Thursday, May 19, 2011

Letter to Dan Wakin

Today I wrote Dan Wakin, writer of two pieces in the New York Times on foreign "sweatshop" orchestras, with the following message.

Thank you for your pieces on foreign orchestras like the Moscow State Radio Symphony. I am the president of AFM Local 143 (Worcester, Mass.). I've seen firsthand that foreign "sweatshop tours" have displaced local musicians, and have written about it since 2007 on my blog, Sounds (afm143.org).

I want to highlight two points relevant to your recent pieces. First, though the AFM purports to denounce these foreign tours, it generates significant revenue by issuing "no-objection" letters and charging a fee. From 2004-2009, the AFM president's office has collected over $3.7 million in such fees, with nothing accruing to displaced musicians in places like Worcester. This revenue began in 2004 and continues to grow each year.

Second, I proposed a resolution at the 2010 AFM Convention to redirect a portion of these fees to the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF), to compensate local musicians displaced by foreign orchestras. As you probably know, MPTF was created in the 1940s to compensate live musicians for the displacement of recorded music. MPTF is in dire need of funding, and is set up specifically to fund local musicians playing live, admission-free concerts across the US and Canada. The AFM Convention refused to adopt this resolution, claiming that it could not do without the no-objection letter revenue.

The upshot is that the MPTF will likely be defunct very soon, promoters will continue to hire foreign "sweatshop" orchestras instead of professional local musicians, and the AFM, beyond lip service, has done nothing about it.

Best wishes,

Ed Shamgochian

Dan Wakin's pieces:

Orchestras on Tour: Names Strike a False Note, May 16, 2011.

Russian Orchestra Tour: From the Bus to the Stage, March 3, 2010.

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