Tag Archives: tina morrison

“We the Willing”

We’ve all been through a particularly rough year and a half, but the situation is improving, people are gathering, and work is coming back. It’s exhilarating to reconnect with colleagues and bandmates and perform in front of live audiences again. But there’s something else: we have to remember that the “good old days” were not so good. Many workers struggled to cover basic needs, even while working long hours providing essential services. We have an opportunity to change the narrative, to build power and create a better future. I firmly believe that musicians and music making are an essential part of achieving this generational correction.

Music is a universal language that brings people together, a natural bridge, a unique artform that breaks down barriers. Diverse audiences attend concerts and shows, listen to bands in local establishments, experience shared humanity in real time and enjoy music together. We’ve spent so much time isolated and surrounded by “news” preying on our differences. There needs to be a rebuilding of a sense of community and musicians are uniquely qualified to fulfill that need.

However, along with the ability to provide this essential service, there also must be a change in the way that music making is understood and valued. This change is not only necessary generally, but also within the music community. We know what it takes to make music that people want to hear. It’s a lot of work! Though it’s often joyous, sometimes it is not. Besides investing a significant amount of time, we also have to invest in our instruments, equipment, concert clothes, transportation, and rehearsal space. Music making should not be compromised due to lack of resources. The false narrative of the starving artist needs to be put to rest. It undermines our profession. We deserve to be fairly compensated for our work.

Somewhere the sense of value was redirected. This is terrific for those who depend on our services to benefit themselves. For example, there’s the rubber stamp symphony board members who like to list the “service” on their resumes, while not actively doing the necessary work to raise funds for the whole organization, not just the shell of management. Another example is the club owner who gives musicians the “opportunity” to perform while pricing their wares at rates that cover all business costs, with the exception of the musical services that draw people into the establishment.

We have a responsibility to ourselves and those coming after us, to commit not only to making music, but to actively participate in re-establishing the values necessary to maintain our profession in all its forms. Go to the AFM website (www.afm.org) and read Article 2, Mission Statement, in the AFM Bylaws.

Now, close your eyes and envision your career in your community. Are you satisfied with the work you perform, but also generally with how musicians in your community are perceived? Are musicians treated respectfully as professional people or is there a sense that making music isn’t a “real job”? What changes are necessary to improve the lives of musicians in your community? Get involved in your local by participating in or starting a committee. You don’t need to know how; the most important step is to be willing! Thank you for your work!

Bits and Pieces—Still Working on the Jigsaw Puzzle!

by Tina Morrison,  AFM IEB Member and President Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

I’ve been learning about apprentice programs in the building trades. These are union worker funded programs that provide wages through on-the-job training paired with classes and certifications. Each trade has its own idiosyncrasies, but a common factor is that working union members pay into the apprentice program from which they benefited, creating a long-running cycle to sustain their trades.

Musician education often includes mentoring, usually through private teachers and professors. The focus is primarily on music making, not necessarily musical work, which requires an income component. Some of our larger music schools, institutions, and conservatories may provide music business classes, but there are few “earn as you learn” opportunities. The primary difference with the trades, of course, is job availability and the belief that certain aspects of becoming a professional musician can’t be taught—the talent mystique.

There’s been an educational push towards science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Drawing lines between the dots, this implies that the jobs of the future will be in technology. The theory is that educational investment should go into ensuring that businesses will have workers and that students receiving an education should expect to find a job. The primary issue is the disparity between jobs and jobs that provide a living wage, which is where unions make the difference.

Business has done well at convincing our government bodies and their constituents that public funding should be used to provide them with workers educated to benefit their businesses, allowing them to profit from our collective investment. Seriously, if you start turning over rocks, you’ll be surprised at the levels of corporate welfare. Unions provide the only meaningful counterbalance, but our potential for success relies on our numbers and organized participation of our members.

In the building trades, the apprentices grow to become journeymen. Investing in the future of their trade is just part of their ecosystem. We have similar paths available to us in our AFM contracts, but only if we make use of them. We can strengthen our own peculiar ecosystem by building solidarity in our workplaces and requiring the use of union contracts.

I strongly encourage musicians in every segment of our industry to become educated about our contracts that cover a wide variety of musical work. If you are a teacher, expand your scope to include the business of music—live and recorded—along with technique and interpretation. If you are successful in your community, find opportunities to pass along your knowledge and experience. The responsibility of “each one teach one” should become ingrained and help us build our collective strength.

We should also consider getting more involved in the push from STEM to STEAM, which adds the arts as a critical part of our education systems. Beyond learning how to be efficient worker bees, we need to reinforce empathy and compassion, as well as creative thought, as integral to our collective well-being. We need allies to help push back against the business concepts of “return on investment” and “revenue generation” being applied to our nonprofit music organizations.

If you believe in the concepts of individual responsibility and accountability, then consider getting more involved with your local and the union movement. Through collective action, we can have a meaningful voice in creating sustainable business models that allow musicians appropriate compensation for live performance and develop additional income streams. Musical product has increasing value but musicians will only receive their fair share if we are successful in counterbalancing the entities that profit from our work. This will take organizing and solidarity. Thank you for your work!

On another note, Women’s Marches are being organized for January 19 in communities throughout the US and Canada. The AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference will be held in Washington, DC, January 18-21. Also consider participating in MLK, Jr., activities in your own city. Labor and civil rights: two movements—one goal!

In Troubled Times, Stand Up and Fight Back

by Tina Morrison, AFM International Executive Board Member and
Vice President of Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

—Leonard Bernstein’s response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy

We’re in a pivotal time in the history of the United States. We can agree to disagree on many things, but as musicians, we have to acknowledge the great wealth that immigrants brought to our country. The music we make and listen to every day carries the voices of many cultures intertwined to create beauty in the moment. The idea of closing our borders and shutting out the artists of our future is simply not acceptable to me. Families being separated has undertones of ideas and behavior that cannot be allowed. We have to maintain a legal, ethical program allowing for immigration. Compassion should have a place in such decisions.

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It’s Time for Solidarity

by Tina Morrison, AFM International Executive Board Member and Vice President of Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

How the world is changing, and so quickly, too! I’m writing this in December and who knows what January is going to look like. I, for one, am weary of reactionism. 

We know that making music is progressive. Learning the instrument, building muscle memory, and developing our “ears.” And then, using those skills, we create vibrations in the air that evoke emotions, enriching the lives of those who listen. Music flows like a river through the air—moving and changing, not always happy or pretty or predictable, reflecting life.

Taking what we’ve learned, we can choose notes, chords, and rhythms that work together to create melodies and harmonies. We can influence our audience to dance or to cry. It is a learned skill that comes with work, effort, and a plan. We train ourselves to react in some ways, listening to those around us to enhance the sound, and not allowing ourselves to be distracted by outside influences that could interrupt the flow. It takes discipline.

So, now is a time for great discipline. We need to trust what we know and not allow outside influences to distract us. We know that working together we have strength and can build. It’s a time for solidarity. So, let’s lean on our strengths and focus on our plan as defined in our mission statement, which you can find on the AFM website (afm.org) under the “About” section, by clicking on “Mission & Bylaws.” Use your voice meaningfully by being involved in your AFM local. Your knowledge and experience, blended with other member musicians, can help create or maintain a solid foundation for professional standards in your community.

I would be remiss not to take a moment and comment on the rise of women and women’s issues over the last year—pointed conversations, actions, and publicity unlike anything I can remember. How does all of this relate to musicians and our union? It’s been a work in progress for a long time and there have been successes. The drastic changes in our orchestras due to “blind” audition requirements that were negotiated into collective bargaining agreements are a testament to a thoughtful process. As proof, compare pictures of orchestras in the 1950s and 1960s with those of today.

The freelance world is more complicated. Generally, there is no collective bargaining process to provide influence. “Purchasers” of freelance music are less likely to consider the gender make up of the band they engage. Female band leaders can still run into discrimination. It’s very difficult to prove, much less change whether a band is hired or not. We can be part of the conversations to drive changes that will help erode old prejudices and open the door for more fairness and opportunity in musical work. Participation and developing consensus are keys to meaningful change.

Cultural changes such as what we are experiencing are very exciting. As we celebrate the new enlightenment empowering women, I suggest we also remain thoughtful so that the changes that come are the changes we want.

Light Summer Reading: A Real-Life Fairytale

by Tina Morrison, AFM International Executive Board Member and Vice President of Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

Once upon a time there was a musicians’ local of the AFM. They didn’t really know much about the ways of the nonmusician or “civilian” world. The local did its best to assist member musicians. They were generally happy in their musician world, talking about music and instruments, telling and listening to stories about their lives and gigs, and solving problems in the symphonic workplace. But they weren’t satisfied. Musicians were still struggling to find work and they could tell the civilians were being deprived of the amazing art form that had been developed and passed along through generations.

The local knew they would have to do something different. They sent one of their officers out into the world to meet with civilians and start communicating through different, nonmusical means. The local wasn’t sure where they were going but knew it was the right path.

The officer ventured out slowly, testing the grounds and becoming braver. With the encouragement of another member musician, she joined a local service organization where she was one of only two musicians. She observed their meetings and learned to communicate with them. She told them the stories of musicians and the members of the organization became interested in supporting the musicians.

As the officer gained more knowledge of this strange world, she was introduced to the local arts community. She started attending and then volunteering for their events. She told them the stories of the musicians, the difficulties they faced, including a city ordinance that made it more expensive to have live music and dancing, which was influencing potential venues to choose other forms of entertainment.

She made friends and eventually was appointed by the mayor to serve on the arts council. She learned from the arts commissioners that politicians could make decisions that would help the musicians, so she volunteered to chair the legislative and lobbying committee.

Political figures were people on TV or in the newspaper but, nervously, she decided to treat them like people and quickly discovered they were flesh and blood just like musicians. One of her friends on the arts commission decided to become a politician, ran for a city council position, and was elected!

This friend quickly became very busy learning a new job and performing a new role in the community. A few years went by, but he never forgot the musicians and the problem created by a particular city ordinance. He stayed in touch with the local officer and eventually the time was right for them to go to work to change the ordinance. The local officer introduced him to the new generation of officers. They worked together rewriting the ordinance and the city council voted for their changes, supporting musicians in a way they never would have thought of themselves. The End … beginning!

Have an enjoyable summer and please be involved with your local and your community. Without the encouragement, support, and expertise of the musicians of the local, none of the above would have come true


“… Indivisible …”

by Tina Morrison, AFM International Executive Board Member and Vice President of Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

My dear brothers and sisters to the North, please be patient, I’ve got a few things to talk about that are primarily a reaction to concerns very much on my mind since the US presidential election.

This article will be turned in first thing Monday, December 19, which also happens to be the day the electoral college will meet and finalize the outcome of this tumultuous US presidential election cycle. Even if there is some kind of unprecedented surprise, it won’t change what we’ve collectively experienced. We are entering a new year with additional new challenges.

As musicians, we don’t always like each other, but when we make music together, we have to listen to each other and blend our respective voices. Everyone loves good harmony; and although there’s real beauty in dissonance, there’s also a sense of relief when it finally resolves. Sometimes it takes a while.

With all of the “isms” that have been thrown around over these past months, I wear my unionism proudly because it takes all of our diversity and builds consensus to come to resolution. We develop consensus for our workplace negotiations, for decisions at our locals, and our Federation. It takes a lot of work, but it’s a great system for giving us a meaningful voice in decisions that affect us. By working together we have helped to create levels of fairness and safety in the workplace. Unionism lives and breathes because we are the union. “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Unionism gives us a path on which we can find our way through interesting times. We have processes that enable us to work through tough issues and find solutions most of us can live with, most of the time. Unions are necessary to give working people a voice. Recent examples are the strikes in Pittsburgh, Ft. Worth, and Philadelphia.

Employers belong to groups and associations because they realize the value of networking and joining forces around issues and interests, the costs of which are usually covered by the business. We will need to actively oppose anti-union legislation at every level with a special eye on “right to work” (for less) legislation, which undermines our ability to push back.

Music blends many different cultures with themes and variations developed over the lifetime of humanity, but all of it has common threads of tones and rhythms. We care about our family and friends and want them to be safe, happy, and healthy; we want fair treatment and appropriate compensation for our work; we care about our communities; and we want future generations to have opportunities to thrive and live up to their full potential.

The “Ghost Ship” fire on December 2 in Oakland, California, is a wake-up call that there is work to be done regarding safe performance environments, which also support and encourage emerging musicians. “Mourn the dead and fight for the living.”

In this New Year, let’s resolve to listen to each other and blend our voices, embrace our diversity, and stand together against adversity.

… with liberty and justice for all …

Theory of the UNIonVERSE

TinaMorrisonby Tina Morrison, AFM IEB Member and Vice President of Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

Everywhere I look there are cusps! It seems that if we can just … press on … a little … further … we’re going to be able to look back and see how all of the struggles of the last number of years have led to identifiable improvements.

Musicians are responsible for doing our jobs and we hold ourselves accountable. The same hasn’t been true of the world around us. Orchestra boards and managements haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain; club owners’ only interest is their own take; there is corporate welfare in varying degrees—bailing out banks, giving tax incentives to companies who then outsource the work, or subsidizing employees of companies that don’t pay living wages; “right to work” for less laws sell themselves as providing workers’ “freedom”; challenges to union “fair share” fees that ensure workers can stand up against employers’ abuses by enforcing their negotiated contracts.

My perception is that “the times they are a changin’.” More workers have been standing up and pushing back. Their voices are finally being heard and questions are being asked. The Occupy Movement of 2011 and 2012 had energy, but didn’t really generate enough of a jolt to create meaningful change. Instead, a number of smaller actions finally made their way into the public consciousness and, like water dripping into a ravine, they are creating gradual change. 

One of our realities is that, when more people have money in their pockets, there’s a better chance they will go out for entertainment. In the aftermath of “the Great Recession,” awareness has been raised about the lopsided economic recovery. There’s been critical analysis showing that the trickle-down economics of the last 30-plus years has not created a sustainable economy for anyone. Whether we are talking about the water in Flint, or shining the light on corporate tax evasion and corporate welfare, these public conversations seem to be building awareness for the fact that public infrastructure can only be sustained by public—not private—funding. Public funding is only available if working people are making enough money to sustain themselves, with enough left over to invest in the public good, so that means living and sustainable wages.

After what seems a very long time, working people are regaining a sense of the value of standing together, realizing that individualism usually only benefits the employers. In my opinion, that realization is what will make a healthy culture and a healthy society. Working people, and musicians particularly, have been in a position of defending our value. In the past, when we’ve complained the response was that life is unfair and we should get used to it. Well, actually, we can demand fairness. We can demand respect. We can demand to be valued. It’s not effective to just ask for it.

Our union, the American Federation of Musicians, is moving ahead and is poised to effectively support, advocate for, and negotiate in the best interests of working musicians. I admit to having been somewhat reticent at times with friends and colleagues when talking about our union, but here’s my conclusion: It’s not disrespectful for members to ask nonunion friends to join. It’s not unfair for members to demand that colleagues pay at least their share to uphold the contracts that members helped create, and from which others are benefiting. Fairness is not an unrealistic expectation.

There’s no doubt in my mind every individual musician that comes in makes us—all of us—that much stronger. Thank you for being a member!