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Home » Recent News » ICSOM Conference Tackles Major Issues

ICSOM Conference Tackles Major Issues


by Laura Ross, ICSOM Secretary and member of Nashville Symphony and Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) headed to the mountains to hold its 57th Conference, hosted by the musicians of the Utah Symphony and Local 104 (Salt Lake City, UT), from August 20–24, at the Sheraton Park City Hotel. As usual, there were many issues of importance on the agenda, but delegates were offered multiple opportunities in breakouts and town hall meetings during the conference to hold open dialog with other delegates and the ICSOM Governing Board.

The conference began with a moment of silence to honor former Grant Park Orchestra ICSOM Delegate Dale Newton, who died weeks after the 2018 Conference. Following welcoming remarks, addresses by ICSOM’s Chairperson Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic) and President Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony) and officer reports, delegates heard about the history of Local 104 along with various Utah Symphony projects.

Wednesday afternoon included a new installment of Orchestra Projects of Note, which this time included Minnesota Orchestra’s South Africa Tour, the Oregon Symphony’s Lullaby Project, the New York Philharmonic’s “New York Stories: Threads of our City,” Hawai’i Symphony’s “Symphony of Hawaiian Birds,” Virginia Symphony musicians’ video interviews, and Pittsburgh Symphony musicians’ 412 Food Rescue project. Dr. Heather Malyuk, an audiologist with Soundcheck, spoke about a new hearing protection aid (and the next day, individual demonstrations were offered). ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case closed day one with a review of the past year’s negotiations and outcomes, which included the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera of Chicago strikes and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra lockout. The mixer that evening, hosted by Local 104, allowed delegates and guests to enjoy the temperate mountain weather and toast marshmallows at the fire pit for s’mores.

Thursday morning’s reports included one by ICSOM’s third AFM delegate, Member at Large Dan Sweeley (Buffalo Philharmonic), on the recent AFM Convention, and an explanation of the key changes to the newly ratified Integrated Media Agreement by ICSOM Electronic Media Committee Chair Brian Rood (Kansas City Symphony) and SSD Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark. Following a panel discussion by Players’ Conference Council representatives, AFM International President Ray Hair addressed the conference. After lunch, Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN) President Brad Eggen, the AFM-EPF Retiree Representative—joined by two members of his Equitable Factors Panel, ICSOM Chairman Emeritus Brad Buckley (Saint Louis Symphony, retired, and current Secretary-Treasurer of Local 444, Jacksonville, FL) and Mike Merritt of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), and by attorneys Pete Rosene and Pamela Nissen—discussed his role and answered questions. SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick completed the afternoon with a presentation about orchestra committees and their duty of fair representation (DFR) obligations.

icsom conference
ICSOM Conference delegates and governing board members pose for a photo in the lobby of the Sheraton Park City Hotel at the August conference.

Following elections on Friday, Kevin Case discussed and answered questions about the structure and funds of internal orchestra players associations. This was followed by two presentations that continued the diversity discussion of previous conferences: Dr. Karen Yair (League of American Orchestras), Alberto Suarez (Kansas City Symphony) and Caen Thomason-Redus (Detroit Symphony administration), shared information about the League’s Catalyst Fund, which is assisting applicant orchestras as they address internal diversity issues; Weston Sprott (Metropolitan Opera), Alex Laing (Phoenix Symphony), and strategic consultant Shea Scruggs led a lengthy and interesting discussion entitled “Meritocracy Myth” that covered auditions, tenure, the use of screens, the role of music directors, and many other issues.

The final day of the conference began with a moderated panel discussion addressing how to maintain unity and engagement in our orchestras. Greg Mulligan (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra), Kimberly Tichenor (Louisville Orchestra), Micah Howard (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra), and ICSOM Media Consultant Randy Whatley shared various stories and observations about efforts during and following work stoppages. During site selection, delegates chose the Pittsburgh Symphony to host in 2020 (August 19–22), the Milwaukee Symphony will host in 2021, and the 2022 conference, which will be the 60th anniversary of ICSOM, will be hosted by the Grand Rapids Symphony.

President Paul Austin and Secretary Laura Ross (Nashville Symphony) were reelected; Keith Carrick (Utah Symphony) and Micah Howard were newly elected to two-year terms as members at large. Austin was also appointed as trustee to the AFM Symphony-Opera Strike Fund, replacing previous trustee David Angus upon his retirement from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

Resolutions offered support to the locked out Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians, urged all ICSOM members to support passage of the Butch Lewis Act in the US Senate, and thanked four musicians for their service to ICSOM: Kimberly Tichenor, who stepped down as member at large; ICSOM President Emeritus Brian Rood, who stepped down as chair of ICSOM’s Electronic Media Committee; and former Member at Large Matthew Comerford (Lyric Opera of Chicago) and ICSOM President Emeritus David Angus upon their retirements.

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