Tag Archives: ropa

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!

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!