Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Musician Sees Battle Ending Symphony Viola Player Seeks Visa to Stay

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Musician Sees Battle Ending Symphony Viola Player Seeks Visa to Stay

Article excerpt

When Jorge Pena, an immigrant violist, won the audition in

September for a seat in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, he

knew he wouldn't get paid until his visa was updated.

He expected the change from students to artistic visa to take a

month or two. To support his wife and two daughters, he sold an

heirloom violin for $10,000.

But he needed an endorsement from the American Federation of

Musicians to get the visa, and the union withheld it, preferring

that seats in American orchestras go to American players.

His fellow symphony players rallied around him after they

learned he had played 48 concerts for free.

They not only petitioned the union to endorse him but they gave

him money to help pay for groceries and rent.

His lawyer said yesterday that because of a breakthrough with

the union and other help from fellow musicians across the

country, Pena could get the updated visa within two weeks.

Karen Boling, a fellow viola section member, helped take up the

collection for Pena and his family. "We want him here," she

said. "He's a good player, and we're very comfortable with him.

When I heard he had sold that violin, I found that completely


Pena, 28, a Honduras native who moved to the United States in

1986, won the orchestra seat in September over 39 other violists

who auditioned. When he took the $25,400 starting-pay job for

the 38-week season, he was told he wouldn't be paid until the

status on his visa was updated to make his job status legal.

"When I came to Jacksonville, I didn't have any idea how hard

it would be to get my status changed," said Pena. "I love what I

do. I don't want to be a burden to anyone, but it's been really,

really hard." He practices eight hours a day at his Mandarin

town home to keep fit for the time when he gets back to the


Orchestra members said they weren't told about Pena's visa

problems and didn't know his pay was being withheld.

"It was made clear to him that we could not legally pay him

without the change of visa," said Nan Harman, symphony

president. "But he was so committed to playing, he wanted to

perform with his colleagues. He, in essence, donated his


Harman used her money to hire immigration attorney Stephen

Davis for Pena after attempts to update his visa status bogged

down. The union refused to endorse him, stating that he did not

qualify for the special status needed to get an "artist of

distinction" visa.

In December, the attorney advised Pena not to play for the

orchestra until he got the visa.

When Pena suddenly was absent from his chair, orchestra players

who had been unaware of his predicament donated $700 for

groceries and rent for the Penas. …

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