Tag Archives: Tony D’Amico

theatre musicians

Spring into Action: Preserving Musicians’ Work Through Audience Education

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

Greetings from the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) world headquarters in north central Massachusetts, where the robins have returned, the flowers are blooming, and a faint light can be seen at the end of the pandemic tunnel. The feeling in the air today is quite different from the last time I wrote in these pages, back in the bleakness of November. Effective vaccines have been developed, approved, and are getting into arms at an impressive rate. In the music business, after a dark year of virtually no in-person performances, tentative plans are being announced for the long-awaited return to live music. I am feeling cautiously optimistic when I speak to my colleagues across the Federation.

You are well aware that Broadway and all national musical theater tours abruptly closed down in mid-March of last year. Pamphlet B, the international agreement that covers all AFM sanctioned tours, expired around the same time, March 15, 2020. With no musical productions lighting up Broadway theaters or coming to a town near you, the Broadway League informed us they had no interest in sitting down at the bargaining table to negotiate a successor agreement.

While disappointing, the extra time has allowed TMA, along with Touring, Theatre, Booking Division Director Tino Gagliardi, to come up with the reopening safety protocols that were presented to you in a previous issue of the International Musician. The extra time also allowed us to survey our membership and delve into the issues that we would like to see addressed in the next set of negotiations. AFM President Ray Hair has assembled a terrific negotiating team, and I look forward to sitting down with them soon to improve this contract.

One of the issues that TMA members repeatedly mentioned in our survey was concern over the ever-shrinking size of pit orchestras, and how the use of increasingly sophisticated technology is advancing this trend. We have seen the replacement of musicians by electronic devices for decades.

Pit orchestras are at an inherent disadvantage because they are, for the most part, hidden below stage level or, with ever-growing frequency, in a remote room. The audience doesn’t see that a 25-piece Broadway orchestra has been reduced to a 10-piece band on a traveling tour, thanks to the assistance of computers and virtual orchestras.

There is a new technology on the electronic musician replacement scene that is raising alarm bells within TMA and AFM leadership. It’s called KeyComp, and it is possible you have never heard of it. However, as it may very well change the way musicians are hired and employed in the future, it’s important for theater and non-theater musicians alike to become familiar with this device.

Recently, orchestra numbers were reduced by the use of keyboard “patches.” These sampled sounds allow flexibility of tempo due to being performed live by a keyboardist, but left a lot to be desired in terms of quality. Enter KeyComp­—a machine developed by a German software developer named Christoph Buskies, who has worked at Apple Computer since 2000. Using technology developed by Buskies and recorded input of real acoustic instruments played by musicians, parts are broken down into individual beats, which in turn allow the KeyComp operator to make changes in tempo without altering pitch. The result is a flexible performance, using sounds that are remarkably close to the real acoustic instrument because they are recordings of real acoustic instruments. An entire musical score can be loaded onto KeyComp, and played by a few keyboardists. This is troubling, to say the least.

What can be done? Ever since the 1927 introduction of talkie movies began putting accompaniment pianists out of work, we have tried to stem the march of technology, with varying degrees of success. It is through educating the public that we will be able to prevent the pit musician from going the way of the dodo.

A symphony patron would never allow for a Mahler symphony to be played at Boston Symphony Hall with 20 players and a bunch of machines. That’s ridiculous! We need the theatergoers to stand up and demand the same. We need to continue our message of “Live music is best.” Patrons must realize that they are not getting their money’s worth when they go to an expensive show to hear a score played by anything less than a full orchestra.

I recall doing a run of White Christmas a number of years ago, and the score called for a large orchestra—complete with the luxury of a string section! Overhearing audience comments after the show, I was struck by the one thing that came up over and over again: that orchestra sounded great. Perhaps they didn’t know it, but it was because they were hearing the music the way it was meant to be. That is, performed live, by some of the greatest musicians in the world. It’s a message we can all be passionate about.

theatre musicians

Theatre Musicians Gather in LA to Examine the Future of Musical Theatre

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

The 23rd annual Theatre Musicians Association conference was held this past August at the new AFM Local 47 office in Burbank, California. It was a day and a half of interesting and informative addresses, presentations, and discussions. Our host, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) President John Acosta, couldn’t have been more welcoming and generous. Their new home is nothing short of beautiful.

The conference was loosely structured around the theme of the current and future state of the musical theatre business. I’d like to share some of the highlights of the presentations and remarks given during the conference.

In my president’s remarks, I encouraged all TMA members to get involved in the organization by bringing in new members or starting new chapters. I also addressed the issue of national touring acts such as Evanescence or Il Volo, who come into our cities and hire local musicians for below-scale wages. While not theatre work per se, the musicians hired for these shows are often the same players that are hired to play traveling Broadway shows that come into local theatres.

TMA Vice president Heather Boehm, of Locals 10-208 (Chicago, IL) and 802 (New York City), gave an impassioned address about gender equality in the musical theatre pits. We still have a long way to go before this equality is achieved.

AFM President Ray Hair updated us on the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA) negotiation, the work being done to collect unallocated pension contributions, and the 2019 jingle agreement negotiations, which will most likely focus on licensing. Hair spoke a bit about the efforts to relocate the AFM office, and how, in the end, it makes sense to remain at 1501 Broadway, but make a move to the ninth floor. Later, Hair returned to the podium to give a history of the Pamphlet B agreement.

theatre musicians
Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) Secretary-Treasurer Gary Lasley (far left) swore in Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) officers and directors. (L to R) are: John Trombetta, Brian Butler, President Tony D’Amico, Mark Berger, Carey Deadman, Jeff Martin, Paul Castillo, Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto, and Bob Bowlby.

AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal reported the AFM has a $2 million surplus and 187 locals, with nine mergers taking place in the past year. He gave details about the 2019 AFM Convention to be held in June.

AFM Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi gave a report on the state of the Broadway theatres, noting there are currently 28 musicals on Broadway, employing about 418 musicians. Next season, there are 31 musicals slated to come in, which is the most in recent history.

AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director George Fiddler gave a report outlining the money Broadway and touring musicals generated this past season, as well as the number of theatergoers these shows attracted. He gave a list of the AFM contracted shows on tour during the 2017-2018 season, and how many travelers and local musicians each show employed. Fiddler also discussed how the overages on SET agreements affected the traveling musician’s paycheck, and how that compared with musicians on full Pamphlet B shows. Finally, he gave a preview of shows we can expect to be on the road in the 2018-2019 season.

AFM Director of Organizing & Education Michael Manley gave a presentation on organizing, including a screening of the film 1,000 People in the Street, a documentary about the 1997 5th Avenue Theatre musicians strike in Seattle.

TMA SoCal President Paul Castillo led a panel discussion entitled “Organizing, Unity, and the Future of Musical Theatre Employment.”
AFM President Hair and Local 802 President Gagliardi led an AFM-EPF report that also included participation by fund actuaries and lawyers.

All national TMA officers were re-elected by acclamation: myself as president, Vice President Heather Boehm, and Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 126 (Lynn, MA). We began discussions about the location of next year’s TMA Conference.

It is always a pleasure to attend these conferences and meet with theatre musicians from all over the United States and Canada. Our organization has done some truly great work over the past 20-plus years, but there is so much more that must be done.

Negotiations for a Pamphlet B successor agreement are right around the corner, and TMA will be at the table for these talks. Whether you only occasionally play musical theatre productions or the pit is your full-time job, I think you will find TMA membership worthwhile. Please go to afm-tma.org to learn more about our organization, or write to me: president.tma@afm-tma.org.

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