by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and Member of Local 247 (Victoria, BC)
This year marked the 40th annual Conference of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM). For the first time, we met in Windsor, Ontario; now every single city with an OCSM orchestra has hosted a conference.
The conference was dedicated to the memory of Jim Biros, former CEO of Local 149 (Toronto, ON) and a great friend to both OCSM and the AFM. Part of Biros’ legacy was his work in putting together the Unity Conference between OCSM and the Canadian Conference of the AFM (CFM) in Toronto in 2012. It was fitting that this conference was dedicated to him, as it was our second Unity Conference. Our meeting day with the CFM was very productive, consisting of round-table discussions on two topics: the changing media landscape in Canada due to cutbacks at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the ever-relevant topic of making the AFM more beneficial to freelance musicians.
Windsor’s proximity to Detroit served us well; we had presentations on the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) recovery from DSO Committee Chair Haden McKay. And there was a presentation from former DSO bassist Rick Robinson, a member of Locals 5 (Detroit, MI) and 9-535 (Boston, MA), who currently runs Classical Revolution Detroit, a very successful program that brings classical music into nontraditional settings.
Our conference traditionally begins with round-table reports from each orchestra. We had two new orchestras attend as observers this year, the Niagara Symphony Orchestra from St. Catharines, Ontario, and the acclaimed period-instrument ensemble Tafelmusik, from Toronto, Ontario.
One of our orchestras experienced a shutdown this past year. The ensemble formerly known as Orchestra London Canada has officially declared bankruptcy, but the musicians continue to perform and are planning a 2015-2016 season on their own. They perform under their social media hashtag, #WePlayOn musicians. The musicians are working hard to build community support. They have expressed gratitude to all the musicians in the AFM who have come to their assistance over the past year.
We had three main guest presenters this year: Randy Whatley, of Cypress Media, has worked with a number of ICSOM and ROPA orchestras over the past few seasons. We were happy to invite him to his first OCSM Conference. He gave an excellent primer on media and communications: establishing your orchestra musicians’ communications network through mailing lists, social media, and contact with the press.
We also had a presentation from the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA), represented by Dr. Christine Guptill. She gave an overview of PAMA’s activity and described physical and mental health issues often faced by performing musicians. OCSM legal counsel Michael Wright gave a presentation entitled “Bargaining in the New, New, New Economic Reality,” which reminded us of the powerful tool of rhetoric: we risk buying into the “austerity” arguments for restraint in the symphonic sector, not taking into account that we never really enjoyed prosperity during the “boom” times.
The routine business of the conference included work on new electronic media agreements (this is ongoing—there is much to be done in the areas of promotional media, streaming, and physical product media like CDs and downloads). There were presentations from AFM Symphonic Services Division staff covering new online wage charts, reports from the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada, and AFM officers. We also shared information with our sister player conferences.
The rich discussions of a four-day OCSM Conference can never be adequately summarized in a few short paragraphs. The real work of OCSM rests with its own members and delegates. We encourage all of our members to engage each other through our email list, in our publications, and through social media. OCSM exists so that no one orchestra faces its challenges alone. We wish everyone a successful symphonic season.