Bruce Hembd  

Using the Web to Empower Your Union

Bruce Hembd
March 27, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

I recently started receiving email messages from ICSOM and ROPA about a new website for the musicians of the Arizona Opera Orchestra, who are in the midst of difficult negotiations with new management. Upon checking out www.AZOOMA.org, I discovered not only an extremely well-done website, with lots of photos, articles, and blog entries, but also some intriguing short videos. A message from Nathan Kahn, AFM negotiator, stated that this was "in my opinion some of the finest orchestra PR work I have seen in my 20 years with the AFM, and worth sharing." I must agree!

I asked Bruce Hembd to describe the process by which he put together the AZOOMA website, working with the orchestra committee and negotiations committee to craft a public persona for the musicians who play opera in both Tuscon and Phoenix. His article should be most helpful for other player organizations who are contemplating putting up a website of their own.

- Ann Drinan

The Arizona Opera Orchestra Musicians Association (AZOOMA) had a bit of an identity problem.

We regularly perform in a semi-closed pit under the stage and are heard but not seen by the public. When asked, our audience members presumed that we were either the Phoenix or Tucson symphony orchestras. Because we perform operas in both cities and are mostly out-of-sight in the pit, we heard this a lot.

For years this issue was just a small nuisance and only a minor concern. We would roll our eyes, sigh and shrug our shoulders – that is, until our collective bargaining agreement expired and negotiations lingered on for months under new management.

What was at first only a minor annoyance was now a huge concern. We really needed public support to secure our jobs but our public didn't really know who we were.

(Gulp.)

When a committee chair contacted me for help, I jumped at the chance. Besides being a horn player in the opera orchestra, I am also an experienced web developer. In this capacity I am accustomed to aggressively selling things online and, when asked to help AZOOMA, I wanted to follow the same methods used with any other commercial website. AZOOMA needed to be sold like a product to our community.

Since then, our musician website has evolved into a rather large-scale project involving a main website, a blog, social networking and even YouTube videos. I devote myself to it because I love playing opera, strongly support my fellow musicians and my negotiation committee, and hope that it will contribute to a positive outcome for the entire company.

Perhaps it will even set an example for our entire industry.

At the time of this writing our negotiations are still ongoing. While it cannot be said that our efforts were a complete success, it is my hope that our example might inspire and motivate other musician organizations to use the web in a similar manner to empower themselves and gain success where we may have failed.

At the very least, in spite of how our contract negotiations end, I believe AZOOMA has succeeded in one aspect – we have made a big wave. In a very short time the Arizona Opera Orchestra Musicians Association – a small, part-time regional orchestra – has managed to rise from being nearly anonymous to being a more widely-known, branded organization.

We are "the little engine that could."

Chain of Command

The technical process of constructing a website is way too detailed to get into in a short article. Besides, there are countless books and online resources that can guide you better than I can. What I do hope to relate is a broad overview of how our small, regional opera orchestra coordinated itself to produce its strong online presence.

On the Internet, it only takes a few determined people grouped into a coordinated effort to make a big wave. In AZOOMA's case, this began with a very clear chain-of-command. Because AZOOMA is in contract negotiations, our Negotiations Chair became the de facto "Editor-in-Chief."

As the web developer – the "Publisher" and content developer – I purposely stay away from any official committee positions. So I rely heavily on guidance from the "Chief." I do get some insider information (that I keep confidential of course) in order to effectively plan our online strategy, but otherwise I stay out of it.

This approach has worked well for us. Unburdened by the details of negotiations, I am in a better position to focus on making a strong website. It helps me to focus on producing creative content and not worry about accidentally revealing any negotiation strategies.

My experience in the commercial realm has shown that involving too many "cooks" in designinga website can "spoil the stew," and our simple, two-person method assured a quicker online presence unburdened with debate and doubt. Our negotiation committee had its hands full dealing with management, and we wisely avoided the trap of making our website a full committee affair.

Besides, because a website is a flexible medium, it can be easily edited and updated later if any objections arise to something we published.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

The colleagues of our AZOOMA webmaster, Bruce Hemd, are indeed very lucky to have someone of his caliber both intellectually and technically to design and maintain our Arizona Opera Orchestra musicians assoc. website. As he describes in a recent Polyphonic.org article, this effort was a huge boon to our 'presence' in the state of Arizona. I have played in this orchestra since 1985 (with a break in the early 90's) and he is correct that the opera-going public really didn't then and doesn't now realize who we are. Originally, Arizona Opera was Tucson Opera and all of the musicians were from Tucson. As the company expanded into the Phoenix area (some 25 to 30 years ago), more Phoenix area musicians joined our ranks as have some from Flagstaff. The Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff Symphonies have well-defined identities in their communities as they "are" the show. Since we are in the pit, the action on stage is where the focus is. We do at least one production a year (this year it was the Gems (opera highlights) concert) where we are on the stage, accompanying the solo/groups of singers, but this is not our main venue.

I'm sure that other dedicated pit orchestras (as opposed to those musicians who do pit work in addition to their regular symphony season) must have the same issues.

Margaret Gilmore,
AZ Opera Orchestra
Former ROPA delegate
musikant on March 8, 2019 at 1:56 PM
Bruce Hembd here.

As of 3/28 AZOOMA and the Arizona Opera have a tentative agreement. The contract goes to a ratification vote in mid-April.

One other thing, our web site is AZOOMA.org, not "dot com" as noted in the Editor's introductory comments.
horndog on March 28, 2019 at 2:03 PM
18 months later- we still get a lot of positive comments-including from members of management- on the AZOOMA website. The "Out of the Pit" chamber music concerts begun in the 08-09 season were well received. The concerts got us some publicity and some reviews. Recently we launched our Facebook page. Educating the audience about who we are and what we do is for us an ongoing process.
Katherine Shields,
AZ Opera Orchestra
Outreach Concerts
sabakuviolist on September 30, 2019 at 2:16 PM

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