by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and Member of Local 247 (Victoria, BC)
At this writing, many of our orchestras in the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) are finishing up their regular seasons. The OCSM Executive Board is in “summer mode”—getting ready for all the various summer conferences, including our own. This summer our conference will be at the Hotel Arts in Calgary. All are invited to attend the open sessions August 9-11.
Another set of dates you may wish to save: May 11-14, 2017. This is when the fourth triennial International Orchestra Conference of the International Federation of Musicians will be held, in Montreal, Quebec. The International Federation of Musicians—known by its French acronym, FIM—is a member organization of approximately 70 musicians’ unions from all over the world, including the AFM. Since 2008, FIM has been holding orchestral musicians’ conferences every three years, and we’re thrilled that Local 406 will be hosting the 2017 conference.
All the player conferences report to you through their delegates and through the International Musician, so conference activities are probably well known to you. Representatives from each orchestra give reports on their orchestra’s activities throughout the year. We zero in on specific issues and topics and establish working committees that consult throughout the season (especially on issues such as electronic media). We hear from all parties related to our industry: union leadership, management service organizations, pension funds, legal experts, and guest speakers in fields ranging from public relations to health and safety. For example, this summer, former Alberta Senator Tommy Banks will be addressing the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) Conference. Many of you will have worked with Banks, as he has been a part of Canada’s music scene for many years. He will be giving us an insider’s look into the workings of government in Ottawa.
Since the activity of our conference will be reported in detail later, I will devote the rest of this space to ways you can help OCSM. OCSM is a grassroots organization; it is run by your volunteer delegates and is meant to be a network of musicians acting as one. (I will refrain from making obvious analogies about orchestras!) OCSM thrives on the activities of its members, so here’s how you can help:
For Orchestra and Negotiating Committee Members
Please include your OCSM Delegate in your regular deliberations and communications. In cases where the OCSM Delegate is on one or both of these committees, that’s not a problem, but sometimes we have delegates who feel “out of the loop” because there are poor lines of communication. An OCSM Delegate can be a valuable asset. Because they have attended multiple conferences, met key people from each orchestra, and gained valuable knowledge, they can assist in a number of situations. Furthermore, the delegates communicate to each other through a secure e-mail list, so they can easily gather and share information.
Take time to compile your orchestra’s history. As orchestral musicians we do a good job of passing our musical knowledge to the next generation. But what about our knowledge of negotiations, strikes, temporary shut-downs, changes in our orchestra’s business practices, search committees, and so forth? In my 25 years as a musician I have seen too many things repeated from orchestra to orchestra that should not have been. Staff and boards come and go, but some orchestra members that have been there longer than 40 years. Use them. I wrote an article about this in OCSM’s newsletter Una Voce last year. A good place to start is to make a simple chart of your orchestra’s negotiating history for the last three contracts. Be sure to at least include wage changes for each year and your orchestra’s operating expenses. Thankfully, some of this has been done for all of you already. The AFM is in the process of putting all our OCSM wage chart data online, going back several years.
Other Ways to Get Involved
Perhaps most importantly, there are ways to get involved and help your orchestra and OCSM without spending hours on a committee. I understand that some people in your orchestra will never be on the orchestra committee or the negotiating committee, and that’s okay. But do you have a skill that could be put to use part-time? For example, if you are good at photography, take candid pictures from the musicians’ perspective. These are great for musicians’ social media presence. Maybe you write well. Offer to write a blog or newsletter article. Maybe you work well with children and do a lot of outreach concerts. Share your experiences with us; these stories are a gold mine when musicians need some press presence.
OCSM’s mission is to be the voice of Canadian professional orchestral musicians. I look forward to meeting with your delegates very soon to hear about all of your contributions to our great profession this year.