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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.

Imagine a Better World

by Bruce Ridge, ICSOM Chair and Member of Local 500 (Raleigh, NC)

Bruce-RidgeThis morning, I awoke to news of yet another violent attack, the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history, this time in Orlando. While in these early hours we do not yet know the exact nature and causes of this horrific action, we do know that a man with an unspeakable weapon, unimaginable to the founding fathers, has killed at least 50 people and wounded many others.

I wasn’t able to turn away from the coverage, even as the networks sought to fill airtime with pundits who could do nothing more than speculate. What did impress me was the thousands of people in Orlando lining up to give blood following the appeal of local hospitals. There are always more people wanting to help than there are people wanting to hurt.

It is too easy to turn away from these sad events. After all, our lives must continue. We have appointments to keep, work to do, yards to be mowed … At moments like this I am always reminded of W. H. Auden’s “Musée de Beaux Arts”:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along …

At this moment of collective pain, where sad events flood our lives through a din of media accounts, the world needs the statement of peace that musicians make with every note they play.

On June 13, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed a benefit concert for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. They joined with other musicians of International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) orchestras who have organized on their own to present concerts that demonstrate their desire to change the world, one note at a time. At this year’s ICSOM Conference in Washington, DC, we will again perform music and offer service—this time at Central Union Mission, an organization that gives food, comfort, and shelter to the homeless in the District. This follows our Broad Street Ministry service at last year’s conference in Philadelphia.

The musicians of the San Francisco Symphony performed a benefit for the SF-Marin Food Bank, North Carolina Symphony musicians organized a quartet performance to raise money for the victims of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and the musicians of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra performed a benefit for Dallas Court Appointed Special Advocates, an organization that assists abused and neglected children. In this past decade, the musicians of ICSOM have demonstrated astonishing generosity and goodwill towards each other, answering numerous ICSOM calls to action that have raised more than $1.5 million to assist colleagues in need during work stoppages or other difficulties. We have stood together as a united network of friends.

ICSOM is the most highly organized part of the AFM, with almost 99% of our members in the union. This is remarkable considering that 36% of our member orchestras are in “right to work” states. I believe we maintain this unity and build these friendships by offering our members ideals to work for, instead of only offering problems to work against. As we seek to serve our communities in even deeper ways, and stand together as messengers of peace in an all-too-often violent world, we also demonstrate the importance of our orchestras.

One of the major issues facing orchestras is the perception that our donor base is limited. We need to appeal to new donors by offering a message of hope and demonstrating how everyone benefits from great orchestras. We must believe that we can change the donor base, just as we must believe that we can change the world. In order to achieve anything you must first be able to imagine it.

Auden’s poem continues:

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

As artists, we must make efforts to change the world. We must not turn away and sail calmly on. As President Kennedy once said: “For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last.”

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams. If we can imagine a better world, and demonstrate it through our music—through every lesson we teach, through every performance we play, whether in great concert halls or the halls of cancer hospitals—then we can continue to change lives by standing together for peace.

senza sordino

Senza Sordino: Stalwart of Unity

bruce-ridgeby Bruce Ridge, ICSOM Chairman and Member of Local 500 (Raliegh, NC)

Of the many important and indispensable services that the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) provides for its members and the members of the AFM at large, our vital communication network is perhaps the most crucial. Electronic mailing lists and social media give us the ability to communicate instantly with each other, spreading news of opportunities and difficulties, and sharing solutions for issues both old and new that arise for our musicians and their orchestras. Of all the tools that ICSOM makes available, none are more topical and historically significant than our quarterly newsletter, Senza Sordino.

In 1962, ICSOM’s founders knew that, in order for our orchestras to survive and thrive, they must unite, and that a newsletter that could be read throughout the union and the field would be of great importance. For the first time, the issues affecting orchestra musicians could be reported and analyzed by those who knew the issues best—the orchestra musicians themselves. Senza Sordino (Italian for “without mute”) would be the perfect name for this publication.

The first issue was published in January 1963. That issue reported on numerous revolutionary developments for orchestra musicians, including four orchestra summits that had been held in the past year. There were negotiation updates from Los Angeles and Chicago, and a report about how Philadelphia Orchestra musicians were rising up against an unwarranted musician discharge.

One line that jumps off the page in that first issue is from the Cincinnati Symphony, where musicians reported “Last month we were granted the right to ratify our contract.” It is a reminder that so many of the rights that musicians take for granted today were once fought for diligently, and that those benefits and rights are only there to enjoy because of the sacrifices of previous generations.

The complete archive of Senza Sordino is available on the ICSOM website (www.icsom.org). It makes for fascinating reading for anyone who has ever played in a symphony orchestra, or who may one day want to become a member of an orchestra. This archive constitutes a crucial history of symphonies over the past half-century, detailing how orchestras performed, thrived, suffered, and emerged stronger both in our communities and our union.

As a new generation of musicians and leaders joins our orchestras, a reading of any single issue of this newsletter from any year would provide a rich education. Taking the archive in its entirety, it is overwhelming to think of what is represented on these pages and what might have become of our orchestras and our union if not for the work of ICSOM.

Just as the first issue reported on crucial topics, so does the latest. The May 2015 issue includes information on how to utilize new social media platforms, how musicians are serving their communities by organizing benefit concerts, the importance of music education, and how Baltimore Symphony musicians rose up as a beacon of hope for their city at a time of need.

And just as the first issue reported on how the Cincinnati Symphony musicians had gained the right to ratify their contract, the July 2015 issue of Senza Sordino reports on the conclusion of an outstanding negotiation with considerable gains for that orchestra, gains that would have been inconceivable without the actions first reported in 1963.

Now we have other options for our network of communication, and we utilize them daily—Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. But Senza Sordino remains a stalwart friend of orchestra musicians everywhere. We send each issue to every local office in the AFM, as well as to every member of ICSOM. Each new issue is added to the archive on ICSOM’s website, viewable at http://www.icsom.org/senza/index. We hope that every issue is read with great interest, and we further hope that you will take a moment to read a past issue from the archive. We have no doubt you’ll be amazed at the wealth of information to be found.