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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!

ropa's 34th annual conference

ROPA Notes Busy Start to 2019

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

These past few months have been very busy with travel and Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) business, in addition to my gigs, family life, and a real Minnesota winter! I was able to visit the SphinxConnect Conference for only a day. The conference was held in Detroit January 30 – February 2. I joined my fellow ROPA Executive Board member Stephen Wade of Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT), who attended the entire conference representing ROPA. I just missed Local 80 (Chattanooga, TN) and 257 (Nashville, TN) member Maya Stone, who is also a ROPA Executive Board member. She performed in the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening. 

Also in attendance were my colleagues International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Meredith Snow, AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director and Special Counsel Rochelle Skolnick, and AFM Legislative-Political and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard. It was my first experience at SphinxConnect, the annual conference of the Sphinx Organization. I was truly impressed with the quality of the event, the fabulous attendance of more than 800, and the positive energy. I encourage our AFM membership to support the excellent work that the Sphinx Organization is doing in the areas of equity, diversity, and inclusiveness, as well as addressing the under-representation of people of color in classical music.

Soon after returning home from SphinxConnect, Skolnick, Pollard, Snow, and I participated in a conference call with the leadership of the National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS). This initiative is made up of leaders of the Sphinx Organization, the New World Symphony, and the League of American Orchestras. It is supported by a four-year $1.8 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and additional contributions from many partnering American orchestras. NAAS provides support to black and Latinx musicians to develop their audition skills and increase their participation in auditions, with the ultimate goal of increasing their representation in professional orchestras.

For several years, SSD, ICSOM, ROPA, and Local 655 (Miami, FL) representatives have participated in an educational and organizing visit with the fellows of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. For this year’s February 12 visit, I was joined by Skolnick, AFM Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Deborah Newmark, Local 655 President Chas Reskin, ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow, and ROPA Executive Board member and South Florida musician Kendra Hawley. We engaged the aspiring future professional musicians in discussions about the AFM and the role that it will likely play in their future employment. At these visits, our AFM contingent discusses union and AFM history, the role of the player conferences, orchestra committees, the local, and working conditions of symphony, opera, and ballet orchestras. We talk about how an orchestra committee works and its relationship with the local. We discuss collective bargaining and the security, strength, and fairness that comes with standing together.

The 36th ROPA Conference will be held this summer in Boston, Massachusetts, July 28-30. There will be a negotiations workshop Saturday, July 27, for orchestras negotiating new CBAs in the current and coming year. The conference will be held in the Hilton Boston Logan Airport hotel, across the harbor from downtown Boston. Our hosts this summer are Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) and the ROPA orchestras of that local—Boston Ballet Orchestra, new member Cape Symphony, and Portland Symphony Orchestra. There will be a number of guest speakers and presentations, including those of AFM SSD. We look forward to this great annual event and Boston hospitality!

ropa conference

Delegates from 89 Orchestras Meet at 2018 ROPA Conference

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

The Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), with 89 member orchestras at the time of this writing, represents AFM union orchestras from all parts of the country. Our annual conference gives us a terrific opportunity to work with our colleagues. For the past 35 years, delegates have gathered in many of our orchestras’ communities, including our two Portlands. This year’s conference was in Portland, Oregon. (Our 2011 conference was in Portland, Maine). Our hosts this year were AFM Local 99 (Portland, OR) and the Portland Opera Orchestra. Joining us at this conference were our four new ROPA Orchestras: San Jose Opera Orchestra, Sacramento Philharmonic Opera, Marin Symphony, and Cape Symphony.

At the 2018 ROPA Conference, held July 31-August 2, delegates gained knowledge from peers and experts in our industry, covering the topics of negotiating, union organizing, interpersonal relationships, musician self-care, financial health, and the overall state of our profession.

Local speakers at the conference included Local 99 President and International Vice President Bruce Fife and Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlin. After welcoming delegates to Portland, Fife was proud to present a locally produced film promoting Portland that included a 61-piece locally hired orchestra.

Chamberlin, representing Oregon’s 300,000 AFL-CIO members, gave an inspiring talk describing the proactive measures they’ve taken to counteract unfavorable court decisions against unions. Attorney Liza Hirsch Medina covered a similar topic when she presented an in-depth look at the Janus decision and its effect on unions. She described the importance of organizing in the face of upcoming court and legislative challenges to union protections.

Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) President Pat Hollenbeck and musician Norma Stiner shared the successful journey of organizing ROPA’s newest orchestra, Cape Symphony. AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Negotiator, Organizer, and Educator Todd Jelen highlighted the importance of new musician recruitment/orientation and the optimum moments to approach potential members.

Diversity Consultant Shea Scruggs presented “Seeing the Blind Spots: An Inclusive Vision for American Orchestras.” He spoke of the need to confront our cognitive biases and improve our organizational cultures. Local 65-699 (Houston, TX) President and Diversity Committee member Lovie Smith-Wright and AFM Diversity, Legislative, and Political Director Alfonso Pollard discussed projects that the AFM Diversity Committee has taken on this year.

SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick led a timely discussion on identifying sexual harassment in the workplace and how to deal with it. On the topic of musician self-care, Audiologist Heather Malyuk of Soundcheck Audiology followed up her popular 2017 presentation with specifics on how various methods of hearing protection work or don’t work in an orchestral setting. We examined performance anxiety through the film Composed, by John Beder. The filmmaker took questions from delegates.

AFM President Ray Hair discussed the current status of the AFM Pension fund. A panel of pension trustees and administrators took questions from the delegates.

ropa conference
Newly elected ROPA Board members (L to R) Naomi Bensdorf Frisch, Sean Diller, Kendra Hawley, Lisa Davis, Casey Bozell, Steve Wade, John Michael Smith, Karen Sandene, Amanda Swain, Christian Green, Maya Stone, Katie Shields. Not Pictured: Cory Tiffin.

Representatives from our fellow AFM Conferences highlighted their year’s activities: Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (President Robert Fraser), Theater Musicians Association (Director, Member at Large Lovie Smith-Wright), Recording Musicians Association (Gary Lasley), and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (President Paul Austin). Alfonso Pollard detailed the legislative success in protecting the National Endowment for the Arts. Austin related progress on the new online survey for the ICSOM Conductor Evaluation Database.

Every year, delegates get the opportunity to attend a Negotiating Orchestras Workshop (held July 30 this year), where they learn necessary skills to improve our working conditions and financial standing. They also engage in valuable small group discussions with their members at large, sharing successes and challenges with delegates from orchestras of similar budget sizes.

Throughout the conference, AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick, Symphonic Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark, Chief Field Negotiator Chris Durham, Negotiators Jane Owen and Todd Jelen, and Contract Administrator Laurence Hofmann taught the “nuts and bolts” for improving our contracts and organizational structures. Our orchestras benefit so much from their expertise!

Following the election of officers, the 2018-19 ROPA Executive Board will include President John Michael Smith (Minnesota Opera Orchestra, Local 30-73), Vice President Amanda Swain (Houston Ballet and Grand Opera orchestras, Local 65-699), Secretary Karen Sandene (Omaha and Lincoln symphony orchestras, Locals 70-558 and 463), Treasurer Sean Diller (Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Local 232-278), AFM Convention Delegate-at-Large Naomi Bensdorf Frisch (Illinois Philharmonic and Wisconsin Chamber orchestras, Local 10-208), and Members-at-Large Casey Bozell (Portland Opera Orchestra, Local 99), Lisa Davis (Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Local 579), Christian Green (Ann Arbor Symphony, Local 625), Kendra Hawley (Palm Beach Opera, Local 655), Katie Shields (Arizona Opera Symphony Orchestra, Local 586), Maya Stone (Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, Locals 80 and 257), Cory Tiffin (Las Vegas Philharmonic, Locals 369 and 10-208), and Steve Wade (Local 400, Hartford Symphony Orchestra).

And finally, we offer our sincere appreciation to conference hosts, the musicians of the Portland Opera Orchestra, Local 99, Portland Local 99 President Bruce Fife, and numerous hard-working local volunteers. We would especially like to thank Portland Opera Delegate Casey Bozell for her outstanding work assisting the ROPA Board in presenting a well-run conference. We look forward to our 36th Annual Conference in 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts!

ropa's 34th annual conference

ROPA’s 34th Annual Conference: Working with Other Player Conferences and the AFM

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

The Regional Orchestra Players’ Association will hold its 34th annual conference in Portland, Oregon, July 31-August 2. The conference will be held at University Place Hotel & Conference Center, on the campus of Portland State University. Our conference will feature presentations on a variety of subjects of interest to our members, including hearing wellness, sexual harassment, performance anxiety, and diversity and inclusiveness in our orchestras, opera, and ballet companies.

ROPA is one of three AFM symphonic player conferences, along with the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM). These three AFM player conferences work closely with the AFM’s Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Throughout the year, representatives of these player conferences meet and communicate with SSD staff in person, by email, and through phone conference calls to discuss issues and topics of mutual interest.

ROPA, ICSOM, and OCSM, together with the Theater Musicians’ Association (TMA) and the Recording Musicians’ Association (RMA), comprise the player conferences of the AFM. The leaders of each of these player conferences comprise the Player Conferences Council (PCC). This council periodically discusses issues of mutual importance among our conferences. In years when there is no AFM Convention, we meet together with representatives of the Locals’ Conferences Council (LCC) to address topics and issues.

It is important to note that each player conference usually sends a representative to address and attend the other player conferences’ annual meetings. This is especially true of the three symphonic player conferences. SSD staff members attend each of the symphonic player conferences and do presentations on important current topics. The AFM president, other AFM officers, and members of the AFM International Executive Board (IEB) may also attend the player conference annual meetings.

Along with ICSOM, AFM, and SSD staff, ROPA participates in the negotiation of national agreements that directly affect our members, such as the current negotiations for the Integrated Media Agreement. ROPA has an Emergency Relief Fund maintained and administered by a board of trustees made up of the AFM international secretary-treasurer, the ROPA president and treasurer, and two additional trustees selected by the IEB. The fund provides financial assistance loans to musicians in orchestras who are involved in strikes or lockouts. ROPA, ICSOM, and OCSM also have a relationship with conductor evaluations, providing information for search committees of orchestras looking for conductors or music directors. Each player conference has its own database, but shares files with the other player conferences upon request.

ROPA, ICSOM, and SSD staff frequently provide educational programs for musicians new to the AFM and the symphonic field, such as the fellows of New World Symphony. ROPA and ICSOM have participated at the Sphinx Organization’s SphinxConnect, where the focus is diversity action and leadership in our orchestras. ROPA and ICSOM representatives often attend the League of American Orchestras national conferences.

ROPA publishes its quarterly newsletter The Leading Tone both in print and electronically. This publication goes to musicians in our member orchestras, other player conference musicians, AFM locals, and others by subscription. ROPA has a website (ropaweb.org), a Facebook page, and is developing other social media pages. ROPA and the other player conferences have email discussion lists, with general lists for members of orchestras, locals, and others interested in topics of common interest to the player conference. Each of the player conferences may permit members of other player conferences to access their general lists.

The Player Conferences of the AFM, the Symphonic Services Division, and the AFM are working every day, side by side on the missions and goals for our musicians,
our orchestras, and our union. We are stronger together!

ROPA Conference

ROPA Delegates Discuss Diversity and Organizing in Phoenix

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

During the first week of August, delegates representing orchestras from all corners of the nation convened in Phoenix, Arizona, for the 33rd Annual Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) Conference, hosted by Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) and Arizona Opera Orchestra, with activities centered at the Westin Downtown Phoenix Hotel. ROPA’s annual conference is one of the most important benefits of ROPA membership. Information gleaned the conference assists with negotiating, organizing, and understanding the current state of the orchestral world.

Central themes highlighted throughout this year’s conference were diversity and inclusiveness in the symphonic world. Several excellent guest speakers offered their perspectives over several days. Local 699 (Houston, TX) President Lovie Smith-Wright gave the AFM Diversity Committee report. Phoenix Symphony Principal Clarinet Alex Laing of Local 586 offered a detailed description of plans for recognizing the diversity in our locals and in orchestras. As part of his report, AFM Legislative-Political Director and Director
of Diversity Alfonso Pollard shared information about musicians from minority groups who hold positions in symphony orchestras. On the final day, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Trombonist Weston Sprott of Local 802 (New York City) presented “Actionable Strategies to Make Your Orchestra More Diverse and Inclusive.”

ROPA Conference

ROPA Board Members include (L to R): Steve Wade, Maya Stone, Mary Anne Lemoine, Lisa Davis, ROPA Treasurer Donna Loomis, ROPA Vice President Dave Shelton, ROPA President Mike Smith, Sean Diller, ROPA Secretary Karen Sandene, Amanda Swain, Naomi Bensdorf Frisch, Taylor Brown, Katie Shields, Nancy Nelson. Not pictured: Marika Fischer Hoyt.

Informative Sessions

The opening session featured addresses by Local 586 President Jerry Donato, Arizona Opera General Director Joe Specter, and Arizona Commission for the Arts Communications Director Steve Wilcox. Donato reported that union membership in the area is up, despite the fact Arizona is a “right to work” state. He shared recruiting techniques Local 586 implements. Specter highlighted several of the opera company’s successful projects. Wilcox reinforced the common knowledge that arts and culture radiate throughout the economy. The final presentation of this first morning was a well-received presentation on hearing protection with Heather Malyuk, AuD, of Sensaphonics.

Delegates spent much of the first day in valuable small group discussions with their members-at-large, sharing information with orchestras of similar budget sizes. Wrapping up official business for the first day, new delegates received training from ROPA officers and members of the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD).

On the second day, ROPA warmly welcomed representatives from our fellow AFM Conferences—Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) President Robert Fraser, Theater Musicians Association President (TMA) Tony D’Amico, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President Marc Sazer, and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Meredith Snow—highlighting their yearlong activities. AFM President Ray Hair led a panel discussion that provided important clarity on the status of the AFM Pension Fund. A large number of resolutions were approved, including the addition of an eighth member-at-large to serve our delegates, which acknowledges that ROPA is a growing organization.

AFM SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick and Negotiator Todd Jelen led the delegates through a lively role-playing activity, “Internal Orchestral Organizing.” The day’s final presentation was by ROPA’s good friend and former AFM Negotiator Nathan Kahn, who shared his wealth of knowledge on negotiations. That evening, conference attendees traveled to the home of the Arizona Opera for a dinner hosted by Local 586.

Along with the diversity sessions mentioned earlier, the final day of conference included remarks by SSD staff. Throughout the conference, AFM SSD staff, including Skolnick, Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark, Chief Field Negotiator Chris Durham, Negotiators Jelen and Jane Owen, and Contract Administrator Laurence Hofmann, provided valuable knowledge and support to our delegates. We thanked them for their service to the orchestral world. We also welcomed ICSOM Attorney Kevin Case who discussed the topic of bullying in the orchestral world.

Officer Elections

Following the election of officers, the 2017-2018 ROPA Executive Board will include President Mike Smith (Minnesota Opera Orchestra, Local 30-73), Vice President Dave Shelton (Lexington Philharmonic, Local 554-635), Secretary Karen Sandene (Omaha Symphony Orchestra and Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra, Locals 70-558 and 463), Treasurer Donna Loomis (El Paso Symphony Orchestra, Local 466), Delegate-at-Large to the AFM Convention Naomi Bensdorf Frisch (Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Locals 166 and 10-208), and Members-at-Large Taylor Brown (Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, Local 80), Lisa Davis (Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Local 579), Sean Diller (Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Local 232-278), Marika Fisher Hoyt (Madison Symphony Orchestra, Local 166), Katie Shields (Arizona Opera Orchestra, Local 586), Maya Stone (Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, Locals 80 and 257), and Steve Wade (Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Local 400).

And finally, we offer our sincere appreciation to the 2017 conference hosts, the musicians of the Arizona Opera Orchestra, Local 586 members and President Jerry Donato, and numerous hard-working local volunteers. We would also like to thank Conference Coordinator Linda Boivin of Local 618
(Albuquerque, NM) and ROPA Delegate Katie Shields for their outstanding work assisting the ROPA Board in presenting a well-run conference.

We look forward to our 2018 34th Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon.

The FIM IOC “Oslo Call”: Orchestras Must Work Together

by Naomi Bensdorf Frisch, ROPA Delegate to FIM IOC and Member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) and Local 166 (Madison, WI)

AFM President Ray Hair gives opening remarks at the 4th FIM IOC in Montreal, Canada.

The fourth International Federation of Musicians (FIM) International Orchestra Conference (IOC) was held May 11-14 in Montreal, Quebec. Musicians and managers from six continents gathered at the Delta Hotel for three days of intense discussions about the challenges faced and successes achieved by orchestras around the world. The AFM brought a strong group of delegates to the conference: President Ray Hair; Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert; Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal; International Executive Board member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi; Symphonic Services Director Rochelle Skolnick; Symphonic Electronic Media Director Deborah Newmark; ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow; OCSM President Robert Fraser; and I served as the ROPA representative.

An opening reception honored Air Canada with the FIM Airline of Choice Award for accommodating musicians traveling with their instruments. The next morning opened with a lively speech by AFM President Hair who called for orchestra musicians to receive a share of ad revenue generated from orchestras’ pages and posts on online streaming services. Next, Allison Beck, former Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service director, delivered an inspirational keynote speech. She urged the delegates from all over the world to stay strong in this difficult political climate and keep working together to promote our missions. Recalling how Ford was able to pull out of the recession through good labor relations with the United Auto Workers, Beck reminded us that a good labor-management relationship is a “port in your storm,” and when musicians and managers are able to work together “anything is possible.” 

Over the course of the three-day conference, eight topics were presented in panel discussion format: 1) The Public Value of Orchestras; 2) Business Models of Orchestras; 3) Orchestras Integrating Digital Tools and New Approaches; 4) Responsibility and Accountability: Role of Musicians on Orchestra Boards; 5) Bullying and Harassment; 6) Practical Aspects of Outreach and Education; 7) Recorded Broadcasts and Rights of Musicians; and 8) The Role of Trade Unions in Safeguarding the Future of the Orchestra. Each panel comprised four speakers (each from a different country) and a moderator. Panelists generally discussed what was working or not working in their home countries regarding each of the topics, allowing an opportunity for the delegates to learn from global experiences.

At the FIM IOC AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal (far right) moderated a panel on The Public Value of Orchestras. Panel members (L to R) were: Katherine Carleton (Canada), Hans Reinhard Biere (Germany), Benedictus Acolatse (Ghana), and Déborah Cheyne (Brazil).

Some panels had widely different views, for instance, the panel on digital tools. One musician spoke about using digital conferencing to provide outreach and education services, another musician spoke about embracing smart phones in the concert hall, and an archivist from the New York Philharmonic shared her experience creating a digital catalogue of the orchestra’s music. I spoke on the panel about the role of musicians on orchestra boards. In the beginning, the four of us seemed to have very different approaches. By the end of the conversation, however, we all agreed that, though communication between the board and musicians is very important, musicians should not hold seats on orchestra boards. Overall, the panel discussions allowed for the presentation of many different perspectives, which, when supplemented by questions and comments from the delegates, painted a picture of how orchestras are surviving in today’s world.

FIM IOC attendees listen to a panel on Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace. On stage (L to R) are: Michael D. Wright (Canada), Simon Webb (United Kingdom), Kaisa Rönkkö (Finland), Thomas Bjelkerud (Sweden), and moderator Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division director. During the conference, translation was provided in English, Spanish, and French.

The “Oslo Call,” established at the third FIM IOC in 2015, calls on musicians and managers around the world to become active in their communities and lobby politicians to help the arts to thrive. In Montreal, the fourth FIM IOC took the Oslo Call one step further, urging solidarity among musicians around the world and advocating for transparent, trusting relationships between orchestra managers and musicians. Delegates left the conference with an understanding that they are not alone; that they have colleagues to lean on in times of need. But further, it is apparent that, though we all have our roles to play, orchestras thrive when the union, musicians, managers, and board (or the government, in the case of our subsidized colleagues in Europe) have a healthy working relationship.

We need to work together to make ourselves relevant and valuable in our communities; to run our organizations responsibly and with good stewardship; to stop bullying, harassment, and exploitation of musicians around the world; and to ensure our own bright futures. Thanks to ROPA and to the AFM for allowing me to be a part of such a special event.

33rd Annual Conference of the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association

ROPA’s 33rd Annual Conference and Guiding Principles

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

As I am in the final days of planning the 33rd Annual Conference of the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), my first as president, I find myself looking back on earlier conferences that I attended. I think of the wonderful and informative presentations I have witnessed, the people I have met, the discussions, situations, and issues, which  came up that educated and empowered me, my colleagues, and others who have attended our conferences.

In 2011, at the ROPA Executive Board’s mid-year meeting in Phoenix (the location of this year’s annual conference), the board participated in a strategic planning session. The goal was to create a guiding document that would assist the board in defining ROPA and its role in the leadership of the organization.

What is ROPA? We are professional musicians of medium and small budget symphonic, chamber, ballet, and opera orchestras with AFM collective bargaining agreements. We are a service organization with more than 5,000 musicians and 86 orchestras represented in our membership. We represent these regional orchestra musicians as members of the AFM at national and international forums.

Who does ROPA serve? ROPA serves the musicians of our orchestras. We serve future musicians by protecting today’s jobs for tomorrow. We serve all orchestras—what affects one affects all. We serve the AFM. We serve the communities our orchestras play in. And we serve the elected representatives of those orchestras, the ROPA delegates, and orchestra committees of our orchestras.

Why does ROPA exist? ROPA exists to provide knowledge and tools to our musicians to assist them in establishing fair working conditions and to educate them about industry standards, labor law, procedures, and practices. ROPA also empowers and enables our colleagues to better their lives in their workplace and to organize and communicate with colleagues and their community when there are those intent on dismantling organized labor nationwide.

ROPA is a place for our member orchestras to turn to for support. We have established a forum for discussion of concerns, current trends, and solutions. ROPA provides assistance for orchestras in crisis with advice and information, and works to create fair collective bargaining agreements, working conditions, and compensation.

In what ways do we seek to accomplish our goals? Information sharing is key—orchestra to orchestra, musician to musician, players’ conference to players’ conference, and with the AFM; this is vital to our mission. Information is shared through email lists, our website, Facebook, telephone calls, our quarterly newsletter The Leading Tone, and of course, our annual conference. Within ROPA orchestras, we work to create an atmosphere of concern and commitment for our common cause. This is primarily done through our network of ROPA delegates selected by each orchestra and AFM local.

I encourage all AFM members who have an interest in orchestras, especially regional orchestras, to attend our annual conference August 1-3 in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Westin Phoenix Downtown Hotel. You can get more information and register for the conference and hotel on the ROPA website: ropaweb.org/support/2017-annual-
conference/. Members of ROPA orchestras and other interested AFM members may join our moderated email discussion list:

We are stronger together!

Finally, I wanted to give a huge shout-out and thanks on behalf of ROPA to the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, members of ICSOM, for the generous contribution of $10,000 to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s endowment campaign. This campaign included a provision where funds could be specifically designated for productions with live orchestral music. In 2005, the 49-member Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Orchestra was nearly eliminated in a cost-cutting move with the announcement of the use of recordings for the entire season. While the orchestra was able to return the following season, it was cut from five to two productions a season, where it has remained ever since. This is a huge show of support for their local ROPA colleagues!