Archive for the ‘The Denver Musician’ 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?

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:

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

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!

Larry Baird

February 20th, 2009 No comments

larrybaird-moodybluesDays of Future Past, the second album released by the Moody Blues in 1967, featured classic hits such as Tuesday Afternoon and Nights in White Satin. At the time, record executives were concerned that a rock concept album with full orchestral scoring could backfire, possibly damaging both rock and classical markets. They were quickly proven wrong as the album soared to the #27 spot in the United Kingdom, and then to #3 in the US.

Original orchestrations by Peter Knight were recorded by studio musicians from various London ensembles, and later billed as the London Festival Orchestra. But it was not until 1992 at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado when the Moody Blues performed with live orchestra for the very first time. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, conducted by DMA’s own Larry Baird performed the highly-celebrated 25th anniversary of the album release. Larry recreated orchestrations for Tuesday Afternoon, Late Lament and Nights in White Satin. All of the other orchestrations on the album (as well as thirty-plus original orchestrations since then) are all Larry’s creations.

Larry has established a worldwide reputation as an arranger, orchestrator, and innovative composer of contemporary music. He’s an accomplished keyboardist, saxophonist, oboist, vocalist and producer. His diverse background, talent and experience, make him the obvious choice to handle the heavy responsibilities of ‘Orchestral Music Director/Conductor/Arranger.’

He’s right at home in this capacity with name acts, including songwriting superstar Michael Bolton, Brian Wilson, Al Jarreau, RCA recording artist John Gary, and as an arranger/conductor for rock ‘n’ roll recording artists Flash Cadillac. He has also been conducting shows for, and working with former Styx keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter, Dennis DeYoung, as well as legendary British producer and songwriter, Alan Parsons.

Presently Larry is working with the renowned ’70s progressive rock band Kansas. He arranged and conducted their CD, Always Never The Same, recorded at historic Abbey Road Studios in England with the London Symphony Orchestra. Larry’s latest arrangements premiered February 7 in Topeka, KS  for a show that launched their 2009 tour. A DVD release of the event will celebrate the band’s 35-year career.

If that’s not enough to keep him away from his Colorado home, Larry is also  Orchestral Music Director/Conductor/Arranger for the chart-topping band Three Dog Night. This amazing band earned its place in history with over twenty Top 40 hits, and three that have gone all the way to Number One! Larry recently recorded the CD, Three Dog Night with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Larry Baird at Abbey Road Studios. The band, with Larry Baird conducting, performed with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra on January 3rd, 2009, at Boettcher Concert Hall.

Despite his touring schedule, Larry often looks first to his home community. For more than two decades he has been involved with the Colorado Make-A-Wish Foundation as Music Director for their annual Celebrity Golf Invitational hosted by former Entertainment Tonight’s Bob Goen.

larrybaird-awardThe marriage of rock and symphony orchestra has generated a global industry for four decades. Larry Baird is a leader and influential force in this economy, evidenced by the fact that he alone has conducted hundreds of performances with more than 250 symphony orchestras worldwide. The Denver Musicians Association proudly recognizes him for his accomplishments.

Job Creation Begins as Home

February 19th, 2009 No comments

petePolitical winds are shifting as the national economy heads south and everyone’s hanging on to their wallet. And though there is wide division of opinion on matters of how to apply government stimulus, all will agree on one fundamental principle and goal: JOBS!

The Scientific & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) is a major player with respect to economic stimulus. SCFD currently distributes $40 million annually to arts and scientific organizations in seven metro-Denver counties.

Recipients of these public funds are legally bound by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that currently sets Federal Minimum Wage at $6.55/hr. FLSA requirements, or even friendly reminders of the minimum wage obligation, have never been understood or acted on … until now.

The following survey is a welcome addition to SCFD’s 2009 grant application. It appears that the purpose of the survey is to assist in determining which organizations are in fact creating employment (if only this happened twenty years ago).
My sincere thanks to SCFD Executive Director Peg Long, staff and boardmembers, for facilitating this timely change:

Also regarding the section on Discipline, if your organization involves the performing arts you must check the box that most accurately describes your compensation policy. This is a new question pertaining to the Fair Labor Standards Act which has been referenced for many years on the Assurances page of the grant.

  • All performers are compensated i.e., paid an honorarium
  • All performers paid in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA, see assurances page)
  • Some performers are compensated i.e., paid an honorarium
  • Some performers are paid in accordance with the FLSA
  • No performers receive compensation

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?

“Right-to-Work” FOR LESS

September 15th, 2008 No comments

By Pete Vriesenga
The Denver Musician, Fall 2008

Amendment 47, “Right-to-Work” for less is slated for the November Ballot. It is as deceptive in name as its proponents: “A Better Colorado.” They claim that “Amendment 47 will strengthen Colorado’s economy, create jobs and make our State more competitive,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Average annual earnings for workers in right-to-work states are $5,333 less than their counterparts in free-bargaining states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Right-to-Work states have higher populations (21% more) who live day to day without health coverage, as compared to free bargaining states. Poverty rates are 12.5% higher in right-to-work states and infant mortality rates are 16% higher. Maximum weekly worker compensation benefits are $30 higher in free bargaining states ($609 versus $579 in right-to-work states). Additionally, workplace deaths are 51% higher in right-to-work states because its very difficult to find anyone with the courage to SPEAK UP when Unions have long gone by the wayside.

A Better Colorado wrongly claims that “Amendment 47 protects workers’ paychecks” (workdues under union collective bargaining agreements) when statistics clearly show that the alternative ensures that much of the workers’ earnings shall never trickle past the bookkeeper. A Better Colorado wrongly claims that “No one should be forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment” when federal law already prohibits compulsory union membership in all states.

Support Local Musicians

July 15th, 2008 No comments

By Pete Vriesenga

Denver Post – Letter to the Editor
Responding to Kyle MacMillan’s
7/13/08 story: Classical music: A fair wage — but those in bigger cities make more

Kyle MacMillan’s story of local musicians struggling for a fair wage uncovers a harsh reality. Music & entertainment are among the largest industries in the world. The Vail Valley Music Festival, for example, is so flush with cash they’re importing FOUR very-pricey orchestras this summer: the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, to satisy the musical palate of this affluent community. Combined costs for salaries and benefits, housing and transportation are astronomical, funded in part by your Colorado Council on the Arts.

But the music industry, like our State history, is a story of boom and bust. The mountain resort of Steamboat Springs is hoping to lure a few of Vail’s musical patrons with a local, Emerald City Opera production of La Traviata in August. Musicians will receive $360 and a room in payment for six rehearsals and two performances. They’ll do good to come home with fifty bucks in their pocket.

Absent from the story is any mention of the Scientific & Cultural Facilities [taxing] District of metro-Denver, which is quite unique to Denver. SCFD raises over $40 million annually for over 300 arts and scientific organizations. SCFD is showcased nationally as a growth model for other cities to emulate, but it offers little hope for the weary. The money goes largely to managment and operational expense while professional musicians, most with advanced college degrees, are typically pre-categorized as “volunteers.”

John Kuzma, His “small part” for the community

July 1st, 2008 No comments
Montview Christmas Concert - John Kuzma, Conductor

Montview Christmas Concert - John Kuzma, Conductor

Published in The Denver Musician, Summer 2008
By Pete Vriesenga

Religious Organizations are the nation’s second-largest employer of professional musicians – second only to Performing Arts Companies (Bureau of Labor Statistics). I have been a beneficiary of these work opportunities over my career, as have professional musicians around the world who are impacted by the remarkable history and musical influence of the Church.

I thank our local community of churches for the enormity of great music they produce, and also take this opportunity to highlight one very fine example: Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver, and music director John Kuzma.

John learned early on that the church was a place for fine music when he joined the boychoir at St. Lawrence Church in Cincinnati. They sang every day except Saturday, drawing on the repertoire of the likes of Mozart, Franck, Haydn and Palestrina. They also premiered original compositions by St. Lawrence Music Director J. Alfred Schehl.

By the sixth grade, the sum of this musical experience had John convinced he would become a church musician. He went on to study at the Cincinnati Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, University of Illinois, and in Copenhagen as a Fulbright Scholar. He has been Montview’s Minister of Music since 1987.

“Throughout history, churches have supported music, and in some cases the finest musicians of their day were in the church’s full time service,” says John. “Without thinking very long, I can name Bach, Buxtehude, Palestrina (who had an apartment inside the Vatican walls), Vivaldi, the Gabrielis, Mozart (for a time), Franck, Messiaen, Distler, Langlais, etc. And then, there is the enormous body of chant, by any standard the most remarkable collection of single voice music ever conceived, written by fine musicians inside monastery walls, whose names are lost in antiquity.”

Montivew Boulevard Presbyterian Church, with its rich acoustics and fine pipe organ, is a beautiful space to present great music. But Montview is much more than a beautiful building. John points out how the Montview congregation has long supported fine music “We have been blessed by excellent leaders who preceded me: Ernest Remley, Lucille Holm, Austin Lovelace, David McCormick, and Jerrald McCollum. Barbara Hulac, our extraordinary organist, remains one of the best anywhere, and we are sincerely thankful for the work and dedication of musician’s contractor Marsha Whitcomb. This remarkable support for music reflects years of high vision in deciding to build a sanctuary of high musical ambition, building fine pipe organs, hiring talented staff, encouraging programming of high quality, and raising enough money to pay for all this.”

Montview’s 100-member Westminster Choir is a mainstay in music programming, as are approximately 75 children and youth from Montview’s varied choirs and music programs. Choir members include a wide range of professionals, many medical doctors, a few PhD’s, and one congresswoman. Diana DeGette, most Thursdays, comes directly to choir rehearsal from the airport (after serving in Congress), and finds time to host a brunch now and than for her friends in the Alto II section. Selfishly, and for the political interests of the AFM, I found myself lobbying Ms. DeGette for the entirety of the rehearsal break in April. DeGette is Vice-Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee that will be hearing arguments for the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 4789).

How fitting that our representative in Congress just happens to be a member of the choir. Montview’s music program is a product of personal gifts and contributions that have great community purpose. This is a genuine grassroots effort that has fostered community gatherings for a century. Accessibility to our government that seeds genuine outreach to the community is certainly consistent with Montview’s music program, as I expect it is with the broader mission of of their church.

It’s no small coincidence that anyone can simply walk into this beautiful setting to enjoy great and inspiring music. For that, the DMA and our community at large owe our gratitude.

Marc Shulgold of the Rocky Mountain News said it best: “I’ve always felt comfortable when I visit Montview, up the street from my Park Hill home. The lure, to be honest, is usually a favorite musical work: a Bach cantata or full-length concert pieces by Orff or Dvorak, all led expertly by music director John Kuzma.

Come Christmastime, there’s an added pleasure for this “non-believer” in hearing melodies of the season within such an inviting venue. As I listened to Montview’s three choirs – encompassing pre-teens to senior citizens – I felt close to the spirit of the season.

A suggestion: Set aside your shopping lists. Forget all the fuss over “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays.” Take a breath, and listen to the music – really listen. That’s what I did.” when I visited Montview last Sunday.”

John Kuzma

John Kuzma

“While art has a toughness over centuries, it can be fragile in the short term. Art which aims at the highest standard has always been supported by relatively few people of high vision, who experience life changing power and transcendent insight through music. I believe we are doing our small part in this effort at Montview Church.”

.John Kuzma

Sam Gill – Pioneer of Musical & Cultural Diversity

September 1st, 2007 No comments
Thelonius Monk, piano - Sam Gill, bass - Kenny Dorham, trumpet - Willie Jones, drums; performing at Tony's, Brooklyn, NY

Thelonius Monk, piano - Sam Gill, bass - Kenny Dorham, trumpet - Willie Jones, drums; performing at Tony's, Brooklyn, NY

Published in the Denver Musician, Fall 2007
By Pete Vriesenga

Sam Gill has appeared with jazz greats such as Max Roach, J.J. Johnson, Phineas Newborn, Paul Bley and Thelonius Monk. He has recorded with the likes of Randy Weston , Art Blakey and Max Roach, and is listed in the International Who’s Who in Music, Who’s Who Among Black Americans and Blacks in Classical Music. In 1955, Downbeat Magazine ranked Sam Gill above jazz icons such as Milt Hinton and Paul Chambers, etching Sam’s name into history as one of the “New Star’s” in jazz. This December, after 48 years as a member of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Dr. Sam Gill will retire from the orchestra after a rich and influential career.

Sam was born in Brooklyn, NY, a springboard for a career destined as a model for cultural and musical diversity. He studied bass and piano while attending Juilliard and Manhattan Schools of Music. Sam received  his Bachelor of Music with emphasis in double bass performance,  and Master of Music Education degrees simultaneously in 1960. During this period, he also performed with the Connecticut Symphony, Westchester Philharmonic (NY), and also the Municipal Orchestra that performed in various parks in the New York City area.

As a jazz bassist, Sam would become a notable partner in the cultural and scholarly phenomenon of the 50’s known as The Music Inn. Founders Stephanie and Philip Barber opened The Music Inn in 1950 as a summer haven for jazz and folk musicians in a beautiful setting of the Berkshires of Massachusetts. With an eclectic offering of roundtable discussions, lectures and legendary concerts, The Music Inn played a pivotal role in raising public awareness for jazz as a pure art form. American filmmaker Ben Barenholz produced a beautiful documentary covering this rare convergence of artists titled “The Music Inn,” which features Sam with commentary and performance footage.

In the spirit of Stephanie and Philip Barber, Sam’s art extended well beyond jazz and the classics. He toured the United States and Canada with the Harry Belafonte Singers, and with folk/blues legend Josh White. For thirty-five years, Sam was musical and artistic director for the Ebony Magazine Fashion Show presentations in Denver, Colorado Springs and Cheyenne, WY. He has surely worked with the great musical artists of our time,  representing every style and genre of music.

Sam’s pioneering career led to historic achievements that only happen when talent, determination and character intersect. He was the first to earn a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the University of Colorado with emphasis in double bass performance. The senior member of the CSO (formerly Denver Symphony Orch.), Sam may now hold the title as the longest-tenured black musician in a major symphony orchestra.

Sam Gill

Sam Gill

Typically dressed in a sport coat & tie or better, Sam carries a smile that is as genuine as his music and personal convictions. At age 75, Sam will surely continue his art, interests and passions well into retirement. He enjoys swimming, chess, and is a 32nd-Degree Mason and Shriner.     Amidst all of the joy, music and celebration of Christmas, Dr. Samuel Gill will be leaving his position with the CSO after 48 years; also a legacy of musical diversity and  inspiration.