Ann Drinan  

Reporter's Notebook: ROPA Conference 2009

Ann Drinan
October 8, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

I hadn't been to a Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) conference in a long time. OK, since 2002 when I wasn't re-elected President. So when Polyphonic suggested that we three Senior Editors cover our respective Players Conferences, I was a bit hesitant about going. OK, a lot hesitant. But I did finally decide to go and am very glad indeed that I did. I saw lots of old friends, made some new ones, and very much enjoyed both the conference presentations and the activities in Dayton. I also spent some time over at the Dayton Philharmonic office doing interviews for a Polyphonic spotlight on the DPO. (Check our Orchestra Spotlight section soon for more info about the DPO.)

Players conferences represent their member musicians to the national union (AFM) to facilitate communication and urge the union to provide necessary services to its members. They also hold a yearly conference for member musicians/organizations.

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) was founded in 1962; see Laura Ross' excellent article What Is ICSOM? for an overview and a brief history. ROPA was founded in 1984 to provide similar representation to smaller orchestras. There were 13 founding members at the 1984 conference in Columbus OH. Two other groups of musicians have also followed ICSOM's lead and formed their own players conferences: the Recording Musicians Association (RMA) and the Theater Musicians Association (TMA). ICSOM's Canadian members left ICSOM when the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC) was formed in 1975.

This article is rather long, but it was a jam-packed three days. I've presented the information in chronological order so you can follow the agenda of the three days.

Tuesday morning - below - began with welcoming speeches followed by a keynote address by Randy Cohen of America for the Arts.

Tuesday afternoon - Page 2 - included ROPA officer reports and remarks by Tom Lee. Then the delegates attended breakout sessions.

Wednesday morning featured reports from SSD staff - Page 3, remarks from representatives of the other three players conferences (ICSOM, OCSM and RMA), a presentation on analyzing orchestra finances by William Thompson from the Univ. of Louisville, and reports from troubled orchestras - Page 4.

Wednesday afternoon and evening - Page 5 - the delegates had a private tour of the beautiful Schuster Performing Arts Center, and then were treated to the ROPA 25th Anniversary dinner and celebration.

Thursday - Page 6 - presented ROPA Counsel Patricia Polach talking about contract re-openers, Vinni LoPresti and Will Luebking from the AFM-EP Pension Fund, and David Nesmeth leading an Alexander Technique exercise.

Here's my "Reporter's Notebook" from the conference.

- Ann Drinan

Tuesday, August 4, 2019


The first morning of a ROPA conference always includes the roll call of orchestras, a brief overview of what to expect, and greetings from local dignitaries. The Dayton conference was no different.

ROPA delegatesDelegates and guests at ROPA's 25th anniversary conference. (Click to enlarge.)

Mayor Rhine McLin has a wonderful upbeat personality. She is a big arts supporter, and claims to be an honorary member of the AFM. (I fully believe it!) Dayton often ranks at the top of mid-size cities in support of the arts. She said that the DPO was founded during the Great Depression of the 30s, and so it will survive the current economic downturn. She reminded us that Dayton is the birthplace of aviation – I’d forgotten that the Wright Brothers were from Dayton and developed the first airplane in their bicycle shop here. She ended by stating that it’s a challenge to continue to do what we do, do it better, and not let the economy get in the way.

Next was Neal Gittleman, Music Director of the DPO. During the roll call, he was remembering all the cities where he’s guest conducted. Quite a few, apparently. The thrust of Neal’s remarks was that orchestras in medium-sized cities are in the forefront of innovating. They have great ideas and know how to reach audiences, how to educate children, and find ways to make themselves indispensable parts of their communities. Mega orchestras get more press but smaller orchestras are doing the progressive work. When there is a downturn, we feel it first and feel it harder. When the recovery comes, we feel it last and feel it less. He is confident that we’ll find ways to solve these problems, as musicians are always problem solvers.

Kareem Powell, President of Local 101-473, then greeted the delegates and offered his assistance. Kareem was with us throughout the conference and I understand is a great boon to the DPO musicians.

Paul Helfrich, Executive Director of the DPO, gave his second greeting to a ROPA conference, as he’d been Executive Director in Charleston, West Virginia, when the ROPA conference was held there a few years ago. He talked about the challenges of the past year: declines in endowments, cuts to government funding, and reductions in corporate and foundation budgets, as well as individual budgets. He posed the question of whether this is something that will pass with time or whether this is a fundamental shift of the economy. He then told the delegates that a year ago, Dayton was named to the Forbes magazine list of the 10 fastest-dying cities in America. (!) The week after the ROPA conference, there was a symposium in Dayton about the arts in these 10 “dead” cities. None of these cities consider themselves to be “dying” and Paul is very optimistic about Dayton’s recovering from the recession.


The keynote address was given by Randy Cohen of America for the Arts. He gave a fast-paced and fact-packed presentation about how the arts impact our economy. (Check back soon for a separate article about Randy’s presentation.)

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