Tag Archives: American Federation of Musicians



Dear beloved members of the Erie Chamber Orchestra audience: KEEP YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY.

Via a letter mailed to all patrons of the ECO, Gannon University is luring contributions. Do NOT give any money to Gannon, on our behalf! The money they receive will not come to us; it will be redirected to another, distinct entity.

Our ECO manager just told me, in print, that there are sufficient funds in our ECO budget to completely cover the cost of our final concert in April. Any money you send to Gannon, at this time, will therefore be considered “surplus”, and THAT money will never reach us.

I have that information, straight from the horse’s mouth.

The whole thing smells of some attempt to bolster funding for the hand-off initiative created by Gannon which, on the surface, appears to sustain the “dream” of Bruce Morton Wright. It doesn’t; rather, it sidelines the vast majority of his orchestral musicians, indeed the entire orchestra, selecting only the handful from within it who already have contracts with the other orchestra. Bruce was fiercely loyal to each and every one of his musicians, and eliminating even one of them from any effort which takes his name is nothing short of blasphemy.

By the way, citing Bruce’s historical role on the Board of the other orchestra is also deliberately misleading; disaffected, Bruce withdrew from that Board, years and years ago.

So, stop.


Wait for the actual Erie Chamber Orchestra to provide you the information you may seek. Attend our final concert, April 28th. We’d love to see you!

Thank you.



Ruth Ann Scanzillo, principal cellist


member since 1986.


© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   3/21/18


The ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA: He Built it, and They Came.

Way up in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, there is actually a state park called Presque Isle. A 13 mile peninsula, this vacation destination draws tens of thousands, each summer, to its eleven public beaches, lagoons, campgrounds, and trails. The city which hosts this gem is called Erie, after the Great Lake which bears the same name. It is here where small, but emphatic, dreams are realized. This is the story of one of them.

The Erie Chamber Orchestra was founded over 35 years ago by the late Bruce Morton Wright. An African American raised by God-fearing parents, his vision took him well beyond the stereotype of his generation. Though he’d spent his early years as a jazz saxophonist, Bruce’s dream –  a sudden epiphany, coming to him while seated in the audience of an orchestral concert – was to create a symphonic ensemble of professionals that would present the music of the masters to any audience interested in attending, regardless of socio-economic status. To say that he realized this vision would be an understatement.

An Erie native, Wright qualified by earning a music degree from Mercyhurst College and then studying conducting, both in Vienna, Austria and Colombia, South America. Upon return from his training abroad, he formed the Erie Bayfront Orchestra. The unique feature of this orchestra was its “no ticket required” stature; admission, to every concert, was: FREE.

This ensemble caught the attention of one Charles Beyers, a local philanthropist, who offered a sizable trust through which the orchestra was able to sustain itself for many years. Via this support, the orchestra’s professional musicians were able to receive AF of M Union scale compensation for each “service” (every rehearsal and performance), and Maestro Wright a modest salary.

Though the name was eventually changed to the Erie Chamber Orchestra, its conditions for performance were not; musicians were still paid, at professional Union scale, and the audience’s admission was still free.

Over the decades which followed, the ECO could be seen and heard at such venues as the Villa outdoor promenade, aptly named “Music in the Air”, the Bayfront open amphitheater during the Erie Summer Festival of the Arts, and even served to originate what would become the Lake Erie Ballet Orchestra, with its annual production of Tschaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.” The regular season’s offerings were always heard at either Gannon’s Mary Seat of Wisdom Chapel, or the beloved St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

Bruce, always a man of the people, was warm, accessible, and fiercely loyal both to his musicians and audience alike. He did the work of three people – planning the program, presenting it, and completing it, down to the stacking and hauling away of the last chair and music stand.

Sometime in the mid-90’s, CNN caught wind of this anomaly and sent its filming crew, to document the story and to interview Bruce Wright. The feature appeared nationally, quite a thrill for both the musicians and the entire community of loyal audience members. All were especially proud of Bruce, for being recognized in such grand style.

Several years prior to the illness which took his life, Bruce sold the orchestra’s rights to Gannon University. Gannon committed to the continuing support of the ECO’s mission, maintaining its seasonal offerings while upholding its promise to provide music free of charge to the public. Gannon pays the salaries of both the conductor and the business manager, and provides a marketing budget for the seasonal calendar and any outreach efforts.

The Erie Chamber Orchestra is not, nor has it ever been, affiliated with the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra. Each is a distinct entity, with both a distinct financial structure and season calendar. The only similarity, which many may note, is that both orchestras share some personnel – primarily across the string sections.

Like the Erie Philharmonic, professional personnel which populate the Erie Chamber Orchestra hail from both the city of Erie, its surrounding townships, greater Erie County, Meadville, and Pittsburgh, as well as university centers in Western New York and Eastern Ohio.

Maestro Matthew Kraemer, originally associated with the Buffalo Philharmonic, succeeded Bruce Wright following the maestro’s death in 2011. Though he is leaving in 2017, his efforts have expanded the orchestra’s repertoire and personnel considerably. Regional professionals in attendance have remarked at the quality, both of the ensemble and its musical execution, of the new “ECO”. Notable soloists, just in the past two seasons, have included numerous Eastman School of Music faculty, as well as Concertmaster David Kim of the Philadelphia Orchestra, cellist Roman Mekinulov, violinists Rachel Barton Pine and Michael Ludwig, and even actor Harry J. Lennix as narrator for Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat”.

We are a proud and durable lot at the ECO. We welcome both your support as audience attendees, and your generous donations toward our financial sustainability. If you have never paid a visit to an ECO performance, go to the Erie Chamber Orchestra at Gannon University and email our GM, Camille Pierce. Request that you be placed on the mailing list. She will send you a season brochure! All you’ll need, beyond that, are the wheels to take you to either Luther Memorial or First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, where we perform in season 2016-17. There really isn’t an affordable venue in Erie County big enough or acoustically suited to the needs of our orchestra, so these churches have opened their sanctuaries for our use, an act of generosity for which we are very, very grateful.

The 2016-17 concert schedule has brought the ECO into yet another season of candidates vying for the baton. Two down, three to go!

Hope to see you, soon! Bruce would be so happy. And, in his memory, we would be, too.


Ruth Ann Scanzillo
principal cello,
Erie Chamber Orchestra.


The White Elephant in the Room.

Here’s the thing about white elephants.

You never really know where they come from.

And, then you have to figure out how to make them go away.

*  *  *  *  *

I think it was the trip to Pittsburgh with my new friend, Nathan. He’d just taken the job with Steinway, and there was a big benefit happening, and did I want to accompany him to see some pianos on sale?

A rather anomalous professional collaborative pianist, I’d spent the past twenty-odd years enduring the repeated tunings of my Young Chang condo upright, with its beefy bass and hardy action. That puppy had trained me well but, never built for as much as I’d asked of it over the years, the poor thing was well past menopause.

And, I was restless. There’d been concert grands in my life, several in fact. I never told my little piano about them, but too much of a better thing can change a relationship and the Severance Hall Steinway had given me a taste in ’07 during the COYO concerto competition that was unforgettable. No longer the spring chick, perhaps I was finally ready to move uptown.

We had a nice time looking around the old, Victorian mansion housing the event. I thought of my humble little farmhouse back home in the center of what used to be a safe, comfortable small city in Northwestern PA. Here were all these people, ready to attend a benefit in support of what turned out to be my throat surgeon of record, a man I’d revered for saving my voice back in ’98 and whom I never expected ever to see again. And, here were all these pianos, like pedigreed stallions, waiting for the highest bidder to give them a good home.

The salesman in charge of the benefit was a classic. Nathan introduced us and, when I asked about the surgeon, the salesman disclosed that they were partnering as hosts for the benefit. Within minutes, Dr. Rosen himself appeared, on site to practice his opening remarks. Though I’d been the largest benign vocal polyp in the history of the UPMC Voice Center, he had long since forgotten my name  – but, was eager to invite both Nathan and myself to the big party the next evening.

After all, there were pianos for sale. Steinways.

Nathan and I entered the showrooms. I sat down at a Boston Model M and, instantly, the accelerated action spoke to me. I coveted this piano. The price was hefty, yet reasonable. But, what about the outsized logo, with its kitschy font, all painted on in faux gold, big enough to be visible at fifteen feet?

Something wasn’t right about this not so little detail.

Turned out the Bostons, Nathan said, contained all Steinway parts but weren’t built in the same factory. Or, something like that. They’d been created for those who could not afford the real thing.

So, this explained the kitschy font. Too bad about all that.

We moved upstairs, to the mezzanine overlooking the big hall where the entertainment was to take place. Several more expensive Model Ls, various exotic finishes, and then, looking toward the stage, I saw it: Seven feet of glistening creme. This was a John Lennon Limited Edition, the salesman said, complete with signature, custom graphic on the titleboard and imposed signature by the famous Beatle. Even on sale at a significant 78K, this series was ticketed at a hundred grand.

My Young Chang had always been off white. I’d paid a modest $2400 back in the early 90’s, even then a good chunk of change for an upright. But, as most artists will attest, the central piece usually ends up being what everything else in the environment modifies to accommodate; and, true to form, I had decorated around this piano, in the cool, bright tones of the Pacific Coast.

Here, now, was the upscale version of my own familiar taste. In spite of Nathan’s, and the head salesman’s efforts to the contrary (“You want to convey your image as a professional; a white piano doesn’t do that for you”), I became fixated on the John Lennon Limited Edition. What did I care about image, after all? At my age? Everybody who mattered knew my playing, and those who didn’t weren’t going to be forming any opinion soon. Besides, a white piano would reflect the north light streaming in the windows. I was a pianist, but with the elevated tastes of a decorator. Smell me.

We left the party, talking all the way home about Steinway pianos. Nathan had been hired as institutional sales rep, in charge of marketing to colleges and universities. He’d brought me to the water, but it was up to me to take the drink.

Arriving home, I went online to find an affordable, white Steinway Model M. Sure enough, there was, apparently, just one, in all the world, in a showroom down south. I made contact. Their young man was quick to return my query with all the details. He was eager to sell this instrument; being white, there wasn’t a big call for such a piano, and he’d had it for awhile and wanted to give its position on the showroom floor to a different model. But, he said, it was a new Steinway, never been sold.

I was game. Could I put a hold on this piano? He agreed – for as much as I’d paid for the Young Chang. This should have been my first warning but, getting carried away was one of the joys of my oblivious life, and why stop now?

My elder brother and his family lived within a couple hours of this showroom. Close to Christmas, I was invited to spend New Year’s with them in Louisville. The brainstorm was in full gear; would my niece, a talented musician in her own right, agree to spend a day a bit further south, and go check out this piano? When she said yes, I was overjoyed.

But, she ate her words a lot sooner than I would.

We spent the entire day in that showroom, mostly listening to the older gentleman who turned out to be my contact’s father-in-law. A southern patriarch, he was the icon of his own imagination. And, did he ever have stories to support all that, not the least of which one about Andre Watts. And, as soon as I saw the Steinway Model M the color of heavy creme, he knew he had me.

I played this piano. The upper end was delicate and sweet. I loved it. The action, as expected, even and responsive. The mid-range seemed dull. It was the rug beneath, said the gentleman. Hardwood floors would bring all that out. I tested the bass. Bright enough, not as big as my Young Chang, and wasn’t this a Steinway? And, then, the first octave G; what was up with that jump? It’s called voicing, and this piano needed a little surgery.

The gentleman had a girl. She’d voiced Andre Watts’ piano for his Cleveland concert. He’d make a call. My niece and I could go to lunch, and then she’d be there.

By the time we left that showroom we’d been in it almost five hours, and my debit card had not worked in their system for the downpayment. Red flag, Number two. The salesmen were both on edge, as we headed out with a promise to return first thing the next day with a cashier’s check. God was watching me in disbelief, but all I could see was the elephant.

Back in our hotel room, I contacted my senior colleague at home who had experience building organs. He asked me for the serial number. When I gave it to him, the response was mildly astonishing; according to his research, at the Steinway & Sons website no less, the piano had been built in 2005.

This piano was ten years old.

And, the salesman had taken my $2500 down for a new Steinway.

What followed this disclosure would take another whole chapter, in fact maybe even a whole new blog which, by that time, would render all potential readers dehydrated tubers wondering how they ever got sucked into this load of stagnant waste, so I will condense: after admitting that the piano had been custom ordered by a celebrity musician who didn’t play the piano, said celebrity having reneged on his order when a competing piano brand offered him a similar instrument in exchange for endorsements, and being stuck with the rejected Steinway, and then promising to have his girl voice the piano for me to even out the jumps and bring up the mids, and promising to personally deliver the piano at no extra charge, and promising to order the performance bench, and being willing to wait until what would be a frigid winter was finally over, he took my cashier’s check for half the agreed upon price.

And, that price?

Having dealt him down from his original asking by 20K, and being convinced by the Table he showed me that this piano would appreciate in value as soon as it hit my music room floor, I settled on $57,9. Yes; this would represent a life savings in cash. But, I was investing, I told myself; and, what other “instruments” of the financial industry could do me better? Better to put my money where my fingers’ was.

I waited out the long, frigid, aforementioned winter. We set a delivery date. And, in the meantime, finally engaged my pre-frontal cortex.

How could a ten year old instrument qualify as new? And, how reliable was that Table of appreciating values? What about barometric and temperature changes over the years? And, those “occasional” visits the piano had made through the Tour of Southern Homes? How reliable was the intonation, anyway? My brother had mentioned that the dealer in Louisville said there’d been a history of cracking in those polyester finishes. So, what about the durability of that finish?

I started asking these questions. And, then I asked about cracks and scratches. The patriarch told me there were no new scratches, just the two I had seen.


What scratches had I seen? Nobody had shown me any! I’d found an irregularity in the finish, but not what he would then send me by way of photos. One, on the leg, the other on the lid. Oh, but he had a detail guy who did such beautiful work you could not tell a thing. And, he sent me photos of the repair. Blurry, at first, but apparently clear? These, coming a full day before the delivery date.

What would this less than pristine condition do to my investment value?

Maybe I was just sick of myself. Or, maybe the photos convinced me. Or, maybe I just needed to see it all for myself. I agreed to receive the piano on delivery, even though the seller said he’d be arriving at 8 am.

I didn’t realize, until the night before, that what he meant was: they’d be driving the previous day, to arrive by evening, stay in a hotel, and get up the next morning to show up at my door. I was astounded. Leaving a Steinway in a truck all night?? The temperatures had dropped to the high thirties. So, the piano would need to be tuned before I could even play it?

This morning, I was in the shower when I heard the pounding on my door. The time was 7:45 am. Now, anybody knows that every precious minute prior to a solid 9:30, I am still asleep. Nobody arrives EARLY at my front door before 10 am. This was the final red flag, waving high, and smelling like all kinda hooch.

The piano was slowly and meticulously brought into my house. As soon as the legs were set, I sat to play.

Instantly, I knew.

The mid range was still dull. And, the first bass G still jumped as badly as it did in the showroom. I played some Chopin. Why was the sound so muffled? Pads, he said. The piano needs to meet the floor, yet. Still selling, that guy, even up to the eleventh minute. Pads were pulled out, casters set. I launched Boccherini, full throttle. But, I knew.

The detail man had matched the hue, alright, but his brushwork on the spot where the lid opened was smudgy and noticeable. Oh; and, the performance bench was white. Snow white. Putting it with a creme colored piano made the whole scene look makeshift.

See, I’d wanted to have my own Steinway tech advisor on hand at delivery. But, the gentleman patriarch had balked, saying he didn’t take kindly to somebody judging his instrument without having seen it first. We’d volleyed until I could no longer blink my eyes. Now, I needed somebody, anybody who’d ever played piano, to sit at this thing and tell me whether I should put my life savings up against what I could no longer deny to be a resistant soundboard.

The dealer pulled out his best deck of cards. The laminated reptile skin ones, with the inlaid rubies. He said he’d go to breakfast, while I tried to locate my third party. I called five people; everybody was in end of year juries, or twenty minutes south. Time began to warp, like when the ER injected me with Compazine for a migraine.

I stared at the cashier’s check for the balance of payment. And, then, the phone finally rang. Bob, the piano tuner, took less than thirty seconds: Unquestionably. I’d never see that money again. Stop. Don’t. Go back, and start over.

With an eternity of relief, I hung up the phone. Preparing a gratuity of $200, I would offer this to the dealer – for his time, and the hauling fuel, and thank him for everything he’d said that was true, and wish him well.

His mask fell. His countenance reminded me of the psychotic eHarmony fiasco a few years back, the one who went ape shit over the color of a shirt. The man who could tell stories for four hours straight turned dark, like evil, and was silent. And, while they were packing up the piano, I set about to create a document of agreement for him to sign to insure that I got my half payment back.

When I presented this document to him I asked, in tones that were intended to acknowledge how much he likely needed his greedy money, just how many days he’d require to produce my check as refund. And, he was ready. All the years of wheeling, dealing, maybe even stealing, all culminating in a moment like this one. He had learned how to do many things, but he’d never learned to play the piano, and now it was his job to lift a bloated, two ton white elephant and carry it home to the South with his bare hands. And, he knew how to do that, too.

Seamlessly phrasing his response, without so much as a breath, he said: ” When I calculate the costs and fees, of the fuel, the hotel, the meals, and the crew’s hourly rate, less the 200 you gave me, I’ll send you a check.” And, he walked out. Got in his deluxe mobile cruiser, and drove away.

But, not after I called him desperate, and he called himself “just a salesman who doesn’t know anything” and I rang out: “But, you won’t be getting my life savings!”

That’s right. He would not sign the agreement.

And, right now, I have no proof that he will return my $28, 950 – in whole, or even in part.

Yes. He left with the white elephant, still holding my money. And, all I have are neighborhood witnesses that any of this even happened. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up, and be living on another planet. Eight foot blue people, perhaps, with vertical pupils and two fingers, who can play the piano better than you.

But, there had better not be any more elephants. Not while I’m in the room.





(or online salesmen)

© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

4/28/15  Every word, exactly as it happened. Rights to the author, as evidence. Thanks.