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March 30, 2020IM -
by John Michael Smith, Regional Orchestra Players’ Association President and Member of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN)
I began writing this article for the International Musician with the intention to write about my recent visits to Detroit and Miami, representing the AFM and the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) at SphinxConnect 2020: Vision and our annual AFM presentation at the New World Symphony. However, over the past week or so my computer and iPhone have been dinging away with email and text messages coming in from our ROPA orchestra delegates, sending messages of cancellations and postponements of services as a result of the coronavirus pandemic we are experiencing worldwide. With 90 ROPA orchestra delegates, that’s a lot of dinging, and the situation for each orchestra changes frequently with the increase in COVID-19 cases in every community.
There is angst, shock, and fear for our immediate future, as our musicians are suddenly finding themselves with no work, no income. In some cases, orchestras are continuing to compensate musicians at varying amounts for the canceled services. Many are declaring a force majeuresituation, or the impossibility to continue to offer employment because of local government response, or invoking their cancellation clauses and are not going to compensate our musicians for canceled services. And that carries out into other work our musicians do as well, so that many musicians have little financial resources left to fall back on. It is indeed a tough time for us all.
But it is also a time to gain strength and support from our colleagues in our orchestras, our Player Conferences, and the AFM during this challenging time. I’m so impressed and proud of our Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Rochelle Skolnick, Debbie Newmark, and Laurence Hofmann have been in constant contact with me and the other leaders of the Player Conferences, helping us coordinate our activities around cancellations and compensation. A side letter agreement was created for the Integrated Media Agreement, a primary AFM media agreement for symphonic organizations, specific to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for additional possibilities for live and archival streaming performances from full orchestra to chamber groups. They worked with other AFM staff to create the COVID-19 Resources page on AFM.org, with an incredible amount of information for members to access. SSD has set up weekly online meetings to keep the lines of communications flowing—again, so much changes on a daily basis. And SSD, ROPA, the International Conference of Symphony and Orchestra Musicians (ICSOM), and the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) are studying the responses of our various orchestras to the pandemic and creating a knowledge bank for our musicians to use in discussion with their orchestra managers regarding cancellations, rescheduling, and compensation.
The AFM Player Conference Council, consisting of the leaders of the five Player Conferences of the AFM are also holding weekly video conferences, discussing our common issues, problems, and occasionally a positive story, helping each other with our special concerns, and keeping in close communication. As in anything union, what affects one of us affects us all. I so appreciate all the support I receive from my fellow leaders of ICSOM, OCSM, Theater Musicians Association (TMA), and Recording Musicians Association (RMA)!
The ROPA Executive Board members are making personal contact with our delegates a priority during this time. Personal online contact and live phone or online conversation is so important at this time of social distancing. The ROPA board members are listening to our delegates as they share what is happening in their orchestras and their community, all unique and special stories to be shared. ROPA is a resource to the over 6,000 musicians who perform in our orchestras, with the special emphasis and knowledge of regional orchestras.
While we are dealing with a challenge that most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes, I feel that this is a unique opportunity for all of us to unite and pull together: musicians, orchestra administrators, and boards of directors. We all need each other, pulling in the same direction.
The 37th annual ROPA conference is scheduled for July 28-30 at the Hilton Costa Mesa Hotel in Orange County, CA, with our hosts Local 7 (Orange County Musicians’ Association) and the Pacific Symphony. We don’t know at this point where things will be with the coronavirus pandemic, and whether this conference will take place as scheduled. Strength, patience, good thoughts, and prayers for us all. Keep Calm and Carry On!