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The Greater Good

December 9th, 2014 No comments

The Way Forward With National Media Policy

By Pete Vriesenga

pete-vriesengaThe Colorado Symphony Orchestra is at odds with our national union (AFM) over differences with electronic media policy. In recent years the CSO [along with 70 other orchestras] was signed to the AFM’s Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) which expired in the Fall of 2013. The IMA is a national agreement that covers electronic media work common to symphony orchestras such as CDs, public radio and television, but doesn’t cover commercial work such as commercial announcements, film, videogames, etc. Over the past year the CSO offered to bargain a new agreement with the AFM, but that effort seems to have failed. On broader fronts a multi-employer bargaining group was formed to represent the management side for a new national contract, but one year later a new agreement remains in the offing.

Before proceeding I should point out that the DMA (Local 20-623, AFM) is the bargaining representative for CSO musicians with respect to most matters in their collective bargaining agreement, including local media. However, the AFM is the recognized bargaining agent for the Integrated Media Agreement and all national media work. Certainly the DMA has a vested interest in seeing a satisfactory resolution to any internal union conflict, but therein lies the question.

Our local membership first learned of this conflict at our March 31, 2014 General Membership Meeting when members of the CSO shared concerns about the AFM’s intransigence over a marketing collaboration between the CSO and the Colorado Rockies. This was a local collaboration that had broad support of the musicians and a perfect example of creative marketing that orchestras across the country should capitalize on. Nonetheless, the AFM only fought management on this matter. They even fought the musicians against their will, all the while claiming to represent them.

Ultimately a resolution was passed at our membership meeting, expressing unanimous support for the CSO on three points: 1) AFM’s unreasonable delay in bargaining, 2) failure to consult the Orchestra Committee before initiating grievances against the orchestra, and 3) CSO musicians’ exclusion from contract and policy-making decisions that affect them.

These are conventional expectations for any democratic organization, but not in the AFM. One reason is the AFM has grown accustomed to setting uniform rates for 70 years. Surely the prospect of achieving genuine support for uniform recording rates across North America would be preferable, but establishing and enforcing such policy requires broad and inclusive representation that frankly does not exist in our union. Yes, the AFM is obligated to represent the interests of those who do the work, but it’s equally important to represent the interests of those who must otherwise turn the work down. That democratic model is a world apart from where we are now and would be expected if the AFM is to serve the needs of “the many.”

This is a key point of contention for the CSO because the Integrated Media Agreement only covers “symphonic” work and does not cover commercial work. Moreover, I see no visible trace of representation between CSO musicians and those who presently establish terms and conditions for work under these commercial agreements. That remains the closely-guarded and protected turf of the Recording Musicians Association (RMA) which is an AFM “Player Conference” that aggressively represents a small fraction of the AFM membership who greatly influence AFM recording policy. Despite their relatively small numbers, RMA has long demonstrated its ability to elect or unseat AFM officers who fail to follow their lead. That political will enables RMA to impose their agenda on AFM members who don’t even know RMA exists, let alone what it stands for. Consequently, RMA’s unchecked power comes at the expense of “the many” and only serves the needs of “the few.”

On the one hand I can’t blame RMA for taking all they can from a union that wrongly and feebly ceded so much power to them, but I do blame other AFM player conferences (ICSOM and ROPA, specifically) for failing to see what’s really going on here. These representational failures have taken a heavy toll on our union, so I applaud the CSO and AFM members across North America for standing up to force necessary change. Fortunately their demands for change are also being heard. In his column in the November, 2014 International Musician, AFM President Ray Hair points to “brush fires in Montreal, Vancouver, Denver, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.” Fair representation, especially with respect to electronic media, appears to be a common demand.

The only way to move beyond this old and deep-rooted conflict is if our union commits to serve the ‘greater good’ and it appears that President Hair draws this very conclusion in his November column when he writes: “All previous AFM administrations faced the same institutional pressures as we do to this day – the internal struggle to balance the needs of the many, versus the needs of the few, or the one. The rise of business unionism over the past 60 years, with its culture of divisiveness and hierarchical bargaining has spawned a host of haves and have-nots in the workplace that serve the interests of the employers. This has come with a terrible cost.”

President Hair’s hope to serve the greater good is a step in the right direction, but actions speak louder than words. Whether or not the AFM then commits to doing so will be determined by the success or failure of organized protests and demands for change that are taking place in Colorado and across the AFM.

The AFM’s willingness to go to the next step by confronting “business unionism”, if true, is a very long time coming because AFM media policies have been the standard-bearer of business unionism for 70 years.  Dictionary.com defines business unionism as “the trade-union philosophy and activity that concentrates on the improvement of wages, hours, working conditions, etc., rather than on the general reform of the capitalistic system”. Sadly, that is an exacting description of the AFM’s flagship “Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA)” which defines AFM media policy. The predecessor to the SRLA – the Phonograph Record Labor Agreement – was established in 1944 with Decca, Capitol, RCA and Columbia. Those four producers were arguably the only true players in the industry then, but today there are thousands of legitimate record labels and independent producers while only seven producers are actually signed to the SRLA document today. Others may come and go, and typically sign for single projects when they do.

Nonetheless, AFM members are led to believe that the 100-page SRLA is an agreement with “the industry” which therefore applies to any and all competing companies from coast to coast, no matter how small. A “Favored Nations” clause exists to this day in the SRLA that obligates the Federation to notify their signatory business partners if a more favorable deal is cut to anyone else. That little clause is an extraordinary deal for our capitalist business partners like Sony ($3 billion annual sales) and Warner Brothers ($5 billion annual sales) and is quite possibly their primary motivation to keep these “agreements” in place. When President Hair publicly assails Lionsgate ($2.3 billion annual sales) for disregarding AFM agreements, few are cheering him on more than the CEO’s of Sony and Warner Brothers. Observe the Clash of the Titans – “the few” – who already command the upper percentile and remain determined to rule the world of media.

How does this affect the great majority of AFM members who work in an economy where the great majority of employer/producers, i.e., “the industry” may only be one-thousandth the size of Warner or Sony? Does “the industry” benefit when the titans establish and set terms for small independents?
Only time will tell if our elected AFM leadership will stand up to these mega-corporations and reject old business union habits so our union can truly serve the greater good. Early indications of change for the better [or worse] will surely be found in President Hair’s reference to “brush fires.” Will these members be welcomed and encouraged for the healthy debate and necessary change they bring, or not?

SCFD’s assurance of “Quality” and “Competitive Grants” – if only it were true

May 11th, 2011 No comments

By Pete Vriesenga

The Scientific & Cultural Facilities District was adopted by Metro-Denver voters in 1988. “Quality” was SCFD’s first and foremost committment to voters who were told that eligible organizations must participate in a competitive grant application process. In many respects this committment was set into law with SCFD’s statutory requirement of adherence to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Unfortunately, recent forays of the Boulder Symphony (Boulder’s ‘Pay-to-Play orchestra) have proven once again that SCFD’s granting processes are anything but competitive. The Lone Tree Symphony, another SCFD-funded ‘pay-to-play’ orchestra receives 80% of its budget from the taxpayers. As a national average, government support for symphony orchestras is just 4%.

Professional musicians continue to suffer substantial loss of income because of SCFD’s non-competitive practices while taxpayer dollars are irresponsibly damaging our economy. In his May 3 letter to me, SCFD board Chair James Harrington defends that SCFD’s is creating jobs and meeting its statutory requirements. My May 5 response to Mr. Harrington states my position as I’ve stated for 15 years … that none of this is true.

Boulder’s ‘pay-to-play’ orchestra lands another gig

May 1st, 2011 No comments

The Cherry Creek Chorale has provided welcome employment for DMA members for many years. These productions are costly and we are forever grateful for CCC’s efforts to stage such events and hope they can continue into the future.

But, as stated in CCC’s 2011-12 Season Flyer, CCC has engaged the Boulder Symphony Orchestra (BSO) for concerts scheduled on October 14, 2011 and May 18, 2012. Sadly, freelance musicians are again learning the hard way that they cannot possibly compete against two publicly-funded organizations that choose to pool their resources in this manner.

Under the baton of Maestro Devin Hughes, the Boulder Symphony has hit the ground running by

Maestro Devin Hughes

Maestro Devin Hughes

undermining the local industry with their SCFD-funded ‘pay-to-play’ business model. The BSO’s new home at Boulder’s affluent First Presbyterian Church is yet another creative collaboration. This deal is paid for entirely by the musicians who now perform free for Sunday services as well as three performances of Glory of Christmas. Additionally, BSO musicians must pay $25 per concert set to play in the orchestra, all of which applies to BSO’s necessary match to obtain SCFD funding in the first place.

I met with Maestro Hughes this past December over a cup of coffee. I tried to explain why it is improper for BSO to use their tax-exempt status and public funding in a manner that unfairly competes against an established industry. I reminded Devin that his actions, also the BSO board of directors, are putting professional musicians out of work while damaging an economy that otherwise fuels our cultural infrastructure and provides a welcome tax base.

Maestro Hughes had little comment except to boast of the great job he’s doing.

A Little Transparency, Please

May 1st, 2011 No comments

The Lone Tree Arts Commission was established by the City of Lone Tree in 1999 to promote public awareness of fine and performing arts within the City. Funding for the LTAC comes in part from the City of Lone Tree, and also from the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District which provides approximately $75,000 annually. The Lone Tree Symphony, for example, receives more than $40,0000 annually in grant awards from LTAC. With additional funding from Douglas County SCFD, 80% of Lone Tree Symphony’s annual budget now comes from “government grants.” Government support for symphony orchestras as a national average is is just 4%.

Taxpayers in the SCFD District have a right to know how these funds are spent when unusual amounts and percentages are passing hands. Lone Tree residents especially have a right to know how these funds are spent. They voted for a tax increase in 2004 so they could join in the SCFD Tax District, and they voted for another tax increase in 2008 to fund the new $20 million Lone Tree Arts Center slated to open this Fall.

So, the $20 million question: Are Lone Tree residents better off after these two tax hikes, and do they know where this money is going? The Colorado Symphony performed annual concerts in Lone Tree’s Sweetwater Park before these tax increases. Now, with added funds in City coffers, the ‘pay-to-play’ Lone Tree Symphony has now assumed the gig. Count one strike against the notion that residents are better off.

Answers and accountability to these questions are typically noted in Meeting Minutes of the Lone Tree Arts Council, but these documents are not as accessible as they should be. In fact, they’re not as accessible as they were in the past. Click here to see Meeting Agendas and Minutes of other areas of Lone Tree city government such as City Council, Planning Commission, Youth Commission, etc. All are perfectly up to date, except for the Arts Commission. Suspiciously, all records stop after January 13, 2010.

My personal conspiracy theory suggests that LTAC is responding to my February 5, 2010 commentary Lone Tree Symphony’s Taking Much, Giving Little. That story raised a bit of a fuss between myself and Lone Tree City Officials, to put it mildly.

With the hope of putting my theory to rest, I sent an email inquiry last week to the Lone Tree Arts Commission, asking for an explanation for this 15-month lapse? Following proper protocol I used the contact link at the bottom of their LTAC webpage, but my email bounced back with a notice:“This account has been disabled or discontinued.”

Maybe they’re just uncomfortable.

Bullying the SCFD?

April 12th, 2011 No comments

By Pete Vriesenga

I have been calling attention to SCFD’s bad policy for 15 years, all the while explaining why their indiscriminate annual distribution of $40 million is doing more harm than good. For the most part this has been a futile effort because we are now facing a culture shift in our community Gig Awaythat, driven either by ignorance or deliberate intent, favors volunteerism over industry.

How do we set SCFD on a healthy course that provides better benefit for the community and is also compatible with our industry? Pointed, healthy discussion going forward will obviously require the opposite viewpoint, and Robin McNeil is as strong a champion of SCFD as anyone I can find. McNeil is a former Executive Director of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra and now maintains  his OpusColorado arts blog.

My recent commentary Please attend SCFD’s public meeting on March 24, 2011 caught McNeil’s attention. On March 26, McNeil posted his commentary to mine which he titled Bullying the SCFD. McNeil tosses out weak and unfounded assertions that, at the very least, require my counter back to him. But despite repeated attempts to post my response to his blog, McNeil has deliberately silenced me … for now.

Click here to read my rebuttal that McNeil and OpusColorado never published.

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.

Please attend SCFD’s public meeting on March 24, 2011

March 22nd, 2011 No comments

Labor protests in Wisconsin and across the Midwest have shown once again that public protest is often our only tool to reverse bad policy & legislation. There’s no shortage of bad policy that is dragging our local industry down and the worst offender continues to be the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). As in Wisconsin, we have no option but to stand up collectively to SCFD’s anti-labor practices or suffer the consequences as work opportunities continue to erode. The occasion for our show of solidarity will be a public SCFD meeting on Thursday, March 24 at 1:00 PM. We need as many DMA members to show as we can possibly turn out.

I first began detailing SCFD’s negative industry impact in 1997 after volunteering to serve on a Tier III review committee. Lack of quality standards, education standards and accountability were enough for me to sound the alarm. More alarming than that was the fact that SCFD leaders really couldn’t care less.

SCFD was up for reauthorization in November of 2004. The Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA) was again lobbying on behalf of SCFD, and contacted the Denver Area Labor Federation for its endorsement. DALF originally endorsed SCFD in 1988 after union members were repeatedly told that SCFD would result in quality employment for artists and performers. Who would have expected that SCFD would aggressively defend a $40 million funding model ABSENT wage or quality standards of any kind.

The DMA, in cooperation with IATSE and SAG/AFTRA, advised DALF to hold off on the endorsement until SCFD would at least commit to quality and minimum wage standards as originally represented to the voters. These sentiments were expressed by DALF President Leslie Moody in her August 17, 2004 letter to CBCA. The letter also pointed out that DALF’s endorsement would be conditional on meeting with representatives of affected unions. Nothing ever came of that effort. Subsequently, a resolution “not to endorse” was passed at the 2004 Colorado AFL-CIO Convention.

SCFD’s resolve to fund nearly every applicant, regardless of quality, continued in the years since reauthorization. Approximately 350 organizations are now dependent on SCFD funding and must in turn “serve the community” when few have any interest or ability to do so. Over 30 community orchestras now reside in the seven county funding district and collectively pull prevailing wage downward more than any other factor. Many of these organizations continue to pirate professional engagements, and only for ignorant and selfish reasons.

If you’re wondering where this is headed, look only to the current example of the Colorado Chamber Orchestra (CCO). In its three years of operation, the CCO has shown an unprecedented 300% growth in budget, despite the economic downturn. In addition to scale wages, CCO makes pension contributions for their musicians under a collective bargaining agreement with DMA. CCO is one of the few organizations that is truly qualified to serve the public in the manner that the SCFD statute demands. Unbelievably, SCFD refuesed to allow CCO to even apply.

But the fact is, accomplishments in both quality and professionalism are meaningless in this game because SCFD never has and never will make artistic judgements. Consequently, the doors are closing on new applicants because SCFD has no ability to weed undeserving organizations out. All 350 lucky organizations who are now grandfathered into this system will continue to receive funding for the foreseeable future. All those looking to apply should accept the fact that the glory days of signing every 501©3 with a pulse are now over.

The time is NOW! Please attend:

SCFD BOARD OF DIRECTORS MEETING
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Broomfield Council on the Arts & Humanities
640 Main St.
Broomfield, CO 80038
12:30 Board lunch, 1:00 p.m. public meeting

Lone Tree Symphony’s taking much, giving little

February 6th, 2010 No comments

Every summer, residents of Lone Tree, CO and neighboring communities enjoy a free concert by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. These concerts are presented in Sweetwater Park by the City of Lone Tree, but this coming summer the Lone Tree Symphony Orchestra (a volunteer community orchestra) will replace the CSO. A CSO file photo still adorns the Lone Tree Summer Concerts website, but now accompanies a July 24 listing for the LTSO.

Of course the City of Lone Tree should support their local orchestra, and by all accounts they heavily support the administration. Past Minutes of the City of Lone Tree Arts Commission show that the LTSO was in line to receive $35,000 in city support for 2010, and $45,000 the previous year. All metro-Denver residents should take a bow for YOUR hefty support through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). According to SCFD’s 2008 annual report, $76,856 was paid to the Lone Tree Arts Commission that year. The report also shows that LTSO received another $7,000 that year in direct support from SCFD.

Commission Minutes also reveal that “Each member of the LTSO pays annual dues of forty dollars” to play in the orchestra. The Lone Tree Arts Commission should net additional savings by removing costs for professional musicians, but this assumes that LTSO volunteer musicians are willing to take on the additional workload. According to Commission Minutes, the LTSO will be “working toward increasing visibility and the number of performances, while working with schools, various groups and boards and the general community.”

What protections are there for an LTSO volunteer who is injured on the job? Do Lone Tree residents recognize and accept new liabilities that now fall on them? I seriously doubt that City officials ever discussed such matters among themselves, let alone with their constituents.

The coup de grâce of public support is a new $17 million home for the LTSO, which would be the envy of any professional ensemble. Funding for the Lone Tree Cultural Arts Center was narrowly approved by voters in 2008 and is scheduled to open in 2011.

With all of these public funds that are exchanging hands, one would assume that Lone Tree officials and orchestra administrators have at least taken the time to read the conditions of funding that are mandated in SCFD’s Tier III grant application. Apparently they haven’t, because #22 (Assurances) of the Tier III Application states: “The applicant pledges that they will comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act“ Beyond the obligation to Minimum Wage, the FLSA cites clear prohibitions against replacing professional employees with unpaid workers.

Looking for answers, I contacted LTSO board president John Nemcik. John immediately took offense after realizing that I was speaking on behalf of the Musicians’ Union. John said he grew up in Pennsylvania, and proceeded to blame Unions for the loss of jobs in the region. I responded by asking what jobs he’s creating [or taking away] in context of the upcoming LTSO Season? I’m still waiting for his answer.

I asked John if he had any plans, now or in the foreseeable future, to compensate his musicians? His response was an immediate and resounding NO. I asked if he was aware of SCFD’s Fair Labor Standards/Minimum Wage requirements that LTSO must follow in the example of the July 24 concert. Needless to say, John had no understanding of the requirement, nor did he voice any change of mind.

LTSO is just one example of labor abuse that occurs in our community on a daily basis, and we all share responsibility for allowing this to happen. We must continue to pressure SCFD to enforce their own FLSA provision, but I have yet to see that happen and frankly don’t expect to. These self-serving examples of ignorance and abuse will only worsen until musicians and performing artists everywhere take a very simple stand:

Click your heels three times and tell yourself that you will no longer accept your pre-classified status as a “volunteer.” If that happens the LTSO will become a professional orchestra by 5:00 PM on Monday. Then, take a moment to reflect on the hard-won labor rights & protections that many generations before us have fought for.

“Canned Cleopatra” opens to over 300 protesters

April 1st, 2009 No comments

ballet juke boxHundreds of musicians and their union brothers and sisters formed picket lines and distributed leaflets in front of Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, in protest of Texas Ballet Theater’s canned music policy. Demonstrators inflated a giant rat balloon to draw attention to musicians’ concerns. Demonstrations were held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 27, 28 and 29, 2009 prior to the start of the company’s Cleopatra performances.

The ballet company outsourced its orchestra pit during last weekend’s performances of “Canned Cleopatra,” replacing musicians with a recording it made in China. Company artistic staff traveled to Shanghai in June 2008 and paid the Chinese government $30,000.00 for a recording of the Rimsky Korsakov score of Cleopatra. The ballet company cheated its patrons with canned music this season and says it intends to replace musicians indefinitely, including shows planned next season at the new $400 million Dallas Center For the Performing Arts.

“Over three hundred musicians and members of other area unions stood outside Bass Hall last weekend,” said Ray Hair, president of the musicians’ union, and a trustee of the Tarrant County Central Labor Council. “We sent a strong message to the ballet company and the arts community. When you hurt professional musicians, there are consequences.”

A Dallas Morning News/Fort Worth Star-telegram review of Friday’s performance criticized the musical accompaniment as clumsy and hamstrung. “…the progression seemed hurried. Raw, rough-hewn, taped music barged forward, when a more caressing tempo was needed to mirror the emotions…”

canned-weddingLabor Council President T.C. Gillespie predicted dark days ahead for the ballet company. “The protest was a huge success. We had tremendous support from patrons who were saying they wouldn’t return to hear canned music. It’s obvious the company is on its knees from poor attendance and the high number of ticket giveaways. If they crawl over to the Winspear, we’ll take our show on the road and protest fake ballet there, too,” he said.”

Click here for additional information from the Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association.

Ballet is not dead … it just smells funny

March 26th, 2009 No comments

ballet juke box

an interview with Tom Jensen

It defies all logic and reason how a performing arts organization could even think of presenting classical ballet on the stage of a $400 million facility in a major population center… without orchestra. Sure enough, this very silly show opens this Friday evening, March 27, amid protesting musicians and 50 area labor unions who are uniting to fight this fraud and injustice. The press release from Dallas AFM Local 72-147: Musicians to Protest “Canned Cleopatra” Shows should be a wake up call for all of us.

Are audiences letting go of standards established by Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, not to mention brilliant collaborations between George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith? Is it really true that a $100 ticket only buys half a show? Is public investment for a performing arts center more important than the 3 or 4% of budget that it takes to stage an orchestra?

Tom Jensen, conductor and contributing author for the “Conductor’s Corner” of the Hospitality Suite offers unique insight into these questions. Tom was music director and conductor of Colorado Ballet for seven years. He was also a featured conductor with both the Joffrey and Nashville ballet companies. Esprit De Cours among dancers and musicians was as good as I’ve ever seen. Tom would invariably bring a case of champagne to share with all of the performers on closing night. This was the polar opposite of what is now happening to Texas Ballet Theater as there was logic and longevity to what we were doing. There was also innovative marketing.

Vriesenga: Tom, how did you get into this strange business?

Jensen: As a musician, I always found ways to promote my art. And it got me into broadcasting.

While in San Antonio conducting the youth orchestra, I was a frequent guest on WOAI, a talk station. I was kind of a Sam Levenson type (do you remember Art Linkletter?) talking about kids and education and fun stuff about young people — I started my future stand up routine on that station. It really made the youth orchestra better known. Later I would start doing stand up comedy.

My early days as music director with the Colorado Ballet were fun and a bit “heady” as I was working with great musicians, talented dancers and was about to fall in love with my ballerina wife — it was 1983.

At the same time I was developing a radio broadcasting career.

But it was the creativity and latitude that the Ballet Company gave me that was really fun.

Vriesenga: When did you first begin to blend marketing with your role as music director?

Jensen: Around 1985, I got the idea to auction off the overture to the Nutcracker at a ballet fundraiser. Eyebrows were raised “how could you demean this family treat with a bit of show biz at the beginning?” the founders of the company asked me.

The final bid was for $3,500 — we were off to the races!

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

The next year it was decided early on that every overture would be sold. Opening night went for $10,000 and the company’s name was added to the marquee and a speech was given before the start of the ballet, with the CEO or other VIP conducting the overture… (the overture stands alone from the first act — to me, this was a natural fundraiser).

For the remainder of the run, the overture went for $5,000, or an equivalent of in-kind work for the Company. Weatherman Ed Greene conducted — and I got to do the weather in my white tie and tails on the evening news; Denver Bronco’s receiver Vance Johnson conducted — spiking the baton when he finished; and assorted CEOs got conducting lessons as well — I was crankin’ ’em out throughout the run. A lot of people had fun and a good time, we raised money while awareness of the Colorado Ballet increased with free publicity.

Vriesenga: In the mid-80s you picked up another radio gig, which brought a “unique” cross-marketing relationship to Colorado Ballet. How did that go over?

At the time I had a talk show on KOA Radio, and then got a wild idea for promoting the ballet’s triple bill on Valentine’s Day. My program was broadcast from an outdoor hot tub in front of a lingerie store — it was February and freezing, but the bit was cute: if you got in the hot tub with me, you would get a gift certificate for lingerie from the store, and we would call your girlfriend and ask her if she wanted comp tickets to go to the ballet. Better still, if there was a person you had never dated, but you wanted to ask her (him) out, the idea was that no one would turn down a romantic evening at the ballet — and that was the hook for radio listeners to tune in: would a person being called from a radio show “stiff” a person asking for a date? It was a blast and we generated a lot of free press for the production.

Vriesenga: You were doing commercials and voice-over work at the time. Any television?

Jensen: I got a stint doing movie reviews on KCNC Television. Well, I wanted to do more than movies, so I had a chance to do a taped stand up with dancers from Copellia, interviewing the doll — she didn’t talk too much. It was a fun departure from just doing movies. And it was different exposure for the Company — ballet talk during a regular movie segment, we were reaching a TV audience that may have not known about Colorado Ballet.

Vriesenga: I applaud your work to bring other performing organizations into your world of creative and cost-effective marketing. I’ll never forget my early morning experience in a Colorado Springs grocery store. Please share some of these stories.

Jensen: Promoting the arts in a unique way became a signature of mine. I had John Moriarty, music director of the Central City Opera, as a guest on my show. Instead of an interview on the story line of their current production (an idea that bored me…) I offered free tickets to anyone that could call in and sing a famous aria that would impress my guest. A guy called in and sang something from Puccini, and John was blown away — turned out the guy was calling from his cell phone in his farming “tractor cab” while plowing the back forty outside of Limon.

John was laughing hysterically and collapsed on the floor. The guy won the tickets and it was a great way of getting press for the Opera.

Mel Torme was a guest on my show – the “velvet fog,” at least I think that was his nickname. We were publicizing his concert and I decided to give away tickets to the best Mel Torme impersonation. A caller sang one of Mel’s tunes, and was so bad that it was cute — he got the tickets.

Your “grocery store” reference takes us back to the time when I conducted a 24-hour marathon concert/fundraiser for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. The orchestra was trying to gain new footing after the demise of the Colorado Springs Symphony. It was a chamber orchestra performing for an entire day and through the night in the produce department of a King Soopers store (it takes guts to play next to a pile of tomatoes) — “Can I have a price check on a cellist?”

The idea was to bring the orchestra to the people and bond with the community – hence the grocery connection. That event was covered by CNN, NBC, Fox News and the AP Wire. We started a fundraising event that eventually raised a million dollars. And, I lost 10 pounds. By the way, thank you Pete, for volunteering on bass trombone for the 3:00 – 7:00 AM shift. Hopefully you weren’t violating any union bylaws?

It all comes down to this: The arts have to do engaging things to promote, and we have to do it in a way that will catch the interest and appeal to the general public who may not think of a production, whatever it is, as an activity in which to participate.