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October 1, 2022Rochelle Skolnick - AFM Symphonic Services Division Director
As I write this, the summer of 2022 is winding down and I am still feeling the resonance of attending the annual meetings of all three symphonic player conferences in person for the first time since 2019. In this issue, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), and Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC) provide detailed reports of the proceedings at their conferences. But as the only individual to have the privilege of attending all three conferences this year, I will share some observations unique to that experience.
It was a great joy to be together in the same physical space with the delegates to these conferences—so many fellow musicians dedicated to improving the working lives of their colleagues. As always, the delegates were eager to learn from presenters, local and AFM officers and staff, and fellow delegates.
In addition to the formal sessions, there were countless conversations in hallways, over meals, at social events, and in hospitality suites where musicians shared experiences and brainstormed solutions to common problems. This information sharing and problem solving has always been at the heart of the player conferences’ mission. While Zoom made it possible for us to meet, when doing so in person posed unacceptable risks, there truly is no substitute for these face-to-face conversations. The energy they generate replenishes stores depleted after so many months of intense pandemic-related work.
There were common themes among all three player conferences. Most striking to me was the effect of staff and musician turnover in nearly all of our orchestras. Orchestras that furloughed staff during COVID shutdowns saw many of those folks depart for other work. Where those positions have since been filled—and many have not—new staff members are still learning the ropes without the benefit of institutional memory. They are often being asked to carry too-heavy workloads due to short-staffing.
The resulting organizational glitches and contract violations require orchestra committees and locals to step in to acquaint new staffers with longstanding practices and well-settled interpretations of collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provisions. Where problems persist, they require resolution through the contractual grievance procedure.
Turnover among the ranks of musicians creates different, but related, challenges and opportunities. The exodus of experienced musicians that many orchestras have recently endured creates vacancies on orchestra committees as well as on the stage. This dynamic creates opportunities for newer members of our orchestras to step up and serve. However, it also places a burden on the experienced musicians who remain to help orient and train their newer colleagues to fulfill these important responsibilities.
If your orchestra committee includes musicians new to committee service (and even if it doesn’t) I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the training opportunities for committees and locals available through the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about these programs.
I cannot give an account of the summer of 2022 without pausing to share my immense admiration for the three SSD negotiators who assist US musicians (Todd Jelen, Jane Owen, and Adam DeSorgo) and the two members of Canadian SSD staff who assist Canadian musicians (Bernard LeBlanc and Richard Sandals) in bargaining with symphonic employers. These folks bargained tirelessly throughout the COVID period for contract extensions, side letters, and COVID protocols. That intractable workload has now morphed into nonstop bargaining for new CBAs, along with still more COVID protocols for the coming season.
By my reckoning, these staff members are currently assisting locals and orchestra committees in bargaining with approximately 60 different symphonic employers, although that number is constantly in flux as contracts are settled and new requests for assistance come in. Each of these negotiations has its own pace and makes its own demands on the time and skills of the negotiators. To keep up with this unprecedented load, the negotiators maintain schedules of long days (and nights) of bargaining and little true down time. They navigate the great challenge of retaining the various facts and personalities associated with each negotiation. I have never seen our department busier with bargaining than we have been this year. I am deeply grateful to the negotiating staff that makes it possible for us to serve so many musicians in this way.
Finally, I salute the musicians of the former San Antonio Symphony, who have demonstrated incredible courage and tenacity in weathering a strike that began nearly a year before they took the stage for their first performance as the new San Antonio Philharmonic on September 16. Their story is moving and inspirational. I wish them an inaugural season in which they are treated with all the dignity and respect they—and all of you—have earned as professional working musicians. And I wish you all a 2022-2023 season uninterrupted by COVID and full of the joy and satisfaction of making great music together with wonderful colleagues.