make ’Em Laugh’ with Donald O’Connor’s arm around me! That really tickled me.”

Among the necessities for a successful freelance career, according to Whitney, are union membership, networking, affability, and professionalism. Earning livable wages as a freelance musician would not be feasible without the union, she contends. “The union really pulls it all together. I think we take our union for granted, but the way the freelance world works is really a product of our union’s hard work.”

“Respect, pleasantness, networking, and being on time and ready to play are huge for musicians,” she continues. “In a big group of musicians, you may not stand out. But, if you are early, ready to play, dependable, and friendly, people will want you around. The music world today is very competitive and there are a lot of people who can do a job pretty well. Sometimes networking skills can give you a slight edge. People will forgive a lot of missteps if they realize you are eager to learn and pleasant to be around. We all remember when we were young.”

It’s also critical to be a well-rounded musician, she says. “My experiences in Broadway, the recording business, and the classical business keep looping around for me. One takes me to the other, then back to the first. It’s been a rich experience learning different styles.”

Looking back on her career Whitney is thankful to everyone who helped her succeed. “God has blessed me more than I ever thought and I feel humbled that so many people took a chance on me. When I take inventory of my journey I realize that my career is like a tapestry of all the people who invested in me—from my family who encouraged and believed in me, to my parents driving me all over the country to music camps, to that very first teacher,” she says. “I love that I’m involved with the Harlem Chamber Players and Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra, which put on children’s concerts. Investing in others is really important because that’s what brought me here.”

Whitney feels that working with young children is key to bringing more racial diversity to symphony orchestras. “By the time musicians are out of college, I feel like it should be a level playing field,” she says. “I think the reason I did as well as I did was because people invested so heavily in me before I got to college.”

“When I talk to my colleagues, many of them had parents who played an instrument so they started at a very early age and music was a part of the home. But about 90% of the black professional musicians I know started music in the public schools. So that means they are starting later. I think we should invest in programs targeting younger people so when they get to college they are already competitive,” she says.

Los Angeles Philharmonic Announces 100th Anniversary Season: LA Phil 100

Los Angeles Philharmonic has announced an ambitious season to mark its 100th anniversary. Aside from an exciting centennial program, the orchestra will mark the milestone with educational and social-impact initiatives, as well as public celebrations. LA Phil 100 season highlights include more than 50 commissions, 20 programs conducted by Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, plus exciting cross-disciplinary collaborations. Former LA Phil Music Directors Esa-Pekka Salonen and Zubin Mehta will return, along with former Principal Guest Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, a member of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 9-535 (Boston, MA). A new work by former Music Director André Previn will be performed and a long list of internationally celebrated musicians are scheduled to appear with the orchestra.

The season kicks off September 30 with day-long Celebrate LA! festivities for the entire city.  The free, open-air event will feature performances throughout the streets, from Walt Disney Concert Hall to the Hollywood Bowl, culminating with a free LA Phil concert at the Hollywood Bowl with a special once-in-100-years roster of guest artists. Celebrations will continue through the 2019 Hollywood Bowl season, and end with a gala featuring Dudamel, Mehta, and Salonen sharing the podium on October 24, 2019, marking the exact 100th anniversary of the LA Phil’s first concert.

“I have been thrilled to help define and shape the LA Phil over the past decade of our great history, when we have worked with such enthusiasm to make ourselves more diverse, more inclusive, and more engaged with our community,” says Dudamel.

The year is commemorated in a two-volume compilation of photographs, interviews, and essays, Past/Forward: The LA Phil at 100. LA Philharmonic musicians are members of Local 47.

Improved Contract for Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra

In December, Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra ratified a four-year CBA under which its musicians, represented by Local 443 (Oneonta, NY), will see wage increases and other significant improvements. Base musician wages will increase 3% in each year of the contract, in addition to increases in guaranteed weekly minimum salary, overscale for principal players, and pension contributions. Improvements to sick time, bereavement leave, personal leave, and guaranteed season leaves of absence will also take effect. A new position has been added to the core roster; language regarding dismissal policy has been improved; and opportunities for additional work will be added as the festival grows.

“This contract achieves significant gains for our membership in many areas,” says Committee Chair Greg Spiridopoulos of Local 443. “We are especially pleased to have been able to make these enormous strides for our entire membership in a compact negotiation, which was achieved by establishing a mutually respectful relationship with management early in the process and identifying the shared goal of the company’s artistic growth.” Negotiator and Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) Vice President Robert Couture was brought in by Local 443 to assist throughout the negotiating process.

Internal Organizing in Our ICSOM Orchestras

by Meredith Snow, Chair, International Conference of Symphony  and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)

The cohesive internal organization of an orchestra is the foundation of a strong bargaining unit. The more our musicians know about the structure of their collective bargaining agreements (CBA) and how committees function, and the more they are willing to participate in the civic life of their orchestra, the greater will be their success in negotiations, and the greater will be the success of the institution as a whole.

The orchestra, as a social construct, has a centuries-old history of hierarchal rank and deportment, from conductor to concertmaster to last stand violas. The mannerisms remain, but our unionization has revolutionized the status quo behind the scenes. The power to negotiate pay and working conditions that are fair and beneficial to all and the protection of tenure has created a more equal and just workplace.

All of our International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) orchestras have both a CBA (negotiated by musicians and locals) and bylaws, which carefully outline the duties of committees, and the relationships of members to each other and to management. While each orchestra may divide responsibilities differently, an orchestra committee (OC) generally oversees the implementation of the CBA; some form of Auditions Committee will manage auditions and tenure review in conjunction with the music director; and an artistic liaison committee may address programing, conductor review, and possibly workload issues that can occur within the bounds of the CBA.

Many orchestras now have a separate negotiating committee. In recent years, orchestras have formed social media committees and community outreach committees to foster connection with their current and potential audiences. And I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the coffee makers—the unsung heroes who come in early to rehearsal and start the coffee brewing. A fresh cup of coffee is, in and of itself, an internal organizing tool. We tend to concentrate our attention on the grand gestures and positions of power, but it is small considerations that foster good relationships.

The configuration and number of members of these committees, makeup of the audition panel, and other details are specified in each orchestra’s bylaws. The various duties have become increasingly complex over the years to the extent that many orchestras now have a crossover system where OC members also serve on the other committees to be sure that the contract and bylaws are not overlooked or undermined.

As with any civil service, working on a committee can be challenging and rewarding in equal measure. But having strong committees is absolutely vital to the health of an orchestra. They are the connective tissue that binds our members together, as well as the central nervous system in our interaction with management. A clear understanding of our relationships creates a strong bond, especially needed in times of adversity, and makes it possible to build a culture of mutual respect and responsiveness, not only between musicians, but with management as well.

Serving on committees is a voluntary activity. Our members donate their time for the good of all. While many members volunteer, others need encouragement. In many orchestras, the ICSOM delegate and a committee member will invite newly hired musicians to lunch to explain the organizational structure of their new job. Some orchestras have created a handbook to simplify understanding of the densely-written CBA and bylaws. We are always recruiting. Asking musicians to volunteer for activities that benefit other organizations, such as soup kitchens or disaster relief groups, is a doubly beneficial organizing tool. You are solidifying your own relationships while helping others.

Open and respectful communication is key. Committee members can and should be available to speak with other orchestra members, but there is no substitute for general meetings, which help draw together all the musicians in an orchestra. Aspirations, irritations, complications, what’s working, what’s not—all need an open forum to be addressed. The better we understand one another, the stronger we are as a unit. Considering we all play in the same orchestra, it is surprising how different the pressures and expectations of each instrument group are. Understanding our different perspectives helps unify our membership. The stronger we are as a union, the greater our success in negotiations.

Symphonies & Scorpions

Symphonies & Scorpions: Ramblings of a Wand’ring Minstrel on the Boston Symphony’s Far East Tour of 2014

Symphonies & ScorpionsIn 1979, Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) was the first American orchestra to set foot in China after normalization of relations with the US following the tumultuous Cultural Revolution. The visit aroused great local and international interest. In 2014, the BSO returned to China. Author Gerald Elias performed on both tours. His memories from 1979 are vivid: from spectacular banquets to the eerie quiet and darkness that descended upon Beijing—a city of 9 million—every night due to its inadequate power grid. Having witnessed momentous changes in Chinese politics, economy, and society from afar, Elias was intensely curious to see them for himself. In this book, Elias explores the changes he experienced, as well as the artistic mission and the logistics of the tours.

Symphonies & Scorpions: Ramblings of a Wand’ring Minstrel on the Boston Symphony’s Far East Tour of 2014, by Gerald Elias,

St. Louis Ends FY with Surplus

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) completed its 2017 fiscal year with an operating surplus of $18,000—its first surplus this century. SLSO’s total annual budget was $30.3 million. The surplus was the culmination of a stellar 2016-2017 season, in which it increased ticket revenue 1%, with 23 sold-out concerts. SLSO embarked on a tour of Spain in February and performed at Carnegie Hall in March. Altogether, the orchestra gave 219 concerts, including 88 that were presented free of charge. A quarter-million people experienced a performance by the symphony over the course of the season. 

In January, a five-year musicians’ contract was reached seven months ahead of schedule. SLSO musicians are members of Local 2-197 (St. Louis, MO).