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ropa's 34th annual conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countering the Shrinking Pit with Education

Countering the Shrinking Pitby Tony D’Amico, Theatre Musicians Association President and Member of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 198-457 (Providence,RI)


Summer is AFM conference season, and the Theatre Musicians Association kicked that season off with our 22nd annual set of meetings held in Phoenix, Arizona, July 31 and August 1. It proved to be a pair of jam-packed days featuring presentations, reports, and discussions on many subjects of interest to theatre musicians. Attendees were treated to a pension presentation, facilitated by AFM President Ray Hair and a panel of AFM-EPF trustees, lawyers, and actuaries. A representative from the Actors Fund spoke about health care, and what we might expect from proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. Chicago TMA Chapter Director Heather Boehm offered some useful member recruitment ideas that have proved successful in her city.

I’d like to extend a huge “thank you” to Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) President Jerry Donato, Secretary-Treasurer Doug Robinson, as well as TMA Phoenix Chapter Director Jeff Martin for their help organizing the conference and welcoming us to their city.

I am happy to report that Heather Boehm was elected by acclimation to serve as TMA’s national vice president. I look forward to working with Boehm as we continue to build upon the past successes of our organization. My thanks to outgoing Vice President Paul Castillo for all the dedicated work and invaluable assistance he gave me during my first year as president. Castillo will continue to work for TMA as the Southern California chapter director.

During my opening remarks to the conference, I spoke a bit about what I see as perhaps the major issue for theatre players across the US and Canada—the continual downsizing of pit orchestras as technology advances. One player now does the job of what once took an entire section of musicians to perform. Imagine my surprise when, during a trip to a Boston theatre a few years back to see a performance of The Book of Mormon—the epitome of a blockbuster show—I looked into the pit to discover that the percussion-heavy score required not one single piece of percussion, never mind a percussionist to play those sounds.

Of course, this is not a new issue for us. Technology has inevitably improved over the decades, and the practice of acoustic instruments being convincingly mimicked by other means has been going on for decades. While, to me, the computerized or sampled sound of an oboe played on a keyboard cannot compare to the artistry a real oboist brings to the part, in the grand scheme of the modern musical, the nuance is lost in the greater spectacle. In other words, by and large the public doesn’t notice. This is where we can make progress in our fight to keep our pits filled with professional musicians.

The key (as with most things) is education. We must continue to educate the public. They need to know that often they are not getting their money’s worth. A show that used 15 musicians on Broadway will use six on the road, but continue to charge theatregoers the same Broadway ticket prices. Only with an informed public can we ensure the continued integrity of our art form. Only the audiences can demand quality.

The public does notice. During a recent Boston run of a touring show I played, the pit consisted of one trumpet, one trombone, one violin, a bunch of keyboards, and a rock rhythm section. More than one acquaintance of mine commented to me that things sounded quite thin, with one friend even saying the violinist should have just stayed home, since she was contributing so little to the overall sound of the show. An audience would not stand for paying full ticket price for a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by the Boston Symphony Orchestra with a choir of 10 people along with some sound “enhancement,” or even worse, with the low brass parts played on a keyboard. Of course, that’s ridiculous.

I believe one of TMA’s main missions is to shed light on this subject and let the public reach the natural conclusion: a show utilizing more highly skilled musicians results in a better theatre experience.

Of course, the question is how to go about getting this message out. Some ideas that have been recently tossed around include educational leafleting in front of theatres before performances, letters to the editors responding to reviews (criticizing a show for a small pit or praising it for healthy numbers), as well as social media campaigns. I’d welcome your comments and suggestions. I can be reached at: president.tma@afm-tma.org

tma conference

2016 TMA Conference in the Nation’s Capitol

Tom MendelWby Tom Mendel, Theatre Musicians Association President Emeritus and Member of AFM Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL)

Our 21st Annual TMA Conference was held at the Loews Madison Hotel in Washington, DC, August 22-23. Lee Lachman of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) (on behalf of TMA Washington, DC, Chapter President Paul Schultz), Local 161-710 President Ed Malaga, and myself welcomed the attendees.

AFM President Ray Hair spoke about the 100th AFM Convention, his history bargaining and negotiating in Dallas and Ft. Worth, Pamphlet B, and fairness for subs and alternates in orchestras.

In my president’s report, I stated the theme of this conference: the Future of TMA. Two hours of the afternoon session were devoted to a round-table discussion of this topic. I reported on the Pamphlet B negotiations in which TMA has a very active role; the formation a Keyboard Subbing Committee because of what we consider unfavorable practices involving keyboard subs; the formation of the TMA Officers & Members Video Training Committee to produce training videos for TMA officers and members on select subjects such as running a meeting, use of social media, and more. These will be great learning tools located in our TMA Officers Toolbox. I gave a PowerPoint demonstration of a new video on membership recruitment and retention.

I read TMA resolutions of recognition to Carla Lehmeier-Tatum of Local 618 (Albuquerque, NM) for nine years of service as ROPA president and Bruce Ridge of Local 500 (Raleigh, NC) for 10 years of service as ICSOM chair. OCSM President Robert Fraser of Local 247 (Victoria, BC) and Ridge gave eloquent player conference reports. Ridge read an ICSOM resolution recognizing me for my years of service with TMA. I read a report from new ROPA President Mike Smith of Local 30-73 (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN). Local 161-710 treated conference attendees to a delicious lunch.

AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking and Immigration Director Michael Manley gave a report on Pamphlet B negotiations. He compared data from current “full” Pamphlet B tours and those touring on the SET Agreement. He also described the work his office truly does and the people working in it.

TMA Chapter, Broadway, Membership-at-Large, and Traveler Director reports followed. Legislative Chair Walter Usiatynski of Local 802 (New York City) and Chapter and Membership Recruitment Chair Debbie Brooks of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) gave standing reports. Lovie Smith-Wright of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX) and 60-471 (Pittsburgh, PA) gave the Diversity Committee report.

tma conference

AFM President Ray Hair addresses the TMA Conference while then TMA President Tom Mendel listens on.

TMA Parliamentarian Paul Castillo of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 353 (Long Beach, CA) introduced and moderated the Future of TMA round-table discussion, which resulted in three areas for TMA Executive Board consideration.

The second day began with the executive board report. TMA Webmaster Stephen Green of Locals 47 and 7 (Orange County, CA) gave his report. Newly elected AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal gave brief introductory remarks. AFM IEB Member and Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi spoke about the new Local 802 Broadway contract. He reported that there were more than 300 musicians working on Broadway contracts.

Local 161-710 President Malaga and Executive Board Member Patrick Plunk gave a special report on organizing the Olney Theatre and its successful effort to become unionized.

Elections results were as follows: President Tony D’Amico of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 198-457 (Providence, RI); Vice President Paul Castillo; Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto of Locals 9-535, 198-457, and 126 (Lynn, MA); Broadway Director Jan Mullen of Local 802; Membership-at-Large Director Lovie Smith-Wright; and Travelers Director Angela Chan of Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV).

Chapter directors elected locally include: Walt Bostian (Boston) of Locals 9-535, 126, and 198-457; Heather Boehm (Chicago) of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL); Alan Ayoub (Detroit) of Local 5 (Detroit, MI); David Philippus (Las Vegas) of Local 369; Steve Sanders (Northern California) of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA); Jeff Martin (Phoenix) of Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ); Stephen Green (Southern California); Vicky Smolik (St. Louis) of Local 2-197 (St. Louis, MO); and Paul Schultz (Washington, DC) of Local 161-710.

AFM President Ray Hair swore in all officers, chapter directors, and alternates present. Congratulations to Tony D’Amico, Paul Castillo, Mark Pinto, and the executive board on their elections. We are in great hands. TMA’s future is bright!

It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve as TMA president for the past  five years. I extend a special thanks to TMA vice presidents Walter Usiatynski (2013-2016) and Michael Manley (2011-2013) and secretary-treasurers Mark Pinto (2012-present) and Local 10-208 member Leo Murphy (2011-2012) for their outstanding service to TMA. I also thank all of the past and present members of the executive board for their service. TMA is a voluntary organization. The time and effort given by our local and national representatives is greatly appreciated.

Is Your Local Represented

Player Conferences — What Are They, and What’s Going on with TMA?

Occasionally, I have gone to speak to college music classes about the union, player conferences, and specifically the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA). Most of the students have inaccurate ideas about the union (AFM) and little or no knowledge of player conferences. This, of course, was the reason that I was there.

Each time I’ve done this, I’ve felt that the students not only enjoyed our presentation, but were also grateful for an honest representation of what’s really going on out there. However, I am surprised to encounter many union musicians, especially some who are performing in theatre pits, who have no idea about player conferences and their role in the AFM. I would like to illuminate folks on this issue. This may be redundant to some, but I hope informative to others.

In the AFM Bylaws, a player conference is defined as “A conference composed of representatives of member-musicians in specialized fields of employment.” Unlike the AFM and its locals, a player conference dedicates 100% of its focus on the genre it represents, i.e. theatre, orchestra, recording. There are five official player conferences in the AFM: International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), Recording Musicians Association (RMA), and Theatre Musicians Association (TMA). Each player conference shares the common thread of having been formed by a group of musicians who desired focused representation of their group within the AFM.

The Player Conferences Council (PCC) comprises one representative from each of the five player conferences. The PCC meets several times each year via e-mail or teleconference to discuss what’s going on with their individual conferences, as well as mutual issues and concerns. It also meets annually (in non-AFM Convention years) with the Locals Conference Council (LCC). As stated in the AFM Bylaws, “The purpose of these councils is to exchange information and ideas on appropriate subjects regarding the good and welfare of the AFM, its locals, and its members.”

Speaking for TMA, I can honestly say that we have a great relationship with the AFM. AFM President Hair, the International Executive Board (IEB), and the AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division consult and keep us in the loop with all AFM theatre-related issues.

Player ConferencesTMA is a member of the AFM Pamphlet B Negotiating Committee, which is the contract for AFM musical theatre touring musicians. TMA also has its own Pamphlet B Committee, currently headed by TMA Vice President Walter Usiatynski, which prepares for the negotiations more than a year in advance. It does so through surveying our traveling and local members and one-on-one discussions with traveling musicians when they play shows in the jurisdiction of one of our chapters. We also compare notes with the AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division, headed by Michael Manley. He sends out a survey to touring musicians as well.

The AFM and the Broadway Theatre League have recently finished the first round of the 2016 Pamphlet B negotiations. TMA has a very active role on the negotiating team as it did in the previous negotiations in 2012. The present negotiations are scheduled to continue in July, after the AFM Convention.

TMA would like to congratulate the AFM on its historic 100th Convention! It will be held in Las Vegas, July 20-24. As a member of the PCC, TMA is allowed to address the AFM Convention. We will be speaking Monday, June 20.

I am proud to announce that the 21st Annual TMA Conference will be held August 22-23, 2016 in Washington, DC, at the Loews Madison Hotel. The Washington, DC, location was chosen to honor one of our newest chapters. We hope that you will be able to attend.

TMA is the AFM Player Conference devoted solely to issues and concerns of theatre musicians. We’re a voluntary organization. If you’re a theatre musician in the AFM, doesn’t it make sense to be a TMA member?

20th Annual Theater Musicians Association Conference Highlights

The 20th Annual Theater Musicians Association (TMA) Conference was held at the Hotel Whitcomb in San Francisco, August 17-18. TMA Vice President Walter Usiatynski chaired Monday’s session. Usiatynski, TMA Northern California Chapter President Tom Bertetta, and Local 6 (San Francisco, CA) President David Schoenbrun welcomed the attendees.

AFM President Ray Hair made a very interesting and informative PowerPoint presentation on Media Convergence & Performance Rights. He recounted the AFM’s history from 1896 forward, eventually reviewing all types of AFM media agreements. He explained the tensions between US and international agencies that collect royalties and the progress that’s been made. He also discussed the AFM Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) and the SAG-AFTRA Fund/SoundExchange.

Above, AFM President Hair swears in 2015–2016 TMA Executive Board members present. Elected were: President Tom Mendel of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), Vice President Walter Usiatynski of Local 802 (New York City), Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), Director for Broadway Jan Mullen of Local 802, Director for the Membership-at-Large Lovie Smith-Wright of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX), and Director for Travelers Angela Chan of Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV). Locally elected chapter directors include: Tony D’Amico (Boston), Dan Johnson (Chicago), Alan Ayoub (Detroit), David Philippus (Las Vegas), Steve Sanders (Northern California), Jeff Martin (Phoenix), Paul Castillo (Southern California), Vicky Smolik (St. Louis), and Paul Schultz (Washington, DC).

Above, AFM President Hair swears in 2015–2016 TMA Executive Board members present. Elected were: President Tom Mendel of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), Vice President Walter Usiatynski of Local 802 (New York City), Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), Director for Broadway Jan Mullen of Local 802, Director for the Membership-at-Large Lovie Smith-Wright of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX), and Director for Travelers Angela Chan of Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV). Locally elected chapter directors include: Tony D’Amico (Boston), Dan Johnson (Chicago), Alan Ayoub (Detroit), David Philippus (Las Vegas), Steve Sanders (Northern California), Jeff Martin (Phoenix), Paul Castillo (Southern California), Vicky Smolik (St. Louis), and Paul Schultz (Washington, DC).

Among the topics discussed in my TMA President’s Report were: preparing for the Pamphlet B Negotiations (current contract expires 3/11/16); the formation of the Theatrical Orchestrations Committee because some publishing houses are no longer making some of the larger orchestrations available; reduced orchestrations; the formation of the TMA Officers & Members Video Training Committee to produce training videos for TMA officers and members on subjects such as running meetings, use of social media, etc. These will be great learning tools and located in our TMA Officers Toolbox.

TMA Vice President Walter Usiatynski gave a report on current and upcoming challenges, such as reduced orchestrations, nonunion tours, and our health care crisis. TMA Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto discussed TMA finances. All TMA chapter directors gave reports either directly or through their alternate directors.

Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President Marc Sazer and Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) Vice President Nancy Nelson eloquently gave player conference reports. I read equally eloquently reports written by International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Bruce Ridge and Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) President Robert Fraser.

Membership-at-Large Director Lovie Smith-Wright read her report. Usiatynski read reports from Director for Broadway Jan Mullen and Director for Travelers Jamie Schmidt.

AFM Director for Touring, Theatre, Booking and Immigration Michael Manley reported on Pamphlet B tours currently on the road using comparative data of Full Pamphlet B tours and those touring under the SET Agreement. An interesting statistic was how overages have been a great way to equalize the salary differences between the two.

Usiatynski gave the Legislative Standing Committee Chair report and read the Chapter and Membership Recruitment Standing Committee Chair report written by Debbie Brooks. Lovie Smith-Wright reported on the Diversity Committee.

To my knowledge, for the first time, the TMA Executive Board limited guest speakers in order to hold breakout sessions to identify issues affecting musical theatre musicians and possible solutions. Topics included: reduced orchestrations, theatre musicians asked to supply headshots and/or audition tapes, keyboard subbing, as well as the questions “what is TMA doing that it should not be doing?” and “what is TMA not doing that it should be doing?”

The second day began with the Executive Board report. TMA Webmaster Stephen Green gave his report. AFM Secretary-Treasurer Sam Folio reported on political and social activism and the upcoming 100th AFM Convention. AFM IEB Member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi talked about the relationship that he has with the British Musicians’ Union and common interests and concerns between London’s West End productions and those on Broadway. Paul Castillo gave a report on the Local Conferences’ Council/Players’ Conferences Council (LCC/PCC) Conference in Las Vegas last month.

(Right) Following a special report from Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) President Ed Malaga on organizing the Olney Theatre, all of the members at our conference did a photo shoot wearing stickers congratulating Olney Theatre musicians on their successful unionization.

(Right) Following a special report from Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) President Ed Malaga on organizing the Olney Theatre, all of the members at our conference did a photo shoot wearing stickers congratulating Olney Theatre musicians on their successful unionization.

It was a distinct honor and highlight of this the 20th Annual Conference to have a panel discussion with the original TMA Steering Committee who helped found TMA. They included: Gordon Messick (chair), David Schoenbrun (secretary), Larry Souza (treasurer), Artie Storch (editor of Pit Bulletin), and Melinda Wagner (advisor). Special mention was made of deceased member Wayne Allen (advisor). The panel spoke on the founding of TMA. On behalf of TMA, I would like to extend them a special thanks. We have to know where we came from to know where we’re going.

TMA would like to thank outgoing officers Christina Steffen and Jamie Schmidt for their service. TMA is a voluntary organization and the time and effort given by our local and national representatives is greatly appreciated.

TMA is dedicated to ensuring live music remains a vital and valued part of theatrical musicals now and in the future. Our purpose is to represent and serve the needs of local and touring theatre musicians. See if we are a good fit for you. Check out our website: afm-tma.org, or social media sites Twitter: Theatre Musicians@TMAMusicians and Facebook: Theatre Musicians Association – TMA. Don’t forget to “like” us!

The Year Leading up to TMA’s 20th Anniversary Conference

Tom Mendalby Tom Mendel, TMA President and Member of AFM Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL)

Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) has been quite busy in the past year. I can think of no better way to demonstrate this than by writing about what the Executive Board and volunteer committees have been up to in the TMA’s year review.

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