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icsom conference

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.

icsom conference

Breakout Groups Bring ICSOM Conference Delegates Together

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

The 56th annual Conference of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) was hosted by the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Local 1. The conference included the typical reports, presentations, and discussions. However, this year the schedule provided more opportunity for smaller breakout groups and closed sessions. This allowed the delegates to choose the topics and issues for discussion.

Pre-conference events included a volunteer activity at the David and Rebecca Barron Center for Men. Musicians from the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Grand Rapids Symphony, Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, and Nashville Symphony, along with two attorneys, entertained an appreciative audience on Tuesday afternoon. That evening delegates, local officers, AFM staff, and orchestra members attended a negotiating orchestras workshop.

Wednesday, following the New Delegate Breakfast, the conference began with the usual welcome remarks from our hosts. Welcoming the conference were four groups of stakeholders in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra—Board Chair Francie Hiltz, President & CEO Jonathan Martin, Orchestra Committee Chair and ICSOM Delegate Ted Nelson, and Local 1 President and Conference Coordinator Paul Frankenfeld—who stood together in a demonstration of their strong working relationship.

ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic, Local 47) gave an address that reminded attendees “we are living in a dangerous time for our democracy and there is no room for complacency or ignorance. We must reach out, educate, and support our brothers and sisters, of all political persuasions, race, and economic standing—not just in union solidarity, but that’s a good place to start.”

President Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony, Local 56) spoke about the numerous successful and progressive ICSOM settlements during the past season. Wednesday afternoon, Austin moderated presentations from six ICSOM orchestras—Grand Rapids Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony, Louisville Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO), and Nashville Symphony—about special projects they had created within their own communities or abroad.

Following AFM President Ray Hair’s address, attendees heard an updated AFM-EPF presentation that included Q&A from presubmitted and written questions. That evening, a wonderful reception was held at the newly refurbished Music Hall. Tours included a visit to the massive library that houses 125 years of music and scores for CSO, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, and May Festival. Guests were also treated to Cincinnati specialties—goetta sliders, Skyline chili (preferably on spaghetti), and Graeter’s ice cream.

icsom conference

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) ICSOM Delegate Ted Nelson greets the conference with CSO colleague and Local 1 President Paul Frankenfeld (left), CSO President & CEO Jonathan Martin (standing, right), ICSOM President Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony, Local 56) (seated), and CSO Board President Francie Hiltz (far right).

Thursday and Saturday “Bookends of Bargaining” presentations from ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) covered how to prepare for negotiations and what to do if your contract expires without an agreement. In the Saturday session, Cypress Media President Randy Whatley also participated, providing examples from previous ICSOM work stoppages.

On Thursday afternoon, delegates heard from the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD). SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick provided helpful information about dealing with sexual harassment in the symphonic workplace. SSD Symphonic Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark discussed the role orchestra committees play in decision-making and approval when working with the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA). SSD Negotiator and Educator Todd Jelen’s presentation addressed building solidarity through orientation.

Parts of Thursday and Friday were also devoted to small group breakouts. A new breakout session allowed groups to compare notes on subjects within orchestras of similar budgets and those in pit orchestras. On Friday, members-at-large and their constituent orchestras met in small discussion groups during lunch provided by ICSOM. Two town hall style meetings were convened for delegates and governing board members, which covered numerous issues raised by the delegates in a closed session.

Friday also included two timely presentations. One advised orchestra musicians on how best to utilize their orchestra’s broker when dealing with 401(K)/403(B) accounts. The second offered further exploration and discussion of diversity within our orchestras.

On Saturday morning August 25, in celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday, attendees were treated to coffee and cupcakes before tackling the final important business of the conference—the resolutions. Delegates adopted five resolutions: recognizing National Symphony violist and former ICSOM Electronic Media Committee Chair Bill Foster of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) on his retirement from the orchestra after 50 years; advocating for the inclusion of librarians in orchestra collective bargaining agreements; demanding workplaces free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying; standing against ICSOM musicians accepting nonunion work; and encouraging the use of screens for all individual rounds of auditions.

Incumbents Chair Meredith Snow, Treasurer Michael Moore (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Local 148-462), Senza Sordino Editor Peter de Boor (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, Local 161-710), and Members-at-Large Dan Sweeley (Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Local 92) and Greg Mulligan (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Local 40-543) were re-elected. Sweeley was elected AFM Convention delegate; Member-at-Large Martin Andersen (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Locals 16-248 and 802) was elected alternate delegate.

Next year’s conference, hosted by the Utah Symphony and Local 104 (Salt Lake City, UT), will be held August 21-24, 2019.

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.