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ROPA Welcomed Delegates to July Conference

by Steve Wade, ROPA President and member of Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT)

The Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) held its 40th conference in Atlanta, July 25-27. By all accounts the event was excellent. Highlights included the first appearance at a conference by then AFM International President-elect Tino Gagliardi and a keynote address by Dr. Michelle Au (D), representative for Georgia District 50.

We had several fine presentations, including talks on the Tax Parity Act and taxes for musicians by ROPA Treasurer Rick Basehore of Locals 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), 45 (Allentown, PA), 135-211 (Reading, PA), 161-710 (Washington, DC), and 269 (Harrisburg, PA). There was a job action panel on success stories from the Minnesota Opera, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and Opera Philadelphia.

Valerie Trollinger, a Local 135-211 ROPA delegate and adjunct professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine, presented “The Musician as Athlete: Performing Artists and Special Considerations for Medical Evaluation, Diagnosis and Care.” In addition, Dan Ross and Kent McVey gave a talk on the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. AFM Symphonic Services Division Director Rochelle Skolnick presented “When Orchestras Behave Badly – Using NLRB Processes to Protect Musicians’ Rights.”

I’m especially proud of our resolutions from the conference. We passed resolutions honoring outgoing AFM leadership Ray Hair, Bruce Fife, and Jay Blumenthal, and one remembering Marika Fisher Hoyt. Hoyt was a violist and ROPA delegate from Madison Symphony Orchestra and former member at large on the ROPA Executive Board, who passed away from cancer this year. She was a terrific musician with a wonderful spirit, and we all miss her.

In addition, we voted to support the American Music Fairness Act, the Fair Share for Musicians Campaign, encouraged the use of the Multi-Card Rebate process, AFM investment in organizing, and the preservation of local wage scales. We voted to show solidarity with the striking members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.

We also voted to support the Performing Artists Tax Parity Act of 2023. It’s important to note that the biggest problem with the original legislation was that it was not indexed to inflation. The 2023 act is, and with these new parameters, this bill is potentially life changing for a lot of musicians. The ROPA publication Leading Tone has an exhaustive article on it, written by resident spreadsheet magician Rick Basehore.

The ongoing labor action by the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA is centered around issues that are very much like our own. They are well past the 100-day mark of their strike. We need to continue to support these creative artists in every way we can and look for ways to connect with them. When we talk about beating Keycomp and AI, and other musician replacement technology; residuals from streaming; or the right to be paid at all by the powers that be, we must realize that we need to be proactive to protect our lives and our industry.

One of the best things about these conferences is seeing the strength of the unity in the room. This year, I have felt this a lot from my colleagues on the Players Conference Council: Theater Musicians Association President Heather Boehm; Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians President Bob Fraser; and Recording Musicians Association President Marc Sazer. I will always be grateful for the chance to know Meredith Snow, departing chair of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians. She has been a real inspiration, offering her experience and advice without any hesitation so many times. Congratulations to her on a great tenure.

The ROPA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) workgroup is led by Alana Wiesing, principal timpanist of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra/Local 33. We are working to assemble resources that ROPA orchestras can access easily through our website, and we are looking at the tenure process as well. One of our goals is to have someone from every ROPA orchestra in the workgroup. Any musician in a ROPA orchestra can join. Reach out to your ROPA representative if you are interested in taking part.

The Conductor Evaluation Bank that has been jump-started over the last few years has transitioned from a paper system to an online one. This makes it much easier to set up and manage an evaluation. Consequently, we are getting a lot more data in the bank. We have received 131 evaluations since we went online.

When I spoke to our general session, I noted that about half of the delegates in attendance were new, which is a great sign. We want our experienced people to be there, of course, but it’s a sign of real health in our organization that so many new delegates are stepping up. I told them about how overwhelming the experience was for me, when I was new to ROPA so many years ago, and that they should not be afraid to be exactly who they are, musicians dedicated to a better life for all of us through fair wages and better working conditions. ROPA is here to help us help our colleagues. They are among friends, and they should never doubt that what they do makes a difference.

Stephen Wade Photo

ROPA Summer Conference

by Steve Wade, ROPA President and member of Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT)

It’s that most wonderful time of the year: conference season for all of the AFM’s player conferences. By the time you’re reading this article, the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) will have concluded its 40th Conference, held July 25-27 at the Courtland Grand Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. It was preceded by the annual negotiation workshop presented by the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) on Monday, July 24, at the same site.

At the conference, Dr. Michelle Au (D-GA) House 50th District, the first Asian-American elected to the Georgia State Senate, was the keynote speaker, and AFM International President Tino Gagliardi gave his first address as president to a player conference.

Presenters included Jake Berent, director of Communications at the Chicago Federation of Labor; Kent McVay and Dan Ross of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and Rick Basehore, ROPA treasurer, who spoke about the Performing Artists Tax Parity Act (PATPA) and taxes for musicians. Rochelle Skolnick, AFM SSD director, provided basics on the National Labor Relations Board.

Dr. Valerie Trollinger gave the presentation “The Musician as Athlete: Performing Artists and Special Considerations for Medical Evaluation, Diagnosis, and Care.” In addition, we held a job action panel on the success stories at Opera Philadelphia, the Minnesota Opera, and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, which featured the AFM negotiators and ROPA delegates who led the way.

We have come a long way from ROPA’s beginnings at a meeting of representatives from 13 orchestras in Columbus, Ohio, in 1984. With a current roster of 97 orchestras, ROPA now represents around 6,000 players from all over the nation. We have a long history of providing support and resources for our member orchestras.

We honored one of our most important founders at our 40th conference. Nathan Kahn was a key mover in establishing ROPA, and he has spent a lifetime serving the interests of orchestral musicians ever since. This year, we established the Nathan Kahn Award, given to a person or organization in our conference city showing great dedication to the cause of solidarity, diversity, and professionalism among orchestral musicians. Such an award is indeed a fitting tribute to a man who has never stopped caring about the fight for fair wages and working conditions in our industry.

This first award was given jointly to Local 148-462 members Jessica Stinson and Shadwa Mussad. Violinist Jessica Stinson is a graduate of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. She has been a member of Atlanta Opera Orchestra since 2018, and she performs regularly with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Her students have participated with Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra, Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra, and GMEA All-State Orchestras, and she has served as a judge for the Georgia MTNA string competition.

Shadwa Mussad graduated from Ohio State University with dual master degrees in violin performance and string pedagogy. She is also a member of Atlanta Ballet and Atlanta Pops orchestras, as well as a member of the West Eastern Divan Orchestra, an orchestra for Arab and Israeli musicians founded by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said. Both of these outstanding young artists perform with the Challenge the Stats Quartet, named for one of Atlanta’s most important community-based music schools, which exists to empower BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) artists and use music as a tool for social justice.

I would be remiss if I didn’t bring attention to a piece of legislation that would benefit a lot of working musicians, the Performing Artists Tax Parity Act. There is an excellent article on it by ROPA Treasurer Rick Basehore in the summer edition of The Leading Tone, ROPA’s newsletter. Here’s a short synopsis by Basehore:

The Performing Artists Tax Parity Act was a bill introduced in the House of Representatives during the 116th Congress, and again in both the House and Senate in the 117th Congress. This sought to reform provisions in Section 62(b) of the tax code (Title 26 of the US Code, aka IRC) in order that the qualified performing artists tax deduction (QPAD) could apply to a larger swath of taxpayers who make their living as performing artists. The bill was originally co-sponsored by Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) in 2019 and 2021, and Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN) in 2021.

Basehore makes the point that the original legislation, passed in the 1980s, was never indexed to inflation, and he goes on to say:

PATPA would change the language … so that taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is less than $100,000 would now qualify. In addition, married couples filing jointly with an AGI of less than $200,000 would also qualify. There is a partial deduction for those taxpayers whose income is within $20,000 above the income limits. These income levels would then also be adjusted to inflation, so that performing artists would not again be phased out of eligibility as incomes rise over time due to inflation. The qualified performing artists deduction, if so reformed, could provide hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of tax relief to low- and middle-income performing artists on an annual basis from just the IRS.

We on the ROPA Board think that all the “qualified performing artists” working in ROPA orchestras should make some noise about this potentially life changing legislation. Look at it this way: Basehore’s message has gone out to 6,000 musicians in ROPA’s newsletter, and now 10 times that many here in the International Musician. What would happen if all AFM members started advocating for this bill? Remember the well-known aphorism of Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, who said, “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.”

Public policy changes from the ground up. Great unions like ours are built the same way, and we should embrace that power and use it to do good. To find out more about the PATPA, check out The Leading Tone, or read Basehore’s article on the ROPA website, ropaweb.org. After that, find your leaders and make that noise.

Third Time’s the Charm: ROPA to Meet In-Person

I’m writing this article as I listen to the Metropolitan Opera’s live radio broadcast “A Concert for Ukraine.” It’s wonderful to hear this great orchestra and voices—so uplifting! But the reason for this concert is deplorable and distressing: a tribute to the people of Ukraine who have been invaded by Russia. They are fighting to keep their country with death and destruction at their door. We hope that peace and resolution of this tragedy will come soon.

Most of our Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) orchestras have gotten back to work over the past several months. There are lots of side letter agreements, contract extensions, and COVID protocols to deal with. I expect the next year will be full of negotiations and rollbacks of COVID protocols as we continue to return to live performing. There will likely be a new “normal” for our concerts and way of doing business, having been affected by two years of the pandemic, Zoom, streaming, and the many other adjustments that had to be made to keep the music going. There will need to be a great deal of patience and understanding for everyone as the playing field for many of our orchestras may well have changed.

One thing going back to normal is the annual in-person union education presentation to the fellows of the New World Symphony (NWS) by the AFM Symphonic Services Division, ROPA, and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). The fellows of NWS and our conservatories, colleges, and universities will be auditioning for a record number of open positions in ROPA and ICSOM orchestras. These union colleagues of the future need to have the resources, organizing, and union knowledge that we share with them.

The 39th Annual ROPA Conference is scheduled for July 26-28 in Costa Mesa, California, at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa Hotel. Our host is Orange County Musicians’ Union, Local 7. There will be a Negotiations Workshop on Monday, July 25.

This is the hotel we scheduled two years ago. We hope the third time’s the charm and we will finally meet in person! While much can be said for Zoom conferences, they are not the same as meeting in person. The conversations, connections, and learning that occurs outside of the presentations and meetings is where the worth of player conferences is measured. There is great value to socializing and conversing face to face (or mask to mask) with delegates and musicians who have experienced similar situations and issues, as well as with our wonderful AFM leadership and staff.

ROPA is again offering a scholarship to cover travel, room, and board to members of ROPA orchestras who would like to attend Labor Notes, which will be held in person June 17-19 in Chicago. Since 1979, this media and organizing project has been the voice of union activists who want to put the movement back in the labor movement. Here’s the application link: https://bit.ly/3N8px6P

We are stronger together!

You’re Invited to Attend the ROPA Summer Conference Online

by John Michael Smith, ROPA President and Member of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN)

After surveying our Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) orchestra delegates and local officers, the ROPA Executive Board made the decision that we were not ready for an in-person annual conference this summer. As a result, the 38th annual ROPA Conference will be virtual, as it was in 2020. We have kept the dates approximately the same, July 26-29.

We know that we can produce a successful virtual conference, and the response to last year’s virtual conference was overwhelmingly favorable. The big plus for a virtual conference is that many more ROPA orchestra members, local officers, and friends, who otherwise would not be able to, can attend.

Last year over 300 registered and our daily attendance often approached 200 participants. We have again amended our contract with the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa Hotel and are planning an in-person 39th annual 2022 ROPA Conference in Orange County. Third time’s the charm! Let’s hope the pandemic is but a memory by then.

We plan to have a very similar agenda and guest speaker list as for our previous conferences. We will have speakers in the areas of diversity, musician health and wellness, and understanding orchestra financials. We will be working with the AFM Symphonic Services Division to hold a negotiations workshop for those orchestras who will be negotiating this upcoming season.

COVID took a serious toll on musicians and our organizations, both spiritually and financially. The joy and satisfaction of performing with colleagues for streaming projects during the past year is now moving in the direction of performing in front of live audiences, especially for outdoor concerts. We have a new appreciation for what we do and the joy it brings to ourselves and our colleagues, and to the audiences that we have so missed playing for.

With reduced services and income, AFM musicians and our locals have suffered financially, and those resources have been stressed. We received some assistance—many of our orchestras continued to pay wages, governmental assistance in the form of PPP funds, and now programs of the American Rescue Plan.

Most orchestras have been working toward getting back to season performance, income levels, and collective bargaining agreements we had before the pandemic. But some uninspired orchestra managers and boards have tried to use the pandemic to reset the table in agreements with their musicians. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Colorado Springs Philharmonic are two ROPA orchestras who have taken that low road.

I often hear people talking about getting back to normal. However, in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, we have had our eyes opened to systemic racism and white supremacy that continue to be part of this country, even with all the events, awareness, and focus that have called these negative ideas out. In this area, we shouldn’t go back to “normal,” but own up to our past and move forward in a positive direction.

The ROPA EDI Workgroup, created at last year’s annual conference, is looking at ways our ROPA musicians can make a difference in our orchestras and organizations and move them in the right direction. We are stronger together!

AFM Members Take Action Together to Secure a Healthy Pension Fund

In February, more than 85 AFM members participated in the union’s first legislative advocacy phone bank, reaching out to fellow musicians in congressional districts key to the future of the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021.

The AFM Organizing and Education Department worked with AFM player conferences to engage members of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) to join in the legislative department’s targeted Zoom phone banking campaign to make sure key committee members would support the inclusion of pension relief in the upcoming reconciliation package. In all, over 1,000 of our brothers and sisters in targeted districts across the country were contacted by volunteer callers. 

Zoom phone banking brings volunteers together online at the same time for a quick educational introduction to the purpose of calling and offers instructions on completing the call list sheets. Callers, while on mute, remain on Zoom feeling connected to the group action, and can reach out to staff with any questions.

“This was a great way to connect to our union brothers and sisters around the country, even as we can’t make music together,” said Heather Boehm, member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). “When we raise our voices collectively, we cut through the noise and ensure musicians are heard by decision-makers and protect our ability to retire in dignity.”

Violinist Mei Chang, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), joined several virtual phone banking sessions. “The camaraderie in the Zoom was great and made calling people I didn’t know much easier,” said Chang. “I am inspired to continue doing advocacy on behalf of my fellow working musicians, and hope more of us can join in on the effort.”

The AFM-Employers Pension Fund is one of over 100 multiemployer union pensions in critical status because of aging demographics, declining participation, and reduced contributions. The Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 outlines solutions to help solve shortcomings in multiemployer pension plans and protect our retirement and the retirement of tens of thousands of our fellow musicians.

Screenshot of one of the more than 20 AFM organized volunteer Zoom phone bank sessions conducted in February and March.

ROPA Update and Hopes for an In-Person Conference in 2021

To prepare for writing this article in International Musician, I looked back at my report in last year’s April issue of IM, which annually features the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) and the symphonic AFM player conferences. At the time I wrote that article, we were a little over a week into the national pandemic work stoppage for our musicians, orchestras, and organizations. It’s interesting to see how quickly we responded to the sudden halt to our live performances, plans, and schedules for our seasons and upcoming work. Orchestra managements were just beginning to make decisions regarding work, pay, benefits, and work rules, with some orchestras invoking force majeure and cancellation clauses in their collective bargaining agreements. For Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) musicians, this also meant work alteration or stoppage in other areas, as most of our musicians have other avenues of employment that were also catastrophically affected by COVID.

I can’t say enough about how thankful and impressed I was, and still am, with the response of our SSD staff: Director Rochelle Skolnick and Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark. They jumped in immediately in dealing with so many questions and issues which came up daily. I know their email boxes must have been constantly overflowing with details to be worked out, and the beginning of many, many side letter agreements to our CBAs and symphonic media agreements. Thanks also to the rest of the SSD staff: Negotiator/Educator/ Organizer Todd Jelen, Negotiator Jane Owen, and Contract Administrator Laurence Hofmann; all doing much extra duty and working from home with the flurry of work stoppage and constant changes. ROPA, the other player conferences, and the AFM cannot thank you enough for efforts in what you had to deal with.

Since the COVID pandemic, the Player Conferences Council (PCC) has continued to have regular Zoom meetings. The symphonic PCC members (ICSOM, OCSM, and ROPA) have also continued to meet regularly with SSD staff, both US and Canadian, to discuss the current events and issues facing us. Our communication has never been more frequent and fruitful. As a result of these regular meetings, an increased sense of unity and purpose has grown.

This unity became reality in the recent political action efforts around the AFM-EP Fund and the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021, which was included in the giant American Rescue Plan. The player conference leaders joined AFM Legislative, Political, and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard, Michael Manley and Alex Tindal Wiesendanger of the Organizing Division, Communications Director Antoinette Follett, and others in a campaign to contact by email and Zoom phone bank our AFM members who are constituents of Democratic US House of Representatives members and US Senators to contact their legislators to vote in favor of the rescue plan. And as I am writing today, the American Rescue Plan has become reality, passing all legislatures and heading for President Biden’s signature. We are stronger together!

With the killing of George Floyd and others and resultant racial unrest and awareness in our communities over the past months, ROPA has taken an active role in addressing and changing our symphonic organizations’ systemic racism and notion of white supremacy. ROPA has formed an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusiveness Workgroup made up of ROPA musicians that will focus on awareness, education, and activism for racial and cultural diversity, and on becoming a resource in these areas for our orchestras.

ROPA was involved in the discussion and creation of the recent National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS) Recommended Audition and Tenure Guidelines. This document was a collaborative project of the Sphinx Organization, the League of American Orchestras, the New World Symphony, and the AFM (ICSOM and ROPA player conferences). The committee that worked on this document was made up of musicians, orchestra managers, and conductors. Its purpose is to offer some guidelines for creating greater diversity and inclusion at all levels of our orchestra organizations, particularly in the areas of auditions and tenure.

ROPA is tentatively scheduled to hold its 38th annual conference July 27-29 at the Hilton Costa Mesa Hotel in Orange County, California. This is the same location that we planned for last year’s conference, which became virtual because of the pandemic. The ROPA Executive Board will be monitoring where we are with COVID and will make a decision in the coming months as to whether we can safely hold an in-person conference this summer, or if we will again be virtual. We had about 300 registrations for last summer’s conference, and with nearly 200 in attendance for many of our presentations. Being virtual does open things up for more people to attend! We know we can do a successful virtual conference, but we would sure like to see everyone in person.

Get your vaccinations, wear your mask, wash your hands—strength, patience, good thoughts, and prayers for us all. Keep Calm and Carry On!

Bass Clarinetist and Activist Beverly Setzer Believes Unions Help Both Sides

Most musicians involved in unionism can point to a moment that clearly illustrates why they believe in the power of organized labor. For clarinetist Beverly Setzer of Local 76-493 (Seattle, WA), that moment came shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Back when we were still playing live performances, I worked at a jazz club in Seattle,” recalls Setzer. “There were no parking or loading spaces anywhere nearby. So, the Seattle AFM local organized a group of freelancers, and we lobbied for a specific loading zone for musicians.” The idea came from the musicians themselves, says Setzer, with the local providing the framework and arranging meetings with the city council.

On the surface, it might sound like a small victory—but as Setzer says, the size of the achievement is not the point. “This seemingly small thing made working musicians’ lives so much easier. It’s a perfect example of our union helping us coordinate to make our situation better. As individuals, we would not have been listened to by the city. The AFM had the clout to get us heard.”

The Federation has figured in Setzer’s professional life since her early days. She has been a longtime board member of Local 76-493, the Musicians Association of Seattle. She is also the union rep for Symphony Tacoma as well as a symphony delegate to the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) and a member at large on the ROPA Executive Board. Setzer, who is originally from the Seattle area, says she discovered the bass clarinet almost by accident, as a freshman in college. “The wind ensemble needed a bass clarinet and they basically just handed me one. I quickly fell in love with it.” Setzer loves the instrument’s deep sound, and she enjoys being a solid pitch foundation in the wind section. “It’s also surprisingly versatile, because it has such a huge range,” she adds.

Following a Bachelor of Arts degree and Bachelor of Music in clarinet performance from the University of Washington, Setzer spent a year playing co-principal and principal clarinet in La Filarmónica del Bajío in Guanajuato, Mexico. She has played clarinet and bass clarinet with Symphony Tacoma since 2003. Her trombonist husband is also a Symphony Tacoma member, and both their kids are deeply involved in music.

Love of the instrument has been the springboard for one of Setzer’s long-term aims: enlarging the bass clarinet repertoire. Since 2013, she has been joined by fellow bass clarinetist Jenny Ziefel, also of Local 76-493, forming the Seattle Bass Clarinet Project. The duo has commissioned new works from composers including Sean Osborn, William O. Smith, Jim Knodle, and Daniel Barry, and will perform at the International Clarinet Association’s annual conference in July 2021.

In addition to Symphony Tacoma, Setzer is a regular freelancer in Seattle area theater pit orchestras. Like most musicians who play both symphony and theater orchestra jobs, Setzer says there are aspects she likes better about each. “One good thing about theater is that you have longer runs,” she says. “That can be steady employment. At the same time, you’re also playing the same music over and over. From that point of view, symphony orchestra work is usually musically more satisfying.” But she says there’s also the social aspect. “Pit work tends to be more enjoyable there. Plus, I also get to play saxophone. The doubling is fun and rewarding.”

Setzer’s most regular theater gig is with the Village Theater in nearby Issaquah. Not surprisingly, she was deeply involved with organizing the first contract for the theater’s pit musicians in the 1990s. “I was on the organizing committee, and the collective bargaining agreement we reached was a really proud moment for me.” Setzer recalls the CBA was achieved with a minimum of pushback from the theater. “They didn’t fight it, as they were already partially a union house. I think they saw reaching an agreement with musicians as part of their growth trajectory.”

The Village Theater continues to understand the importance of having a working agreement with union, according to Setzer. For her, this is another great illustration of the power of labor: “If we don’t use our collective power, we are vulnerable in the workplace to any kind of bad policy or decision that an employer wants to implement,” she argues. “When we work collectively, we even the playing fields enough that we are able to protect ourselves and have a voice in our working conditions.” She points out that a CBA also helps employers, because the musicians first iron out among themselves what they want and then speak with a unified voice. “Employers don’t have to deal with lots of different opinions.”


Beverly Setzer plays:

Bass Clarinet — Buffet Prestige with Selmer C* mouthpiece, VanDoren and Rico Royal reeds, and a Florian Popa metal ligature.

Bb Clarinet — Buffet Prestige with a Greg Smith 1* mouthpiece, VanDoren reeds and a VanDoren Ultimate ligature. 

Alto sax — “Chu Berry” Conn with a Bilger-Morgan mouthpiece and VanDoren Java reeds.

Tenor sax — Conn 10M with an Otto Link 5* mouthpiece and VanDoren Java reeds.

Bari sax — King Zephyr with an Otto Link 5* mouthpiece and Rico Royal reeds.

We Need Each Other During This Time of Trial

by John Michael Smith, Regional Orchestra Players’ Association President and Member of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN)

I began writing this article for the International Musician with the intention to write about my recent visits to Detroit and Miami, representing the AFM and the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) at SphinxConnect 2020: Vision and our annual AFM presentation at the New World Symphony. However, over the past week or so my computer and iPhone have been dinging away with email and text messages coming in from our ROPA orchestra delegates, sending messages of cancellations and postponements of services as a result of the coronavirus pandemic we are experiencing worldwide. With 90 ROPA orchestra delegates, that’s a lot of dinging, and the situation for each orchestra changes frequently with the increase in COVID-19 cases in every community.

There is angst, shock, and fear for our immediate future, as our musicians are suddenly finding themselves with no work, no income. In some cases, orchestras are continuing to compensate musicians at varying amounts for the canceled services. Many are declaring a force majeuresituation, or the impossibility to continue to offer employment because of local government response, or invoking their cancellation clauses and are not going to compensate our musicians for canceled services. And that carries out into other work our musicians do as well, so that many musicians have little financial resources left to fall back on. It is indeed a tough time for us all.

But it is also a time to gain strength and support from our colleagues in our orchestras, our Player Conferences, and the AFM during this challenging time. I’m so impressed and proud of our Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Rochelle Skolnick, Debbie Newmark, and Laurence Hofmann have been in constant contact with me and the other leaders of the Player Conferences, helping us coordinate our activities around cancellations and compensation. A side letter agreement was created for the Integrated Media Agreement, a primary AFM media agreement for symphonic organizations, specific to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for additional possibilities for live and archival streaming performances from full orchestra to chamber groups. They worked with other AFM staff to create the COVID-19 Resources page on AFM.org, with an incredible amount of information for members to access. SSD has set up weekly online meetings to keep the lines of communications flowing—again, so much changes on a daily basis. And SSD, ROPA, the International Conference of Symphony and Orchestra Musicians (ICSOM), and the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) are studying the responses of our various orchestras to the pandemic and creating a knowledge bank for our musicians to use in discussion with their orchestra managers regarding cancellations, rescheduling, and compensation.

The AFM Player Conference Council, consisting of the leaders of the five Player Conferences of the AFM are also holding weekly video conferences, discussing our common issues, problems, and occasionally a positive story, helping each other with our special concerns, and keeping in close communication. As in anything union, what affects one of us affects us all. I so appreciate all the support I receive from my fellow leaders of ICSOM, OCSM, Theater Musicians Association (TMA), and Recording Musicians Association (RMA)!

The ROPA Executive Board members are making personal contact with our delegates a priority during this time. Personal online contact and live phone or online conversation is so important at this time of social distancing. The ROPA board members are listening to our delegates as they share what is happening in their orchestras and their community, all unique and special stories to be shared. ROPA is a resource to the over 6,000 musicians who perform in our orchestras, with the special emphasis and knowledge of regional orchestras.

While we are dealing with a challenge that most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes, I feel that this is a unique opportunity for all of us to unite and pull together: musicians, orchestra administrators, and boards of directors. We all need each other, pulling in the same direction.

The 37th annual ROPA conference is scheduled for July 28-30 at the Hilton Costa Mesa Hotel in Orange County, CA, with our hosts Local 7 (Orange County Musicians’ Association) and the Pacific Symphony. We don’t know at this point where things will be with the coronavirus pandemic, and whether this conference will take place as scheduled. Strength, patience, good thoughts, and prayers for us all. Keep Calm and Carry On!

ropa conference

Report from the 2019 ROPA Conference

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

How do you relay the most recent orchestra industry news and trends to over 5,000 musicians from all corners of the nation? The Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) Annual Conference is how. Our conference is an opportunity for representatives from dozens of AFM union orchestras (currently 91 strong) to network with colleagues and learn from experts in our field. Our 2019 site was Boston, MA, with hosts AFM Local 9-535 and three orchestras it represents: Boston Ballet Orchestra, Cape Symphony, and the Portland Symphony.

The 2019 ROPA Conference, held July 28–30, covered the topics of negotiating, union organizing, diversity and inclusiveness, musician self-care, and the overall state of our profession. We also paid tribute to two of our AFM/ROPA friends whom we lost this year.

ROPA President John Michael Smith opened the proceedings by welcoming our newest member orchestra, the Vermont Symphony, to our ranks, discussing the signing of the new Integrated Media Agreement, and sharing progress on ROPA’s online conductor evaluation system. Local 9-535 President Pat Hollenbeck entertained the delegates with a lighthearted overview of Boston’s contribution to society and the arts.

The keynote speaker was Portland Symphony Executive Director Carolyn Nishon, making a return visit to the ROPA conference after presenting in 2013 in Spokane. Her talk focused on how her orchestra, after nearly collapsing in 2008 from debt, regained its financial health through strategic planning involving both management and musicians.

ropa conference
ROPA Executive Board members (from left): Katie Shields, Secretary Karen Sandene, Casey Bozell, Christian Green, Beverly Setzer, Vice President Amanda Swain, Treasurer Sean Diller, President Mike Smith, outgoing board member Maya Stone (Huntsville), Kendra Hawley, Delegate at Large to the AFM Convention Naomi Bensdorf Frisch, Lisa Davis, Cory Tiffin, and Steve Wade. 

We take time at our conferences to address health and wellness issues facing musicians, and this year our guest was oboist Petrea Warneck, who delivered an informative talk on the Alexander Technique.

Capping off the first day was the topic of union engagement. AFM Negotiator/Organizer/ Educator Todd Jelen and AFM Internal Lead Organizer Alex Wiesendanger demonstrated techniques to improve union participation among members of our orchestras. Much of their presentation covered changing our perception of the union as “those people” who do things for us, to “We are the Union” (transactional vs. transformational).

During Day 2, attendees heard from representatives of our fellow AFM Conferences—Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), Theater Musicians Assocation (TMA), Recording Musicians Assocation (RMA), and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), with Liz Johnston, Tony D’Amico, Martin McClellan, and Paul Austin, respectively. Also addressing the conference was the president and CEO of the Boston Symphony, Mark Volpe. AFM International President Ray Hair related the lobbying efforts to shore up the AFM-EPF pension, which resulted in the passage of the Butch Lewis Multi-Employer Pension Act by the House of Representatives in July of this year.

Day 3 featured labor attorney Mel Schwarzwald holding an illuminating Q-and-A session dealing with the negotiations process. Inclusivity and diversity was the focus for much of this morning with a summary of the 2019 SphinxConnect in Detroit, and a report from Lovie Smith-Wright from the AFM Diversity Committee. Alfonso Pollard, AFM Diversity, Legislative, and Political Director, spoke about Washington legislative initiatives, including the Butch Lewis Pension bill. Jessica Schmidt from Orchestrate Inclusion spoke on how our institutions can address racism and unconscious bias, as well as programs to lend career support to talented Black and Latinx musicians.

The conference paid tribute to two of our long-time ROPA friends, Janice Galassi (from the SSD and the Allentown Symphony), and Linda Boivin (from the New Mexico Philharmonic, and who also served several years as our unflappable conference coordinator). A short film was presented, and the delegates passed resolutions in their honor.

Following the election of officers, the 2019-20 ROPA Executive Board will include: President Mike Smith (Minnesota Opera Orchestra), Vice President Amanda Swain (Houston Ballet and Grand Opera Orchestras), Secretary Karen Sandene (Omaha and Lincoln Symphony Orchestras), Treasurer Sean Diller (Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra), Delegate at Large to the AFM Convention Naomi Bensdorf Frisch (Illinois Philharmonic), and Members at Large Casey Bozell (Portland Opera Orchestra), Lisa Davis (Mississippi Symphony), Christian Green (Ann Arbor Symphony), Kendra Hawley (Palm Beach Opera), Beverly Setzer (Symphony Tacoma), Katie Shields (Arizona Opera Orchestra), Cory Tiffin (Las Vegas Philharmonic), and Steve Wade (Hartford Symphony).

As always, a big thank you goes out to SSD staff: Director Rochelle Skolnick, Debbie Newmark, Chris Durham, Jane Owen, Todd Jelen, and Laurence Hofmann, who teach us the skills to negotiate better contracts and strengthen our bargaining unit. And finally, thanks so much to conference hosts: the musicians of Local 9-535 (Boston), Boston Local President Pat Hollenbeck, and numerous hard-working local volunteers. We look forward to our 37th Annual Conference in 2020 in Orange County, CA!

ROPA’s 36th Annual Conference, and What ROPA Does the Rest of the Year

by John Michael Smith, President, ROPA, and Member of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN)

The Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) will hold its 36th Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, July 28-30. The conference will be held at the Hilton Boston Logan Airport Hotel, located right on Boston Harbor. Our hosts this year are Boston Local 9-535, and the Boston Ballet Orchestra, Portland Symphony, and Cape Symphony. As always, our conference will feature presentations on a variety of subjects of interest to our members, including wellness, the business of orchestras, our union, and diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in our orchestras.

ROPA is currently 91 orchestras strong, with 79 full-member orchestras and 12 associate members. Our orchestra budget sizes range from around $650,000 to opera and ballet companies of over $40 million. Representing more than 5,000 musicians, ROPA is the largest of the AFM player conferences.

Besides the annual conference, where information and ideas are exchanged with the delegates from each orchestra, what else is ROPA involved with during the year?

This past June, ROPA was present at the League of American Orchestras in Nashville and had a non-voting delegation participate in the AFM Convention in Las Vegas. Immediately after our conference at the end of July, ROPA will connect with the other AFM player conferences with a presence at their annual conferences. The Theater Musicians’ Association (TMA) will be meeting concurrently with ROPA in Boston this year. This conference will be followed in August by the annual conferences of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) in Hamilton, Ontario, and the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) in Park City, Utah. The Recording Musicians’ Association (RMA) meets biennially, and they do not have a conference scheduled for this year.

Over the past year, ROPA, along with ICSOM, was a part of the negotiating team of the AFM for the new Integrated Media Agreement (IMA), which reached a deal with the Employers’ Electronic Media Association (EMA) in April. ROPA participated in the Sphinx Connect Conference in Detroit this past February, and also is participating with ICSOM and the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) in the National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS), a program for audition preparation for African-American and Latinx musicians. ROPA has participated for several years in a union education program for the New World Symphony, sharing with the fellows in that program the benefits of being union.

ROPA publishes its quarterly newsletter, The Leading Tone, both in print and online. We maintain informational email lists for delegates and for general discussion by ROPA orchestra members and others. ROPA also maintains a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The members-at-large on the ROPA Executive Board each moderate and encourage discussion in a group of delegates of similar orchestra budget size, or specifically pit orchestras, throughout the year.

ROPA is a busy player conference of the AFM. We are working every day, side by side with the other player conferences, Symphonic Services Division, and the AFM on our mission and goals for our musicians, our orchestras, and as a union. We are stronger together!