Archive for the ‘National Discussion’ Category

Musicians to Protest “Canned Cleopatra” Shows

March 20th, 2009 No comments

Ballet Company Replacing Musicians with Recordings it Made in China
Company outsourced culture, is an artistic fraud and consumer rip-off, Musicians say

Brothers and Sisters:

In June, 2008, the artistic staff of a Fort Worth ballet company traveled to Shanghai, paid $30,000.00 to the government of China and killed the jobs of our members. Join with us March 27, 28 and 29 as we converge on Bass Hall in Downtown Fort Worth to protest one of the most deplorable acts ever staged in the history of classical ballet theater.

Download News Memo

Message from AFM President Tom Lee

Dear Local Officer,

I am writing to advise you of Local 72-147’s forthcoming demonstration on March 27, 28, and 29 in Fort Worth against the Texas Ballet Theater and invite your Local’s members to join the demonstrations.

In September of 2008, the Theater dumped the Fort Worth Symphony and Dallas Opera orchestras and has used canned music instead. Then in February 2009 the Theater announced that it would open its 2009/2010 season in the new $400 million Dallas Performing Arts Center to an empty pit.

On March 27, 28 and 29, the Theater will present Cleopatra, with the Rimsky-Korsakov score piped in with a recording made in China. This action simply must not be allowed to go unchecked. It is an insult to musicians and audiences in the Dallas Fort Worth community and if we do not show our opposition to it this could motivate other companies across North America to do the same.

I have provided three links below courtesy of Local 72-147. These links provide more information on this matter.

Message to Texas Ballet Theater Employees, Patrons and the Public

Memo to Membership

Local 72-147 Information Page

I look forward to your support on this matter.

Thomas F. Lee

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

    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!

    Thank You! – For the Weekend

    December 1st, 2008 1 comment

    By Pete Vriesenga
    The Denver Musician, Winter 2008

    The bumper sticker on my wife’s car is a good reminder of what we stand for: “The Labor Movement – the folks who brought you the weekend.” We often take for granted that the weekend is that time when we do our Holiday shopping, catch up with chores around the home and change the oil in the car. It’s a time when we meet the neighbors for dinner before going out for a concert, and a time when we can go to church or spend a day with family at the zoo.

    It’s hard to imagine life without a weekend, but it was little more than a concept through much of the industrial revolution when men, women and children were working 10 & 16-hr days and seven-day weeks. There was a strong work ethic at the time as many of these workers came from farms, but as farmers they could still regulate their work day to maintain a healthy and sustainable regimen. Suddenly these same workers were thrust into a workplace regulated only by profit, where steam whistles signaled the start and stop of the day.

    Massive worker demonstrations in the 1870s marked the beginning of a long, collective fight for the eight-hour day. Protesters were literally gunned down at Haymarket Square in Chicago and labor leaders were hanged for inflammatory speeches in support of this cause. It wasn’t until 1938 that the 40-hr. work week, along with minimum wage guarantees, child labor protections and more, were signed into law with the passing of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

    Credit for this historic effort goes first and foremost to generations of workers who held out principle before their personal livelihood. But we also recognize forces and individuals outside of the labor movement who helped to champion this cause. Henry Ford, for example, hated labor unions, but he also understood that the automobile could never be sold to a population that had no time to use it. Ford gave his workers two days off long before the passing of the FLSA, and then went about promoting weekend getaways and road trips.

    So, what does this have to do with making a living today as a musician? A question I often hear is “what does the union do for me?”

    For starters, consider the dozens of local, publicly-funded orchestras, dance and theatre organizations in metro-Denver. They have given written assurance of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act in their grant applications, but too often avoid paying even minimum wage. This may be acceptable for youth orchestras, but certainly not with “professional” organizations with six-figure budgets. The common loophole is to pre-classify performers (the entire orchestra?) as “volunteers.” Economic impact and job creation that should have targeted studied and accomplished performers once again fails to trickle past the bookkeeper.

    Protection against this abuse was with you all along, but maybe you didn’t see it. You need only to request to be properly classified as an “employee” before the FLSA guarantees that you will be paid at at least minimum wage from this point forward. You will be protected against employer retaliation for standing up for your rights, and you shall have the right to organize a Union if you so wish.

    Now ask yourself again, what does the union do for me?

    Musical treats for troops

    December 25th, 2007 No comments

    By Dana Coffield, The Denver Post, 12/25/07

    One Aurora Marine’s request that his mom send a guitar to him while he was posted in the Iraq desert resonated so deeply with other Colorado musicians that hundreds of guitars have been shipped – or soon will be – to waiting soldiers.

    Old six-strings gathering dust in dormant family rooms have been spiffed up. New guitars are waiting.

    In the new year, they’ll find their way to tents and barracks in faraway places, providing solace and creating community for musically inclined servicemen and women. The instruments may return stateside at the end of the soldier’s tour, or they may be left behind for the next group.

    “If the guitars stay around, that’s kind of neat,” says Gordon Close, a lifelong guitarist whose Englewood shop, Elite Sound, is donating new guitars to troops. For every $100 contributed, he will send along two new Harvest guitars and gig bags, each worth about $300.

    “Our point is, if there are guitar players, one who can play entertains 10 or 20 or 100 people, and it’s being shared by a lot of other people,” says Close, who grew up playing rock ‘n’ roll guitar in north Denver. “I love music and know it can really resolve a lot of issues. If we can get music back into the troops, maybe we can give people something do do besides play video games. And it’s a lot more interesting than sticking ear plugs in your ears and listening to an MP3 player.”

    The idea that a serviceman’s life in the trenches could be made better by the addition of music is not new. Many a wartime tale has been told told of the lonely soldier providing solace for himself and his mates by playing the harmonica.

    Guided by Edith LeMaster, whose son was the Marine who asked for an instrument, the Denver Musicians Association has been shepherding used guitars through repairs at Elite Sound and the Denver Folklore Center, and directing cash donations used by American Legion Post No. 1 to ship instruments. Musicians and music stores, like Flesher-Hinton, are in the game, too.

    Cash donations have begun to flow in.

    Close says one woman gave him $500 and then returned a month later with an additional $900. Some folks have donated in their friends’ names as a holiday gift, including a group of elementary school parents, who honored a singing fourth-grade teacher by sending a guitar.

    “It’s apolitical,” Close says. “We have wonderful people over there representing us and we should take care of them. This is a good way to do it.”

    Both Close and musicians union president Pete Vriesenga see potential for their work to ring out long and loud, first with U.S. service members and then with Iraqi citizens.

    “When this clash winds down, there will be military hardware strewn across the desert,” Vriesenga says. “Wouldn’t it be great if that included 1,000 guitars?”

    Dana Coffield: 303-954-1954 or

    Categories: National Discussion Tags:

    Mother Hopes Music Will Help Soldiers In Iraq

    July 15th, 2007 No comments

    Prepared for by Matthew J. Buettner, Web Producer

    An Aurora woman is hoping the gift of music will help troops serving in Iraq get through the stress of war by sending guitars to them.

    Edith Lemaster’s son served in Iraq, so she knows firsthand the impact war has on the men and women fighting overseas and when they return home.

    “We need to show them that we care,” Lemaster said. “We need to show them our gratitude.”

    Lemaster said playing guitar helped her son get by during tough times in Iraq, so she decided to start sending guitars to other soldiers in Iraq.

    “When you’re playing guitar, your mind is encompassed and you’re not noticing that the mortars rattled the building all day long,” Lemaster said.

    Lemaster has formed an organization called Grateful Nation. They are collecting donated guitars with the help of the Denver Musician’s Association and the American Legion.

    “Some are just instruments that have just been lying around the house,” Pete Vriesenga with the Denver Musicians Association said. “Some are prized family collections.”

    From Denver, the American Legion will ship them out to soldiers overseas.

    “To have an instrument in your hands and just turn that fear or boredom into productive creation of music is really what this is about,” Vriesenga said.

    Grateful Nation has received 75 guitars. As it grows, Lemaster envisions guitars also going to soldiers who are trying to recover from long-term injuries.

    Additional Resources
    If you’re interested in donating a guitar or another musical instrument to a soldier serving overseas or in a rehabilitation hospital, contact the American Legion Post #1 at (303) 757-1919 or the Denver Musicians Association at (303) 573-1717. They will also accept monetary donations and it is all tax deductible. You can also contact the organizations if you would like an instrument to be sent to a specific soldier.

    American Legion Post #1
    5400 East Yale
    Denver, CO 80222

    Drop off instruments here:

    Denver Musicians Association
    1165 Delaware Street
    Denver, CO 80204
    (303) 573-1717

    Categories: National Discussion Tags:

    Shulgold: New, virtual orchestra sounds ominous note

    September 2nd, 2006 No comments

    Marc Shulgold
    Rocky Mountain News, 9/2/06

    This digital music revolution is starting to get a little creepy.

    It was weird enough when the vinyl LP and the record player were replaced by a shiny compact disc that disappeared into a box that made the music come alive via a beam of light.

    Then came the download thing, allowing you to play music without ever touching a CD or CD player.

    Of course, all along, we knew that the music was created by humans.

    Well, we’re not so sure anymore – now that the world has entered the virtual-orchestra age. Today, it’s possible to create and perform music without calling on a musician to blow or bow a single note.

    Brings to mind the old TV-ad tag line that became part of our cultural lexicon: Is it live or is it Memorex?

    An Austrian company, Vienna Symphonic Library, has developed software that permits the computer user to craft symphonic compositions in vitro, if you will.

    An article in England’s Guardian reports that the VSL software (which can cost as much as $11,000) contains 1.5 million individually recorded notes, each captured from the playing of live musicians.

    The brains behind this mind-boggling project is a former Vienna Philharmonic cellist named Herb Tucmandl, who reportedly became frustrated at the paucity of digital samples required for his use in composing film scores.

    So, he hired more than 100 musicians, who were stationed in soundproof booths and played notes in a variety of prescribed ways. It took each player about a year to complete the task.

    Not content to merely reproduce prerecorded notes of live instruments, VSL developed something called a Multi Impulse Response engine that can bring to a computer-generated score a natural concert-hall reverberation.

    The impact of this breakthrough is far-reaching. A skilled computer operator can now create a commercial soundtrack that the casual listener would accept as real – without the cost of hiring an orchestra, renting a studio and paying union scale for sessions.

    Good news for budget-conscious filmmakers. Bad news for musicians who rely on income from TV and film recording sessions.

    The digital revolution has been “taking a bite out of (the paychecks of) orchestral musicians for 20 or 30 years now,” observed Pete Vriesenga, head of the local musicians union. Not that there’s anything that can be done.

    “We’d be laughed at if we picketed movie theaters. Most people don’t know the difference, or don’t care. All we can do is educate the public and make them aware.”

    Also harmful to session players is the recent trend of outsourcing commercial recordings overseas, Vriesenga added. “But at least there was still live music being recorded.”

    Musicians may not be thrilled about the loss of employment, but products such as the VSL allow composers to create amazingly lifelike realizations of their works.

    Previous software relied on a MIDI to make the music audible – but the results were crude, even laughable, by comparison.

    Surprisingly, the new VSL software holds no interest for Boulder composer Daniel Kellogg. Employing an “old-fashioned” MIDI with his computer, he recently completed a new work, Refracted Skies, to be premiered by the Colorado Symphony at season-opening concerts later this month in Boettcher Hall.

    The VSL software, he said, “is useless to me, because my final goal is to have an orchestra play the piece. For me, the MIDI is just a tool.” Kellogg added that realizing an orchestral work via VSL “requires more work than it’s worth.”

    Nonetheless, he added that a composer creating a score for a low-budget project, such as a documentary, might embrace this product.

    “Technology is bringing us to a point where the creative possibilities are limitless and affordable – and that’s thrilling,” he noted.

    “But when such technology replaces people actually doing the playing, then it’s not such a good thing.”

    None of these new digital toys can or will supplant the sound of a live orchestra. Even Tucmandl admits that. He told the Guardian’s David Smith, “We have 1.5 million samples, but real musicians have more. I don’t think we’ll ever get them all.”

    Even more to the point, no computer can replace the spontaneity and excitement of the concert experience, where live musicians lay it on the line for paying audiences. As Tucmandl observed, “Nobody goes to a concert to listen to a computer.”

    At least, not yet – although it’ s now possible to become a virtual audience member at a virtual concert.

    Recently, singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega performed through a computer-created alter ego known as an avatar (from the Hindu word meaning a temporary manifestation of a continuing entity).

    Visitors to the Second Life Web site could hear her live performance and watch a rather clumsy digitally created representation of the event – and they could visit this virtual world by transforming themselves into avatars.

    Vega’s digital concert had its share of glitches: Hilariously, she had to wrestle with a computer-generated guitar that refused to fit into her avatar’s grasp.

    Still, this may signal the start of something new and groundbreaking. For example, the 100 fans who joined the show were able to manipulate Vega’s onstage gestures – although the singer’s lips were unable to move as she performed.

    OK, so all this is pretty goofy. But it’s likely the birth pains of a new age of music performance. As with the early days of recording, the technology will, no doubt, improve.

    Truth be told, the virtual orchestra created by VSL already is close to the sounds of the real thing.

    We’ve created an A-B comparison on our Web site. Can you tell the difference between artificial and real?

    Don’t get too smug if you can. One day, it may not be so easy.

    Is it live, or is it digital?

    • Test your ability to distinguish an artificial performance from a real one. Visit RockyMountain ment and compare computer-generated music with live performances.

    • For more information about the Vienna Symphonic Library, visit Additional audio samples can be accessed at 7/458 7/4851.vsl.

    Marc Shulgold is the music and dance writer. or 303-954-5296