What Happened in Houston

A Report on the 2008 ROPA Conference

Volume CVIII, No. 11November, 2008

Anthony Scelba

Hot, wet, and hot. But that was the weather reported for last November. I haven’t yet found the words to describe Houston’s weather in July and August, when I was there attending the annual Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) conference.

A few short months before this year’s conference, the president of ROPA resigned because of family issues. Carla Lehmeier, the vice president, stepped in and — with the rest of the ROPA board — handled the planning and execution of the proceedings deftly. 

Carla’s management style is very different from previous ROPA presidents. ROPA board members, who have expressed enthusiasm to me about her work, have embraced her stewardship, and the entire leadership seems to be pulling in a uniform direction.

Like all AFM players’ conference gatherings, the 2008 ROPA conference — my 10th representing the Long Island Philharmonic as delegate — consisted of meetings and seminars from morning through late afternoon. So my days from July 28 through Aug. 2 were kept busy.

The AFM was a strong presence at the conference, which began with an address by President Tom Lee. Also in attendance and participating in panels and workshops were members of the AFM Symphonic Services Division, Electronic Media, Freelance Services, local officers and others.

Reports about individual orchestras — their woes and successes, their current state of negotiations, ongoing grievances, the conditions of their managements, the temperaments of their music directors, and other matters — were delivered in breakout sessions overseen by ROPA board members at large.

My report on the Long Island Philharmonic outlined the results of the economic decline of that once thriving arts institution. The current season is a mere shadow of its former days. Like with many orchestras, the books are being balanced on the backs of musicians who are receiving offers of fewer and fewer services. 

Orchestra-report breakout sessions led to others that were topic driven. Interspersed with these were presentations, demonstrations, and workshops. Four I found of particular interest. 

William Thompson, a professor of media and public relations, gave a talk entitled “Outside-In Negotiating: the Power of Publicity in the Negotiation Room.” Sessions like these orient the delegates toward strong labor practices and prepare them to bring valuable information back to their orchestras.

Debbie Newmark, AFM director of electronic media and, like me, a double bassist with the LIP, conducted a session that examined how to troubleshoot negotiations and the contracting of recording agreements.

Jennifer Johnson, a Canadian violinist and certified teacher of “Body Mapping,” an outgrowth of Alexander Technique, gave an extended session that brought to the delegates valuable information about musicians’ health issues.

Paul Sharpe, director of freelance services, presented information about the revolution he is fomenting within the AFM. Sharpe has advanced the idea that our union should benefit freelancers and help them get work and advance their careers. As strange as it may sound, this is a new practice for the AFM, at least as Sharpe is forwarding it. He has developed a series of Web sites that are going to make a dramatic difference in the lives of freelancers — most of us. I encourage computer savvy musicians to explore the various “Go Pro” Web sites beginning with

I look forward to the 2009 ROPA Conference to be held in Dayton, Ohio.