Letter from ROPA President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum

November 4, 2008 at 11:09 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

October 30, 2008

Dear Mr. Gerhart,

I am writing on behalf of the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) to urge you to resolve the recent work stoppage of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) in a way that offers the WCO musicians the respect and working conditions they deserve. ROPA is a Players Conference of the American Federation of Musicians. It represents five thousand musicians in seventy-five American orchestras all across the country.

This summer I had the privilege of working with your musicians and attended one of the WCO Concerts on the Square. During my visit, I saw first-hand the quality of the ensemble, the commitment from the community, and the realization of the WCO Board’s vision of establishing one of the finest chamber orchestras in the country.

The WCO musicians share the vision of the WCO Board of Directors. They have done their part and worked with the Music Director to create an ensemble that meets the highest professional artistic level. They deserve to have working conditions that respect that achievement.

Many regional orchestra institutions across the country are unable to offer their musicians enough work to provide a living or compensation levels commensurate with their skills. Thus, the reality of regional musicians’ lives is that they must work for numerous organizations in order to build a full time performing career and earn a modest living. The WCO musicians need the flexibility to do this, too. They cannot earn a reasonable living working solely for the WCO. To survive economically, and to keep performing at the highest level of their art (which will benefit WCO as well), they must be able to accept teaching and other engagements. The current ninety percent attendance requirement simply does not meet the professional standards of the field.

The WCO musicians also need to address fairness at the work place by including just cause protections in their collective bargaining agreement. ROPA recognizes this industry standard as an imperative in a healthy work place as it provides important protections against arbitrary or unfair termination and other forms of inappropriate workplace discipline.

The WCO is a precious resource, and a critical component of the quality of life in Madison. It is imperative that we work together to find solutions that will return these musicians to the stage. We on the ROPA Board believe that it is time for the beautiful sounds of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra to fill the community’s newly restored historical theatre. We call on management to meet its musicians’ legitimate needs.


Carla Lehmeier-Tatum
President, ROPA


Join our Audience Association!

October 20, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If you’d like to help support us, please join our Audience Association!  It’s a great way to stay informed and to help the musicians in their campaign to get a fair contract.  To join, simply send your name, phone number, and email address to:

Nancy Mackenzie at mnmk0577@tds.net.

This information is also available on our How to Help page. Thanks for your support!

Beethoven on strike

October 4, 2008 at 12:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Last night’s free performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 reminds us of the enduring ability music has to bring people together. The musicians, who were on the picket line just minutes before, took their places at 9:00 pm to give an inspiring performance of this masterwork. Emotions ran high as did the quality of the performance which was met with raucous applause from an audience of nearly 300. Although the piece had been announced as a four movement work, that didn’t stop the concert goers from showing their approval after every movement, with a generous standing ovation at the finish. The evening ended with a poignant note from the principal oboist, Naomi Bensdorf Frisch: “We are so proud to be a part of the Madison arts community and we hope we are back where we belong very soon.”

This performance was put together with only two days notice because of the immediate efforts of a few WCO musicians who volunteered to find a venue, borrow the sheet music, and gather the needed equipment (timpani, chairs, music stands). Madison’s Bethel Lutheran Church was warm and inviting, not only in offering the ensemble a place to perform but also providing volunteers to help set up. The musicians extend their deepest gratitude for all of the support.

WCO Musicians Present Free Concert

October 2, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Although currently on strike we still intend to accomplish what we gathered this week to do. The musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will present a free concert Friday night (10/3/08) at 9 p.m. at Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave.

We will be performing Beethoven’s Second Symphony. All are welcome and invited. We appreciate the support of the community in these troubled times.


October 1, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment




The musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra have a deep commitment to the WCO, and in particular to you, our most loyal audience. Our wages and benefits are meager – only $10,000 – $15,000 per year – but our dedication to music in the Madison community is large. For years we’ve had a positive and respectful relationship with management, and we’ve always resolved our contract negotiations without incident.

What’s different this time? The Board’s outside negotiators are insisting on extreme positions that would put Madison out of the mainstream:

  • Work rules that would make it impossible for WCO musicians to fulfill their obligations to the WCO and to their music students, teaching jobs or other music endeavors. All over the country, orchestras like the WCO have rules that allow their musicians to patch together a living by adding income streams from teaching and other engagements to their small orchestra salaries. Why won’t WCO do the same?
  • Travel reimbursements far, far below industry norms.
  • Refusing to implement a fair system of peer review on musical performance – systems that are accepted throughout the nation in large and small orchestras.

We have, in good faith, tried every known method to reach an accord with the WCO on these and other issues, and we believe that our Executive Director, Doug Gerhart has done likewise. We do not understand why the Board of the WCO has, in our opinion, allowed the outside firm of Foley & Lardner to create obstacles to agreement, to force WCO out of the mainstream, and to jeopardize the once-excellent relationship between the musicians and management.

It is our desire to resolve this dispute and to get back to performing for you, our loyal audience. You can help us with our situation; please write Executive Director Doug Gerhart at douggerhart@wcoconcerts.org, WCO Board Chairperson Thomas Grantham thomas_grantham@ml.com, or Immediate past WCO Board Chairperson Sarah Reiter at sreiter@brownhousedesigns.com and urge them to come to a reasonable accord on a new contract with the WCO musicians.

Thank you for your continued support of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its musicians!

The Musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

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A Call to All Musicians and Labor Supporters

September 30, 2008 at 8:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear colleagues,

Yesterday, The Madison Area Federation of Musicians, Local #166 AFM
gave notice to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra management that unless
accord is reached on key unresolved issues in the negotiations
relating to job security, attendance, and electronic media by 4PM CDT
on Wednesday, October 1st, a strike will be called for that evening at
7PM. The picketing location is in front of the Overture Center, at the
intersection of Dayton Street, Fairchild Street and State Street one
block directly west of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison,

The service scheduled for Wednesday night is a rehearsal, and if no
resolution is reached thereafter by Thursday or Friday, picketing will
also take place on Thursday at 7PM and Friday night (performance
night) at 8PM, same location.

We are still working with Federal Mediator Mike Salmon in an attempt
to resolve these key outstanding issues.

The Local and Committee would most cordially welcome anyone who may be
in region or elsewhere who would like to join us on the picket line on
either Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Locally, we will be joined by
other Madison area union members who are members of the Central Labor
Council, members of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, the
Union of Teaching Assistants at the University of Wisconsin, other
supporters, among others.

Unfortunately, at this hour we cannot say for certain whether this
strike is a certainty or not; WE WILL SEND OUT AN EMAIL ALERT TOMORROW

Thank you in advance for your support, and we will keep you all posted
as soon as possible regarding picketing.

In Solidarity,

Nathan Kahn, Negotiator
Symphonic Services Division
American Federation of Musicians

Madison Musicians, we need your help!

September 29, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tonight! An informational meeting will be held for all Madison area musicians and citizens who wish to help support the WCO musicians in their fight for a fair contract.

Tuesday, September 30, 5:30 pm
Michelangelo’s coffee shop
114 State Street
1/2 block towards the Capital on the opposite side of the street from
Overture Center.

No charge for the room, the only thing they ask is everyone purchase
something.  Great bakery, sandwiches, coffee…..

Please join us if you can!  Keep checking the blog…  We’ll also be updating the blog if we need help with specific activities.

Thanks for your support!!!

See articles about the Musicians’ fight for a fair contract:

September 29, 2008 at 4:35 pm | Posted in Informational, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Please visit the following links!

77 Square:
WCO contract negotiations stall; strike possible

Wisconsin State Journal:
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in contract wrangle

Negotiations update

September 29, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On September 15 and 16 we met with management to continue to try and reach agreement on a new contract.  At the suggestion of Doug Gerhart, our new executive director, we met with only the musicians, the Federal Mediator, and Martha and Doug; the lawyers from Foley and Lardner and Nathan Kahn, AFM negotiator were out of the room.

We were hopeful, when Doug suggested this arrangement, that we would finally be able to find a common ground and start to make progress towards a fair contract.  Unfortunately, we were met with the same kind of resistance as we had when the lawyers were present.  Despite our repeated attempts to explain our position and reiterate industry standards, many of our proposals were met with simple rejections or deferrals (“let’s talk about something else”).  It turned out that even though the lawyers were out of the room, they were camped out in a conference room down the hall ready to (help) make the final decisions whenever we took breaks.  We were, once again, able to make some progress on small issues.  However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the sides have major philosophical differences in what the purpose of a contract should be.  Management seems to think that a contract is about money and power, while we think a contract is there to protect us in the workplace and provide us with a quality of life we can rely on.

More… Continue Reading Negotiations update…

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