Tag Archives: ocsm

Making the Most of Player Conference Membership

by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and Member of Local 247 (Victoria, BC)

robertFraserAt 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.

For Long-Serving
Orchestra Musicians

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.

Celebrating Unity at 40th OCSM Conference

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.


Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) Conference attendees at the 2015 conference in Windsor, Ontario.

OCSM/CFM Unity Conference to Be Held in August

by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and Member of AFM Local 247 (Victoria, BC)

In my March 2014 article in the International Musician I pointed out that 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the meetings that led to the formation of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM). OCSM’s first stand-alone meeting was held in Edmonton a year later, in 1975, and OCSM’s inaugural conference was held in Toronto the year after that. So this summer will be our 40th Conference. We are pleased to announce that it will be held alongside the AFM Canadian Conference in Windsor, Ontario, from August 7-11. August 8 will be a shared day between the two conferences. Details will be provided in a future issue of the IM.

In Between Conferences

Like the other symphonic player conferences, OCSM is a network of orchestral musicians that works within the AFM, and with other interested industry partners, to advocate for its members and to share valuable information. Readers of the IM are well aware of the work we do with the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) to prepare the wage charts.

From time to time we deal with other specific issues. For example, a task force consisting of OCSM delegates, local officers, and representatives of Orchestras Canada recently prepared a submission to the Government of Canada about problems musicians and staff have encountered in our orchestras due to changes in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). Occasionally, OCSM orchestras hire non-Canadian musicians, and the new TFWP rules have made it difficult for these musicians to qualify for provincial medical coverage, or to have work permits renewed while they are still under probation. We hope these submissions will produce some results.

Although we are all busy orchestral musicians (the executive included), OCSM delegates maintain open communication throughout the season. This is invaluable when orchestras are negotiating, and when issues arise where we need to seek the advice of colleagues. Each delegate reports mid-season to the executive, and topics are collected for open discussion and action at the conference. Such topics include: health and safety issues, new forms of media promotion of orchestras (especially social media), musician involvement in conductor and executive director searches, and musician involvement in education and outreach programs.

Orchestra London Canada Shutdown

Orchestra London Canada ceased operations December 2014. Their board has not officially declared bankruptcy, but staff have been laid off and all concert dates for the remainder of 2014-2015 were cancelled. The musicians of Orchestra London have rallied to keep music alive in their community, and have continued to perform on their own. You can find out more about their efforts at: https://musiciansorchestralondon.wordpress.com/. A call to action has seen donations from AFM members across North America, with musicians from close to 30 orchestras assisting their colleagues in London. This showing of solidarity makes me personally proud to be a member of this union.

Good Newslets

  • On March 19, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) announced a five-year record deal with Decca. That same week saw similar announcements from other orchestras: it would seem that major labels are reviving their interest in orchestral music. Fans of the OSM will know that their international reputation is due in part to the catalogue of more than 80 recordings made on the Decca label with former Music Director Charles Dutoit.
  • The Canadian Opera Company just finished its third production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Handel’s “Semele” in March (previous visits were in 1993 and 2011).
  • Symphony Nova Scotia ratified a five-year agreement that sees its season expand from 33 to 35 weeks with the addition of their first-ever summer season.
  • The Edmonton Symphony recently recorded the score for the CBC TV series The Great Human Odyssey with composer Darren Fung.