Archive for the ‘National Discussion’ Category

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. 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?

Collaboration and COLLUSION in Miami

February 19th, 2012 No comments

The 6th Season of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency began on January 27, casting a dark shadow on memories of the former Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. The FPO’s final concert was played on May 9, 2003 following an apparent ploy by the orchestra’s board chair Daniel Lewis that was obviously designed to fail. Lewis claimed that the orchestra could face bankruptcy by early May if the public failed to raise $20 million, which naturally never happened. Daniel Lewis is now the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Board Chairman, and yet he still files the annual, corporate reports to keep the Florida Philharmonic name alive … and out of business.

In the years following the FPO bankruptcy, Daniel Lewis’ nefarious business dealings became even more evident. Collusion between Cleveland Orchestra Miami, the Miami City Ballet and the Knight Foundation has been so open and deliberate that Dan Lewis doesn’t even bother to cover his own tracks … or lies. A December 10, 2008 story in the Associated Press reported that the Miami Ballet was forced to “forgo a live orchestra and will perform to recorded music for the second half of its 2008-09 season to save money. Blaming the economy, ballet officials said Tuesday that they cut the orchestra because of declining ticket sales and donor contributions. Live music for a full season would cost $480,000, but only $188,280 had been raised so far. Musicians will play during ballet performances through January”

I expect the Ballet had some explaining to do when readers from Cleveland to Miami then pointed to the Knight Foundation’s press release just ten day before, announcing a $250,000 award to Miami City Ballet. The award was given to “To support an artistic collaboration between the Cleveland Orchestra and the Miami City Ballet.” Daniel Lewis and Mike Eidson were listed as applicants for the award. Mike Eidson is a former president and chairman of the Miami City Ballet.

These examples of deliberate intent are easily traced back long before Miami City Ballet’s false claims of poverty in December. In June of 2008, the Cleveland Orchestra announced: “Beginning in 2009, The Cleveland Orchestra will begin a multi-year artistic collaboration with the Miami City Ballet under the direction of Franz Welser-Möst and Miami City Ballet Artistic Director Edward Villella.” It’s too bad that neither the Miami musicians or Miami City Ballet contributors had access to Maestro Welser-Möst’s crystal ball. They would have at least had a fair chance to put up some resistance.

And it only gets worse. At the very time that local musicians were handed their walking papers, the Knight Foundation was moving quickly to provide comfortable digs for Cleveland Orchestra managers. A January 8, 2009 press release from the Knight Foundation reveals a $130,000 award to “provide office space in Miami for the Cleveland Orchestra from 2009 up to 2012.” In just a few short weeks, the Cleveland Orchestra Miami relocated to the 33rd floor of the Wachovia Financial Center in Miami. Now, Dan Lewis need only walk down the hall to pick up his checks from the Knight Foundation … also located on the 33rd floor of the Wachovia Financial Center.

How convenient.

More Anti-Union Rhetoric from the League of American Orchestras

January 25th, 2012 No comments

The League of American Orchestras (LAO), formerly known as the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) has ramped-up their anti-collective bargaining rhetoric lately. LAO’s latest publication: Fearless Journeys: Innovation in Five American Orchestras is yet another in a string of “new model” discussions that champion this message. The book claims to provide “hard evidence” through a small sample study that orchestras can become more “sustainable” by taking risks and modifying their collective bargaining agreements. Of course there is no mention of the established alternative where the fundamental right to bargain is expressly prohibited as the organization wanders aimlessly to the public trough only to reward their administrators.

LAO vice president Bruce Clinton recently made headlines here in Denver while forcing this very agenda on the CSO and it was a only a stroke of luck that he resigned from the CSO board before succeeding in his hope and efforts to shut the orchestra down. In his 10/7/11 interview on Colorado Public Radio, LAO President and CEO Jesse Rosen provides cover for Clinton while displaying his own ignorance of the facts through his comments: “The disappointment that I feel about it is that there is so much really important work for orchestras to be doing; to continue to innovate, to continue to grow, to deepen their connections to the community. What we see in Colorado, unfortunately, is a group of constituents who have yet to align themselves around a shared set of vision and direction.”

Please give yourself a pat on the back for funding LAO’s self-serving, anti-union agenda. LAO was recently awarded a $100,000 NEA grant to “strengthen orchestras through learning and leadership development” while focusing on “best-practice models” at their annual conference.

The bulk of LAO’s funding comes through membership dues that range from $150 to $29,120 annually. Dues are typically collected as a line-item expense from orchestra budgets without consent or knowledge of members of the orchestra. If union dues were collected in this manner I’d be writing this column from prison.

The LAO made headlines again in a January 4 story in the Oregonian reporting on why the Oregon Symphony dropped their LAO membership. “I find the on-going discussion around the need for a “new model” dispiriting” said Oregon Symphony President Elaine Calder. “At an annual cost of $17,000, the benefits of membership were not worth the expense.” The cost of an LAO membership ranges from $150 to $29,120 annually through a dues structure that places the highest burden on mid-size orchestras.

For many of the same reasons the Youth Orchestras of the Rockies (YOR) recently opted not to renew their LAO membership after their board reviewed the matter. Commenting further on this decision, DMA Vice President and YOR Music Director Thomas Blomster said “The YOR Board of Directors asked what we were getting by being members of the LAO, as most of the Board didn’t even know who or what the LAO is. I responded that we get the privilege of using the LAO’s logo on our website and programs, and the LAO clogs our email boxes with information that is of very little use. All this for a membership of $150 a year, not very much money, but $150 the YOR Board felt could be better spent.”

Mopping up after having been “showered upon”

January 19th, 2012 No comments

Bruce and Martha Clinton

Bruce and Martha Clinton

“Bruce and his wife, Martha, have made a tremendous difference in the many organizations in which they are closely involved, including the symphony orchestras in the three cities in which they maintain homes: Chicago, Denver, and Miami. Their generosity has been showered upon the Colorado Symphony Orchestra here in Denver, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra for their Miami Residency, the New World Symphony and, of course, the League of American Orchestras.”

The above quote comes from a page of the League of American Orchestras website, highlighting a 2008 LAO dinner honoring former CSO board members Bruce and Martha Clinton. Interestingly, the referenced page is no longer available because it is quickly masked by a pop-up ad.

This draws a stark contrast to the Clinton’s deliberate attempts to shut the CSO down only months ago, and subsequent and continued efforts to undermine the organization for months after they walked away from their responsibilities.  The Clinton’s also reneged on their season pledges over their differences with “union work rules,” leaving a sudden and deliberate financial crisis for musicians and community leaders to mop up.

As vice president of the LAO, Bruce Clinton has taken his agenda across the nation. A report on their June, 2011 LAO Conference blames “collective bargaining agreements” for much of the industry problems that orchestras face today. As if this were nothing more than a game of Monopoly or Who Sank my Battleship, the report goes on to script the turmoil that CSO musicians were expected to endure in the immediate months ahead:

“Next few months some major and medium US orchestras will face the challenges of robust innovation. It will be a really interesting experience, which orchestras will succeed best in this competition.”

Heather Miller & Bruce Clinton throwing spitballs … again

December 29th, 2011 No comments

As much as they keep trying, resigned CSO board members Heather K Miller and Bruce Clinton are failing to show any evidence that the CSO is holding firm to an unsustainable business model. As board members they were more determined to shut the organization down than take the lead into the future. Rather than accept their personal failings as board members they repeatedly tried to paint “union work rules” as their scapegoat, despite the simple fact that the musicians repeatedly yielded to their demands.

The first spitball was Miller and Clinton’s politically charged editorial, published in the Denver Post on November 13 – two months after they walked away from their responsibilities as board members. Their latest was a December 22nd interview with Mike Rosen on KOA (850 AM). They initially hoped to have the show to themselves, but a CSO board co-chair arranged after the fact to call in during the later part of the show. It wasn’t until that moment on live radio that Miller and Clinton learned of all the good that happened since they walked away, including the CSO’s announcement of a new business plan that was vetted by an inclusive committee and broadly endorsed by the musicians.

In full disclosure, Mike Rosen admitted “I don’t like labor unions” and “haven’t gone to a symphony concert in probably 10 years, maybe longer.” So, this is the perfect forum for Miller and Clinton who chose to put themselves on public display with a talk show host who knows nothing of the subject matter except that he shares their political ideology.

Hostile Nonprofit Takeovers

December 2nd, 2011 No comments

The sudden, September exodus of twenty CSO board members will be remembered as a fortuitous change for the better, creating a welcome opening for new and returning leaders who are committed to building the orchestra’s future and maintaining stature as a world-class orchestra. Our community is deeply thankful for this show of support and direction from true patrons of the arts. This was not the case in recent years while the orchestra was under the powerful grip of individuals in pursuit of personal agendas and pointless, anti-union ideology.

The latest twist in this sordid story is a vindictive, politically-charged editorial by resigned CSO board members Heather K. Miller and Bruce Clinton that ran in the Denver Post on November 13. Former board members Martha Clinton, Steve Holtze, Bernard Schotters, Kevin Duncan and Gary Lutz contributed to this editorial that lashes out at the very organization they were sworn to support only weeks ago. In an effort to cover their tracks and personal board failings, they go on to blame the Musicians Union that is “more focused on preserving an unrealistic labor contract than preserving the future of the symphony and their very jobs.”

Miller and Clinton claim that “Under the leadership of former president and CEO Jim Palermo, executive salaries were cut and creative programs were designed to expand the symphony’s audience appeal.” That would be an excellent point if it were true. But the facts show that from 2009 and 2011, costs for orchestra, artistic and chorus declined from 75% to 65% of total costs (decrease of $339,000) while admin/marketing/development increased from 25% to 35% (increase of $1,480,000) during the same period. At the bargaining table we repeatedly asked Palermo for any examples where management executives would be sharing the sacrifice that he was forcing upon the musicians. Palermo gave no example, and in fact responded by saying that he must reserve the right to give his top executives raises as he sees fit.

Miller & Clinton also blame the Union for selectively leaking their in-house “Sustainability Study” to the press, which in of itself was a concerted effort to blame the union for anything and everything that could possibly go wrong with a symphony orchestra. Fabricated charges that the union somehow leaked their Sustainability Study or that the union is protecting an unrealistic labor contract may well have come from the moon. The record clearly shows that these board members were determined to shut the orchestra down regardless of whether the musicians agreed to their demands or not. The shameful truth is that these board members resigned their positions in September as the musicians conceded to their demand for a $530,000 wage concession, not to mention their seemingly impossible deadline to accomplish this within 4 days.

I believe the 20 resigned board members mistakenly assumed the musicians would vote against the wage concession, thus enabling them to point to the union as their scapegoat and excuse for a planned, frustrated departure. Their plan was foiled when they woke up the next day to learn that the musicians accepted their demands, which left the entire community scratching their heads wondering why they walked away from their reponsibilities. The truth is far worse than that. They also took $500,000 of 2011-12 season pledges with them, deliberately sending the orchestra into a cash crisis.

2009 contract negotiations were no better, with repeated threats of bankruptcy and forced lockouts. Bruce Clinton and then board chair Kevin Duncan were on the management side of the bargaining table. Both were voting in favor of bankruptcy during that summer of 2009, even as negotiations were underway and the musicians accepted their mandated 24% pay cut. How did it come to this, and where did this determined effort to shut the orchestra down come from?

The Bricks & Mortar Curse
In November of 2007, Denver voters passed a $550 million bond issue that included $60 million as seed money for a new concert hall, with the understanding that the CSO board had pledged to raise another $30 million. But these same board members who beat the drum for $60 million in City tax dollars were suddenly sitting on their wallets when the economy went south at the end of 2008. Their $30 million pledge to the City never materialized (sound familiar?) and their personal frustrations suddenly turned on the musicians, blaming “union work rules” for the mess that the board created.

The ‘Bricks & Mortar Curse’ has raised its ugly head elsewhere. In San Antonio, TX, aggressive fundraising for their planned $195 million Tobin Center is drawing critical contributions away from the San Antonio Symphony. The orchestra ended the 2010/11 Season with $750,000 in debt and is now relying on advance ticket sales to fund operations. An October 7 story on warns the “City may get little or no symphony” and raises the prospect of a the new concert hall opening in 2013 or 2014 without an orchestra.

One of the more interesting examples goes back a few more years, but in many ways hits much closer to home. The Florida Philharmonic Orchestra served a population of over 5 million and was on sound footing with budget and ticket sales when construction of their new Miami home began in 2001. Incredibly, the FPO was forced out of business by the time the $500 million Adrienne Arsht Center opened on October 5, 2006. By no small coincidence in January, 2007, the Cleveland Orchestra began their annual 3-week Miami Residency (est. budget of $3 million) as a means of “fulfilling our promise to the community” while simultaneously playing a direct role in the demise of the FPO and its 43-week season (approximate $9 million budget).

The irony is the death of the FPO arguably came at the hands of board members and leaders within the organization. A June 2007 story titled Harmony & Discord in Cleveland Magazine details efforts of former FPO chairman Daniel Lewis who is now chairman of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency. The Cleveland Residency, in collaboration with the New World Symphony training orchestra, has now replaced FPO while drawing considerably more resources from the community.

The direct link to Denver is through Bruce Clinton, who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency and also serves on the Board of Trustees of the New World Symphony. Obviously Clinton got just what he wanted in Miami: NWS orchestra members are given a room and $450/week, they have no union contract and must leave the orchestra after 3 years. “It’s all about the kids,” said Clinton during our 2009 contract negotiations. “That’s why I’m here.”

Just how “sustainable” is Bruce Clinton’s Miami model that imports the Cleveland Orchestra at five times the cost per concert over the former FPO? How sustainable is the future of NWS orchestra members who no longer have the FPO as a potential employer because of the actions of these “civic leaders” in Miami? The Miami example shows that a union orchestra can be shut off as easily as a light switch and a non-union or contract replacement can be sold once again as a “promise to the community.” The New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Dallas Symphony will again be in-residence this summer in Vail, so a similar “collaboration” here in Denver is just a phone call away.

Bruce Clinton made his fortune in construction, so he understands the ‘bricks & mortar’ curse that follows the performing arts. Securing naming rights in public buildings will surely promote his business. Moreover, his multiple board positions have become powerful bully pulpits for Clinton, to promote anti-union idealogy within the cultural community. Clinton’s pulpit has broadened in scope and national influence now that he is Vice-President of the League of American Orchestras. The degree to which Clinton has now abused his position with the League is the subject of an opinion piece Collateral Damage from the Clinton Letter by orchestra consultant Drew McManus.

Yes, the shameful resignation of 20 board members was a rare stroke of luck for the CSO. If Miller & Clinton had gotten their way, the sustainability model for the orchestra would be $450/week (or less) as we see in Miami. I still shudder at the thought that Heather Miller would have been chair of the CSO board had she not resigned over her baseless claims about union work rules and orchestra sustainability. Ms. Miller built her career and influence in the banking industry, which of course makes her a specialist in these matters. Are we then to believe the CSO would be more sustainable if it followed the banking model and became solely reliant on other people’s money? A November 27 Bloomberg News story reveals the shocking reality of the bank bailout from 2007 to 2009 and a previously undisclosed total of $7.77 Trillion.

Need I say more?

Pete Vriesenga is President of the Denver Musicians Association

Internet Music Lessons and the Touring Musician

April 11th, 2010 No comments

By Steve Eulberg

Like many musicians, I have found teaching to be the butter for the bread of performance. Truthfully, the balance between performing and teaching helps me survive as a working musician. I simply love sharing the music with public and private audiences, and equipping them to participate in the creative process.

Steve Eulberg teaching dulcimer class

Steve Eulberg teaching dulcimer class

When I began my private studio I was teaching unusual instruments (mountain and hammered dulcimers, mandolin, bowed psaltery, Irish Bodhran and African hand percussion) as well as guitar. This has turned out to be a good niche for my interests, skills and experience and led to my establishment of the annual Colorado Dulcimer Festival in Fort Collins, which just completed its 7th year. I am also on the road teaching at festivals across the US about once a month, which I link with performances to, from or near the festival region; in short, the life of a touring (and teaching) solo musician.

I’ve been drawn to acoustic folk instruments, and because I am a part-Luddite (resisting new technologies), these proclivities may make my story a bit surprising. The development of my private music studio was concurrent with my development of an internet presence for my music and music lessons.

It began when a computer programmer who heard me play at a local open mike scanned my postcard-schedule and posted it to the internet and then sent me an email to let me know he’d done that (back in 1998.) Because I was busily making these postcards and spending money to mail them out, I immediately saw the potential of having my performance and teaching schedule available on the world-wide-web. So, I developed my first webpage. Over the years I would post photos of my students’ recitals and make my recordings and published books and lesson materials available for sale, had my products included at and (and then iTunes) and various other avenues for disseminating music.

To further develop my understanding and teaching skills, I earned a Master of Music Education degree from Boston University, where I was in the second graduating class of their on-line program. It was amazing to me that I could study at this level and interact with my professors, facilitators and peers through this internet medium, do it from home, and from such disparate places on the road as urban Berlin, Germany and rural Evart and Oscoda, Michigan. I was better equipped to teach my private students, and this education helped equip me to work at the junior high level in our local school district for three years.

What I didn’t know is that I was being prepared for the opportunities that were not yet present, and which now occupy a good deal of my time as a music educator. Through an email, I was approached in 2005 by Jeff Booth, a young northern Colorado man with computer programming and internet experience who wanted to offer guitar lessons on the internet. Together with his partners he had formed and they were looking for teachers. After meeting to explore the idea of offering video lessons that would be posted on the internet via their website, I filmed an audition tape and became the first teacher they hired.

We proceeded to film Beginning Guitar lessons in high definition video, first from two camera angles, then three and now four. The finished product is captured, edited (with multiple views), rendered and delivered in Flash technology on the website. An affordable monthly subscription fee opens the door to all the lessons and features available. Other teachers were hired, and I added the following lessons series: Fingerstyle, Celtic, Bluegrass, Kids and Guitar, Singing with Guitar and several songs in the Phase 3 section of the website. In addition, students would write in to ask clarifying questions about lessons, guitars, repair, gear and styles and we would film video answers to those questions.

This work rhythm continued until last year when the site, which had included a chat room for subscribers to write posts to each other in real-time, was expanded to include a real-time audio/video feed from teachers. At first we were recruited to be available with a webcamera for special events, but then the partners decided to offer a regular schedule of on-line chats with the instructors.

Now I am on-line with my webcamera, a microphone and guitar 11-15 hours a week as part of the 18-hour-a-day schedule to offer live answers to questions and teach specific techniques or styles and songs. Because these lessons are offered via the world-wide web, I am often on-line with students from Beijing (China) Adelaide and Brisbane (Australia), Sao Paolo, Brazil, Mexico City, across the US and Canada, Ireland, England, Norway, Sweden, France, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Afghanistan and Iraq, all at the same time! I’ll post a set of lyrics and chords, or a leadsheet and then host a world-wide jam. (This works because the instructor is like the hub of the wheel, with all of the students as spokes. They can see and hear me and themselves as they play along, without the disruption of latency or echoes of other students’ live signals.) I’m currently preparing everyone for a St. Patrick’s Day Ceiligh since I’m scheduled to be on-line that night.

Long-Distance Private Lessons
This daily on-line presence has also opened up another avenue of on-line instruction which utilizes Skype software. Skype ( is free downloadable software which allows the user to contact other users and talk with them, using their computer as a telephone, for free! (I am a dual-AFM member, also serving on the Local 1000 Executive Board and we’ve been making good use of Skype conference calls as a way to help us to our work more efficiently and save on our bottom line.)

With the addition of the webcam and microphone (sometimes one or both of these are built into one’s computer) I have been able to offer private, long-distance lessons for students on guitar and my other instruments. Students contact me, we schedule a mutually-agreeable time to do a Skype call to test connections, agree on payment and method (most use Paypal), and then schedule a lesson. I use my normal private lesson rhythms with lesson times, cancellation (24-hour notice), re-scheduling, etc. Because people are in other time zones, I can usually schedule these lessons in slots that I am unable to fill locally. What I haven’t yet figured out is how to have these long-distance students participate in one of my two semi-annual recitals, but I’m haven’t given up on that idea!

What this has meant for me is that I can afford to work from home or on the road, providing quality music education which is tailored to the students’ abilities, needs, instruments and musical genre choices. I can do this with a flexibility that a fixed school schedule does not allow, with pay that is comparable or better that in school and I can continue to tour and perform on the road. I get good bread and good butter!

“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.

National Recording Disagreements

March 22nd, 2009 9 comments

After demonstrating its muscle and ability to shut down the recording industry, the AFM emerged the victor by November of 1944 with first-time agreements with Decca, Capitol, RCA and Columbia Records. The structure and framework for these National Recording Agreements still exist today, but that moment in 1944 may have been the last point in time for meaningful “agreement.”

At that time the AFM rightfully claimed to have an agreement with “the recording industry” because those four labels were in fact the only notable companies and employers in the business. Six decades later we now have a variety of national recording agreements; the most prominent being the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA) that is signed by six recording labels: Warner Brothers, Atlantic Recording, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and EMI Music. But the difference from 1944 to now is the entry of thousands of new recording labels who are not signatory. The premise of the SRLA as a “National Agreement” no longer holds water, but it is in fact a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The SRLA is periodically ratified by a relatively-small group (1,000?) of musicians. Appropriately, AFM members honor and respect this bargaining relationship that exists between these six signatory labels and the members of the bargaining unit. Furthermore, musicians who accept substandard wages or benefits from these employers should be fined and/or expelled from the AFM. This is a fundamental principle of labor solidarity.

Unfortunately, resolving the existing conflict and disagreement over recording policy is not so simple. Musicians who make up the SRLA bargaining unit somehow draw the conclusion that the SRLA, though signed by only six companies, is also a universal minimum or “scale” that applies to the entire industry, irregardless of the employer. Their reasoning is that the recording industry differs from live performance because recorded product is an international commodity that readily moves to cheaper markets. Sadly, we live in a time where all industries, from heavy industry to candle-making, are seeking cheaper labor.

The  only solution is to build solidarity and support throughout the AFM while growing our membership, but we are doing exactly the opposite by promoting dubious, protectionist policies. Complex collective bargaining agreements are being thrust upon AFM members who have no say in the matter whatsoever. AFM members have been threatened with expulsion and fines (up to $50,000) for violation of bargaining structures that simply do not exist elsewhere in organized labor. It should come as no surprise that untold numbers of young musicians opt against joining the AFM for needless fear of reprimand.

Giant signatory recording companies have benefited most from this arrangement because the AFM is obligated to either turn away or beat down their competition. I wrote about this very subject in 2004 in a piece titled A Great Deal for Media Giants.  These companies have manipulated the AFM into defending and strengthening their monopolies, which would otherwise violate anti-trust laws if attempted on their own.

Once again, I refer to a textbook that was given to me as an attendee of a special AFM training course offered by the George Meany Center for Labor Studies (class of 1998). There is a wealth of enlightening material in this book that I shall refer to in the months to come, but for now I call your attention to the following Exhibit:


Union(s) —————————————Employer(s), Worksite(s)

  1. One local union — Single employer, One worksite
  2. One local union — Multiple employers, multiple worksites
  3. Multiple local unions of same national union — Single employer, multiple worksites
  4. Multiple local unions of same national union — Multiple employers, multiple worksites, same industry
  5. Single local unions of multiple national unions — Single employer, one or more worksites

The structure of AFM National Agreements (multiple locals – all employers, all worksites) doesn’t exist elsewhere in Labor because it violates even the most fundamental tenets of union democracy.  The only way to create an agreement that covers all employers is to establish representation for all AFM members who work in that industry. The AFM attempts to correct this imbalance through Promulgated Agreements that are established by the sole authority of the AFM’s International Executive Board (IEB), but this system has its obvious pitfalls. The IEB is an elected body that is credited for implementing popular agreements, but must also take hits when they rankle the ire of any one segment of the membership.

The controversy du jour is a promulgagted videogame agreement. This has triggered an unjust attack at AMF president Tom Lee , ripe with sensationalist drama that has been pitched to the press on a weekly basis. If that’s not enough, this dispute has led to two class action lawsuits filed against the AFM.

Robert Levine, president of the Milwaukee Musicians’ Association and host author of the AFM Observer has written extensively on this matter. Among ongoing and colorful debate is a discussion thread titled Is suing the AFM wrong? Robert further expresses his views in a recent article titled New Democracy Battles in Musicians Union that was published in the Jan/Feb ’09 issue of the Union Democracy Review.

These “recording wars” are indeed a battle, but with all due respect to Robert Levine, they have little to do with union democracy. Among the unfortunate turns and twists of this story is the fact that recognized bargaining structures wouldn’t allow for any of this in first place.