Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

The Many Faces of SCFD

April 12th, 2011 1 comment

By Pete Vriesenga

I posted an announcement and commentary on March 22nd entitled:  Please attend SCFD’s public meeting on March 24, 2011. My hope was to let our community of professional musicians know that our industry is again in jeopardy because of irresponsible decisions of the SCFD board and administrators. Thankfully, many members responded and filled all remaining chairs in the meeting room. Most were members of the Colorado Chamber Orchestra (CCO).

Many Faces

At stake was the fact that SCFD rejected CCO’s application to apply for funding in the upcoming grant cycle. Among reasons given were that CCO often performs in churches and has played benefit concerts (one for the homeless in Denver and another for AIDS infants in Africa). God forbid if CCO carried through with such good deeds in its past, and what a sad testament of just how silly SCFD policy [or lack thereof] has become.

There is also the fact that almost every other orchestra in town performs exclusively in churches. Homepage photos of the Arapahoe Philharmonic (at South Suburban Church) and Boulder Symphony (First Presbyterian Church) provide just two examples of SCFD’s latest double standard. Additionally, the Boulder Symphony’s rent agreement with First Presbyterian has musicians performing  Sunday worship services for free, including the the Glory of Christmas. According to BSO’s own press release, this is “a musical event of worship and praise celebrating the birth of Christ” that is in fact a “benefit for the Glory Community.”

SCFD officials also expressed concern that CCO’s outreach programs in Douglas County potentially benefit some students who reside in Douglas County, but live in specific areas that don’t pay into the SCFD District. At the conclusion of the March 24 meeting I reminded the SCFD board that this was yet another, serious double standard. I pointed to SCFD’s “FREE Holiday Performance Opportunity at the Park Meadows Mall” that was staged in 2003 and 2004. Prior to a the passing of a 2004 Election Referendum, Park Meadows Mall was similarly situated in a non-SCFD tax area. The difference between then and now is that SCFD was event coordinator and used public resources for their political goal of luring the Mall into the District in advance of the election.

Shame on the SCFD board, not only for stating the opposite view with CCO, but for allowing students to become victims of SCFD/Douglas County politics.

I could go on, and I will.

An Open Letter to Senator Mark Udall

May 1st, 2009 1 comment

May 1, 2009

Colorado Senator Mark Udall
999 Eighteenth Street
Suite N1525
Denver, CO 80202

Dear Senator Udall,

I strongly encourage you to immediately endorse the Employee Free Choice Act. I fail to understand why you are not taking a firm public stand on the EFCA when you previously have co-sponsored the bill.

Senator Udall, this is unacceptable! The EFCA is not a political issue; it is a small “d” democratic issue that goes to the heart of freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I find it shameful that you use the EFCA as a political tool, and that you are waiting to see who will give you the most money for your upcoming campaign in 2010.

Recently I heard a talk at a Democratic fundraiser by progressive talk show host and author David Sirota. Mr. Sirota challenged us to ask this basic question about any politician, Democrat or Republican: Are you on our side (the American working people) or are you on the side of big business and money. The answer in your case is really neither. I suspect you are waiting to see where your largest campaign contributions are coming from, in which case you are only on your side, and will do whatever you have to do to be re-elected.

Please prove me wrong by immediately endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s a new era in America, and we are in need of transparent and honest politicians. Step up to the plate and join us, the working people of America.


Thomas A. Blomster

Denver, CO


An Open Letter To Senator Michael Bennet

May 1st, 2009 2 comments

May 1, 2009

An Open Letter To Senator Michael Bennet

Dear Senator Bennet,

I strongly encourage you to immediately endorse the Employee Free Choice Act. Two weeks ago I attended the town hall meeting held at the IBEW Local 68 offices. Unfortunately, I had to leave for another appointment before your anticipated arrival. I was hoping that by the end of the day there would be news that you had endorsed the EFCA. But upon a careful scan of the Internet, I found no such news, and read a great deal about how you are waffling on this issue.

Senator Bennet, this is unacceptable! The EFCA is not a political issue; it is a small “d” democratic issue that goes to the heart of freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I find it shameful that you use the EFCA as a political tool, and that you are waiting to see who will give you the most money for your upcoming campaign in 2010.

Recently I heard a talk at a Democratic fundraiser by progressive talk show host and author David Sirota. Mr. Sirota challenged us to ask this basic question about any politician, Democrat or Republican: Are you on our side (the American working people) or are you on the side of big business and money. The answer in your case is really neither. You are only on your side, and will do whatever you have to do to be elected (not re-elected, because you were appointed to this position).

Please prove me wrong by immediately endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s a new era in America, and we are in need of transparent and honest politicians. Step up to the plate and join us, the working people of America.


Thomas A. Blomster


Government and The Arts

April 9th, 2009 1 comment

By Ken Davies

Ken Davies, composer

Ken Davies, composer

In the recent months since the Wall Street melt-down and subsequent bank bailouts, we saw a most surprising and refreshing public response involving the $50 million arts package part of the federal economic stimulus proposal. When the arts money appeared to have been eliminated from the stimulus, 85,000 people responded to the Americans For The Arts call to write to senators and congresspersons. Showing the significance of one aspect of American government, that it actually will respond to noise in great numbers, the arts package was put back into the stimulus.

Yet, a large part of this drama revolved around the wide-spread scapegoating of the arts and the people who make them. There were anti-arts hate statements like one from Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA), “We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.” Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) asked “What does $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts have to do with creating jobs?” In further prejudice against artists by “respected” leaders, we’ve seen lawyer and House Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) steal an Aerosmith song (about a cowboy and a prostitute) to underscore a political video ad to suggest that Republicans were “Back In The Saddle.” Later, on the March night of President Obama’s first major televised press conference, Cantor was in the audience of a Britney Spears show. (I guess no cultural comment is needed on that one.) In his bid for President, John McCain (R-AZ) stole several songs for use in his campaign including Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty.” This resulted in a lawsuit against McCain that the court has refused to dismiss at McCain’s request and is still pending. See the lawyers’ blog at to follow this one.

It is common to hear, from some types, the statement that if one’s art is good enough, it will sell on its own and does not need to be subsidized. Arts educators have a hard enough time working to raise the redneck level above the lowest common denominator without having to argue this stupidity. And it certainly sends a message when our own government officials demean the work of those who did not receive subsidy by just stealing it without a thought or fear of repercussion. A publicized Browne victory against McCain would convey an important message. Removing McCain from the Senate for this act would convey an even more important message. Yet subsidies play a large role in government, not just the laughably tiny amount given to the arts.

All governments subsidize those activities which they want to increase and they reduce or eliminate funding from those activities which they want to diminish. It all comes down to who gets favored and who doesn’t. What government subsidizes (with your tax money) are called “economic social goods and services” which are deemed good for all society. These include schools, fire departments, police departments, militaries, government officials, and – in some European countries – the arts and music. Here are some comparative arts subsidies between various nations’ 2008 budgets: USA (National Endowment for the Arts) $144 million, Israel $114 million, Canada $164 million, Germany $1.4 Billion, France $3.8 Billion. Even “little” Norway budgeted $216 million back in 1989.

As for American subsidies, consider the following:
• 100 senators and 435 congressmen salaries of $175,000 each = $93 million
(and each has an additional staff budget of 1-2 million)
• U.S. national debt of $9.5 trillion = $1.5 billion interest every day mostly to China.
• Bailing out banks and wall street = $700 billion and more
• Pentagon war budget = $711 billion (2009)
• Iraq war = $120 billion year ($10 billion per month)
• USA foreign aid to Israel military = $3 billion
• Babylon, Iraq tourist destination = $700,000 from US Dept of State
• USA Farm subsidy = $286 billion (2008)
• About 2 million farmers and farm entities receive about $16 billion per year in programs designed to help stabilize incomes when prices fall or to help protect sensitive land.
• NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration=$16.2 billion a year
• Education funding – just NCLB (no child left behind) = $14 billion
• Corn ethanol subsidies = $7 billion
• Army Corps of Engineers – $5 billion annually for dams and water projects 
• Abstinence-only sex education = $176 million (2008)
• Anti-drug advertising campaign fund = $130 million (2008)

These subsidies “create jobs” just like the NEA through their state agencies like Mississippi Arts Commission and Colorado Council for the Arts does. If the arts opportunities are to grow, it’s important to find out who the anti-arts legislators in your state and nation are and campaign against them. More noise has to be made to help support the political actions of groups like Americans for the Arts and the American Federation of Musicians. The noise making cannot be left to “political leaders” like Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber.

When you strip away all the talk of left-wing vs right-wing, conservative vs liberal, republican vs democrat, free market capitalist vs socialist, etc., it comes down to this; there are two kinds of politicians: 1) those who support the arts and 2) the other kind.

Categories: Composer's Notes - Ken Davies Tags:

Giant Rats in the Street – thank IBEW 269

March 18th, 2009 No comments

ratResponding to daily revelations of corruption and scandal with the AIG bailout, an estimated 10,000 Americans are hitting the streets on March 19, in more than 100 public demonstrations across the country. These public displays of mass outrage will surely force accountability and oversight that decades of litigation and arbitration could never produce.

A common fixture at labor protests, including AFM Local 802 (God bless ‘em!) is a giant inflatable rat. These rodents (Rattus norvegicus gigantus) have become a symbol of corporate greed and are feared by even the most powerful executives, which explains why they’re facing extermination.

In 2005, a Lawrence Township N.J. ordinance was applied to prohibit Electrical Workers’ Local 269 from displaying a 10-foot tall rat balloon as part of their labor protest on a public sidewalk. Wayne DeAngelo, business manager for Local 269 was convicted of violating the ordinance. Mr. DeAngelo appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court (State v. DeAngelo, N.J., No. A-73-07, 2/5/09)

Last month the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Lawrence Township ordinance “does not fairly advance any compelling governmental interests” and is not “narrowly tailored” to target the source of harm it seeks to prevent.”

Samuel Gompers on Compulsory ArbitrationEmphasizing constitutional protections of free speech, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the City’s claim that the purpose of the ordinance is to maintain an aesthetic environment, to improve vehicular safety and to minimize adverse effects of signs on property. Justice Wallace offered that “There is no evidence to suggest that a rat balloon is significantly more harmful to aesthetics or safety than a similar item being displayed as an advertisement or commercial logo used in a seven-day grand opening promotion.”

Lord knows, musicians have done their share to further the intersts of healthy public protest. But on this day we recognize brother Wayne DeAngelo for winning one for all of us, while standing up against some detestable creatures.

Liability Insurance – just say no

March 14th, 2009 No comments

A DMA (Denver Musicians Association) member called me yesterday asking if it was necessary to buy liability coverage for his band. He was offered a gig to provide lunchtime entertainment in a public square for a downtown business. This is the first time he’s been asked to show liability coverage, so he was curious how to respond.

I told him about the AFM’s liability insurance program that’s available for members, which “provides up to $1 million for each occurrence and up to $2 million of aggregate coverage for lawsuits arising out of bodily injury and/or damage to property for others, occurring on or off premises during your performance.” For a few hundred bucks per year he agreed that a liability policy would make his band more competitive, but the fact remains that liability insurance is the responsibility of the venue owner. Additional coverage only subsidizes and insulates insurance companies with double or triple coverage.

This question has surfaced more frequently in recent years for summer music festivals, city parks and public buildings. A local jazz club put this in their contracts some years back. Thankfully, a handful of local bandleaders responded by simply striking out and initialing that section of the contract. The liability requirement soon went away once the owner realized that other bandleaders would all take the same stance.

Nonetheless, more bandleaders are biting the bullet for liability coverage, fearing they’ll either lose the gig or face a lawsuit. And sadly, this is no different than pressures that we face every day from the health insurance lobby, the homeowners insurance lobby, etc., etc. Remember the residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast who were forced by law to buy hurricane coverage? The insurance companies bailed on their obligations after Katrina, claiming the homeowners were victims of “wind-driven water.”

The insurance lobby has screwed us once again.

the Art of federal stimulus

March 10th, 2009 No comments

This mornings email blast from the Colorado Council on the Arts (CCA) contained disturbing news about anticipated stimulus grants. We should be very concerned that 1) only a handful of employers are even eligible to apply for these funds, and 2) if utilized, may only enhance a travel getaway for musicians who summer in Colorado.

The opening paragraph was very promising: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Public Law 111-5 (“Recovery Act”) recognizes that the nonprofit arts industry is an important sector of the economy. The National Endowment for the Arts is uniquely positioned to fund arts projects and activities that preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn. As part of this important investment, the Arts Endowment has designed a plan to expedite distribution of critical funds for the national, regional, state, and local levels for projects that focus on the preservation of jobs in the arts.

I’m a supporter of the stimulus bill and also the NEA. But like most Americans, I want to know how federal stimulus funds will be disbursed in my industry … how will these funds affect my community?

The CCA email continued: “the National Endowment for the Arts has announced a deadline of April 2 for direct one-time grants to eligible nonprofit organizations as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Applicants for these grants must be previous NEA award recipients from the past four years. A list of Colorado applicants eligible to apply for direct NEA funding is included below:”

  • Arvada Council for the Arts and Humanities, Inc., Arvada CO
  • Aspen Ballet Company & School, Aspen CO
  • Independent Films, Inc., Aspen CO
  • Music Associates of Aspen, Inc., Aspen CO
  • Boulder County Arts Alliance, Boulder CO
  • Colorado Music Festival, Boulder CO
  • Frequent Flyers Productions, Inc., Boulder CO
  • International Tap Association, Boulder CO
  • Naropa University, Boulder CO
  • Shakespeare Theatre Association of America, Boulder CO
  • National Repertory Orchestra, Inc., Breckenridge CO
  • Colorado College, Colorado Springs CO
  • Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs CO
  • Sprinkle Art Inc., Colorado Springs CO
  • City of Delta, Colorado, Delta CO
  • Central City Opera House Association, Denver CO
  • Clyfford Still Museum, Denver CO
  • Colorado Ballet Company, Denver CO
  • Colorado Council on the Arts, Denver CO
  • Colorado Symphony Association, Denver CO
  • Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Denver CO
  • Denver Film Society, Denver CO
  • Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, Denver CO
  • International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management, Inc., Denver CO
  • New Dance Theatre, Inc., Denver CO
  • PlatteForum, Denver CO
  • Su Teatro, Denver CO
  • University of Denver, Denver CO
  • Western States Arts Federation, Denver CO
  • Fort Lewis College, Durango CO
  • National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, Erie CO
  • Arts Alive Fort Collins, Fort Collins CO
  • City of Fort Collins, Colorado, Fort Collins CO
  • Fort Collins Museum Foundation, Fort Collins CO
  • Art Mobile of Montana, Grand Junction CO
  • University of Northern Colorado, Greeley CO
  • City of Lakewood, Colorado, Lakewood CO
  • City of Littleton, Colorado, Littleton CO
  • Littleton Center for Cultural Arts Foundation, Littleton CO
  • Anderson Ranch Arts Foundation, Snowmass Village CO
  • Emerald City Opera, Steamboat Spring CO
  • Bravo! Colorado at Vail-Beaver Creek, Vail CO
  • Among the three employers of musicians, Colorado Music Festival and Bravo! Colorado at Vail operate as summer festivals that import musicians at significant public expense. Consider qualifying criteria of each:

    The Colorado Music Festival (Boulder, CO) offers a base bay of approximately $270/week (4 rehearsals and 2 concerts), which is well below prevailing wage in this industry. Directly relevant to this discussion is the fact that cost of living in Boulder is higher than in three of the five burroughs of New York City.

    The statute specifically states: “Compensate all professional performers and related or supporting professional personnel on Arts Endowment-supported projects at no less than the prevailing minimum compensation.”

    In my view the Colorado Music Festival was ineligible to apply for NEA funding initially, and therefore has no place on a short list of employers eligible for stimulus funds.

    I strongly advise that CMF does not apply.

    Bravo! Colorado at Vail-Beaver Creek is a product of philanthropic largesse. The Summer ’09 festival will feature the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic as orchestras in-residence. They’re invited back because they bring extraordinary levels of funding to the table. Simply put, this is pay to play.

    Importing three major orchestras for the exclusive benefit to one of the wealthiest communities in the world is certainly defendable as a commercial venture, but not when drawing on scarce pubic funding such as the NEA or the CCA. The prerequisite as stated by the NEA is “to fund arts projects and activities that preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn.”

    Let’s accept for a moment that Bravo! experienced a decline in contributions. The Vail community can still satisy their ‘discriminating’ musical taste by importing just two ensembles. And, they can just as easily take the family for a short drive to experience and support a wealth of entertainment and artistic offerings that exist in their own regional community. Their recreation-based economy would suffer greatly if not for large numbers of Colorado residents who support them.

    Similarly, I strongly advise that the Bravo Festival does not apply.

    President Obama has assured transparency with this program so the public can follow and track how these dollars are spent and review jobs created. I anxiously await the report.

    Pete Vriesenga

    If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it …

    March 8th, 2009 No comments

    Thank you Nikki, for taking the time to express your concerns. Yes, there have been a couple of examples where board members have missed two or three meetings in a row. Hectic personal schedules were to blame, and to their credit, these board members didn’t expect to be paid for those absences. Nonetheless, current bylaws require the board to hold two meetings per month. Resulting efficiency of the board is only compromised when members are missing.

    It’s also true that board members are paid modestly, compensating for duties and responsibilities that go well beyond attendance at meetings. This area of additional “duties and responsibilities” is one where I hope to encourage greater productivity and efficiency.

    For example, our current board is very effective with email communication. Email makes it possible to frequently handle business between meetings, weekends, etc. Occasionally I hear objections to email discussions (versus face-to-face meetings), and I understand that. But I also believe that email has significant advantages in context of board discussions. Email has a tendency to focus the discussion, provides a written transcript, and is far more accessible to board members who don’t reside in town.

    We must also encourage our elected officers to write and present their viewpoints in a public forum. This increased public visibility will strengthen our collective viewpoints and simultaneously create a forum for debate. Disagreements often arise within a board, as they should. Differing opinions lead to necessary and healthy discourse, but it serves no purpose if these discussions are confined to the boardroom … does it make a sound?

    Pete Vriesenga

    Categories: Local Discussion, Pete Vriesenga Tags:

    Conductor’s Corner – Tom Jensen

    March 8th, 2009 6 comments


    My name is Tom Jensen and as a conductor I have cultivated a relationship with the Denver Musicians’ Association for the past 25 years. I appreciate the opportunity of this forum to share ideas and thoughts to better foster an advocacy for the arts that is not just lip service, but rather a place to get things done. I hope to illustrate positive concepts concerning, among others, management/union relationships; funding possibilities; community visibility; and musical relevance with respect to educational outreach.

    For the past 23 years I have participated in a unique program called “Inside the Orchestra” which has been sponsored by the Junior Symphony Guild.  We hire anywhere from 15 to 34 union musicians for our programs and produced over 80 concerts this season.  Audiences sit in, and are surrounded by the orchestra– hence the name. Many of the players have worked with me for most of my tenure here in Denver– developing working situations that have spanned a quater of a century.  The goal of the JSG is to expand and grow– this year alone we added more programs than ever before, increasing our fall season by 31% over last year’s (seeing close to 25,000 children) and we hope to continue to thrive even in this current economy.

    That said, I recently had an interesting conversation with national union activist Chris McKeever.  Over a couple of “sparkling beverages” I mentioned that we had just finished a successful concert run, but even with our new collective bargaining agreement, we still had musicians arriving late for rehearsals and performances.

    Chris  laughed and said that musicians really aren’t union people.


    Performer Rights – a good fight

    March 3rd, 2009 No comments
    AFM members meeting in Rep. Henry Waxman's office

    AFM members meeting in Rep. Henry Waxman's office

    On this day (March 3, 2009), representative AFM members from across the U.S. are meeting with members of the House and Senate to lobby in support of the Performance Rights Act, H.R. 848 and S.379. Denver Local 20-623 members’ Bob Montgomery and Tom LeRoux are among the AFM contingent. This effort is made possible through contributions to the AFM’s Legislative Action Fund (formerly TEMPO).

    Passage of this legislation would establish performer royalties for sound recordings that are broadcast over AM/FM radio, therefore bringing the United States one step closer to royalty standards enjoyed by most of the civilized world. Much of the necessary groundbreaking has been laid for this effort. The AFM was a key partner in passage of the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 (also the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998) that established a performer right for the first time in U.S. history. Royalty payments for digital transmissions such as XM and SIRIUS radio are now paid to Sound Exchange, which is an independent performer rights organization designated by the U.S. Copyright Office. This year, Sound Exchange will distribute $10 million in royalty payments to professional musicians through the AFM/AFTRA Fund.

    A toast to the AFM, and the AFM’s Legislative Action Fund!