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Home » Symphonic Services Division » ICSOM Conference Went Virtual in July

ICSOM Conference Went Virtual in July


Confinement, quarantine, social distancing, furlough, innovation, activism, creativity, and inclusion were all explored and discussed during this year’s International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Conference held July 15-17 via Zoom. Rather than meeting in August with the Pittsburgh Symphony as our hosts, the ICSOM Governing Board decided that everyone’s health and safety was more important than hosting an in-person conference. ICSOM’s bylaws were amended in a special June Zoom meeting, giving the board three weeks to plan an online conference. Bylaw changes allow agenda flexibility, changing conference locations, and suspending elections for one year. Since delegates wouldn’t be able to catch up with each other, they submitted written status reports about their orchestras; certain other reports normally made verbally were instead submitted in writing. The governing board pitched in to help this conference run smoothly.

Presentations were creative and timely. This year’s version of Orchestras of Note was entitled “Orchestras of Note and Innovation: Creative Projects by Musicians’ Associations of ICSOM Orchestras during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” led by ICSOM President Paul Austin of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI), and featured the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, New York City Ballet Orchestra, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case, of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), worked with three medical experts (physician assistant and infectious disease specialist Larry Rick; Emory University Professor of Global Health & Epidemiology, Dr. Carlos del Rio; and bassoonist and resident physician and research fellow in otolaryngology, Dr. Adam T. Schwalje, who co-authored “Wind Musicians’ Risk Assessment in the Time of COVID-19”) to present “Health and Safety in the Workplace: Our New COVID-19 World.”

ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow, of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), moderated a discussion by New York Philharmonic Principal Clarinet Anthony McGill of Local 802 (New York City) and Seattle Symphony Principal Flute Demarre McGill—Anthony’s brother—of their recent participation in #taketwoknees on social media, in a presentation entitled “Intersection of Music, Race and Activism in our Orchestras.”

Thanks to these generous presenters, the above three Zoom presentations—along with many referenced links—are available for viewing by the public on the ICSOM website’s 2020 conference page.

AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick and Symphonic Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark spoke about how they have been approaching “Electronic Media in Today’s Virtual Environment,” as work in mid-March has been transformed for the time being. Case gave an important and helpful presentation about “Strategic Bargaining for the 2020–21 Season and Beyond,” that offered some suggested approaches as orchestras explore how to proceed with their upcoming seasons. An AFM-EPF presentation outlined the cuts proposed by the trustees in the pending Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) application submitted to the Treasury Department, which was followed by a presentation by Naomi Frisch, an associate with Illinois Advocates and a ROPA board member, who, along with Kevin Case, discussed “Sick Leave Application and the Law in Today’s Environment.” This presentation explored how recent COVID-inspired laws have modified various provisions for leave under less recent federal legislation.

There were addresses by Snow, Austin, AFM International President Ray Hair, and presidents from the Theater Musicians Association (TMA), Recording Musicians Association (RMA), Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), and Organization of Canadian Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC).

Snow spoke about the difficulties we currently face and how the virus has cast a harsh light on inequities, especially with regard to our Black and Brown citizens. She urged us to do better, to embrace truth when confronting today’s issues, and to not only rethink our destiny but also remember we will come out of this stronger because we won’t give up and because music is our mission. Austin addressed the ways our institutions have dealt with their musicians, both bad and good. His own orchestra’s manager said, “We will not be taking the easy way out by furloughing musicians.”

Three resolutions were submitted and unanimously adopted—two by the governing board, and the third by Helen Reich, of the Milwaukee Symphony and Local 8 (Milwaukee, WI), and Debbie Brooks, of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX). The first resolution condemned orchestra furloughs—with special focus on the termination of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s health insurance—and encouraged good faith bargaining with those furloughed musicians; the second called for increased efforts for inclusivity throughout our ICSOM institutions; and the last honored the late Herman Benson who co-drafted the Landrum-Griffin Act, was a great friend and supporter of ICSOM, and who died on July 2, 2020 at the age of 105.

This conference allowed more than 200 additional ICSOM members—together with delegates, local officers, AFM officers and staff, and presenters, totaling more than 350 registered participants—to attend and view portions of the ICSOM conference that would not normally have been available to them without the time and expense of travel. We hope more ICSOM members will attend these conferences in the future; perhaps in Pittsburgh August 11-14, 2021.

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