Tag Archives: Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians

Partnering with Our Communities

by Meredith Snow, ICSOM Chair and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

No orchestra exists in a vacuum. We are part of the fabric of the communities in which we live. Great musicians, our union, and our management and boards are just the beginning. If we isolate ourselves from our audiences and donors, from our community, then what we have to offer becomes pointless. Being accessible and vital partners in our communities is key to the success of our International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) orchestras. The music we play is global, but we are local. We must think and act accordingly, reaching outside the doors of our concert halls to engage with our citizens.

And we do. Our orchestras participate in education initiatives and humanitarian aid, and partner with health and wellness organizations across the country. ICSOM maintains a Twitter feed (@ICSOM) of all things orchestral at ICSOM. Here is just a small sample of activities from the past few months:

April 23: San Francisco Symphony celebrates the 30-year anniversary of their Adventures in Music (AIM) program. In partnership with San Francisco United School District, AIM provides live performance, music education, and lessons to every public elementary school in San Francisco and is designed to enhance language arts, social studies, and science classes.

April 26: Musicians from The Philadelphia Orchestra organize a chamber concert to benefit Syrian refugees.

May 2: Utah Symphony musicians and musicians from The Cleveland Orchestra participate in five-day workshop in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, culminating in a performance of Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony.

May 7: Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and the Detroit Pistons partner in a multi-year education initiative to enhance music education for local youth. Donations support the New Youth Percussion Ensemble, the Annual Sphinx Competition, and underwrite tickets for free DSO public school concerts.

May 8: Oregon Symphony and Maybelle Community Singers premiere Gabriel Kahane’s “emergency shelter intake form,” a symphonic and vocal work based on the experiences of homelessness.

May 15: Los Angeles Philharmonic announces four musicians selected for a new resident fellows program launched this year with the purpose of creating a pathway toward more diverse and inclusive orchestras.

May 16: New York Philharmonic, in collaboration with the Harmony Project, selects students from low income neighborhoods for a year-long mentorship program.

May 17: Thanks to an $80,000 grant from Hillsborough County, The Florida Orchestra will begin tutoring at-risk youth, free of charge, through the Prodigy after school program.

June 8: Minnesota Orchestra tickets go on sale for five sensory-friendly, family concerts and three small-ensemble concerts for 2018-2019 season. The audience is encouraged to move, vocalize, clap, and respond to the music freely, at any time.

These are just a few of the most recent news stories about our ICSOM orchestras’ social initiatives. Every one of our 52 orchestras are involved in music education, either through their own programs or in collaboration with already existing organizations and schools. Many of our musicians play live music at prisons, hospitals, shelters, and soup kitchens—helping out and bringing a message of hope and healing where it is needed.

We are in a unique and privileged position to bring awareness where social injustice and need exist. The music we play is not just beautiful. It is founded at its deepest level on human aspiration and the search for meaning. Mozart’s Da Ponte operas were conceived with the idea of the inherent equality of humankind. Beethoven’s Fidelio is about the struggle for justice and liberty. Wagner’s operas explore the gamut of human emotion and desire. We bring this understanding of our shared humanity to every performance. We can inspire that awareness in those who hear us.

Equality and accessibility regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, physical ability, or sexual orientation is a core value of union labor. It is everyone’s responsibility to recognize inequities in our society and work to ameliorate them. Our orchestras themselves are not immune to bias. But, by the very nature of what we do, we possess a unique ability to cut through the ignorance and rhetoric that blind us all to the suffering in our communities. With the talent and capabilities we already possess, we can call attention, sway hearts and minds, and foster awareness of our universal humanity.

2016 ICSOM conference

2016 ICSOM Conference in Our Nation’s Capitol

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

The 54th International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Conference was held August 24-27, at the Loews-Madison Hotel in Washington, DC. ICSOM resident orchestras of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra—and Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) hosted the conference.

2016 ICSOM conference

(L to R): Newly-elected ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow, former ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge, and ICSOM Secretary Laura Ross.

As part of our annual service activity, delegates, guests, and Local 161-710 President Ed Malaga volunteered to perform and serve dinner at the Central Union Mission. That evening, ICSOM President George Brown of the Utah Symphony and Local 104 (Salt Lake City, UT) and ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) moderated a Negotiating Orchestras workshop.

Following a new delegate breakfast, the conference began Wednesday morning with welcoming remarks and addresses by ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge of the North Carolina Symphony and Local 500 (Raleigh, NC) and George Brown. This was Ridge’s final speech as ICSOM’s leader. For 10 years, Ridge battled negative press in his writings, speeches, and visits to ICSOM orchestras. He talked about the many orchestra successes and the impact of the arts on communities. He encouraged musicians to engage face-to-face with donors and audience members.

Orchestras reported on difficult negotiations, including the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, which went on strike September 8, after 15 months of fruitless negotiations. Orchestra members from Australia, the Netherlands, and England shared information about how their orchestras are run and financed. General Secretary of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) Benoît Machuel spoke about the 2017 FIM Orchestra Conference in Montreal, Quebec.

The AFM was well-represented with presentations by Legislative-Political Director Alfonso Pollard, President Ray Hair, and the Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Retiring SSD Negotiator Nathan Kahn received a standing ovation for his service. Randy Whatley of Cyprus Media Group shared information in a presentation and breakout session about how to engage with donors. ICSOM General Counsel Kevin Case’s presentation on bullying in the workplace and a breakout session with Federal Mediator Javier Ramirez were informative. AFM SSD Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark led a third breakout session. 

A joint concert by musicians of the National Symphony and Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra was followed by a reception. Filmmaker John Beder shared results of a survey on performance anxiety and exhibited the first 20 minutes of his documentary Composed.

The conference also explored hearing issues with a moderated discussion by Mac Whitley, chief sound engineer of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, and DC Valentine, sound engineer of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It was followed by a presentation from Dr. Heather Malyuk of Sensaphonics. She and her associate, Wendy Cheng, founder of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss (AAMHL), spoke about average symphony instrument decibel levels, types of hearing loss, questions to ask during annual hearing exams, the use of earplugs and in-ear monitors, options for musicians choosing hearing aids, cochlear implants, and the use of assistive listening devices.

2016 ICSOM conference

On August 24, ICSOM Delegates attended a Millennium Stage concert at the John F.
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, followed by an Opening Reception in
the Kennedy Center Atrium.

Meredith Snow of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) was elected ICSOM Chair by acclamation. Treasurer Michael Moore of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Local 148-462 (Atlanta, GA), Senza Sordino Editor Peter de Boor of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and Local 161-710, and Member-at-Large Paul Gunther of the Minnesota Orchestra and Local 30-73 (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN) were re-elected. Member-at-Large positions vacated by Snow’s election and Jennifer Mondie’s (National Symphony Orchestra and Local 161-710) decision to step down, were filled by the election of Dan Sweeley of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Local 92 (Buffalo, NY) and Kimberly Tichenor of the Louisville Orchestra and Local 11-637 (Louisville, KY).

Resolutions adopted at the conference honored former AFM Chief Operating Officer Lew Mancini, former IM Managing Editor Antoinette Follett, former ICSOM General Counsel Susan Martin, AFM Negotiator Nathan Kahn, Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum, Theater Musicians Association (TMA) President Tom Mendel, and Jennifer Mondie.

Another resolution honored Bruce Ridge for his service as member-at-large and president, as well as his decade as ICSOM’s chair. Additional resolutions thanked John Beder for his work on the documentary Composed, encouraged musicians to continue spreading good news about orchestras through social media, and called on orchestra managers to identify ways to better protect musicians performing in amplified concerts. In addition, following the adoption of Resolution 20 at the AFM Convention in June, the conference adopted a resolution calling on orchestra managers to end the practice of unequal pay for subs and extras.