Tag Archives: symphony

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!

Connecting with the communities

Orchestra Musicians Connecting with The Communities Beyond the Symphony Halls

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

Baltimore Symphony Musicians

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

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

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

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

Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra Musicians


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

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

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

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

Symphony Musicians of Richmond


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

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

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

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

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

MET Orchestra Musicians

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

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

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

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

National Arts Centre Orchestra Musicians


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nurit Bar-Josef: Behind the Scenes with the National Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster

Nurit-Bar-JosefWhen Nurit Bar-Josef of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) was selected as concertmaster for National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) at age 26, she was the youngest concertmaster ever appointed to a major symphony orchestra. More than 16 years later, she recalls initial surprise on finding out she’d won the spot.

“I knew some of the others who had auditioned—it’s a small world—and I thought they might think I was too young or too inexperienced,” she says.

The young musician was aware of the huge responsibility she had accepted. “I knew what to expect from my previous experiences in St. Louis and Boston, where I saw just how much the concertmaster has to deal with on a daily basis,” she says. Bar-Josef was assistant concertmaster for Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops when she auditioned with NSO.

Leading from First Chair

“It’s constant pressure; when you are sitting in that chair, you are expected to always be on—it’s 120%, all the time. I feel like I represent the orchestra and there are times when the whole orchestra is looking to me for guidance,” she says. “That’s the biggest challenge; no matter what is going on at home, or what’s going on around you, or on the podium, you are out there for your colleagues.”

Meticulous preparation is key, she says. “Knowing the score well, in and out, and knowing everything that’s going on. You have to have that first violin part down like no one else,” she says. “And because you are number one, you have to always play the solos and play them well. I try to do my best every single time.”

“It’s a good lesson in time management because there is so much music coming out, week after week,” says Bar-Josef. “It forces me to prioritize and manage my practice, even when I have limited time. I have to figure out what I need to do now and what can wait.”

Above all, she has a passion and dedication to the current repertoire, whatever it may be. “Every week, whatever we are playing, I throw myself into it. That’s what we live and breathe for that week. Oftentimes, I feel like we are actors given a role to play,” says Bar-Josef. “If we play a Shostakovich symphony, he becomes my favorite composer that week. If we are playing Brahms, I am all about Brahms, emotionally and physically.”

For pleasure, she says, “I always, always enjoy playing a Beethoven symphony or even a Beethoven violin sonata. I wouldn’t say that he’s my favorite composer, but I would say anytime I’m playing Beethoven I’m musically and technically fulfilled,” she says.

Like all principal string players, Bar-Josef spends time marking bowings. “The other principals are waiting to get my part in order to mark their bowings to match mine, and I’ve got the library waiting for all of that to happen. That’s added pressure,” she says. “Part of the process is making sure my colleagues have the music well enough in advance to feel comfortable.”

A Conductor’s Liaison

Nurit Bar-JosefBar-Josef has the honor of meeting guest conductors and acts as a liaison to the rest of the players. She ensures a smooth working relationship between members of the orchestra and the conductor. This, she says, “is an incredibly rewarding responsibility.”

“I learn a lot from working with conductors,” she says, explaining that many of them request a one-on-one meeting before the concert, especially if she will perform a solo. “Every musician who comes to visit is different. It’s really important to me that I represent the orchestra well. No matter what is going on, I try to connect with the person on the podium.”

“Conductors travel the world and they conduct all different orchestras, from the top notch to smaller groups in smaller towns,” she continues. “I want them to feel like the NSO is an all-around good experience. As concertmaster, I am part of that—making that connection with the person. It’s a short period of time and it can be really intense for those few days.”

Though Bar-Josef relishes the challenge of these responsibilities, she admits her role can be isolating, sometimes setting her apart from her colleagues. The time requirements mean she has less time for socializing, particularly when they are out on tour. “When we go on tour, I’m constantly thinking about what we are playing tomorrow, what we are playing tonight, and how much time I have to prepare. I don’t have a whole lot of time to hang out and have fun in some new city.”

Though she is passionate about playing solos, Bar-Josef admits, “It’s one of the hardest things I do. It’s very rewarding that I get to play amazing solos like Scheherazade, though it’s stressful. There’s a lot of pressure playing solos with some of the greatest conductors standing one foot away from me.”

Bar-Josef is currently one of an estimated 25 women concertmasters in the US and Canada. While there have been some remarkable women in this leadership role over the years—for example, Cecylia Arzewski (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra 1990-2008) and Emmanuelle Boisvert (Detroit Symphony Orchestra for 23 years)—their numbers are still far below the current ratio of women to men in orchestras. Bar-Josef feels like more women will likely take the leadership role in the future.

Of course, blind auditions help to ensure the best candidates, male or female are selected fairly. And fortunately today, unlike just a couple decades ago, female orchestra musicians enjoy equal treatment. “I have never felt that anyone looked at me as a female or thought they’d rather have a man in my position; I never once felt that a guest conductor was disappointed by having a female concertmaster,” says Bar-Josef. “Today, I feel it’s all about the music and what type of musician you are—gender doesn’t matter.”

The Joy of Chamber Music

nurit-bar When Bar-Josef has a chance, she looks forward to performing in smaller chamber groups. “I always love playing chamber music,” she says. “I enjoy the camaraderie and the intimacy of it—sitting in a group close together, having my sound blend with theirs and not having to worry about leading a section. I can be much more free in a chamber group.”

A founding member of Kennedy Center Chamber Players, she performed with them for nine years. “It’s basically a core group that started out as the principals of the National Symphony—Principal Viola Daniel Foster, Principal Cello David Hardy, and Principal Keyboard Lambert Orkis. We would ask other people from the orchestra, both titled and nontitled players, to join us for four chamber music concerts a year at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.”

The other group she’s been involved with for a long time, the Dryden String Quartet, came together less formally about 16 years ago. “When I first moved to DC, I didn’t have any family here. I had to play over Thanksgiving so I was stuck in town,” she recalls. “Daniel Foster asked me if I wanted to go to his family’s house for Thanksgiving and he said, ‘Bring your violin, we might do some sight reading.’ He’s cousins with [Time for Three] violinist Nicholas Kendall and [Philadelphia Orchestra Assistant Principal Cello] Yumi Kendall. It ended up being a pretty good group.”

The group named itself after John Dryden Kendall, grandfather to Foster and the Kendalls,  who brought the Suzuki method to the US. “The first concert we played was at an embassy event in honor of their grandfather,” says Bar-Josef. “Unfortunately, everybody is just so busy in their own lives it’s difficult to find time. We try to get together at least once a year, sometimes twice if we are lucky.”

Every now and then Bar-Josef finds time to perform in other chamber groups. “I like to do outreach with different NSO players and Millennium Stage performances at the Kennedy Center, house concerts, or whatever pops up,” she says.

She has performed at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, Bay Chamber Festival, Aspen Music Festival, and festivals in Tanglewood, Portland (Maine), Kingston (Rhode Island), Steamboat Springs, Garth Newel, and Caramoor, where she performed piano quartets with André Previn at his Rising Stars Festival.

This season Bar-Josef looks forward to working with incoming NSO Music Director Gianandrea Noseda. “I am excited that we have so many great programs coming up with him,” she says. In particular, she looks forward to playing Chausson’s Poème in November. “It’s just such an honor and a privilege. I’ve always wanted to perform that piece and what better opportunity than with the NSO and Noseda conducting.”

Nurit Bar-Josef currently performs on the G.B. Guadagnini, 1773, the “ex-Grumiaux, ex-Silverstein” violin.

ICSOM Conference

ICSOM Conference Convenes in Buffalo

by Laura Ross, ICSOM Secretary and Member of Nashville Symphony and Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

The 55th annual International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Conference, hosted by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) and Local 92, was held at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Buffalo, New York, August 23-26.

ICSOM delegates once again volunteered for a special service event in our host orchestra’s city. This time they partnered with BPO Kids for Exceptional Kids, a program benefiting kids with autism spectrum disorders, cancer, and other chronic physical or health challenges. Thanks to BPO ICSOM Delegate and Member-at-Large Dan Sweeley (of Local 92) for putting this and other conference activities together.

While the “official” beginning of the conference was Wednesday morning, a negotiating workshop led by ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case, a member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) was held Tuesday evening. Before the opening session Wednesday morning, new delegates attended a breakfast to preview what to expect during the conference.

In her first year as ICSOM chair, Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic, Local 47) gave the opening address. She reminded delegates that, as our orchestra committees have become stronger, there is a risk that our orchestras may come to view the AFM as a separate entity. But we, the musicians, are the union. We need to uphold the value of our labor and stand up for our colleagues. Individual actions matter. She encouraged ICSOM musicians to reinforce their commitment to their locals, the AFM, and each other. ICSOM is here to help ensure that everyone thrives.

ICSOM President George Brown (Utah Symphony, Local 104) spoke about diversity within the entire orchestral organization—stage, administration, and boards.

AFM Political and Legislative Director Alphonso Pollard reported on various legislative issues, including bills that erode labor protection such as national “right to work” bills proposed in the House and Senate. AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick and AFM Negotiator Todd Jelen designed a series of workplace scenarios for delegates and local officers to discuss in smaller breakout groups. A mixer at Pearl Street Grill and Brewery on Wednesday evening offered excellent music, food, and an unobstructed view of a glorious sunset on Lake Erie.

On Thursday, delegates heard reports from officers and others. We were pleased to welcome back two ICSOM Emeritus Presidents—AFM Strike Fund Trustees David Angus (Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Local 66) and Brian Rood (Kansas City Symphony, Local 34-627). Rood, who also serves as chair of ICSOM’s Electronic Media Committee, and AFM SSD Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark quizzed delegates about the types of work covered by the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA).

A presentation by ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case and David Sywak (Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Local 72-147) discussed health care bargaining options. The afternoon was devoted to an AFM and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) presentation by fund trustees, staff, advisors, and counsel. That evening, ICSOM’s annual Town Hall, a closed session for delegates and the governing board, discussed issues of importance.

Case moderated a panel of orchestra leaders—musicians, administrative, conductors, and a mediator—that examined the dynamics of orchestra relations in a discussion entitled “Back from the Brink.” ICSOM provided a luncheon for members-at-large and their orchestra delegates to discuss a broad range of issues. Each member-at-large oversees 13 orchestras. Following lunch, Meredith Snow moderated a panel discussion examining diversity within our orchestral organizations. More than 40 conference attendees went to view the American Falls at Niagara Falls in the evening.

ICSOM Conference

A large group of attendees from the 55th Annual International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) gathered in front of the Adam’s Mark Hotel Fountain in Buffalo, New York. They were wearing T-shirts supporting individual orchestras and arts organizations.

On Saturday, Cypress Media President Randy Whatley provided tips about how musicians can craft a community relations program. Kevin Case introduced a welcome addition to the conference: an open forum for delegates to ask questions of legal counsel.

Delegates adopted resolutions addressing the AFM-EPF, national right to work legislation, implementation of an online conductor evaluation survey, and ICSOM’s response to recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Resolutions were also adopted honoring George Brown as he stepped down as ICSOM President, and Paul Gunther of Local 30-73 (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN) who stepped down as a member-at-large after 11 years, following his retirement from the Minnesota Orchestra.

Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony, Local 56) was elected ICSOM President and ICSOM Secretary Laura Ross (Nashville Symphony, Local 257) was re-elected. Kimberly Tichenor (Louisville Orchestra, Local 11-637) and Martin Andersen (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Local 16-248) were elected to two-year member-at-large positions; Greg Mulligan (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Local 40-543) was elected to a one-year member-at-large position.

Many thanks to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Local 92 President Jim Pace for a wonderful conference. The 2018 ICSOM Conference will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 22-25.

Oregon Symphony Balances Budget

Oregon Symphony balanced its budget for an eighth consecutive year in the 2016-2017 season, while increasing the number of concerts it performed by 20%. The orchestra increased its total ticket revenue by 21% and saw an 18% increase in the number of seats sold. Both subscription revenue and single-ticket revenue grew compared to the previous season, and 30% of the season’s concerts were sold out. First-time buyers accounted for 26% of all tickets sold—a 12% increase over the previous season.

In addition, the orchestra expanded its education and community engagement efforts in the 2016-2017 season, increasing programming by 4% and reaching 19% more people. The orchestra’s annual free Waterfront Concert, a daylong music festival featuring performances by area arts groups, drew 15,000 attendees.

Oregon Symphony musicians are members of Local 99 (Portland, OR).

Symphony for a Broken Orchestra Supports School Music Programs in Philadelphia

What do you do with more than 1,000 musical instruments in disrepair and no funds to fix them? That was the dilemma faced by The School District of Philadelphia. Now a new project, Symphony for a Broken Orchestra (symphonyforabrokenorchestra.org), funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and The Barra Foundation, seeks to remedy the situation. A city-wide effort initiated by Temple Contemporary in partnership with the school district, the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Boyer College of Music & Dance, the Curtis Institute, and numerous professional and amateur musicians, will see musicians perform a composition December 2017 written by David Lang specifically for the sounds of the instruments in their current broken state.

The brainchild of Tyler School of Art Temple Contemporary Director Robert Blackson, the project invites the public to “adopt” an instrument, effectively paying for its repair. All of the instruments available for adoption are pictured on the website, which also lists what school the instrument belongs at and what repairs it needs. You can also hear the sound the instrument is capable of making in its current state.

ROPA Conference

ROPA Conference Explores Wide Range of Symphonic and Labor Issues

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

The 31st annual Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) Conference convened this past July in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Pyle Center on the University of Wisconsin campus. The conference provided a terrific learning opportunity for the representatives of our 87 orchestras from around the nation. It was also a chance to offer our best wishes to three of our colleagues as they move on to new chapters in their lives.

Throughout the conference, representatives of the Symphonic Services Division (SSD) provided a wealth of knowledge. As well as being available for valuable one-on-one contact with delegates and speaking on several topics, SSD staff provided several hours of training to delegates from negotiating orchestras prior to the full conference. We thank SSD Director Jay Blumenthal; Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark; Negotiators Nathan Kahn, Chris Durham, and Todd Jelen; Counsel Rochelle Skolnick; and Contract Administrator Laurence Hofmann for sharing their knowledge with the delegates. 

In addition, ROPA utilized resources from the University of Wisconsin School for Workers, with Don Taylor leading the department and presenters Armando Iberra, Michael Childers, and David Nack. Sessions included “Building Community Support” and “How to Jumpstart Your Union.” 

ROPA Conference

ROPA Delegates join the daily Solidarity Sing-Along at the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. The singalong has happened each weekday since March 2011.

The opening session began with a welcome by AFM Local 166 (Madison, WI) President Brian Witty. Wisconsin Public Radio Producer Norman Gilliland spoke about how culture can bring together people with diverse political viewpoints. Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Executive Director Mark Cantrell spoke about the importance of educating the board. In a presentation titled “Lessons Learned: Hartford Symphony/Grand Rapids Symphony,” Nathan Kahn, Randy Whatley, Paul Austin, and Steve Wade discussed the outcomes of those negotiations as a result of social media, networking, and public relations activities. Following the morning sessions, the delegation headed to the Wisconsin State Capitol Building to participate in the daily Solidarity Sing-Along, which has been a fixture at the capitol since March 2011.

Delegates spent time the first day in small group discussions with their members-at-large. Afternoon presentations included conductor survey procedures; breakout sessions dealing with grievances, public relations, and committee basics; as well as new delegate orientation.

The second day was a busy one. AFM President Ray Hair addressed the conference, discussing highlights of the AFM Convention, the Democratic National Convention, and local officer training. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director Allison Beck spoke in detail about the “gig economy” and the effect it has on the labor industry. Americans for the Arts Vice President of Research & Policy Randy Cohen presented the results of several surveys about the impact of arts on individuals and communities. Representatives from the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), the Theater Musicians Association (TMA), and the International Conferences of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) gave updates from their conferences.

Following the day’s sessions, attendees had the opportunity to go to a concert on the lawn of the State Capitol where the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performed.

The final day of the conference began with presentations by the Symphonic Services Division. Laurence Hofmann introduced features of the new electronic wage chart. Nathan Kahn spoke of the early days of his orchestral experiences and how it led to the creation of ROPA. Rochelle Skolnick led a role-playing activity on peer review. Our final speaker was Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice Executive Director Rabbi Renee Bauer. She described how to build alliances between community organizations and labor.

The conference extended warm wishes to our friends AFM Negotiator Nathan Kahn, ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge, and ROPA President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum as they step down from their positions. Their service to our orchestras and the AFM has been invaluable. Assuming the role of ROPA President is John Michael Smith, of the Minnesota Opera Orchestra and Local 30-73 (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN). Along with Smith, the 2016-17 ROPA Executive Board that was elected on the final day of conference includes Vice President Nancy Nelson of 65-699 (Houston, TX), Secretary Karen Sandene, Treasurer Donna Loomis of Local 466 (El Paso, TX), Delegate-at-Large to the AFM Convention Naomi Bensdorf Frisch of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), and Members-at-Large Taylor Brown of Local 80 (Chattanooga, TN), Lisa Davis of Local 579 (Jackson, MS), Sean Diller of Local 232-278 (South Bend, IN), Mary Anne Lemoine of Local 154 (Colorado Springs, CO), Dave Shelton of Local 554-635 (Lexington, KY), Maya Stone of Locals 80 and 257 (Nashville, TN), and Steve Wade of Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT).

And finally, we offer our sincere appreciation to conference hosts, the musicians of the Madison Symphony and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Local 166 (Madison, WI), Madison Local President Brian Witty, and numerous hard-working local volunteers. We would also like to thank Conference Coordinator Linda Boivin of Local 618 (Albuquerque, NM) and ROPA Board Member-at-Large Naomi Bensdorf Frisch for their outstanding work assisting the ROPA Board in presenting a well-run conference. We look forward to our 32nd Annual Conference in 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Lancaster Symphony

Casting Off the Yoke of Misclassification

Jay Blumenthalby Jay Blumenthal, Director Symphonic Services Division

As announced in the May 2016 issue of the International Musician, the recent ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to deny the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra’s petition for review and grant the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB’s) cross application for enforcement is indeed a very important ruling, especially for the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra musicians. This decision affirms the NLRB’s classification of Lancaster Symphony musicians as employees, not independent contractors as the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra management asserted. Nine years is a long time to wait to be allowed to bargain a union contract, but I expect it will certainly be worth the wait. 

Why was this outcome so important and why was it worth expending union resources to achieve this goal? I’m reminded of the repeating chant “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!”

While it may be an exaggeration to suggest that the whole world was watching this case, to be sure, many friends and foes of the labor movement were indeed watching. Our friends were hoping for a positive outcome for the Lancaster Symphony musicians because this case provides an opportunity for other musicians, and potentially other workers with similar circumstances, to finally cast off the yoke of misclassification. 

Musicians classified as employees are allowed to join a union and bargain collectively. Wages, working conditions, job security, grievance and arbitration, pension, health insurance, vacation, and leaves of absence are all “mandatory subjects of bargaining” between an employer and the union representing its employees. When workers are classified as employees rather than independent contractors, their employer is also obligated to pay its fair share of Social Security and other statutory employment taxes, rather than shifting the entire burden onto the musicians. And employees, but not independent contractors, are entitled to protection under state workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation laws.

The life of a symphonic musician tends to be challenging enough without being misclassified as an independent contractor. Anyone performing in an orchestra knows how preposterous it is to suggest they are anything but an employee. The employer hires and fires, tells musicians where to be and when to be there, what to wear, when they can leave the stage, and yes, even how musicians are to sit and act.

As the court pointed out, musicians “must not cross their legs, talk, or practice while the conductor is on the podium, or interfere with the concentration of other musicians.” And, in a description that surely strikes a chord with every symphonic musician, the court observed: “the Lancaster Orchestra’s conductor exercises virtually dictatorial authority over the manner in which the musicians play.”

Now, with union representation, the Lancaster Symphony musicians will for the first time have a meaningful voice to engage in dialogue with their employer about their wages, benefits, and working conditions. And as negotiations for a first collective bargaining agreement finally begin, the whole world—or at least the world of symphony orchestra musicians—will still be watching what unfolds in Lancaster.

Early on, the significance of this case and the far-reaching ramifications of the outcome were not lost on the AFM, which has been fully supportive of the Greater Lancaster Federation of Musicians, Local 294, and the musicians of the Lancaster Symphony. AFM General Counsel Jeff Freund and Trish Polach of Bredhoff & Kaiser in Washington, DC, ably represented the interests of Local 294 as intervenors, working closely with the NLRB to vindicate the rights of the musicians. They deserve our thanks and recognition for their great work on this case.

But at the end of the day, the musicians of the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra are deserving of the highest praise, for they are the ones who had the courage to stand up for themselves by organizing and voting for union representation. 

Bravissimi tutti! Let the negotiations begin!

Air Canada is the Official Airline to Nine Canadian Symphony Orchestras

Air Canada today announced it has added Symphony Nova Scotia and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra to its roster of Canadian symphony orchestras it supports from coast to coast. The airline is offering special policies to ease its customer travel experience.

“We are delighted to announce our partnership with Symphony Nova Scotia and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, making Air Canada the Official Airline of nine of the country’s leading symphony orchestras coast to coast,” says Craig Landry, Air Canada’s vice president of marketing. “As a proud Canadian brand, we believe in supporting these pre-eminent arts organizations to help enrich and engage audiences across this country.”

In addition to Symphony Nova Scotia and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Air Canada is official airline to: Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, as well as the National Youth Orchestra of Canada.

“We are also pleased to introduce industry-leading enhancements for all our customers travelling with carry-on instruments, including pre-boarding benefits and a generous discount when purchasing an additional seat for their instrument,” concludes Landry. Customers may purchase a seat at a 50% discount off any published fare, including the lowest Tango fares, to accommodate a musical instrument.

“Meanwhile, the CFM [Canadian Federation of Musicians] is committed to continued lobbying of the government of Canada to harmonize with the US regulated FAA carry-on act. We have met and lobbied each and every stakeholder, including all National Airline Councils, Minister of Transport office, Canadian Transport Agency, and The Canadian Transport Review,” says Allistair Elliott, AFM International Representative, Canada. “All stakeholders are very aware of our position and the need for a unified policy and we are ready to continue all our efforts after the federal election.”

Hartford Musicians to Rally at Connecticut State Capitol

If you are in the Hartford, Connecticut, area and free on Wednesday, September 9, come out and show your support for the musicians of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra who are fighting for a fair contract. A rally is planned for noon on the north steps of the state capitol building. Speakers at the rally will include AFM International President Ray Hair and Connecticut AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Treasurer Lori Pelletier. Following the rally, musicians will march to Bushnell theater to engage in informational picketing.

Hartford Symphony musicians, members of Local 400 (Hartford, CT), have been fighting for a fair contract since June 2014. Their last contract expired in 2013, and as negotiations began, musicians agreed to a one-year extension. The symphony has proposed nearly 40% wage cuts for core musicians and more restrictive scheduling. These changes would adversely affect the ability of the part-time musicians to earn a living through other part-time jobs.

Additionally, the current proposal does not include any in-school educational performances. In past years, the musicians have done more than 200 interactive educational performances of small ensembles for students.